Tokyo is full of great photo opportunities. From neon-lit street landscapes to serene shrines and quaint local neighbourhood. Here’s a list of 11 places and districts in Tokyo that every photographer should visit.
Shinjuku might be stereotypical, and an area where it’s easy to fall into old cliches and make your photos look like everybody else's. But still, nothing says Tokyo as much as wide streets full of bright signs, futuristic skyscrapers, narrow drinking lanes and hordes of people. And in Shinjuku, you get all of that and more. For example, Shinjuku is also home to one of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo and a picturesque shrine.
And it's all located in a relatively compact area that is both easy to navigate and capture in a visually pleasing way. It is also an area that is equally suited to street photography, as well as portrait sessions. Perfect! If I could only pick one part of Tokyo to shoot for the rest of my life, this could very well be it.
Nearest station: dozens of lines serve Shinjuku Station.
Asakusa is without a doubt also one of the most photographed areas of Tokyo, but for a good reason. Here, you'll get a mini version of a traditional Japanese city. Even better, it's all contained in an area so small, that it can even be explored while wearing kimono and geta shoes.
Behind the overrated gate Kaminarimon, you'll find yourself on Nakamise-Dori, a long open-air shopping street that leads to the temple grounds. Don't forget to check the side streets, where the light can be amazing during golden hour. Eventually, you'll reach the impressive temple itself, and the equally remarkable five-storied pagoda. Walk a few more steps, and you will find yourself in a cute Japanese garden, surrounded by street food stands. You can nibble on some food on sticks while listening to the screams and laughter from the vintage amusement park "Hanayashiki".
The crowds can be daunting, though, so my pro-tip is to arrive here quite late when most other people have left. I highly recommend visiting the temple grounds when it is dark, and the surprisingly tasteful illuminations are switched on. At night you will also find the nearby streets lined with izakayas and other restaurants come alive. Those are well worth a visit, but avoid eating at the ones on the main drag Hoppy-Dori, as those are just tourist traps. Explore the back streets instead!
Nearest station: Asakusa (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toiei Asakusa Line, Tsukuba Express)
Ah, now we're getting somewhat off the beaten track. Nezu-Jinja (Jinja means Shrine) is one of the most beautiful Shrines in Tokyo, yet a spot that rarely makes it onto most visitors Instagram feed. The shrine buildings themselves are somewhat old and should perhaps be described as "rustic". But what sets this place apart is the gorgeous garden, where you will find hundreds of red torii-gates, creating a tunnel somewhat reminiscent of the famous Fushimi-Taisha approach in Kyoto.
There's also a beautiful Azalea plantation near on the shrine grounds, so spectacular that there's an entire festival dedicated to the 3000 or so flowers. They bloom in April, and the festival is worth checking out if you find yourself in the area at that time.
Regardless of the season, there are plenty of beautiful backdrops and interesting perspectives to be found at the shrine. When you're done, I recommend that you explore the surrounding streets too, ideally walking over to the charming Yanaka Ginza shopping street.
Nearest station: Nezu on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line.
Ueno is another area that I always enjoy shooting at thanks to the variety of spots located there. Ueno Park may not be the prettiest park in town, but it still has a handful of great locations depending on the season. The shrine located on the small island in the pond is a favourite, as well as the pathway lined with cherry blossom trees that lead up to it. The pond too, is quite impressive, as it's full of lotus flowers.
But the area that I enjoy shooting at the most around Ueno has to be the narrow alleys between and under the train tracks, where there are countless small restaurants and izakaya, many with outdoor seating. One of the things I genuinely enjoy about Tokyo is how people manage to set up shops at seemingly impossible locations, and that those businesses still manage to thrive.
And if you feel brave, there's a visually appealing red-light district located nearby at nearby Okachimachi station too. Just be careful in what direction you point your camera around there. The narrow streets are attractive, but rest assured that most of the touts roaming the area will not be too happy if they think you are taking their photograph.
Nearest station: Ueno or Ueno-hirokoji on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya and Ginza lines) or JR Ueno Station, served by the Yamanote line and a handful of other JR lines.
Tokyo Tower (& Zōjōji Temple)
Tokyo Tower, the Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower, is something of a charming retro-icon of the city these days, but it's still pretty and worth a visit thanks for photographers. The tower looks the best at night when it's lit up, or during spring when you can capture it framed cherry blossoms.
Most of the cherry blossom trees are located at the nearby Zōjōji Temple located in Hibiya Park, next to Tokyo Tower itself. The temple grounds are full of scenic spots and details, and the park has many other photo-worthy locations too, so I do recommend that you explore the area a bit rather than only focusing on the tower.
Nearest station: Shibakoen on the Toei Mita Line or Akabanebashi on the Toei Oedo Line
Another area that I keep coming back to again and again is Ginza. One of the reasons is thanks to the urban geography of the area, with streets that are almost perfectly straight. This creates many interesting perspectives, particularly during the afternoon and golden hour, when the gaps between the buildings make the light look absolutely stunning.
Ginza is also home to many exotic architectural styles, like the Neoclassical Wako Building and its iconic clock tower next to Ginza Crossing. The Nissan Showroom, Uniqlo Flagship Store as well as the spectacular Maison Hermès building.
The newly built Tokyu Plaza, is also worth a mention, as the view from the lounge a few floors up is quite spectacular and well worth an extra stop.
And a few minutes away from Tokyo Plaza there are several other interesting spots as well, like the Tokyo International Forum and Tokyo Midtown Hibiya. And let's not forget that charming vending machine bar tucked into a hole under the Yamanote Line train tracks next to Yurakucho Station.
Nearest Station: Ginza Station, Tokyo Metro Ginza, Hibiya and Marunouchi lines. Yurakucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line is located in the area too.
This beautiful Japanese garden is also located close to Ginza, but I realized that segment would get too long and broad in scope, so I decided to break it out into its own point on this list.
If there's only time enough on your schedule to explore one garden during your time in Tokyo, I strongly suggest you make it this one (Shinjuku Gyoen is also a good option).
Hamarikyu is a beautiful and spacious garden park tucked between the modern high-rise buildings of Ginza and Shiodome on one side and the waters of Tokyo Bay on the other side. In the park, you'll find a small pond with an attractive tea-house in the middle.
A few old-style thatched-roof "Minka" houses are also located in the garden, as well as a beautiful flower field. And if you explore the eastern edge of the area, you'll find several spots where you can capture a good view of the modern skyline of high-rises that has been built the artificial islands in Tokyo Bay as well.
As you can hear, Hamarikyu has a lot to offer, and it's well worth the 300 yen entrance fee.
Nearest Station: JR Shimbashi Station (Yamanote Line) or Shiodome Station (Toei Oedo Line and Yurikamome).
Yes, the entire area is quite tacky with its replica of lady liberty and massive wedding-factories/resort hotels. But no other place gives you a better view of the Tokyo skyline and Rainbow Bridge, a sight that is particularly gorgeous from the golden hour and onwards. Watching the lights come on along the waterfront area, and the bay fills up with lit up Yakatabune party boats, is something that I've have yet to grow tired of.
And let's not forget that the oh-so-popular digital museum Team Lab Planets is located here, as well as that gigantic Gundam statue, and I think you can see why I still think this weird place is worth a visit for anyone who's into photography.
Also, when you're done shooting, you can have a picnic on a real beach and dip your feet into the sea. As far as I know, there's no other place in Tokyo where you can actually do that, which has to be considered a plus.
Nearest Station: Tokyo Teleport on the Rinkai Line or Odaiba-Kaihinkoen on the Yurikamome.
If you are looking to shoot narrow bar-streets filled with countless izakaya and yakitori stands, I seriously don't think there's a better neighbourhood for this than Nakano. Sure, the streets are not as narrow and packed as at Omoide-Yokocho (aka Piss Alley in Shinjuku). But that's just a plus.
The area east of Nakano Broadway is where most of the exciting streets are located. But I also recommend that you stop by the street on the north side of the station, parallel to the train tracks, called "Renga Zaka".
Nearest Station: Nakano Station on the JR Chuo/Sobu line and Tokyo Metro Tozai Line.
Yes, Koenji is also an area that shouldn't be overlooked by photographers. An excellent place to start is under and next to the train tracks, just west of the station, where you'll find countless charming restaurants, izakaya and yakitori shops.
I also strongly recommend that you explore the shopping streets on the north side of the station. Around there, you can find a large number of charming back-alleys and hidden nooks and crannies if you look well enough.
When you are done there, head to the south side of the station and follow the oddly named "Look" shopping street. The first half of it is covered and has a bit of retro charm to it. Keep walking, and you'll find many interesting shops as well as countless bars and restaurants too. Eventually, you'll reach Shin-Koenji on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi-line, where you can hop on a train that will take you back to the central parts of Tokyo.
Nearest Station: JR Koenji Station (Chuo/Sobu Line) and Tokyo Metro Shin-Koenji Station (Marunouchi Line)
Shibuya is a district that is on the bucket list of most visitors, and for a good reason. It's full of iconic spots including the Shibuya Crossing. Oddly enough though, I don't feel that Shibuya is a particularly photogenic area. The crossing is always impressive, of course, but it's also a spot that I find extremely difficult to capture in a way that feels interesting and that hasn't been done to death already.
There's the Nonbei Yokocho area next to the train tracks, but then again there are many better areas like that in other parts of the city - where the shop owners aren't as hostile to photographers.
Center Gai can look quite cool as a backdrop to portraits, and if you visit some of the vantage points in the nearby high-rise buildings, you should be able to capture an excellent birds-eye view of the entire district as well. But yeah, out of all the locations on this list, I feel the least drawn to Shibuya. But then again, that might just be because I've shot it too much during all those years I've lived here...
Nearest station: Shibuya Station is served by JR Yamanote Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Fukutoshin Line as well as the Tokyu Den-en-toshi-line.