Most people think of Tokyo as this massive metropolis filled with sky-piercing skyscrapers, flashy neon, and quirky trends. For the most part, it’s not far off the truth. However, look beyond the futuristic infrastructure and you will find a different side of Tokyo, one which perfectly showcases the cultural heritage of the bustling metropolis.
Well-preserved historical landmarks and monuments can be found in abundance in Tokyo. That’s if you know where to look, that is. Let’s take a journey through the depths of Tokyo’s history and visit these intriguing attractions that have stood the test of time. Here are 8 historical attractions in Tokyo you should definitely check out!
Also read: Day Trips from Tokyo
1. The Imperial Palace
With beautiful 17th-century architecture set in scenic landscape, the Imperial Palace is one of the most prominent attractions in Tokyo. Nestled in an oasis in the heart of the city, the palace dates back all the way to 1457. It is located in a beautiful park dotted with mottes and massive stone walls. It’s even prettier during cherry blossom season!
The Feudal Lord Ota Dokan initially built the first fortress, a focal point from which the city of Tokyo (previously known as Edo) gradually expanded. Leading to the palace’s interior, the Nijubashi Bridge is popular too and named after the way it reflects on the water to display a “double bridge” illusion. The palace itself is a grand example of the establishments of yesteryear and a fitting start to the discovery of Tokyo’s rich history.
2. The Sensō-ji Temple
The awe-inspiring Sensō-ji Temple is the beating heart of the Asakusa district. Considered Tokyo’s most renowned shrine, Sensoji Temple was built all the way back in 645 AD. This ancient structure is easily one of the top tourist attractions in Japan and it’s easy to see why. Amazingly, the colossal landmark has retained its original appearance despite having been rebuilt several times over the years.
The iconic photospot here is the Kaminari-mon Gate. Comprising a 3.3-meter-high red paper lantern that bears a bold inscription reading “Thunder Gate”. Within the temple complex, you’ll find plenty of stores selling Japanese handicraft, including some pristine chopstick, and traditional snacks. Don’t forget to get your omikuji (written fortune) before leaving the shrine!
3. The Meiji Shrine
The construction of the elegant Meiji Shrine started in 1915 and was later completed in 1926. The shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. Sadly, the original structure had been destroyed during WWII, so the shrine that visitors gawked at these days is actually a restored version built in 1958.
Despite that, Meiji Shrine remains one of Tokyo’s most significant religious sites. The fact that it is surrounded by a massive 175-acre evergreen forest also makes it one of the city’s most picturesque locations. Emperor Meiji was a skilled poet and you can actually draw excerpts of his poetry here (translated into English). If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a traditional Japanese wedding too!
This historical district once stood as a crucial congregation point for emergencies like fires or earthquakes. It was even used as a safety zone during the bombings of World War II.
These days, Yanaka exists somewhere between the past and the present and is one of Tokyo’s most overlooked attractions. It is one of the few places where you can experience the ambiance and nostalgia of the old Tokyo. Locals call it the “shitamachi atmosphere”. One of the must visit locations is Yanaka Ginza, a shopping street which sells a plethora of goods and produce.
5. Ueno Park
Ueno Park, which spans 212 acres, is Tokyo’s largest green space and is filled with gravel paths that lead to numerous temples and interesting museums. You can even take a trip on a quaint boat on the Shinobazu pond. We highly recommend this as an activity during spring!
In addition, Japan’s oldest zoo, the Ueno Zoo is also located here. It first opened its gates in 1882 and has been operating ever since. It houses Asia’s largest aquarium and even a couple of cuddly pandas!
6. Tokyo National Museum
With its majestic Edo-style architecture, the Tokyo National Museum is a sight to behold from the outside. Inside however, is where it really takes the cake. The museum houses more than 100,000 important works of Japanese, Chinese and Indian art, as well as over 100 national treasures.
Initially established in 1938, the museum has since expanded considerably and now even includes exhibits showcasing Buddhist sculptures and traditional Japanese clothing. If you’re looking to get some insight into Japan’s extensive history, you shouldn’t miss this spot. It’s located along 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku.
7. The Kabuki-za Theatre, Ginza
Japan was one of the pioneers of theatrical performances (in what is traditionally known as Kabuki). The historic Kabuki-za Theatre represents the pride and joy of Tokyo’s artistic cultural scene. Found within the busy Ginza district, this fascinating attraction is home to many famous traditional Kabuki performances made up of medieval, burlesque theatrical forms of song and dance.
The interior of the theatre itself has a capacity to accommodate some 2,500 guests, while performances can last for hours as spectators come and go as they please. It’s quite an experience for tourists who aren’t familiar with Japanese history and definitely one I recommend checking out!
8. The Tokyo Station Hotel
Want to really experience a piece of Tokyo’s living history? Then head on down to the Tokyo Station Hotel where you can stay in one of the city’s most vintage buildings.
This intriguing hotel dates back more than a century and was initially closed to the public. However, it was re-opened in 2012 after the completion of some extensive renovations. Despite its age, the hotel offers guests all the modern comforts and amenities we’re all used to whilst still maintaining its rustic elegance from days gone by.
Despite its reputation as an ultra-modern city, Tokyo definitely still has plenty of historical gems to offer. We hope this list inspires you to check out some of the historical attractions in Tokyo. You surely will not regret it!
Also read: 4D3N Itinerary for Kyoto