Matsuri & More

23 WardsSumidaTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree DayTokyo Skytree Day

東京スカイツリー
Tōkyō Sukaitsurī

When to Go

If you are a tourist visiting Japan, I would suggest checking the weather and then buying tickets online a day or more before you go. Shop for the best prices because they will be different based on when and who you buy them from. Try to book for a weekday rather than weekends or during Japanese holidays if don’t like crowds. Autumn and Winter mornings are a splendid time for clearer views.

How Much?

The Tokyo Skytree view and “experience” does come at a hefty price and is by far one of the most expensive tourist spots in Tokyo.  To make things worse, it comes with a confusing price system.  But in short, make reservations and buy your tickets online if you want to save money.

If you go to Google maps and search for Tokyo Skytree, you’ll be given the option to buy tickets online via GooglePay portal, just click on the “Buy Tickets” button. The last time I looked prices were ¥2,700 each for adults for access to both the Tembo Deck (350m) and Tembo Galleria (450m). ¥1,800 if you just want to go to the Tembo Deck (350m). This is a pretty good deal especially compared to buying them in-person which is almost twice as much – and potentially more if you end up going on a weekend or holiday.  Other sites that offer decent prices are Viator.com and Voyagin.com.

View from Sumida Park
View from Sumida Park

First & Fourth Floors

Before heading up to claim your tickets, take a quick stop on the first floor. There’s a large digital picture scroll of Sumida River worthy of a quick glance. For you civil engineering & architecture buffs, there’s a window where you can see part of the super thick steel framework that supports the 634-meter (2080 feet) Tokyo Skytree.

Head to the fourth floor to claim or buy your tickets. If you’re really into modern art, there’s a nice display of Tokyo Skytree renditions in the form of several mediums and interpretations by several artists. Otherwise, head for the main entrance for online-purchased reserved tickets. For same-day tickets, head to the North & West entrances and follow the signs. There are also storage lockers for restricted items and large luggage. Yes, they will check your bags at security before they let you into the elevator.

Tokyo Skytree Night
Tokyo Skytree Night

Floor 350 and the Tembo Deck

The elevator ride up Tokyo Skytree is super-fast.  The maximum speed is 600m per minute or roughly 22 miles per hour, which did cause my ears to pop. I found the three HD screens displaying information and an idealized view of Tokyo to be very pretty. A nice touch for the ride up.

I’ll say this upfront, I really like sky views so I’m kind of biased here. Heights don’t really bother me, and I’m easily entertained by most sky decks. I could spend hours looking down trying to identify landmarks and estimate distances. The Tokyo Skytree really delivered on its promise of distant and unobstructed views. I was delighted by how they incorporated technology through multi-lingual touch screen displays equipped with a zoom feature and detailed information on various objects in the Tokyo skyline. Combined with the Tokyo Skytree Panorama Guide on my iPhone, it was easy to discover all the famous places located in the area, both near and far.

For extra fun, I tried out the VR Stations. Intended for inclement weather days, the goggles provide a 360 view outside Tokyo Skytree in Hi-def 3D.

One of the most surprising things I found on the 350th floor of the Tembo Deck was a painted folding screen by the famous Edo Period artist Keisai Kuwagata. Entitled “Edo Hitomezu Byobu” the painting gives a similar view to what can be seen from Tokyo Skytree, except back in the 1800s when Tokyo was called Edo.

Like any good observation deck, there were plenty of photo spots and a souvenir photo service. It costs about ¥1,500 and comes complete with both digital and physical photos decorative display folder. In addition, they’ll even use your own camera or smartphone to take a picture as well.

If you happen to go after 5 pm, projector displays will turn on and play a film right on the top half of the glass. The display roughly covers 255 degrees of the Tembo Deck, which is a rather fun way to watch a film as you walk around.

Tokyo Sky Tree Tembo Deck View
Tokyo Sky Tree Tembo Deck View

Down Floor 345 and Sky Restaurant 634 (Musashi)

The designated path leads you clockwise and downwards via escalators or stairs as you complete the circuit. Much of the views on the 345 floor are the same as the one above it, but here you can enjoy a fusion of Edo and French cuisine at the posh Sky Restaurant 634 (Musashi). Reservations are required. Lunch courses start at roughly ¥6,200 per person, and dinner course at ¥16,000. That’s roughly $60 and $158 respectively. The price reflects the superb quality of food and the above-and-beyond service. If you do decide to treat yourself and that lucky someone, I assure you that you are not just paying for the view.

Following the circuit and down a set of stairs or escalators will lead you to the final level of the Tembo Deck.

Anne at Skytree Tembo Deck
Selfie at Tokyo Skytree Tembo Deck

Floor 340 & the Glass Floor

Frankly, a modern observation deck isn’t complete without a glass floor facing directly down. The area is only 2 × 3 meters, but that’s big enough to take a nice selfie and post it on Instagram. They also offer a souvenir photography service as well. 

There is also the Skytree Café on this floor, but I suggest skipping it since much of what they have to offer is way overpriced for the quality. But if you’re looking to impress your significant other without breaking the bank, then go for that ¥850 ($8) ice cream parfait.

Tokyo Sky Tree View Down
Tokyo Sky Tree View Down

Floors 445 to 450 and the Tembo Galleria

If you bought a combo ticket, you’ll need to head back up to floor 350 to take the elevators up to the 445 floor.

Tembo Galleria is a glass-covered path that starts from the elevators that lead up and around to the 450th floor. At night, it feels kind of like a tunnel of love, with the path lit up in colored lights and the sparkling lights of Tokyo outside. It’s really the perfect place to take your hold hands with a loved one while enjoying the view. At the halfway point, there’s another souvenir photography service if you fancy spending even more money.

At the final floor, there’s an area called Sorakara Point, which marks your altitude at 451.2 meters above the mega-metropolis of Tokyo. To me, it looked like a stage built out of glass and animated LED lights – just a fun area to take photographs.

I know what you’re thinking: an extra ¥900 or so just to walk up a slope. Personally, I think the extra yen is worth it. Especially at night and during the end-of-year illumination season, when everything is decorated with glittering lights for the holidays. Plus, as far as I could tell, there is nothing preventing anyone from walking back down and up again.

Tokyo Skytree Tembo Galleria
Tokyo Skytree Tembo Galleria

Sky Tree Terrace Tours

So, you’ve blown roughly ¥2,700 just to view both the Tembo Deck and Galleria, maybe a few extra on official commemorative photos, souvenirs, and overpriced ice cream. Why not go whole-hog and book a tour at the Terrance for an extra ¥1,700.  Located at 155 meters above the ground, the staff will take you on a guided tour outside to view the Skytree’s structural supports. The tour guides only speak Japanese, but you can get a free audio device giving a similar lecture in English.

The trick to getting into one of these tours is to come on a weekday *before* you pick up or buy your tickets at the counter, and to check and see if the tour is available for that day. If it is, just simply ask to get into one of the time slots.

Tokyo Skytree Reflections
Tokyo Skytree Reflections

Pricy, But Fun.

I think we easily spent over ¥10,000 ($98 USD) Tokyo Skytree including food, souvenirs, and transport. It was also hard to resist some of the cute gatchapon machines scattered around the Skytree and down at the mall. I can see how one could easily spend twice that amount, especially with all the high-class restaurants and boutiques in the area tempting you at every step.  But thankfully, there are plenty of cheap options and a lot of free things to look at too. So no matter what your price range is there’s plenty of fun for everyone at Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree Illuminations
Tokyo Skytree Illuminations
Sumida River from Tokyo Skytree
Sumida River from Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Sky Tree Sumida River Night
Tokyo Sky Tree Sumida River Night
Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo Skytree
23 WardsBunkyoTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge

North ward viewNorth ward view

文京シビックセンター展望ラウンジ
Bunkyō shibikkusentā tenbō raunji

The Bunkyo Civic Center Observatory contains views from 130 meters up. With its unique 270-degree semi-circular shape, you can view the Tokyo Skytree at the east, Mt. Tsukuba to the north, and Shinjuku to the west. On a clear winter day, Mt. Fuji will show just behind the Shinjuku skyscrapers. Immediately below the civic center is Tokyo Dome City and the seventeenth-century garden of Koishikawa Korakuen. If you want good photos, use your best zoom lens, which is hopefully a 200mm or better.

The elevators to the observatory deck can get a bit tricky. If you enter from the first floor you first must take the escalators up to the 4th floor, then make your way to the elevators. You then take the elevator up to the 11th floor and then switch elevators which will stop at the 25th floor.  The elevators can get quite congested at around lunchtime and at around 5 pm as folks head out to go home.

If you want a fine meal with your view, make reservations at the Civic Sky Restaurant Chinzanso also on the same floor, but on the southern portion of the building. Lunchtime is from 11:30 to 16:00 and meals cost as little as 1300 yen. Dinner starts at 17:00 and ends at 23:30.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend visiting Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, a seventeenth-century garden done in the design of both Chinese and Japanese aesthetics. For more substantial entertainment, go to the Tokyo Dome City for events, amusement rides, matsuri-style foods. Personally, my favorite (although a bit pricy) Tokyo Dome spot is LaQua, a full-service onsen! If you’re looking for something more subdued and free, the University of Tokyo is roughly 20 minutes away by foot and offers a delightful scene of fall colors in November.



Bunkyo Civic Center Building
Bunkyo Civic Center Building
View of Koishikawa Korakuen Garden
View of Koishikawa Korakuen Garden
Bunkyo Civic Center View
Bunkyo Civic Center View
Tokyo Dome City Amusements . . . and Onsen!
Tokyo Dome City Amusements . . . and Onsen!
23 WardsShibuyaTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Yebisu Garden Place Tower Sky Lounge (Top of Yebisu)

Yebisu Garden Place Sky LoungeYebisu Garden Place Sky Lounge

恵比寿ガーデンプレイスタワースカイラウンジ
Yebisu gādenpureisutawā sukairaunji

Yebisu Garden Place (also called Ebisu Garden Place) is a virtual city of delights located in the Ebisu district of Shibuya. This multi-block complex is ripe with entertainments, fancy retail shops, and gastronomical diversions. And within the shining tower resides a romantic’s visual delight: Yebisu Garden Place Tower Sky Lounge, also known as Top of Yebisu

To find Top of Yebisu, you’ll have to head into Yebisu Garden Place Tower – don’t worry, there are plenty of signs and the elevators are clearly marked. Looking out the halls of the 38th and 39th floors, you’ll get unobstructed views of the Tokyo skyline.  Although it’s not a proper observatory, it does have east-facing windows with views of Minato ward, Roppongi Hills and the iconic Tokyo Tower. Shinjuku and Shibuya can be seen from the northside, while to the west is Mt. Fuji but only on a very clear day.

To make the most of your visit, I suggest visiting during the winter illuminations (November through January), when the grounds are dressed in twinkling splendor while you shop at the annual Christmas Bazaar. If you can’t make it during the holiday season, try attending the Yebisu Marche (Ebisu Marche), a farmer’s market held every Sunday throughout the rest of the year.

Regardless of the season, go for a tour of the Museum of Yebisu Beer or the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum before heading up Ebisu Garden Place Tower for a fantastic meal. For extra fun, stop by Cat Cafe Nyafe Melange for cats and coffee in a trendy setting, right next to Ebisu Station.

BTW: The 38th Floor mostly contains some of the best Japanese restaurants in Tokyo, while the 39th floor has an international selection with cuisines from China, Thailand, and Italy. It’s all delightful really and you can’t go wrong with whatever choice you make.



Yebisu Garden Place Tower
Yebisu Garden Place Tower
Yebisu Garden Tower Sky Lounge View toward the east
Yebisu Garden Tower Sky Lounge View toward the east
Yebisu Garden Square Decorated for the Holidays
Yebisu Garden Square Decorated for the holidays
Yebisu Garden Place in Mid Spring
Yebisu Garden Place in Mid Spring
Nyafe melange
Take a Cat Break at Nyafe melange Cafe
23 WardsSetagayaTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Sky Carrot Observation Lobby

View from Carrot TowerView from Carrot Tower

スカイキャロット展望ロビー
Sukai Kyarotto tenbō robī

In Setagaya City, nine minutes from Shibuya Station lives a lesser-known place to view the Tokyo skyline. It’s not a sparkling highrise made of steel and glass like the ones found in Shibuya or Shinjuku. In fact, it looks very orange with its brick facade. This is why the building is called Carrot Tower. According to the story, a contest among local children gave the commercial building its name. The winning child probably named it Carrot Tower due is garish color.

The Observation Lobby is located on the 26th floor and 126 meters high, with east-side views of Tokyo. This means you see much of Shibuya, Tokyo Skytree, and Tokyo Tower. To the west, there are views of Kanagawa and of course Mt. Fuji on a super clear day.

Carrot Tower is fantastic for tripod users. I’ve seen quite a few photographers use the housed ventilation near the windows as a place to set up their cameras. Due to the glass windows, I highly suggest using an adjustable lens hood. Modern technology is grand and they now sell silicone lens hoods that are perfect for reflection reduction when photographing through windows.

On weekday evenings you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself and you can take the time to set up your city night shot of Shibuya with both Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower in the same shot. If you want additional views, visit the Sky Carrot Bar and pay for a set lunch and slightly overpriced beer.

Finding the elevators to the Sky Carrot Tower Observation Lobby is a bit awkward. After you exit Sangenjaya station via the west gates just follow the signs toward Carrot Tower (キャロットタワー). As soon as you enter the building, go up the escalators to the 2nd Floor. From there you’ll find a pair of elevators which will lead you up to the 26th Floor. Just look for blue signs that say “26F展望ロビー レストラン” (26F Observation Lobby Restaurant).

Other than the observation lobby, there really isn’t much to Carrot Tower. Like many Tokyo buildings, it has shopping and food on the lower floors and business offices up in the tower. I suggest visiting interesting locations if you find yourself in Setagaya. One such place is Setagaya park, a great place if you have young kids in tow. On weekends and Wednesdays, they have Mini Steam Locomotive rides. There are also pedal go-carts where kids can drive around in a mini-traffic park with working traffic signals.

If you want additional views of Tokyo, hop back on the train toward Shibuya and stop at Ikejiri-ōhashi Station and follow signs for Meguro Sky Garden. Meguro Sky Garden is rather special: it is a garden constructed on a sloping roof solely to cover the intersection of two major expressways. For more adult fun, head back to Shibuya to see the hustle and bustle of Scramble Crossing and take selfies in front of Hachiko, the famous dog statue.


Carrot Tower
Sunset view from Carrot Tower
Sunset view from Carrot Tower
Model of Meguro Sky Garden
Model of Meguro Sky Garden
Hachiko at Shibuya
Hachiko at Shibuya
Miniature Train at Setagaya park
Miniature Train at Setagaya park
23 WardsShinjukuTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Rooms

TachoTokyo Metropolitan Government Building

東京都庁舎観察室展望室
Tōkyō-to Chōsha kansatsu shitsu

If you are a Godzilla fan, you’ll recognize this building. I certainly did! This building is from when the king lizard himself crashes right through the mid-section in the 1991 film “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (also known by locals as Tocho “都庁”) is home to two observation decks: South Tower and North Tower – Each having their own elevator entrance but both on the 45th floor. As of 2019, the North Tower Observation room is going under renovations but will reopen sometime mid-January 2020. Meanwhile, the South Tower Observation room is open and occasionally hosts live musical performances during your viewing pleasure.

At a height of 202 meters and favorable weather conditions, you can spy Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Dome, Mount Fuji, Tokyo Bay, and Tokyo Skytree. You can even get a glimpse of Yokohama to the west and Chiba to the east. Best time to view is early morning in Autumn or Winter when the air is less hazy. Sorry photographers leave your tripods at the hotel.

To enter the Observation deck, you’ll need to go down to the Observation elevators on the first floor, where security will check your bags before entry. Both towers have a café where you get reasonably priced refreshments and snacks. And of course, there are souvenirs available for purchase to commemorate your visit.

Since Tocho is a government building, the observation deck will be closed on certain holidays. On December 29th and January 3rd, both towers are closed but open on Jan 1st to welcome in the New Year. Because of the holiday period, there is less traffic and factory pollution in the Tokyo area, and you’ll be able to see fantastic views of Mount Fuji. Maybe snap some good pics with a sizable zoom lens.

Last time I checked the South Observation deck closes every first and third Tuesday of the month. Be sure to check the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s twitter account for updates and any closures when you’re in town.

Shinjuku is rife with delights, so if you’ll be making your way down to the Tocho, you might as well make a day trip out of it. I suggest visiting Shinjuku Central Park right next door, or Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden on the other side of Shinjuku Station. For some light family-friendly amusement, visit the TOTO Tokyo Center Show Room to marvel at Japanese toilet and washlet technology. For late-night fun, have your pick from hundreds of themed izakayas or Japanese bars in Golden Gai, but do make a quick stop at the ever instagramable Hanazono Shrine beforehand.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building gets high marks for being a really pretty building where you can really get some nice street photography shots with a decent 55mm lens or just a smartphone camera. The Observation rooms are nice, but not a target destination in themselves since there isn’t much else to do there except take in the views. It’s best as a side destination when visiting Shinjuku for the day.



Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
View of Yoyogi Park from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
View of Yoyogi Park from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Bright likes of Shinjuku Nights`
Bright likes of Shinjuku Nights
Golden Gai
Hanazono Jinja
23 WardsMinatoTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Caretta Shiodome Sky View

Carretta Shiodome Illuminations 2019Carretta Shiodome Illuminations 2019

カレッタ汐留 SKY VIEW
Caretta Shiodome Sky View

While not a proper observation deck, Caretta Shiodome Sky View does offer some fine views of the Odaiba, Rainbow bridge, the old Tsukiji fish market, the Harumi passenger ship terminal, Hama-Rikyu Gardens, the Imperial Palace, and Shinjuku. More of a lounge, Caretta is located on 46th and 47th floors and serves as a waiting area for the many restaurants on the same floor. I do have to warn you, there are a few windows and the field of view limited when compared to a real observation deck. The best views are located at the stairwells between the two floors. Caretta does, however, have the best elevator ride with pretty Tokyo views as you’re going up. The views overall are pretty good, but the best time to go is at night when Tokyo is blazing with city lights.

If you want to view Tokyo city proper along with the Imperial Palace and Shinjuku clearly visible, you’ll have to order a beer or meal at one of the restaurants there. Don’t worry it’s all good and tasty! If you go between November to January, you’ll get to see the Caretta light and sound illumination show in the courtyard below – a real romantic treat especially when you combo it with a fancy meal.

Also, in the area is the Hamarikyu Gardens – a beautiful public park built on the site of a 17th-century villa belonging to the Shōgun Tokugawa family. For a mere 300 yen ($2.80 USD) you enjoy perfect peonies, a sweet plum tree grove, and fields filled with flowers for every season. I also suggest visiting Tsukiji Outer Market for some lunchtime grazing. If you’re up for some iconic Tokyo scenery stop by Zōjōji Temple which is an easy 25 minutes walk from Caretta.

Honestly, Caretta Shiodome Sky View is best at night and during the winter illumination season. I just enjoyed bundling up and strolling through the pretty lights, thankful that I remembered to bring my hand warmers. Then heading up to the Sky View lounge to warm up with a warm drink and a light meal. *sigh*



View from Caretta Shiodome at Night
View from Caretta Shiodome at Night
Anne at Carretta Shiodome Illuminations
Obligatory Selfie at Carretta Shiodome Illuminations
Hamarikyu Gardens
View of Hamarikyu Gardens from the moat
Jizō-sama of Zōjōji Temple
Jizō-sama of Zōjōji Temple
23 WardsEdogawaTourist SpotsViewing Spots

Tower Hall Funabori Observation Deck

Night View of Tokyo from  Tower Hall FunaboriNight View of Tokyo

タワーホール船堀 展望室
Tawāhōru Funabori tenbō-shitsu

In the Edogawa ward, beyond the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo is a little-known observation deck. I assume it’s hardly known because many people refuse to take the trip out to the far side of Edogawa. Those who do head out in that direction are most likely going to Tokyo Disney, passing up this viewing spot for more frenzied delights.

Standing at only 115 meters, Tower Hall Funabori is considered small. However, it does boast a full 360 view and one best sunset views in the Tokyo area thanks to it being located east of central Tokyo. On a fantastic day, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Metro Building, and the multitude of skyscrapers just beyond the river are bathed in the pure golden light of sunset. And yes, on a clear day you can see a very distant Mt. Fuji. At night around 20:00 and toward the south, skies above Tokyo Disney light up with fireworks.

If you do decide to visit, I suggest that you also explore the area to fill out your day. Nearby is Ojima Komatsugawa Park located one stop before Funabori Station at Higashi-Ojima station. During spring Ojima Komatsugawa Park comes alive with a flurry of blossoms thanks to its prized collection of cherry trees. Within a 20 minute walk is the Edogawa Natural Zoo, a small and free zoo filled with adorable animals. Back toward central Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo Museum and Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena are also worth visiting and only takes a 20-minute train ride to reach.

Tower Hall Funabori is possibly the smallest observatory tower in Tokyo that I know of. For good photographs, a smartphone isn’t going to cut it, zoom lenses are the way to go. Since tripods are not allowed, long exposers can get tricky but last time I checked there are a few flat places to set your camera on. A photography support bean bag might help. Regardless of its remote location and photo finagles, I like Tower Hall Funabori because of cozy quiet atmosphere.



Tower Hall Funabori Sunset
Tower Hall Funabori Sunset
Cherry Blossoms are always lovely
Sumo at Ryōgoku Kokugikan
Sumo at Ryōgoku Kokugikan
Edo-Tokyo Museum
Edo-Tokyo Museum
Tower Hall Funabori
Tower Hall Funabori
23 WardsFoodLocal FavoritesTaitō

Yanaka Ginza

YakanaGinza
  • Official Name: Yanaka Ginza [谷中霊園] in Taitō-ku, Tokyo
  • Address: 3-chōme-13-1 Yanaka, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 110-0001
  • Closest Stations: Sendagi Station on the Chiyoda Line, Nippori Station on the JR Yamanote Line
  • Nearby landmarks: Yanaka Cemetery Park (谷中霊園 – Yanaka Reien), Ueno Park (上野公園 – Ueno Kōen), Asakura Museum of Sculpture 台東区立朝倉彫塑館 Taitō kuritsu asakura chōsokan)
  • Website: https://www.yanakaginza.com/

Retro Tokyo

Want to experience a bit of retro Tokyo? Then visit Yakana Ginza in the Northwestern edge of Taitō City. Within a five-minute walk of either Nippori Station or Sendagi Station, resides a collection of locally-owned food stalls, arty shops, and cozy cafes — all lining a short 175-meter street to form what’s known as a shōtengai (商店街) or shopping street.

By modern standards, Yakana Ginza is a small shopping street, but back in 1955 that’s all the locals ever needed. For a community rebuilding from the trials of World War II, Yakana Ginza supplied all their daily needs some of which you can still see today with its small produce stands and kitchen wears. Over the years, locals have tapped into their Edo-period Shitamachi roots to build a bustling tourist attraction on a grassroots scale.

What is Shitamachi (下町) you ask? In the 1600s Tokyo was geographically and economically divided into two: Shitamachi consisted of the physically low marshy part of the city along and east of the Sumida River, home to merchants, artisans, tradesmen, and trivial entrepreneurs. The other half of Tokyo was called Yamanote (山の手) and area refers to the hilly homes of the wealthy, upper-class citizens living just west of the Imperial Palace.

Cats & Shrines

Today, Yanaka is considered a part of the district of Yanesen (谷根千) together with Nezu (根津) and Sendagi (千駄木). Yanesen collectively is home to many restored and relocated Edo-period temples and shrines, and most importantly, home to a sizeable number of stray cats.

The cats appear to be drawn to the area’s extraordinary density of trees (by Tokyo standards), serene shrines, and hushed cemeteries. Yanaka Ginza locals love the kitties and are quick to give treats, so don’t be surprised if a neko-san or two comes strolling along the way. They’ve also have gone so far as to make a stray cat as their mascot. Paying a visit to any of the many stores will yield catty-themed commodities: from cat-shaped confections to feline ornaments and kitty print kimonos.

Going south beyond Yanaka Ginza toward Ueno, you can view numerous Edo period shines and temples from various sects. Also, in the area is Yanaka Cemetery Park, famous for Cherry-blossom Avenue, a path completely covered in beautiful cherry blossoms in April.

Yanaka Ginza Beckoning Cats
Yanaka Ginza Beckoning Cats

When to Visit

Although you can wander the street pretty much any time, the shops in Yanaka Ginza typically don’t open until around 10 AM and they close at around 7 PM at night. Some shops may even have shorter hours and are not even open on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, it all just depends on the owner. If you want to experience the most of what Yanaka has to offer in terms of shopping, visit either on Fridays or weekends since they’ll have sales and specials available ready to entice shoppers.

When it comes to seasons, my favorite time to visit is late Autumn — the temperature is comfortable and the air not too humid. By October and November, the academic season is in full swing, which means there are fewer students on holiday, unlike in the Spring. I should note that Tokyo summers can get oppressively muggy and often rains heavily. While the shops are still open, it’s just not as fun to sit outside as your beer gets diluted with rain. Winter is my second pick on when to visit, only because it’s dry and its fun to buddle up to some warm sake and a piping-hot meat skewer.

How to Visit Yanaka Ginza

Some shop workers will know a bit English, but I suggest downloading a simple Japanese travel phrasebook or get a fancy pocket translator since many are pretty darn good these days. Otherwise, pointing at the thing you want and then holding up the number of items you want on your fingers is your best option. They will usually say how much yen it costs in total.

For food, sample as much food as you want — nearly everything is tasty – just remember to stop when you decide to drink and eat, since eating and drinking while walking is considered rude. When you want to throw garbage away after eating, look for bins and either end of the street – usually one for plastic bottles and another for burnable garbage. Sometimes the shop will throw paper wrappers or skewers away for you after eating, especially if you thank them and tell them how delicious their food was.

If you are staying for longer, consider taking a class or lesson at the Yanesen Tourist Information and Culture Center. The staff speak English and are super friendly. Lessons usually involve various traditional Japanese activities such as how to wear a kimono, making soba, ikebana or flower arranging, tea ceremony and even how to wear kabuki costumes. If you’re looking for a more extensive tour of the area, they’ll introduce you to a local guide who will take you around the area and offer explanations in English.

Yanaka Ginza stores tend to close around 6 or 7 PM, so go early in the day.

Shops to Visit in Yanaka Ginza

Best Shop for Omiyage (aka “Gifts” or “Souvenirs”)

YUZURIHA (谷中店) – Yuzuriha is a cute confectionary shop that features a seasonal rotation of Japanese style sweets. I recommend buying the cute cat paw candies.

Best Spot for a Mid-Morning Pick-me-up

Yanaka Manten Doughnuts – Simple is best! Baked not-fried donuts with a decent cup of coffee or tea. My personal favorites are the matcha and maple donuts.

Best Store for a Cold Beer on a Hot Day

Echigoya Honten – Echigoya is a small-town liquor store, not the hotel that once stood here. The original Echigoya Hotel was founded at the end of the Meiji period. They offer super cheap cold beer and a crate at the front of the shop to sit and enjoy it. If beer is not to your bent, you could also try local fruit wines or Japanese sake.

Kitty and Cold Beer – A good combo

Best Fried Food to Go with Your Beer

Niku-no-Sato (肉のサトー) – Famous for its numerous TV appearances, this butcher shop has been selling croquettes, menchi-katsu, and fried meats since 1933. Their signature Yanaka Mechchi sells for under 200JP¥ ($1.80). I can just imagine the juicy meat and fragrant onions encased in a crispy fried panko. Yummy!

Best Place for Posh Japanese Deserts

Waguriya (和栗や – “Japanese chestnut”) – This cafe is the only place to serve Japanese chestnut desserts throughout the year. Their specialty is a mont blanc, a desert-adapted from its French namesake. The Nipponese mont blanc is an exquisitely layered confection featuring a sponge cake base covered with fresh cream and rich chestnut cream. A whole chestnut is pressed into the cream, followed by a generously pipped heap of chestnut purée. Depending on the season they’ll dress the mont blanc with other flavors like strawberry, matcha, or sweet yam, but rest assured there will be chestnuts within. During autumn weekends, they’ll break out a chestnut roasting engine which billows out steamy goodness.

Chestnut cream & Melons

Best Store for Tea & Accessories

Kinyoshien (金吉園) – Pick from a variety of Japanese green teas including ones you may have not even heard of. Fancy teapots and teacups would also make a fine gift. My personal favorite is the beautiful colorful tea containers and the tiny ceramic kitties to perch your chopsticks upon.

Best Cat Kitch Store

Neko Action – In partnership with local artists, this store sells some of the cutest kitty-themed goods I’ve seen. Also, apart from stationery, accessories, and kitchen accessories, you might also spot the occasional sleeping cat.

Anything with cats is good!

Best Kakigōri “Shaved Ice” for a Super-Hot Day

Himitsudō (ひみつ堂) – This adorable shop is best known for its handmade fruit syrups poured over a heap of hand-cranked shaved ice. Flavors change regularly enough to make you come back almost daily. My personal favorite flavor is the Miyazaki Mango Short. If you visit in the summer, be ready to wait in line because this place is popular. I should note that their menu changes quite often, and if you’re curious as to what the owner has planned for the day, visit the shop’s Twitter account at himitsuno132

A happy Cat
FoodJapan: For Better or WorseLife in Japan

Tokyo Convenience Stores

7-11 Japan is nothing like its American counter part7-11 Japan is nothing like its American counterpart

If you were to pick adjectives that are essential to understanding Tokyo, “convenient” would be a pretty choice to put high on the list. I recall climbing to the top of a mountain shrine and finding an ice-cream stand waiting for me. Whatever you might need or want is often close at hand here.

They are omnipresent

I’d say that it’s very difficult to walk three blocks in Tokyo without encountering at least one convenience store. There are three within one block of my apartment, and about 6 if you go out to three blocks. You will find them in malls, office buildings, museums, subway stations, and in your dreams.

Not only that, but most of these stores are open 24 hours. This may change, labor shortages are putting pressure on these stores in the form of higher wages and that’s leading owners to want to close them up in the wee hours, but so far, most remain open 24/7.

The big three

Three companies make up the vast majority of convenience stores in Japan. There are certainly other chains and a few independent small markets, but these guys are the giants of the business: 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson.

You may be a little surprised to see two American brands on this list. 7-11 is generally credited as the first convenience store to open in Japan and to spark their love of this institution. The then Texas-based company franchised to a Japanese company. When the parent fell on hard times, they were bought out by the Japanese firm.

Likewise, Lawson’s started as an American firm but was purchased by its Japanese counterparts as the business boomed in Japan and stagnated in America. Family Mart has always been a Japanese firm despite bearing an English name.

Each has its own supposed specialty. Lawson’s is known for its fried chicken, Family Mart for its deserts, and 7-11 for its overall selection of quality offerings. Personally, I don’t find that much of a difference in their offerings beyond the particular house brand items they sell.

What you can buy

Like in the US, a convenience store in Japan dedicates most of the store to food and drink. The big difference is the character of what is offered. You can buy a lot of pre-made meals at these stores. They are not frozen but they are kept in a refrigerated display. You can find dishes appropriate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Unlike at an American fast food place where the “fresh” food offerings are largely all unhealthy county-fair style food, the Japanese convenience store offers a wide range of both healthy and indulgent offerings. You can find soups, salads, pasta, rice bowls, sandwiches, vegetable dishes, curry, and complete lunch box meals (bento). The quality of these meal offerings is surprisingly high.

Snack foods are about as plentiful as fresh foods. You can find a range of candy, chips, crackers, pastries, dairy, and fruit snacks. Overall, you find a wider range in the type of snacks offered, but fewer options for each type. Instead of 6 brands of regular chips, they will have one brand with six different style chips.

If you want to try some Japanese snacks, you can order many different variety snack packs on Amazon.

There are a range of drinks including alcoholic beverages. The style of drink varies more than in an American store but the number of offerings is a bit smaller. Coffee drinks are the mainstay in Japan, followed by tea. Various juices and sodas round out the mix. They also offer cigarettes.

Convenience stores are light on sundries but you will find some basic stationery supplies and hygiene products. There is usually a comics and magazine rack, a third of which is commonly dedicated to light pornography. It has been announced that the “adult magazines” will be phased out as of the 2020 Olympics.

But wait, there’s more

One thing that isn’t obvious to the casual visitor is that the convenience stores also serve as a kind of banking service. You can pay most of your utility bills and other government obligations at the convenience store. You can even mail packages at many locations. The ATMs are kind of super-sized and offer robust banking features.

Onigiri "Rice Balls"
Onigiri “Rice Balls” are commonly found in all Conbini stores.

Sorry, no Car Stuff

What you won’t find at most convenience stores are automotive-related products. This is especially true in Tokyo where you won’t even find parking spaces most of the time. Gas stations in the city are a very different animal than in the US and driving overall is just a lot less common. Outside the city, things may well be different but in Tokyo, I’ve never seen a gas station combined with a convenience store.

And no Slurpies

The branding of 7-11 in Japan is utterly different than in the US. I knew that going in but I was surprised that the Slurpee, an icon of the 7-11 brand in the US was nowhere to be found. Pretty much the only thing the stores share is the name and the fact they are small stores selling food, drinks and snacks.

Better or Worse?

I have to go with better here. The fact I can get a latte and an Alfredo pasta plate at 7-11, both of which will be pretty darn tasty gives the Japanese side of the aisle a big boost. If you say “I ate dinner at the convenience store.” it doesn’t sound like an act of desperation. The range of financial services you can find also sets it apart. Finally, Japanese snacks simply have a much wider range of tastes and textures than American snacks offer.

That said, I think 7-11 shows that the company has taken a hard look at the Japanese and American markets and delivered what their customers in each place expect from the brand. Americans expect and need motor oil and gasoline at their convinced stores, people in Tokyo don’t. The food options at 7-11 probably say more about the tastes of Americans than the management of the 7-11 corporation.

23 WardsBunkyoTourist Spots

Nezu Shrine

Nezu Shrine North ToriNezu Shrine North Tori

Nezu Shrine (根津神社 – Nezu-jinja) hides well like a precious jewel inside a small pocket of Tokyo’s thick cloak of concrete. Nestled away within the eastern portions of Bunkyo Ward, stands a beautiful set of red painted buildings walled in by verdant greenery.

Since Nezu Shrine is a mere 15-minute walk from where Sig and I were staying, we made it one of our first stops after setting foot in Tokyo.

Tunnel of Torii

From the busy street, the area looks like a simple park, until we wandered deeper into one of the three entrance paths. According to Shinto belief, a tori entrance indicates a transition between the mundane to the sacred.

Although the looming Torii main gate did impress me, I found the path of a hundred or so vermilion torii beautiful — something about repeating patterns feels comforting. This torii tunnel leads me through the hillside just west of the main hall.

Stooping slightly as not to hit my head, the steps took me to a viewing platform with a small shrine and pavilion. From here I could see the main shrine and a koi-filled pond below. Nearby, a cozy Otome Inari Shrine sits guarded by two fox statues.

Otome means “maiden,” and the Inari is the god or spirit of foxes, fertility, rice, tea, sake, and anything agriculture related. I was told that newly wedded ladies often pray here for a good marriage. I’m hardly a maiden, but I did drop a customary five yen coin into the box and make a quick wish.

Tunnel of Torii
Tunnel of Torii

Tower Gate

We make our way down the hill through a shorter path of torii, and then through a rōmon (楼門). Beneath this two-story tower gate, two zuishin or guardian statues sit in alcoves, ready with their bows and arrows. I guess if the shrine came under attack, the warrior-gods would spring to life and ascend the tower to rain arrows upon the enemy.

Court Yard & Lattice Wall

Before we reach the Main Hall, we crossed beneath an embellished karamon (唐門 – Chinese gate) and into a courtyard surrounded by a sukibei (透塀 – latticed wall). Against a sacred camphor tree, lines upon lines of paper fortunes tied to strings swing lightly in the wind. Dozens of small wooden plaques hang in hopeful anticipation of the new year. As we approached the offering box, I noticed two large Komainu or “lion dogs” guarding the shrine, each with a fierce stony gaze.

Main Hall

Also called a honden in Japanese, Nezu’s main hall is ornately designed with golden embossing along its lintels and pillars. Even the steps leading up and into the chamber seem to shimmer. I peek inside the worship hall and see a wall-to-wall tatami floor and a shrine in the back. I am awe-struck that this beautiful structure survived the firebomb attacks during World War II.

According to nearby kiosks, Nezu shrine itself is built in the Ishi-no-ma-zukuri (石の間造) style, where the worship chamber (拝殿 – haiden) and the inner sanctum (本殿 – honden) are connected under a single roof. If you’re wondering, the haiden is where people gather, and service is held. The honden is off limits to the public since this is where the enshrined kami lives, customarily signified by a mirror or statue.

Main Shrine
Main Shrine

The Legend

Although not officially captured in historical texts, legends say that Nezu shrine was founded in Sendagi during the 1st century by Prince Ōsu (also known as Yamato Takeru), son of Emperor Keikō. At that time, the shrine was dedicated to Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of the sea and storms. If this legend were proven to be true, it would date Nezu Shrine as the oldest Shinto shrine in Tokyo.

But in full disclosure, nothing of that 1st-century shrine remains. The Nezu Shrine we see today comes from Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. The shogun moved and entirely rebuilt Nezu Shrine in its current location, and what he kept or didn’t keep from the original shrine is hard to say. However, historical records do state that Tsunayoshi undertook the move of Nezu Shrine in 1705 in a successor-naming celebration.

Nezu Shrine Bunkyo Azalea Festival

Every April, the hills to the west of the Torri tunnel comes alive with thousands of Azalia blossoms from over a hundred different varieties. Amid the colorful blooms, performers and food stalls delight any and all. With the various azalea breeds, the blooming can last a well into May or later, resulting in one of Tokyo’s longest running festivals during the spring season.

I should note that Nezu Shrine for much of the year is free to the public, but during the Azalea Festival you have to pay a small fee of ¥200

Otome Inari Shrine
Otome Inari Shrine