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    Tokyo's Must-See-Sights and Secret Destinations: A Local Tour Guide's Insider Tips

    By Hana Furuhash

    June 7, 2023

    Tokyo's Must-See-Sights and Secret Destinations: A Loca

    Visiting a new city can bring out the full range of emotions in all of us.

    From the excitement during the planning part to the bewilderment of when you first arrive, traveling to foreign cities and continents is by far one of the most thrilling things we can do in our lives, while also one of the most overwhelming.

    If you are someone who likes to find the secret destinations while also seeing all the big sites, City Unscripted is going to be the perfect travel companion for you.

    As Martin Buber said, "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

    The must-see sights vs the off-the-beaten path places: which is for you?

    Choose your type of Tokyo tour

    When planning a trip to Tokyo, you'll undoubtedly come across a list of must-see sights that are famous and highly recommended by other travelers as well as Japanese tour guide Tokyo companies as well. And while private tours of these spots are plentiful, so too are walking tours hosted by local guides who know them more intimately as well.

    These iconic attractions, such as the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Bay, Shibuya Crossing, and the Meiji Shrine are undeniably worth visiting. Each of these well-loved spots offers a glimpse into Tokyo's vibrant culture and showcases the city's architectural marvels.

    However, for those seeking an even more unique and authentic experience, venturing off the beaten path is also a way to go, particularly if you have a local guide with you.
    Exploring the lesser-known corners of Tokyo unveils a whole new dimension of the city. Imagine wandering through hidden alleyways lined with quaint shops, stumbling upon charming local eateries, and exploring serene parks and gardens away from the tourist crowds.

    These off-the-beaten-path places allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture, interact with friendly residents, and discover Tokyo's best-kept secrets. Whether you decide to embark on group tours or find your own private tour guide in Tokyo, any of the sites you choose to see in Tokyo will leave you fascinated and spellbound. Tokyo is a captivating city that is full of surprise and intrigue. Anyone who visits will leave changed at least a little. But the decision between visiting the must-see sights or exploring off-the-beaten-path places ultimately depends on your travel preferences, your timeline, and your overall interests.

    As a person who has been lucky enough to call Tokyo home for the last few years, I understand the appeal of wanting to make sure to see the popular places while also exploring some of the spots of the city that are not known to foreigners and hold a magic all their own. And - as a local tour guide in Tokyo, I feel confident I can help you experience both. Come with me on a day journey that will include some of the Tokyo must-sees, while also giving you a peek into the secrets that this stunning city holds.

    Morning stop one: walking tour or morning run around the Imperial Palace

    Visit the majestic Imperial Palace

    We will begin our time together at one of the most beautiful must-sees in all of Tokyo (and probably the world!) The infamous Imperial Palace and the grounds that surround it. Stepping into this historical and cultural treasure feels like entering a different realm altogether. 

    Whether we choose to walk or run through the expansive gardens, the 5 km loop that surrounds the Imperial Palace grounds is a lovely way to start our tour (and get some exercise at the same time!)
    This loop is well thought out and easy for walkers and runners to enjoy together. 
    There will be markers indicating how much distance we’ve traveled and gorgeous greenery all around us. The Imperial Palace itself, with its stunning architecture and rich history, is quite the sight to see as well, and serves as a symbol of Japan's imperial heritage.

    The Imperial Palace and its grounds not only offer a glimpse into Japan's history but also serve as a peaceful sanctuary amidst the bustling city.
    Though the palace is one of the biggest must-sees in Tokyo, it's also a place where locals and visitors alike come to find solace, practice mindfulness, and admire the harmony between nature and architecture.

    Morning stop two: Suginami Animation Museum

    Tokyo's popular animation hotspots

    A thirty-minute journey from the Imperial Palace will take us to a totally different type of site in Tokyo, and one that is not typically on many people's must-see list...the Suginami Animation Museum. Located at the heart of Japan's anime industry - Tokyo's Ogikubo district - this off-the-beaten-path destination is a must for anime fans.

    Though many Tokyo tours will delve deeper into Tokyo's more popular animation hotspots like Akihabara, the Suginami Animation Museum is a delightful journey into the captivating world of Japanese animation, also known as anime. This museum pays homage to the rich history and influence of anime in Japanese culture. As you step inside, you'll be greeted by a vibrant and immersive environment that celebrates the creativity, artistry, and innovation of this very beloved art form. The museum offers a comprehensive exploration of anime, from its early beginnings to the modern era.

    You'll have the opportunity to learn about the evolution of animation techniques, the iconic characters that have captured people's hearts worldwide, and the talented artists who bring these characters to life. One of the highlights of the museum is the screening room, where we can enjoy an excellent selection of classic and contemporary anime films. Whether you're a lifelong fan or new to the world of anime, this special and slightly more secretive museum offers a captivating experience that will deepen your appreciation for the art form as a whole.

    Morning stop three: explore Shimokitazawa

    Step into Tokyo's  bohemian wonderland

    Exploring Shimokitazawa is like stepping into a bohemian wonderland tucked away from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo. This vibrant neighborhood offers a unique and eclectic atmosphere that appeals to locals and visitors alike. As we wander through its narrow streets, you'll find a delightful mix of vintage shops, record stores, independent boutiques, cozy cafes, and live music venues.

    One of the highlights of Shimokitazawa is its thriving music and arts scene. The neighborhood is known for its numerous small theaters and live houses, where you can catch performances ranging from local bands to experimental theater productions. It's a hub for creatives, attracting artists, musicians, and designers who contribute to the area's vibrant and alternative culture. In addition to its artistic flair, Shimokitazawa is also a haven for thrift shoppers and fashion enthusiasts.

    The area is dotted with vintage clothing stores and secondhand shops, where you can find unique and one-of-a-kind fashion pieces. From retro fashion from the '60s and '70s to contemporary streetwear, Shimokitazawa offers a treasure trove for fashion lovers seeking something offbeat and distinctive.
    If you wish to make a longer day tour of this area, Shimokitazawa is an excellent spot to stop and grab some Tokyo food as well. The neighborhood is packed with charming cafes, izakayas (Japanese pubs), and casual eateries, all serving a large variety of cuisines.

    Afternoon stop one: Fish Market Tour at Toyosu

    Get the freshest fish and food delights

    Toyosu Market is in Toyosu, an island of reclaimed land in Tokyo’s Kōtō Ward. The market is housed in three buildings that are all interconnected — two of which are for wholesale seafood and one is for wholesale fruit and vegetables.

    As you step into this bustling market, you'll be greeted by a vibrant and energetic atmosphere, filled with the sights, sounds, and aromas of the ocean. The highlight of the tour is witnessing the famous morning tuna auction, where massive bluefin tuna are auctioned off to buyers from restaurants and seafood suppliers.

    Admission to Toyosu’s fish market is free, and you can watch auctions from dedicated viewing platforms around the floor. For a more intimate experience, we can try to watch the auction from the special deck on the lower floor. This viewing is by application only, and less than 30 people a day are allowed a pass to view from this special spot.

    A fish market tour at Toyosu is not only a chance to indulge in the freshest seafood but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the dynamic energy of Tokyo's culinary world. Whether you're a seafood enthusiast, a curious traveler, or simply seeking a unique cultural experience, a fish market tour at Toyosu is a fun activity that will leave you with some very cool memories and a newfound admiration for the culinary treasures of Japan.

    Afternoon stop two: train watching at Shiodome

    Shiodome adds to the charm of train watching.

    Train watching at Shiodome is a delightful pastime that offers a unique perspective on Tokyo's intricate transportation system. Located in the Shiodome district, this elevated train viewing spot provides an excellent vantage point to observe the trains passing by with precision and efficiency. It's a haven for train enthusiasts and curious onlookers alike, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rhythm of Tokyo's bustling train network.

    Shiodome's strategic location near major stations, such as Shimbashi and Hamamatsucho, means we will witness a constant flow of trains that are coming and going. Watching trains in Tokyo will really give you a sense of the importance that organization and efficiency play in Japan. It's a fascinating glimpse into the daily operations that keep Tokyo's transportation network running smoothly and is very symbolic of Japanese culture in general. Beyond the trains themselves, the surrounding urban landscape of Shiodome adds to the charm of train watching.

    The sleek skyscrapers, modern architecture, and the dynamic energy of the city create a backdrop that enhances the overall experience. Train watching at Shiodome is not just about observing the trains; it's about immersing yourself in the rhythm of Tokyo's urban life. Though this is rarely an experience seen on most private tours in Tokyo, or mentioned in most tour guide books, a local guide can really help you navigate a special experience like this one.

    What other must-sees and secret spots can we add to your itinerary?

    Explore everything that Tokyo has to offer!

    If you're ready to start planning your Tokyo travels, we are ready to help! At City Unscripted, creating customized private tours for any type of traveler is what we love to do. And - with private tours by knowledgeable locals being the only type of tours we offer, there is no doubt that your experience in Tokyo will be one you'll never forget.

    Let us help you find the secret destinations that Tokyo has to offer!

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