Since the end of WWII, Japan – and Tokyo in particular – has blossomed into a first-in-class, world destination showcasing the best in art, entertainment, culture, dining, architecture, and more. No wonder, then, that Tokyo landmarks are some of the most breathtaking in the world, featuring mind-bending architecture, Japanese tradition, and sacred history. To celebrate this, join us on a tour of 9 of the most incredible Tokyo landmarks in the city’s history.
1: Tokyo Stock Exchange
While Americans often think of Wall Street as the center of the international financial world, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it plays a pivotal role in the U.S., but other economic giants – like Japan – have equally impressive financial capitals. As the third-largest stock exchange in the world, Tokyo’s bastion to masterfully-traded Yen boasts a market capitalization of more than $5 trillion.
Now under the purview of the Japan Exchange Group, Inc., the Tokyo Stock Exchange houses the stock trading of some 2,292 companies. The building itself is a 2000-era creation of imposing stone; while this certainly nods to its 1878 predecessor, it is a significant upgrade with an interior awash in glass and light wood, fitted with the latest technology.
Fun fact: Visitors can take a self-guided tour and stop by the heart-pumping stock game, offering a real-life look into trading in the modern era. Set aside 30 minutes to play.
There is no cost for self-guided tours and gameplay, according to the building’s website.
Every city has a convention center, but Tokyo has a forum – and it can be argued this is a mite grander than most urban exhibition halls. Spread over 53,000 square-feet, its weaving steel and glass interior is a feat of modern architecture.
The forum was built in 1996, though you’d hardly suspect the building is now a quarter-century old; the towering, ship-like exterior seems a stretch of engineering while the eight exhibition halls – one seating 5,000 – hosts the latest talents from dance, music, and theater. Additionally, the forum boasts restaurants, shops, and soaring lobbies as part of the grander structure.
There’s a touch of history in the mix, too; the forum sits on the city’s old city hall, while a bronze statue of the 15th-century samurai warrior-poet Ōta Dōkan stands guard on the first floor, protecting the forum’s pursuit of the arts.
The forum is generally open to the public, though various halls may be closed off for events throughout the year.
3: Tokyo Tower
What, the Eiffel Tower in Tokyo? Sort of. The Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, is a communications and observation tower modeled after the Eiffel Tower that scales to almost 1,100 feet – making it the second-tallest building in the country. At its base sits the four-story FootTown, filled with shops and restaurants that are popular with both tourists and locals, while two observation decks are accessible to the public higher up the tower. Functionally, the tower continues to serve as a broadcast hub for analog and digital stations across Tokyo.
If you find yourself in Tokyo on a clear day, be sure to head up the tower for views and photos, then head down to FootTown and grab a rice bowl at Tanbaya – nothing is more satisfying.
4: Tokyo Dome
If you love baseball, you’ll love the Tokyo Dome. To be fair, the 500,000 square-foot stadium is used for more than Japan’s favorite pastime, but as the Japanese love baseball, it certainly sees its share of home runs.
Impressively, the dome – often called “The Big Egg” – sports an air-supported roof. How does it stay up, you ask? Well, the stadium is slightly pressurized. We’d get into the physics but it’s a little beyond us; suffice it to say, the “egg” top was incredibly innovative when it was built in the late ’80s.
The stadium seats up to 55,000 for events and has hosted many world-class performers, including Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson, as well as sports heroes like Mike Tyson. Heck, the Tokyo Dome has hosted entire U.S. teams for both baseball and football games.
But that’s only the beginning; the dome has so much going on nearby, they’ve dubbed it “Dome City” – featuring a space museum, amusement park (the roller coasters are scary – but mind-blowingly good), and eateries.
Visit earlier in the day if you can to avoid crowds; you likely won’t be able to enter the dome, but you can purchase tickets to amusement park rides and buy food in Dome City.
Another towering structure in Japan’s capital, the Tokyo Skytree serves much the same role as the Tokyo Tower – although this one is a wee bit taller at 2,080 feet. It’s also a lot newer, built in 2012, so boasts some more advanced earthquake protection features. Designed like a pagoda, it includes three observation decks, but our favorite is unquestionably the uppermost one. Climb up here and you get to stand on glass flooring and looking between your feet at the bustling streets of Tokyo below. Needless to say, this is not an adventure we recommend for those afraid of heights.
Tickets can be purchased onsite for any of the observation decks.
Back on solid ground, you might appreciate a touch of history that blends older architecture with the hum of modern transit. To wit: the Tokyo Train Station, often just called Tokyo Station. Not only is it historically fascinating, but it shows signs of Japanese innovation as transportation methods have shifted over the years.
The original building opened in 1914 to serve four train lines: two electric and two non-electric (accommodating steam or coal-powered trains). It wasn’t until after WWII, following destructive Allied bombing raids that destroyed the once-beloved domed roofs, that the station took on another form. It wasn’t terribly grandiose, however; a new building opened within a year with simple angled roofs instead of the original domed ones. This was almost torn down in the ’80s, but preservationists saved the day, keeping the station largely intact.
While much of the post-WWII structure still exists, it was necessarily supplemented by platforms and add-ons throughout the years. In the 1960s, the first high-speed rails ran through the station – now a major means of transportation for locals. Recent decades have also seen embellishments to the station’s surrounding area, including the expansion of the plaza in front. Now more than just a transit hub, Tokyo Station serves a venue for concerts and city events.
The station is open to the public, though you’ll have to cough up some Yen if you want to experience that high-speed train.
Few art museums can lay claim to a slew of superlatives: oldest, biggest, best. The Tokyo National Museum has more than one in the bag. It’s the oldest national museum in Japan, one of the largest in the world (ranking number six, just after the Vatican Museums), and is universally celebrated for its collection of ancient and medieval Asian art, specifically works created along the Silk Road.
The current building is not the first iteration of the museum. Several temporary – albeit impressive – exhibitions served as precursors, the first opening in 1872. A permanent structure, commissioned by Emperor Meiji, was dedicated in 1882, but subsequent earthquakes required a new structure to be built a few decades later. This was opened in the 1930s and has seen updates and refurbishments since. Noticeably, however, the 200,000 square-foot structure is a curious blending of East and West; the body of the building is neoclassic in style while the roof is patterned after those on traditional Japanese buildings and pagodas.
As of 2017, the museum claimed 110,000 cultural properties (read: works of art) and saw nearly 2.2 million visitors. In addition to its exhibits, the museum hosts regular seminars, talks, and educational events.
Tickets for entry cost about $10 (for adults) and are available onsite.
Like countless historic sites in Tokyo, the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple has had many chapters. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo, with roots dating back to 645 CE. As legend has it, a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon was found near the site and a temple built around it so nearby villagers could worship. Unfortunately, however, the temple that stood in the mid-1900s (provenance unclear) was destroyed by bombing raids; it was rebuilt shortly thereafter.
Today, the temple compound comprises many inspiring elements, including the “Thunder Gate,” featuring a massive paper lantern; a five-story pagoda; and the main hall, dedicated to Kannon. Adjacent to the temple are many shops and stalls, selling everything from traditional Japanese sweets to Godzilla dolls.
The temple is inspiring to visit any time of year, but if you visit in late spring, you may be lucky enough to take part in the Sanja Matsuri festival – a four-day celebration honoring the men who built the Sensō-ji Temple.
Entrance to the temple compound is free year-round.
A cultural treasure, the Kabuki-za Theatre is a celebration of traditional Japanese Kabuki performances. These began in the early 17th century as fairly simple dance-dramas that were performed near the Kamo River in Kyoto. Traditionally, female performers played both male and female characters, usually depicting comical scenes of everyday life. Later variations introduced edgier, sexual themes, but the comical, high-drama elements were retained. Today, Kabuki stages and theatres showcase more advanced technological elements – including rotating stages, lifts, and elaborate trap doors – but all of it is designed to support traditional Kabuki themes.
The Kabuki Theatre in Tokyo was opened in the late 19th century by a journalist. Unfortunately, the original building didn’t last long; after significant and repeated damage due to fires, earthquakes, and bombings, the current version of the theatre emerged in 2013, designed in Japanese revivalist style. It seats almost 2,000 patrons and includes a rooftop garden, basement shops, and of course, an exquisite performance hall. Shows generally run over the course of a month, so be sure to check the website above for performance information and pricing.
For more on how to make the most of your visit to Japan’s capital, check out our comprehensive travel guide to Tokyo.