As a business traveller to Japan’s capital, one is most likely to visit the areas of Shinjuku and Ginza. The former is known for its collection of skyscrapers — the city’s tallest buildings, observation decks, Tokyo’s premier hotels, government offices, department stores, eateries and bars. Japan’s largest red light district is just a short walk from Shinjuku station. Ginza is the shopping district for luxury brands and has a number of malls for those looking for a mix of local and international brands. Apart from these, below are five spots to visit when you have just six hours of leisure time on hand.
Sensoji or Asakusa Kannon Temple
Its legend goes back 1,400 years, when two brothers went fishing in Asakusa area and accidentally caught an idol of goddess Kannon in their net. They kept returning it to the waters, only for it to return to them each time they cast their net in search for fish. And so, recognising this as an auspicious sign, the temple was built in the year 645. Visitors enter through the Kaminarimon gate that is guarded by idols of the wind and thunder gods standing on each of its sides. Hanging from the centre is a large lantern, at the base of which is a beautiful etching of a dragon. Beyond this gate is the sprawling temple ground that has the main hall within which goddess Kannon resides. Outside this building is a water station where you should wash your hands and feet before entering the shrine, as a sign of respect. There is also a five-storey pagoda (primarily for the temple’s official use) and Japanese gardens within the temple premises. There is a free, self-service “fortune telling” cabinet too. It involves shaking a box until a stick with a number on it falls out. Correspond that number to those on the cabinet drawers, which have the prediction printed on a piece of paper within. The fortune is written in English and Japanese.
• Open daily 6:30am-5pm; free entry; senso-ji.jp.
The first image that comes to mind for most when “Tokyo” is uttered, is the one with neon lights, wide streets, neatly arranged traffic, and crowds hurrying to their destinations. A picture that sums it all up beautifully is the famed Shibuya crossing that is also the busiest in Japan. Traffic lights at the intersection are synced such that they turn red the same time. This is when, what is believed to be about a 1,000 pedestrians, cross the road all at once, from all directions. An aerial view would make it seem like a bag of coloured marbles has been spilled in Tokyo’s busiest shopping district. While here, visit Shibuya 109, the neighbourhood mall with over 100 international and local brands selling everything from fashion to home decor. For a meal, step into the basement of Shibuya Station and walk through Tokyu Food Show to choose from a range of restaurants serving authentic Japanese cuisine, locally brewed beers, and confectionery. There are plenty of other shops too that sell packaged edibles to bring back home.
• Shibuya 109: open daily 10am-9pm; shibuya109.jp
• Tokyu Food Show: open daily 10am-10pm; tokyu-dept.co.jp/toyoko/foodshow.
The Imperial Palace
This site was once a base for the last feudal Japanese military government, Tokugawa Shoguns from the Edo Period. When the feudal system started falling apart, what is known as “Meiji Restoration” or a complete reinvention of Japan took place in the late 19th century. This is when Emperor Meiji occupied the throne and made the Imperial Palace his home. A tour of the palace grounds lasts about an hour; visitors aren’t allowed entry into the palace buildings as they’re still serving the Imperial family. However, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace is open to tourists. It is beautifully landscaped with koi ponds, garden rocks, wild shrubbery, colourful flowers, aesthetically uneven manicured lawns and short footbridges. One must apply in person (9:30am-9:50am and 1pm-1:20pm) to schedule a visit to the palace grounds, which includes the garden.
• Open Tuesday-Saturday; the morning tour starts at 10am and the afternoon tour starts at 1:30pm; free entry; sankan.kunaicho.go.jp.
It is the world’s tallest freestanding broadcast structure. At various levels of the tower, there are cafes, gift shops and displays depicting traditional Japan. For the real thrill though, take the lift all the way up to the three-level TOKYO SKYTREE Tempo Deck: floors 340, 345 and 350. Floor 350 is the entrance to the deck, where Edo Hitomezu Byobu by period artist Keisai Kuwagata is one of the more interesting aspects, apart from the view. Visitors can compare his painting of the area with what you see before you through the glass walls. If you’re feeling adventurous, lean against the glass walls for a selfie with Tokyo’s panorama. Higher up, from floor 445 one can walk to the deck’s highest point on floor 450 through a transparent tube. One needs to pay more to access these final levels. Near the exit lobby on floor 340, look down at Tokyo through a glass patch, and for the daredevil, stand atop it, which is 340 meters above the ground.
• Open daily 8am-10pm; ticket prices start from JP¥2,060/₹1,245; tokyo-skytree.jp.
At around 5pm, shipments arrive at the market from all over the world by air, rail, sea and road. At around 3am, the raw seafood, including those sourced from local fishermen, is laid out in preparation for the 5:30am auction. The Tsukiji market is most active during late night or early morning hours when wholesalers, retailers and end consumers find the best bargains. Vendors display their stock ranging from octopus, eels and squid to tuna, shellfish and oysters amongst others, on chilled stone slabs or ice beds. Raw seafood is the main products found here. On the far ends of the market area you’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and flowers, which are also auctioned in the morning at 7am. It is not taken too kindly if tourists try to participate in the auction, as this is the time for doing business for the industry of perishable goods. As the hour approaches noon, the market has pretty much wrapped up and the workers pack up for a siesta before returning to their stations again in the evening. If you’re here in the morning, don’t leave without queuing up outside the fresh sushi bars in the market. The flavours are most authentic in this part of Tokyo. Expect a minimum wait time of 15 minutes.
Mega Web — Toyota City Showcase
Automobile enthusiasts will enjoy spending a few hours at Mega Web — Toyota City Showcase. Dedicated to seeing, feeling and riding motor vehicles, this exhibit displays Toyota’s latest advancements and technologies. You can closely observe hybrid and concept cars of Toyota through groundbreaking augmented reality experiences crafted especially for Mega Web. Initiatives related to safety and environment are presented via interactive sections that are equipped with awe-inspiring tech. This includes the brands new preventive safety package “Toyota Safety Sense” that is a three-minute virtual test-drive experience. Additionally, you can also get a first-hand glimpse of Toyota’s safety simulation that takes you through pre-crash safety and lane divergence alerts. There is a History Garage too that has vintage cars by the Japanese manufacturer on display. If you’re looking to purchase a Toyota vehicle, you can head to the lineup zone where you can closely view 80 of the automaker’s latest models. There is also a 1.3km course where you can take any of the Toyota cars for a test-drive, before making a decision.
• Open daily 11am-9pm; megaweb.gr.jp.