Tokyo, being the biggest city in the world with 37 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, is also one of the most developed cities in the world. It is a center of some cutting-edge technology and exciting attractions that take you to an unknown world that you have never imagined before. On the other hand, it also boasts some old areas that played a significant role building such a metropolitan city over time. Many of these traditional ‘old’ neighbourhoods have made place for the new cityscape or were destroyed by the fires, earthquakes or during the WWⅡ. However, still some traditional areas exist and they are in stark contrast with the modern skyrise of for example Roppongi and Shinjuku. Visiting the older areas of Yanaka and Asakusa allow you to immerse yourself in traditional experiences while exploring the scenic spots that were preserved over centuries. Here is an ultimate tourist attraction guide for old Tokyo and new Tokyo!
Edo vs. Tokyo
The history of Tokyo dates back a long time and the current capital city was previously known as Edo. The castle town of Edo was centered around the Edo Castle and was ruled by the the Tokugawa shogunate. In this period, known as the Edo period, it became the most populated city in Japan and the largest city in the world. After the Meiji revolution in 1868, the emperor moved from Kyoto to Edo and Edo was officially named Tokyo, meaning capital of the east.
In this article, Old Tokyo refers to the following areas: Asakusa (浅草)/ Yanesen (谷根千)/ Shibamata (柴又)/ Nihonbashi (日本橋)/ Ningyocho (人形町). In these areas you can experience some of the old traditional atmosphere that many associate with Japan. Some of these areas are known as great places to have a taste of shitamachi, the ‘old centre of Tokyo’ too.
1. Asakusa (浅草)
Asakusa is one of the most popular sightseeing areas in Tokyo. It is home to a number of historical sites such as Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Nakamise-dori is known as the oldest shopping street leading to the main hall of the temple. The 250-meter street is packed with about 90 small vendors and shops selling local food and small gifts. Kaminarimon is an entrance gate featuring the iconic giant red lantern, the Kaminarimon gate, or Thunder gate, is often depicted in the Tokyo travel guides!
Visiting Senso-ji and exploring the surrounding area gives you opportunities to feel the traditional aspects of Tokyo closely. You can also try riding a rickshaw, a unique carriage pulled by a man. A rickshaw ride allows you to get around the famous tourist attractions in the area conveniently with an informative guide. The waterbus is another exciting attraction taking you to an enjoyable cruise in the Sumida river. Enjoy watching landmark buildings such as Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall standing along the big, but calm river.
Tokyo Food and Drink Tour @Tsukiji & Asakusa
2. Yanesen (谷根千
Yanesen refers to a peaceful area that consists of three districts: Yanaka (谷中), Nezu (根津), and Sendagaya (千駄木). While it is relatively close to the heart of Toyo, it still retains the nostalgic atmosphere from back in the old days. A 5 min walk from JR Nippori station takes you to Yanaka Ginza, a lively shopping street loved by both locals and tourists. There are about 60 shops and restaurants welcoming visitors with heartwarming services. You can also expect an impressive townscape at twilight when the street is colored with the beautiful sunset.
The Yanaka Cemetery‘ is a peaceful cemetery which is widely famous as a beautiful cherry viewing spot in spring. The nearby Nezu Shrine is a historic spot dating back about 1,900 years ago. It features thousands of vermillion Senbon Tori Gates which create a sacred scenery along with the shrine buildings and the colorful flowers. In early spring you can see 3,000 beautiful azaleas blooming here.
3. Shibamata (柴又)
If you want to spend a relaxing weekend away, Shibamata could be perfect for you. Located on the eastern edge of Tokyo, it is known as a retro neighborhood with a range of hidden tourist attractions. Taishakuten Daikyo-ji Temple is a symbolic spot famous for the beautiful wood carvings and a traditional Japanese garden. Satisfy your appetite with lovely sweets such as rice crackers and other local gourmet at Shibamata Sando, the main approach of the temple. Shibamata is also known as a hometown of Tora-san, a main character of famous TV series and movies Otoko wa Tsurai Yo!
4. Nihonbashi (日本橋)
Nihonbashi is a business and commercial district that is located in Chuo ward of Tokyo. It is situated about 10 min walk from JR Tokyo station, one of the main transportation hubs of the metropolitan city. This area developed as a center of transportation and trade during the Edo period. Even today, it is home to a range of famous companies and giant shopping malls such as the main office of Bank of Japan and Mitsukoshi main store.
While it gives an impression as a modern district full of business buildings, still you can see some sign o the traditional days, with the presence of historical architecture and Japanese restaurants that have a long history. Ningyocho(人形町) refers to a neighborhood in Nihonbashi area that once flourished along with a number of Kabuki theaters and traditional puppet shows. It is still home to interesting tourist attractions such Suitengu Shrine, a historical Shinto shrine dedicated to the safe arrival of babies. Nihonbashi Bridge is a symbolic structure where you can join an exciting river cruise taking you to a popular tourist attraction tour along the Sumida river!
In this article, New Tokyo” refers to the following areas: Shinjuku (新宿)/ Shibuya (渋谷)/ Roppongi (六本木)/ Roppongi (六本木) / Odaiba (お台場). These tourist hotspots are famous for their futuristic looks, skyscrapers and crazy nightlife.
1. Shinjuku (新宿)
Shinjuku is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo. It boasts numerous attractions including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, an iconic landmark that is accessible from JR Shinjuku station. The twin tower has two separate observation decks on the 45th floor from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the metropolitan city along with Tokyo bay, and even Mt. Fuji on a sunny day for free!
Get a memorable Izakaya bar experience at Omoide Yokocho, Golden Gai or Kabukicho full of bright neon and lights all night. The Samurai Museum is a must-visit for those who are interested in Japanese history. It displays a range of exciting exhibits including samurai swords and armor!
Shinjuku Izakaya Hopping Tour
2. Shibuya (渋谷)
Shibuya is often referred to as the center of fashion, culture, food, and other entertainments in Japan. This is exactly where you can experience the “modern Japan” with stunning technologies and exciting shopping experiences. Visit Shibuya Crossing, the symbolic spot known as the busiest crossing in the world. You will be surprised how pedestrians manage to avoid colliding with each other. Shibuya Scramble Square is large shopping spot with a terrific panoramic view from the observation deck called Shibuya Sky on its’ rooftop.
3. Roppongi (六本木)
Roppongi is a modern business district full of skyscrapers, which has rapidly developed as a center of arts, shopping experiences, and other entertainment services provided by the many modern facilities around. Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills are the main complexes which feature fancy restaurants and luxurious hotels. You can also enjoy a beautiful night view of Tokyo at Roppongi Hills, or take a relaxing stroll at Mori Garden, a traditional Japanese garden which is especially amazing during the cherry blossom season.
Roppongi is also home to numerous famous art museums such as Mori Art Museum and The National Art Center, Tokyo. Mori Art Museum is famous for its’ unique exhibits featuring cutting-edge technologies. It brings a brand-new art experience created by an innovative collaboration between arts and technology! The view of Tokyo’s skyline from the museum is aso worth a visit!
4. Odaiba (お台場)
When you are looking for someplace where you can have a memorable and fun futuristic experience with your children, make sure to make your way to Odaiba. The artificial island in Tokyo Bay is home to a number of fun gamehalls, shopping malls and known as a high-tech entertainment hub. Visit the famous teamLab Borderless, an attraction that opened in 2018 and since then has attracted millions of visitors. It offers a completely unique art experience created by light projections and incredible digital exhibits, allowing you to immerse yourself in the world of digital arts that entertain you with interactive shows and hands-on experiences. Make sure to look for the famous Gundam statue. During the day the statue comes to life during its’ so-called Gundam performances, but be sure to visit at night time when the light show starts. If the robot did not blow your mind at first, the added illumination will do the trick! Odaiba has another popular attraction called Miraikan, a science museum which offers a range of interesting experiences and exhibits associated with science and technology.
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
We offer a wide range of tours for your to explore the many sights in Tokyo and other places in Japan. With a local guide, you will visit the places and learn more about what you can see/do/experience. Ours tours can all be customized and are suitable for children as well as elderly people. Some of the tours we offer in Tokyo:
- Tokyo 1–Day Highlights walking tour
- Asakusa local food bar hopping tour
Tsukiji Fish Market & tasting tour
- Yanaka Shitamachi Backstreet Spot Tour
Tokyo is an exciting place where you can encounter both the latest trends as well as traditional spots dating back decades ago. The most recent developments and the authentic atmosphere seem like two completely different worlds, but they actually mix very well together and make up one of the most fascinating cities in the world. You may suddenly discover hidden sacred shrines or temples as you explore the modern cityscape of skyscrapers. Feel the intriguing transition of the metropolitan city from back in old days until the modern world it is today, by experiencing both simultaneously!
Stay informed of the best travel tips to Japan, the most exciting things to do and see, and the top experiences to have with the Japan Wonder Travel Newsletter. Every week we will introduce you to our latest content.
Other articles you may also like
This post contains some affiliate links. When you click through and make a purchase we may receive some commission, at no extra costs to you.