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Japan See And Do

Hotel Photo
21_21 Design Sight
9-7-6 Akasaka
Minato-ku
Tokyo
Japan 107-0052
Tel: 03 3475 2121
Metro: Roppongi
www.2121designsight.jp/en/designsight/

Visitors could be forgiven for walking past this design museum, tucked away behind Tokyo Midtown; from the outside, the Tadao Ando–designed space barely peeks out from the grounds of Hinokicho Park. But it's well worth a visit to the triangular concrete and glass building, especially because the well-organized institution is the first of its kind in Japan. Since opening in the shadow of Tokyo Midtown in 2007, the museum has showcased works by a range of artists (including Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Irving Penn, and Shiro Kuramata) on an equally diverse group of topics, from chocolate to water. The variety of exhibitions is, in part, due to Issey Miyake, the renowned Japanese fashion designer who is also the co-director of the two-story space. Allow yourself extra time to visit the neighboring café.—Rebecca Willa Davis

Open Wednesdays through Mondays 11 am to 8 pm.

Aoyama + Omotesando Neighborhood
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Omotesando

All the big-name Japanese designers are clustered together in this district on the tree-lined Omotesando Boulevard: Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Issey Miyake and his other lines (HaaT and A-POC), plus interesting younger Japanese labels such as Tsumori Chisato and Frapbois. Look out for Sou-Sou, which sells its own version of the traditional split-toed soft Japanese shoe, and Arts & Science, whose elegant leather bags are perfect for carrying home your new purchases. Prada's spectacular glass store, designed by the Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron, is here, too. Tod's, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and others are wall-to-wall, and they're housed in buildings by native architects whose names are bigger here than Marc Jacobs' (whose Japanese lantern–inspired Tokyo flagship, opened in December 2010, was designed by Jacobs' own all-star team). Tadao Ando's 366,000-square-foot development, Omotesando Hills, opened in February 2006, is a minimalist's fantasy mall, housing brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana. Unlike Tokyo's much larger luxury malls, which can be overwhelming, Omotesando Hills feels exclusive and manageable in both its gorgeous design and its choice offerings. Go on a weekday evening to avoid the weekend crowds; you'll have the entire place to yourself.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Art Galleries
Tokyo
Japan

Tokyo's art scene is scattered throughout the city, and the galleries come in all shapes and sizes, from the colossal Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park to the modernist Mori Art Museum in Roppongi to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku. For a snapshot of what's new and happening in the oddball world of Tokyo art, go to the harbor-front Kiyosumi neighborhood in Koto-ku, a 10- to 15-minute cab ride from Ginza. You'll find a cluster of some of Tokyo's best contemporary galleries in a converted warehouse at 1-3-2 Kiyosumi: Tomio Koyama (81-3-3642-4090; www.tomiokoyamagallery.com), Taka Ishii (81-3-5646-6050; www.takaishiigallery.com), and Shugo Arts (81-3-5621-6434; www.shugoarts.com/en/index.html). Koyama's artists include two of Japan's current stars, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, while Taka Ishii represents Nobuyoshi Araki, who has been photographing the underside of Tokyo for decades. Closer to Kayabacho station and the nearby financial district, you will find the prewar Inoue Building at 2-7-13 Nihonbashi-Kayabacho, which houses Masataka Hayakawa (81-3-5649-6369; www.masatakahayakawa.co.jp) and Taguchi Fine Arts (81-3-5652-3660; www.taguchifineart.com). Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art isn't far away, at 4-1-1 Miyoshi in Koto-ku, where Japanese and international art is showcased with a refined sense of whimsy (www.mot-art-museum.jp/english).

Daikanyama Neighborhood
Shibuya-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Daikanyama

The celebrated Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki has been adding to his Hillside Terrace development here for more than three decades. Today, this smart residential neighborhood is also filling up with fashion boutiques and cafés. Residents include the Danish Embassy and Yamada Heiando, suppliers of lacquerware to the Japanese imperial family. Be sure to explore the backstreets to find interesting stores like Tsumori Chisato, A.P.C., Bonjour Records, United Bamboo, Cocca, and the bag shop B Jirushi Yoshida. For the ultimate only-in-Tokyo souvenir, there's Gaiac 10, a Le Labo fragrance exclusive to Japan.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Hotel Photo
Daitoku-ji Temple Complex
Daitokuji-cho, Murasakino
Kita-ku
Kyoto
Japan 603-8231
Tel: 81 75 491 0019

A vast, walled-in Zen temple complex dating to the 16th century. There are about two dozen sub-temples here, and eight of them—and their gardens—are open to the public. You could spend a few hours wandering, and easily believe you've gone back in time. Admission to the complex is free, but each individual temple charges an entrance fee. A few also serve macha, whisked green tea, which you can sip while you sit and quietly contemplate the garden.

Open daily 9 am to 4:30 pm.

Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum
3-7-1 Kogamei Ishi
Kogamei City
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 42 388 3300
Metro: Hanakoganei
www.tatemonoen.jp

This complex is less a museum than a whole day out. Earthquakes, firebombing, and rampant development have left few examples of old architecture in Tokyo, but in 1993 the Tokyo government set aside about 17 acres for this collection of historic buildings, which range from farmhouses and soy sauce shops to private homes and public bathhouses. They were all saved from demolition and relocated to this fascinating outpost of the central Edo-Tokyo museum. Among the highlights: the home of much-admired Modernist architect Kunio Mayekawa.

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple)
2 Ginkakuji-cho
Sakyo-ku
Kyoto
Japan 606-8402
Tel: 81 75 771 5725
www.shokoku-ji.or.jp/english/e_ginkakuji/index.html

The Silver Temple is almost as popular as its golden cousin, but many aficionados consider it far superior. Breathtakingly modern though half a millennium old, its sculpted sand garden would transport anyone into a Zen state (if not for the crowds). Ginkaku-ji is along Kyoto's "Philosopher's Path," a pedestrian stroll that follows a cherry tree–shaded canal and leads past a handful of interesting temples and gardens.

Ginza Neighborhood
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Ginza

Long the haunt of ladies who lunch, take in a show at the Kabuki theater, and shop in the big department stores and genteel backstreets, Ginza has suddenly become hip. While it's always boasted some of Tokyo's most exclusive clubs and Japanese restaurants, it's now also home to an increasing number of the city's finest French (Brasserie Paul Bocuse) and Italian (La Bettola da Ochiai) restaurants, and even tapas bars. Visit the Maison Hermès Forum or Shiseido Gallery for works by emerging contemporary artists, or take in the latest in gadgetry at the famous Sony Building (its electronics showroom is now compete with an Apple Store). There's a Barneys, flagships of such famous labels as Hermès and Dior, and the Chanel Ginza Building, which is topped by Alain Ducasse's restaurant Beige. Don't miss the Mikimoto Ginza 2 store: Designed by Toyo Ito (he was also behind the arresting Tod's store in Omotesando) with irregular windows and a central atrium, it is dazzling—and fittingly, it's home to Dazzle, a jaw-dropping restaurant and bar that's a good spot for evening drinks.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Hakone
Hakone
Japan
www.hakone.or.jp/english/index.html

Hakone has hot springs, cool mountain air, and outstanding views of Japan's most famous peak, Mount Fuji. It's also teeming with day-trippers on the weekends, so a weekday visit or overnight stay is best. Leave the train from Tokyo and take the small Tozan line (Japan's first mountain railroad, completed in 1930) to Gora before switching to a cable car and finally a ropeway, which, weather permitting, will give you a magnificent view of Fuji. You can also take a boat—a startling repro galleon—across Lake Ashi, or have a dip in one of the area's mineral-rich hot-spring baths. For overnighters, there are scores of inns and hotels to choose from. A seriously luxurious option is Gora Kadan, a modern Japanese-style inn with open-air baths, a swimming pool, spa, and exquisite kaiseki dinners. Meanwhile, the picturesque Tozan line has several other interesting stops, including Miyanoshita, where you can have tea at the Fujiya Hotel, which dates back to 1878, and Chokoku No Mori, where you can visit the stunning Hakone Open-Air Museum, which has alfresco sculptures by artists such as Rodin and Henry Moore.

Take either the bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo Station to Odawara, or Romance Car train from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto. From Odawara and Hakone Yumoto, take the Tozan line. A Hakone Free Pass or Hakone Weekday Pass covers all modes of transport in the Hakone area.

Hamarikyu Gardens
1-2-1 Hamarikyu Teien
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3541 0200
Metro: Shiodome
www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/park/detail_04.html

If the relentless concrete and expressways get to be too much, take a short walk from Shiodome station to historic Hamarikyu Garden. Originally built in the 17th century for a feudal lord, it served as the first shogun's official duck-hunting ground and later became the residence of Ienobu, the sixth shogun, in 1704. Today the garden is an unexpected pocket of greenery, with beautiful pines, a large tidal pond, and two duck-hunting fields (unused, these days). The teahouse serves traditional green tea and Japanese sweets. The new skyscraper district of Shiodome now towers over the garden, providing what the Japanese refer to tactfully as "borrowed scenery."

Harajuku Neighborhood
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Harajuku

On weekends, this district of street fashion is crowded with wildly dressed kids who congregate near the entrance to the beautiful Meiji Shrine. Expect goths, cybergeishas, and "Lolitas" in mini-crinis. Rockers—top-to-toe in black and sporting serious hairdos—gather at the entrance to Yoyogi Park and dance for hours on end, even in the searing summer heat. The main drag is Takeshita Dori, a road that slopes down from the park and is lined with a carnival of teenybopper boutiques. If the "cosplay" shops don't appeal, wander up Meiji Dori for the row of stores overseen by the Japanese clothing brand Beams (there are 11 total), which range from a record shop to a high-end accessories space. The backstreets (a.k.a. Urahara) are where the sneaker, T-shirt, and street-fashion stores are found (Addition Adelaide, in particular, is worth a visit for its edgy-but-chic pieces from up-and-coming Japanese designers), as well as Vacant, a tucked-away gallery/performance space/café that opened in mid-2009—order a vegetarian curry and a beer to help you feel grounded after experiencing the Harajuku bedlam.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
4-7-25 Kitashinagawa
Shinagawa-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3445 0651
Metro: Shinagawa
www.haramuseum.or.jp

Opened in 1979, this private contemporary art museum is set in the former home of the Hara family. The house itself is very unusual, a Bauhaus-inspired structure built in 1938. The permanent collection takes in a broad range of international and Japanese artists, and there is a rotating schedule of first-rate exhibitions. Extensions have been built by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, and the small cafe-restaurant looks onto the garden.

Closed Mondays.

Iori Origin Arts Program
Sujiya-cho 144-6
Takatsuji-agaru
Tominokoji-dori
Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto
Japan 600-8061
Tel: 81 075 352 0211
kyoto-machiya.com/eng/origin.html

Sure, Kyoto's temples and shrines are must-sees. But to truly gain an understanding of Japan's history and culture, it's important to graduate from observing to participating. For more than 30 years, the Iori Origin Arts Program has connected Japanese cultural masters with tourists for hands-on classes in traditional arts such as Noh drama, aikido, tea ceremony, calligraphy, and Zen meditation. It's best to arrange for a full-day class, which covers four different arts, often culminating in group performances or parties at the center's Noh theater stage. (Half- and multiday programs are also available.) The Iori staff is also a great resource for more contemporary aspects of Japanese culture. Play your cards right, and they'll give you the inside track on the city's best karaoke megaplexes and whiskey-soaked jazz bars.—Colleen Clark

Kamakura
Kamakura
Japan

A former capital of Japan (1192–1333), Kamakura boasts 117 temples and 44 shrines as well as wooded hills, beaches, and the added advantage of being only an hour by train from Tokyo. Get out one stop before Kamakura at Kita (North) Kamakura, where there is a fine collection of leafy Zen temples, including Kencho-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Japan. The most popular shrine in Kamakura is Tsurugaoka Hachiman, a ten-minute walk from Kamakura Station. The 37-foot-tall Daibutsu or Great Buddha dates back to 1252 and is an amazing thing to behold. If you have any energy after sightseeing, follow the scenic Ten'en hillside walk, which takes a couple of hours and goes from Zuisen-ji in the east to Kencho-ji in the northwest.

For detailed maps and information, call the Tourist Information Center near Kamakura Station at 81-4-67223350.

Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa
Katsura Misono-cho
Nishikyo-ku
Kyoto
Japan 615-8014
Tel: 81 075 211 1215
sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/katsura.html

Built in the 17th century for an imperial prince, Katsura Rikyu is widely thought to be one of the best examples of how Japanese residential design masterfully integrates nature with architecture. As you walk through the villa, the views of the garden—which incorporates images from the classic Tale of Genji—change with each step. You must make reservations far in advance through the Imperial Household Agency. Instructions are on the agency's website, though you may ask your travel agent or hotel to handle arrangements for you, or stop by the Imperial Household Agency headquarters in Kyoto (3 Kyotogyoen, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto). Children—even teenagers—are not allowed, and tours are only in Japanese, though you can slip on a pair of headphones and listen to a pre-recorded audio tour in English. If you want to understand why traditional Japanese building techniques and aesthetics continue to influence architects and designers worldwide, it's worth the effort.

Kichijoji

Kichijoji is just a short, 20-minute subway ride from Shibuya, but it feels worlds apart from the bustling, neon-signed city center. The jewel in the crown of the charming neighborhood is Inokashira Park, with enough cherry blossoms in its 94 acres to make it one of the top hanami-viewing spots in Tokyo come early April. There is, however, plenty to keep you occupied year-round: In addition to a temple overlooking the Edo-era pond and the excellent, kid-friendly Ghibli Museum (tickets are issued with a specific entrance time, so be sure to book in advance), the streets leading up to the park are filled with shops and cafés befitting the neighborhood's bohemian residents. If the line at iconic yakitori spot Iseya is too long, Hachiju Hatiya's soaring ceilings and diverse menu make for an enjoyable, leisurely alternative.—Rebecca Willa Davis

Kyoto International Manga Museum
Karasuma-Oike
Nakagyo-ku
Kyoto
Japan 604-0846
Tel: 81 075 254 7414
www.kyotomm.jp/english

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is one of the few museums in the world where you're encouraged to get up close and handle the exhibits. You'll see locals perusing any of the 50,000 volumes that make up the Wall of Manga, three floors of comics free for the reading. In that way, the museum feels a bit like a library. Exhibits explain the history of the art form (which some say dates back as far as the Heian period, 794-1192), its expression abroad, and its use in animation. Interactive exhibits enable you to mix and match different eyes, noses, and mouths on characters or learn how to paint anime dolls and models. Live performances of manga-related street art feature storytellers that show illustrations in purpose-built frames(translations are provided). In short, the museum is the perfect answer to temple fatigue.—Colleen Clark

Open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays through Sundays 10 am to 5 pm.

Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)
Shibuya-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Harajuku
www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/

Leave the bedlam of Harajuku behind and walk to Meiji Shrine, a peaceful, wooded haven dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852–1912). Pass through the giant cypress gate (or torii) at the back of Harajuku Station and walk along the wide gravel path. The shrine is an impressive sight—austere wooden buildings surrounded by greenery. On a quiet afternoon it can feel a long way from Tokyo. Meiji Jingu is a popular place to get married; on the weekends you're likely to see a wedding party in traditional outfits.

Mineral Baths
Tokyo
Japan

Japan is famous for its rustic hot springs (onsen), and even Tokyo has its own mineral-rich baths. Azabu-Juban Onsen sits above a natural source whose dark waters are said to be good for all sorts of complaints, including poor circulation and sensitive skin (81-3-3404-2610; 1-5-22 Azabu-juban, Minato-ku; closed Tues). Soak in the old-style tiled baths and then relax with a beer and a plate of edamame soybeans. Alternatively, pay a visit to one of Tokyo's historic sento or public bathhouses. Built in the days when few houses had their own bathroom, their numbers are now sadly dwindling. One of the best is Daikokuyu, which has all the classic sento elements: spotlessly clean showers and baths for soaking (segregated for men and women) and giant murals of Mount Fuji (81-3-3881-3001; 32-6 Sento-kotobukicho, Adachi-ku). The etiquette is simple: Shower before getting into the bath, and once in the water, absolutely no soap, swimsuits, or washing of clothes!

Mori Art Museum
Roppongi Hills
6-10-1 Roppongi
Minato-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 5777 8600
Metro: Roppongi
www.mori.art.museum/eng/index.html

This contemporary art museum sits on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. It has large, stylish spaces and an ambitious exhibition program with a strong emphasis on contemporary Asian art. Unlike other museums in Tokyo, it's open seven days a week and late into the evening. A single ticket buys entry to the museum and also to the Tokyo City View platform on the 52nd floor—a great place to check out the Eiffel-esque Tokyo Tower and the elegant Rainbow Bridge.

Nakameguro Neighborhood
Meguro-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Nakameguro

Nakameguro, a spillover district from fashion-centric Daikanyama, is now a destination in its own right; it's been dubbed the new hip hangout by trend-conscious Tokyoites, although it's far quieter and more subdued than its neighbor. There's a good stretch of Euro-focused retail and culinary opportunities along the tree-shaded Meguro River, a popular stroll during cherry blossom season in early April. Look out for some unusual boutiques and art galleries upriver from the subway station, such as the Americana-obsessed vintage spot Olgou (81-3-3463-0509) and the minimalist menswear store 1LDK (81-3-3780-1645), plus one-offs like the alternative bookshop Cow Books. Downriver, the bookish riverside café Combine is alone worth a visit: It's a great place for a midday glass of sake or a café au lait.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis.

Nihon Mingei-Kan (Japanese Folk Crafts Museum)
4-3-33 Komaba
Meguro-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3467 4527
Metro: Komaba-Todaimae
www.mingeikan.or.jp/english/

A wonderful museum devoted to mingei or folk art, the Nihon Mingei-kan was founded by scholar Soetsu Yanagi in 1936. The mingei movement highlighted the beauty of simple, regional crafts that were in danger of being lost in the thrust for modernization. It was started by Yanagi and his friends, the potters Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji, and Kawai Kanjiro. A visit to the museum's traditional wooden building is a treat, removed as it is from the noise of nearby Shibuya. The collection includes ceramics and textiles and other handcrafted objects from all over Japan as well as items from China, Korea, the United States, and European countries.

Closed Mondays.

Nikko
Nikko
Japan
www.nikko-jp.org/english/

A Japanese proverb says, "Never say kekko until you've seen Nikko." "Kekko" means both splendid and satisfied, and the double meaning won't be lost on visitors to Toshogu, the mausoleum shrine of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan for 250 years. For sheer over-the-top exuberance, it is unmatched in Japan, with courtyard after courtyard of brightly painted, richly decorated buildings. The effect is both magnificent and overwhelming. Centuries before the arrival of the Tokugawas, Nikko's mountains and waterfalls had already made it a center of religious worship, and the area's natural beauty remains one of its main attractions. If you're staying overnight, try a traditional ryokan (inn) or the quaint old-fashioned Nikko Kanaya Hotel, which opened in 1875 (81-28-854-0001; www.kanayahotel.co.jp/nkh/index-e.html).

(About one hour and 40 minutes by train from Asakusa Station on the Tobu Asakusa line.)

Ota Memorial Museum of Art
1-10-10 Jingu-mae
Shibuya-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3403 0880
Metro: Harajuku
www.ukiyoe-ota-muse.jp/english.html

This tatami-floored museum (you must wear slippers inside) has one of Japan's best collections of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and offers a respite from the crowds of Harajuku. Founder Seizo Ota collected thousands of works, and all the best-known artists, including Hokusai and Hiroshige, are represented. Leave your shoes in a locker by the entrance and enjoy the peace and quiet. There's an interesting shop in the basement that sells hand-printed Japanese cloths called tenugui.

Closed Mondays.

Hotel Photo
Public Baths
Kyoto
Japan

After World War II, most Japanese didn't have baths in their homes, and the neighborhood bathhouse, or sento, served not only as a hygienic necessity but as a social place, where you could soak in the big communal tub and visit with your neighbors. The number of bathhouses has been plummeting, so visit while you still have the chance. It's a unique cultural experience, and a great way to relax. Many have saunas as well. For a small fee, you can buy a towel, soap, and shampoo to wash before you enter the baths—rinse carefully, if any soap gets in the tubs they must be drained and then refilled. And no, they're not coed. Girls go in one entrance, boys in the other. Ask your hotel or inn for directions to the neighborhood sento. Most are open from mid-afternoon until late at night, and all day on Sundays. Entrance is usually around $3. Two of Kyoto's best known are Funaoka Onsen (82-1 Minami-Funaoka-cho, Kuramaguchi-dori, Murasakino, Kita-ku; 81-75-441-3735) and Goko-yu (590-1 Kakimoto-cho, Goji-agaru, Kuromon-dori; 81-75-841-7321).

Roppongi Neighborhood
Minato-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Roppongi

The pink portals of the Almond Coffee shop, a landmark for decades, mark the epicenter of the infamous nightlife district you either love or loathe. Sweaty bars with names like Gas Panic, Geronimo's, and Castillo's, plus salsa clubs, hostess bars, and Irish pubs, have long attracted a motley and rowdy mix that included international models and American military personnel. But now Roppongi is polishing its reputation and attracting a new crowd to two gigantic multiuse developments that have sprung up right across the street from each other: Roppongi Hills, a dizzying indoor-outdoor collection of boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and cinemas, and the humongous Tokyo Midtown luxury mall, which most locals claim makes Roppongi Hills yesterday's news. The only solution is to go check them both out for yourself.

Hotel Photo
Saiho-ji (Moss Temple)
56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo
Nishikyo-ku
Kyoto
Japan 615-8286
Tel: 81 75 391 3631

Converted into a Zen temple in 1339, Saiho-ji Temple, in the southwestern outskirts of Kyoto, is justly renowned for its large and lush moss garden, which blankets the varied terrain with multihued green and blue fuzz. The effect is beautiful and rather otherworldly. To visit this World Heritage Site, you must reserve ahead of time by snail mail; the process is slightly complicated (you need a Japanese return address), so ask your travel agent or contact the tourist office for help a few weeks before you leave home. Visitors must be over 18. When you do arrive—at the assigned date and time—you'll be required, along with everyone else, to sit and chant sutras or else copy them out with ink and brush before the monks will allow you into the garden. It's all part of the fun.

Senso-ji Temple
2-3-1 Asakusa
Taito-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Asakusa

Tokyo's oldest temple is said to have originated in 628 when fishermen found a small gold statue of Kannon in their nets. Senso-ji, or Asakusa Kannon, as it's also known, is now one of Tokyo's most popular sights. Pass through the famous red gates (Kaminarimon) and walk up Nakamise Street along a row of small shops selling everything from tourist trinkets to traditional crafts. The temple itself is bustling with activity, particularly on festival days; on New Year's Day, the place is mobbed with hundreds of thousands of worshippers praying for good luck in the year to come. The temple was destroyed by firebombing in 1945, and the main hall (Hondo) was rebuilt in 1958. To the right of Senso-ji is the Shinto shrine Asakusa-jinja, which somehow has survived bombs and earthquakes and dates to 1649. To get to Senso-ji, either take a boat up the Sumida River from Hinode Pier or take the Ginza or Asakusa subway lines to Asakusa station.

Shibuya Neighborhood
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Shibuya

The crossing in front of Shibuya station, one of the busiest intersections in the world, is a sight in itself, with thousands of pedestrians and huge video screens blaring the latest J-pop. Shibuya is where locals come to get lost in the hilly maze of restaurants, shops, bars, clubs, and gaming parlors. This is the gathering place for Tokyo's kogyaru—girls with dyed hair, deep tans, and boyfriends to match—as well as uniformed schoolkids and salarymen out for a night on the town. Head past the video-screen towers, under the neon arches, and downhill into the winding streets, where stores such as the American cult boutique Opening Ceremony, which arrived in Tokyo in 2009, join established shops like Tomorrowland. Uphill is mostly residential, as well as a less frenetic location for hotels such as the Granbell Shibuya. —Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Shimokitazawa

Those looking to escape the neon lights and towering buildings of Shibuya will find a bohemian respite just five minutes away in Shimokitazawa. The neighborhood—one of the few in Tokyo to emerge from World War II unscathed—has long been a destination for the city's creative types, with its winding streets now filled with cafés, record shops, and vintage boutiques. Wandering on foot is the best way to explore the neighborhood (some throughways are closed to cars in the afternoon, and others are too narrow for anything more than bicycles), which offers up surprises if you venture down dead ends or peer up to spaces above street level. One such spot, Haight & Ashbury, fills its second-floor boutique with an impressive selection of '50s suits and '70s platforms. For something made this century, stop by Sally Scott for whimsical blouses and feminine dresses. Around the corner you'll find the throwback furniture shop A.M.A. Store, handmade jeweler Frank and Easy, and arguably the best coffee spot in town, Bear Pond Espresso.—Rebecca Willa Davis

Shinjuku Neighborhood
Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Shinjuku

Shinjuku is a metropolis within a megalopolis, an elevated neighborhood on top of the world's busiest station and Tokyo's western hub. This is modern Tokyo at its most unapologetic: a fast-paced, neon-branded, mind-boggling labyrinth of shops, high-rise malls, and clubs (some of which are a bit dodgy). Take a wrong turn and you could easily end up in edgy Kabuki-cho, the red-light district; the black-suited yakuza men outside clubs named Vanity or Goddess are a sure sign that you've strayed into Tokyo's darker side. The high-rise area around Nishi (west) Shinjuku is where you'll find the cathedral-like headquarters of the Tokyo government and one of the city's best hotels, the Park Hyatt. But the modern quickly fades to the grit and back-alley vibe of early postwar Tokyo in Golden Gai, which houses a warren of cubbyhole bars for live music and light snacks. Tokyo's gay district, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, has a decidedly international flair, with Euro-centric bars and clubs and the New York–inspired Brooklyn Parlor, as well as the legendary jazz favorite Pit Inn. Shinjuku also has one of Tokyo's most impressive public parks, Shinjuku Gyoen, which is popular during cherry blossom season in early April and well worth the small entrance fee.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Short Trips Outside Tokyo

As any resident will tell you, Tokyo is nothing like the rest of Japan, and since you're on the island, you really should take a train journey into the verdant hills and mountains just outside the metropolis. The beauty of the city's location is that within an hour on a train, you could be climbing 1,500-foot mountains, wending your way through the foliage in search of hidden Buddhist shrines, or eating noodles by the lush, ferny riverside on a breezy day. The two-hour trip to either Kyoto or Nikko is worth it. If not, there are closer destinations, such as the resort town of Hakone and the temple-clustered Kamakura each about an hour away. For those looking for Okinawa-like beaches without the long haul, the chain of Izu Islands running south of Tokyo offers up a tropical paradise reachable from the capital city in just 30 minutes.—Rebecca Willa Davis

Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium
1-3-28 Yokoami
Sumida-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3622 1100
Metro: Ryogoku
www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

Sumo wrestling is one of the quintessential Japanese sports, and there are three tournaments a year in Tokyo, all held at the sumo stadium in Ryogoku. Matches begin with the lower ranks and end with the top wrestlers. The best seats are in boxes of four (on tatami mats), although it will be hard to find a seat anywhere near the ring (or dohyo) on the day. Sumo is a hierarchical, traditional sport and rituals are strictly adhered to; even the waitstaff runs around delivering food and drinks in anachronistic garb. Bouts are short and tense, and crowds respond to well-fought matches by throwing their cushions in the air. Join the fans afterward and watch the supersize wrestlers leave the stadium in their cotton robes (yukata) and wooden shoes (geta). The Ryogoku area is brimming with historic sumo connections—there are numerous sumo stables in the area and many restaurants serving the chanko-nabe stew that wrestlers eat to bulk up. Consult the Sumo Association website for schedules and ticket information.

Tokyo Midtown
9-7-4 Akasaka
Minato-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 5413 0050
Metro: Roppongi
www.tokyo-midtown.com/en/

Does Tokyo's latest shopping, working, living, dining, and entertainment complex, which includes this earthquake-prone city's tallest building, the Midtown Tower (814 feet), relegate Roppongi Hills to "yesterday's destination"? Greenery-deprived and mall-loving locals, who relish Tokyo Midtown's cherry tree–dotted (and Wi-Fi accessible) grassy parks, seem to think so. Built in the heart of Roppongi on the site of the former Defense Agency, this is a great rainy-day destination. Check out the complex's art galleries, museums, and chic boutiques, or just wander and people-watch. With dozens of eateries, including Coppola's Vinoteca, which features wines from the film director's Napa vineyard (Tokyo Midtown Garden Terrace 2F, Akasaka 9-7-5; 81-3-5647-8301), and an outpost of New York's own Union Square Café, you'll never go hungry (Tokyo Midtown Garden Terrace 9-7-4, Akasaka Minato-ku; 81-3-5413-7780; www.unionsquarecafe.com). Better yet, book a suite at the complex's new Ritz-Carlton Tokyo (Akasaka 9-7-1, Minato-ku; 81-3-3423-8000; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Tokyo). And if you decide you want to stay forever, the hotel also has luxury residences.

Open daily 11 am to 10 pm.

Tokyo National Museum
13-9 Ueno Park
Taito-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Tel: 81 3 3822 1111
Metro: Ueno
www.tnm.go.jp/en

The national museum of Japan has a spectacular collection of Japanese art, but the displays can be on the old-fashioned side. One exception is the Horyuji Treasure House, a beautiful new building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi (the architect who remodeled the Museum of Modern Art in New York) to display the outstanding treasures of Horyuji Temple in Nara, one of the most important temples in Japan. The National Museum is located in Ueno Park, home to a clutch of top museums and Tokyo's Festival Hall.

Closed Mondays.

Tsukiji Fish Market
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Tsukiji Shijo
www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm

The best time to visit the world's largest fish market is at dawn, when most of the action takes place. (On your first day in Tokyo, your walloping jet lag will surely wake you before the sun comes up, anyway.) Tsukiji covers an area of more than two million square feet and handles more than 2,000 tons of fish each day. Don't be shy about wandering the narrow, inner lanes, where fish flown in daily from around the world are displayed and haggled over. But watch your back and keep moving: This is a serious place of business, and sellers and buyers—and scooters and motorized dollies—move fast and furiously. (Spectators were briefly banned from the exciting tuna auctions because they were getting in the way; currently, the tuna auction is off-limits except from 5 to 6:15 am.) If you oversleep, don't despair: The outer market is a great place to buy everything you'll need to prepare a Japanese feast in your own kitchen (check out the beautiful knives!), plus traditional woven baskets for hauling your purchases home. And of course, there are great (if basic) sushi restaurants there for a late breakfast, such as Sushi Dai, guaranteed the freshest you'll ever eat (81-3-3547-6797). With a controversial move to reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay slated for 2014, it's worth experiencing Tsukiji now, in its present incarnation.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Open Mondays through Saturdays 5 am to 2 pm.

Ueno Neighborhood
Taito-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Ueno

Ueno is the old-fashioned part of town that's popular with visitors who come for its cultural attractions. Several museums (including the Tokyo National Museum) and the Festival Hall are clustered in Ueno Park, which is also home to Japan's oldest zoo and Toshogu Shrine. The park has more than 1,000 cherry trees and is a popular spot for spring cherry blossom viewing. Ueno is close to Akihabara, also known as Electric Town, which is the place to go for the latest gadgets and electronics. The neighborhood is also ground zero for Japanese denim; stroll through the market (which was first established in 1949) that runs alongside and under the train tracks. Local brand Hinoya has not one but three shops—Plus One, Plus Mart, and Sun House—selling sought-after locally produced jeans by Burgus Plus, Momotaro, and Sugar Cane along the side street.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Yanaka Neighborhood
Taito-ku
Tokyo
Japan
Metro: Sendagi

Yanaka and its neighbors, Sendagi and Nezu, still retain something of the flavor of prewar Tokyo and make up the core of shitamachi, Tokyo's old downtown. Walk from Sendagi Station to Yanaka Ginza, a bustling shopping street selling everything from Japanese sweets to garden supplies. Yanaka highlights include the late sculptor Fumio Asakura's beautiful house, studio, and garden at the Asakura Choso Museum (7-18-10 Yanaka, Taito-ku; 81-3-3821-4549); SCAI the Bathhouse, a contemporary gallery space in a converted public bathhouse; plus plant-filled side streets and numerous neighborhood temples like Keio-ji. Finish up with a stroll through leafy Yanaka cemetery before heading to Yu Café in Nezu for a cup of tea or a bowl of its daily stew (2-13-4 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku; 81-3-3827-9263).—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.