Exploring Tokyo Part 2 – Photography + Travel Guide
In Part 1 of Exploring Tokyo, we covered some of the places a first-time visitor would visit. In this post, we will let you know about some other cool places for those with some extra days in Tokyo, or re-visiting as we did. These include some less touristy sites that are worth adding to your “must-see” list on your next trip to Tokyo.
For those re-visiting Tokyo or just looking for something different, this Location Guide will help with your planning – from where to go, to what photography gear to take. In this guide, we will share with you the places we visited on our second trip to Tokyo during the autumn season (November). We hope this helps with your planning and if you have any questions feel free to comment in the section available at the end of this post. If you are visiting Tokyo for the first time, check out our Exploring Tokyo-Part 1.
Planning & Getting Around
Our planning for this visit to Tokyo was similar to our last one (read about it here). The only real difference was that we were looking to visit some places we missed on our first trip, and also some hidden gems and some less touristy places. With so much to see and do in Tokyo, our 4 days looked pretty hectic, so pre-planning our days helped to keep our travelling (and walking) between places to a minimum and allowed us to get the most out of each location.
During our time in Tokyo, we purchased the Pasmo IC card to get us around Tokyo, which is cheap and easy to use. This could be used on the metro and buses, and also at some shops to purchase food/drinks. We chose the Pasmo over the Suica because at the end of your trip you can get a full refund of any balance on the card plus the ¥500 deposit. The Suica card will refund you the balance on the card but not the deposit. Click here (or links above) to read about all the different IC transport cards available in Japan and find which will work best for you.
On this 20 day visit to Japan, we also purchased the 14 day JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass). Depending on the length of your trip and the places you’re visiting, it may or may not be worth purchasing. You can get a 7, 14 or 21-day pass. You can use the JR Pass calculator to work out which of the passes would be best for you or whether it is worth purchasing at all.
We also pre-purchased a SIM card (data only) for our phone to assist with street navigation which is essential for any traveller visiting Japan. Here’s a great place to purchase both the JR Pass & SIM card in Australia (check to see if these can be purchased in your own country).
Camera & Lenses
The choice of camera and lenses you take will depend on the type of photographs you enjoy taking while travelling. We always try to travel as light as possible as we walk a lot. As professional travel photographers, we don’t shoot just landscapes or just street etc. so we need lenses that cover all types of subjects. This means that we heavily rely on zoom lenses, although we do carry a few prime (single focal length) lenses between us. We find it counter-intuitive to carry a bag full of prime lenses as we find that you can miss shots very easily. It never ceases to amaze us on our travels when we see photographers hunched-over while carrying heavy backpacks full of unnecessary equipment.
Our everyday kit for Japan was the following –
- Sony A7Riii Mirrorless camera (see right).
- Sony FE 24-105 f4 lens (see right) – the workhorse which covered around 65% of our shots in Japan
- Sony FE 16-35 f4 lens (see right bottom)
- Sony FE 70-200 f4 lens
- Laowa 15mm f2 Zero-D lens (so we would both have a wide-angle lens)
- Samyang 12mm Fisheye (for those extreme interiors)
- Samyang 35mm f2.8 (mainly for low-light street shots)
- Samyang 18mm f2.8 (new lens purchased just prior to this trip)
This is was an easy choice. The Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L bag worked so well the first time we visited that it was a no-brainer for this trip. It is super comfortable to carry for the whole day and enough space to carry almost everything we needed. It was also practical for the times we were on the busy subway and in crowded areas. The sling bag is easy to swing from our back around the front to change lenses without knocking into people. We did still take one backpack with us (we use the Vanguard Alta Rise 45 backpack), but it stayed in the room most of the time. We used it on the odd occasion, and when we were in transit to the next destination. The Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L bag was primarily used most of the time.
Tripods can be a pain in the butt to carry around all day, however, you will regret it if you don’t have one with you at all times. We made sure we had at least one tripod between us every day. It will make it an easier decision if you pack a lightweight compact travel tripod. We have a couple of carbon fibre travel tripods that are lightweight, compact, and have an Arca Swiss quick release plate on a ball head. Occasionally, we also venture out with a Joby Gorilla Pod. Remember, you will carrying the tripod around most of the day so we strongly suggest you invest in a sturdy but lightweight model.
As was the case on our first trip to Japan, Our NiSi 100mm filter kit had another nice holiday, we did take it out with us a lot more on this trip but as it was not a dedicated landscape trip, it did not get used very often. Naturally, we did carry our *GOBE CPL (polarizer) and a couple of *GOBE ND screw-in filters with us that were easy to pack. We also recommend that you carry a *GOBE ND Variable filter that will help you to obtain slower shutter speeds on sunny days. If you are planning some tripod-mounted landscape type shots (sunrise and sunset) then the square filter system may be worth carrying around. *Use coupon code ‘widescenes’ to get 15% discount off all GOBE products.
For our initial 4 days in Tokyo we stayed at the Kadoya Hotel in Shinjuku, which was in a great location and just a short walk from the Shinjuku JR train station. The hotel room was a good size (19sqm for a double room) which was great compared to some other hotels we’ve stayed in. The room had slightly older style decor but with all the western comforts, they were very clean and had all the regular inclusions you would expect. The hotel is in a great location in Shinjuku and just around the corner from the massive Yodobashi Camera. For our last 2 days in Tokyo (at the end of our trip) we stayed at Hotel Mystays Hamamatsucho in Central Tokyo. The hotel is in a great location, reasonably priced and handy for the monorail out to Haneda Airport. The room size was not bad either (14sqm for a standard double room) with all the modern features. Check out the map at the bottom of this post – Hotels are marked with a red pin. Both of these locations are great for using the subway & JR Pass while in Tokyo. For travel on the Subway consider purchasing an IC transport card such as a PASMO or SUICA card to avoid queueing to purchase tickets.
Note: We visited Tokyo during “Autumn” and compared to our first visit to Tokyo during “Golden Week” (May) it was far busier, which we expected.
Fukagawa Historical Walk
We found out about this area while doing some research online. As we were arriving early in the morning from our flight from Sydney, it seemed like an easy walk for our first day without the hordes of tourists and would gently ease us into the swing of things. The walk starts from Nihonbashi Bridge, a pretty stone arch bridge built over 100 years ago.
From here it is a 30min walk through some cool old streets and across bridges to the Naritasan Fukagawa Fudōdō Temple which holds one of the city’s best religious fire rituals. On a daily basis, you can experience the chanting and pounding of the giant drums as the flames are raised at the main altar. We did not see many tourists here but lots of locals that attend the ceremony and line up to have their bags blessed over the flames. While you are here make sure you check out the prayer corridor with thousands (almost 10k) of small crystal statues that line the walls (see header image). There are plenty of other rooms and areas of this temple also worth seeing. Entrance is Free.
Just around the corner is the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, which is where Sumo tournaments were first held, here you will find many monuments to sumo origins and wrestling. Entrance is Free.
A further 15min walk away is the Fukagawa Edo Museum with its life-size re-creation of alleyways and street scenes from the Edo period (17-18th century). Entrance fee is 400 yen. A short distance away is the pretty Kiyosumi Gardens, with a traditional tea house, stepping stones, paths and bridges to explore. You will also find loads of turtles basking in the sun. Entrance fee is 150 yen.
Jikken Bridge & Asakusa
A great spot to photograph Tokyo Skytree is from Jikken Bridge (see image below) during sunset and blue hour. The bridge is just a short walk from Oshiage Station (Skytree). Get here early to secure a spot in the centre of the bridge and make sure you have a tripod.
Another great vantage spot to photograph the famous Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa is from the Culture Tourist Information Centre in Asakusa. We had read that they had recently opened an observation deck on the 8th floor that provided great views of Nakamise Shopping street that leads up to Sensō-ji Temple. And they were right. It is a little difficult to get shots at night time here with a tripod as you need to shoot through glass (Lenskirt came in handy here!) however if you walk down a level there is a small open area that you may be able to sneakily set up your tripod. Again we were very lucky as there was hardly anyone here so we were able to get away with it. Entrance is free. The image above was taken from the 7th floor, a level below the observation deck.
On our first trip to Tokyo, we missed visiting this area so we made sure we allowed enough time for it this time. Roppongi Hills is probably one of the best examples of a city within a city with lots of opportunities for architecture shots. We found there was plenty to keep us entertained, especially with our Samyang 12mm Fisheye lens. We began at the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, where you can also visit the Mori Tower Observation Deck (1,800 yen + 500 for sky deck) and Mori Art Museum on the 52nd floor. For a little serenity, you can visit the Mori Garden hidden between the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and TV Asahi building. During winter, the gardens and surrounds have lights & illuminations which are best viewed in the evening/night.
About a 10min walk away is Tokyo Midtown, also a great spot for architecture photography and street shots, and more importantly The National Art Centre. Along with the International Forum (see Part 1 of Exploring Tokyo), this is one of the best architectural buildings in Tokyo to photograph, both inside and out. Oh, and they also have great exhibitions here as well.
Editing images plays just as big a part in photography as taking the photo, especially if you shoot RAW. How you edit will portray the mood and feel to the viewer. We find that many of our architecture shots have more impact when we convert them to black & white (monochrome).
Yoyogi Park & Shibuya High-Rise Views
On our first trip to Shibuya, we had only visited amazing Shibuya Crossing and the Hachiko Statue. This time around we spent some time wandering through the flamboyant Yoyogi Park, one of Tokyo’s largest city parks, featuring wide lawns, ponds and forested areas. It was here that we found our first sighting of the autumn colours. The southern side of Yoyogi Park was awash with red maples and yellow ginkgo trees. Yoyogi Park, on the weekends, is also a great place to people watch and there are countless photographic opportunities. Yoyogi Park is a 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line. It is located next to Meiji Shrine. FREE Entry.
Shibuya Crossing is not the easiest shot to take. On our previous visit, we had photographed the crossing from several angles. For something different we thought we would try and get some higher viewpoints of Shibuya Crossing so we went to Magnet by Shibuya 109 (“MAG’s PARK”) on the roof. You do get a great aerial view here however it is through glass. Fortunately, we had our Lenskirt, but due to the angle of the glass, it made it a little awkward, but still possible (see image above). Unfortunately, no tripods are allowed here, so if shooting at night be prepared to raise your ISO. Getting to the observation deck is a little hidden as well. Take the escalator or elevator up to the 7th floor. Walk past all the restaurants and the dining area. The observation deck is hidden behind the restaurants and the entrance is through two double doors near the restrooms. Take the stairs up and you will immediately be greeted by the outdoor patio. You will see the queue for the Shibuya Crossing viewpoint. Open: 11:00- 23:00. Price: 300 yen.
Another option, that has only recently been opened is Shibuya Scramble Square a skyscraper located directly above Shibuya Station, with indoor and outdoor observation decks on the 45th and 46th floors. We did not get a chance to visit this time however based on the information available online you can get unobstructed views of the SkyTree, Roppongi, and Tokyo Tower to the east, Shinjuku and Yoyogi Park to the north, Shibuya Crossing below, and Mt. Fuji to the west. Entrance fee is 1800 yen when you book online or 2000 yen over the counter.
Temples, Yanaka, Kichijoji, Shimokitazawa, & Digital Art
Gōtokuji Temple: Many of you may have seen images of Gotokuji Temple with hundreds, if not thousands, of Maneki-neko (cat) figurines. Though it may seem a little strange (and creepy), the cats are meant to bring good luck. There is also a pretty pagoda on the grounds as well. The temple is located about a 10-minute-walk from Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu Line or about a 5-minute-walk from Miyanosaka Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line. Gotokuji Station is only 15 minutes away from Shinjuku Station. Entrance is Free. Open 6am to 6pm.
Nezu-jinja Shrine: The large grounds of Nezu-jinja are pretty in Autumn and very calming and quiet compared to the popular touristy temples in Tokyo. Here you can also get your Torii Gate fix on a much smaller scale than the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. You can also get great reflections in the pond of the torii gates and pavilion. Entrance is Free. Open 6am to 6pm. It is accessible by metro train, 10 min walk from Nippori Station or a 20-minute walk from Ueno Station.
Yanaka Ginza: This quaint little shopping street in the heart of Yanaka, with its cool shops selling anything from food to knick-knacks. At the beginning of the street is the Yūyake Dandan (“sun setting slowly”) staircase that leads down to the main shopping street. Apparently, from the top of the staircase, you could see Mount Fuji (on a clear day, and if you knock down a few buildings ).
If you are into the food scene and bohemian funky atmosphere then a couple of places you should consider are;
Kichijoji: Harmonica Alley is similar to the popular Memory Lane (Piss Alley) in Shinjuku except it is frequented more by locals. It is a great place for authentic Japanese food and drink as you wander the standing bars of Harmonica Yokocho Alley.
Shimokitazawa: Visit this area for more great food with a bohemian vibe. There are plenty of vintage clothing stores, bookstores, music shops, and funky distinctive cafés and bars. It doesn’t really come alive here until lunchtime, so best to check it out in the afternoon for shopping and then settle into one of the cosy bars or cafes.
The Mori Building Digital Art Museum: TeamLab Borderless is also a must-see if you are into digital art and don’t mind queue and crowds. It’s a huge area (10,000sqm) with over 400 projections that create some amazing experiences and also great to photograph. We purchased our tickets on the day at the counter but it can get very busy so if you don’t want to miss out, or a planning an early visit then it is probably best to book online. Price 3,200 yen. Visit after 15:00 to avoid the crowd. The museum is located at Odaiba Palette Town. It is a 3min walk from Aomi Station on the Yurikamome Line or a 5min walk from Tokyo Teleport Station on the Rinkai Line.
From November through to February you will find lots of winter illuminations in Tokyo and throughout Japan. Some don’t really start until mid-December, so you just need to check what is open/started based on your travel dates. Here are a few that we managed to visit during our time in Tokyo.
Caretta Shiodome Winter Illumination: In 2019/2020 the illuminations were influenced by the popular songs from the Disney movie – Aladdin (see image above). Located a short walk from Shiodome or Shimbashi Stations. FREE from 5pm-11pm (starts 14 Nov). If you venture up to the 46th floor of the building you will also get a great view across Tokyo (just near the staircase heading to the 47th floor). You will, however, possibly need a Lenskirt to block reflections.
Shinjuku Terrace City Illuminations: These illuminations covers an area from Odakyu HALC, outside the West Exit, all the way to Shinjuku Southern Terrace. The theme changes each year and there a plenty of lights and photo spots set up.
So much more to see and do!!!
There is still so much we did not see & do, even though this was a second trip to Tokyo. It one of those places that you can just keep coming back to and discover lots of hidden gems. Gives us even more reason to come back again.
Our accmodation in Shinjuku for our first 3 nights.
Hotel Mystays Hamamatsucho
Our accmodation in Shinjuku for our last 2 nights.
Naritasan Fukagawa Fudōdō Temple
Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
Fukagawa Edo Museum
- View of Skytree from Bridge
Culture Tourist Information Centre
Observation Deck with views to;
- Nakamise Shopping street
- Senso-Ji Temple
- Roppongi Hills Mori Tower
- Mori Tower Observation Deck
- Mori Art Museum
- Mohri Garden
- Tokyo Midtown
- The National Art Centre
Yanaka & Nezu
- Nezu-jinja Shrine
- Yanaka Ginza
- Yuyake Dandan
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