A complex of four buildings east of the station, Sunshine City is visited by shoppers and for Namco Namjatown. The main activities are carnival-style rides and attractions. Foodies will prefer the food ‘theme parks’ dedicated to adventures in gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), ice cream and desserts, and the rest can escape to the ‘healing forest’ for massage. The passport gets you into Namjatown as well as most of the attractions, though some still cost extra, as do food and treatments. Check the website or the Namjatown map for attractions that don’t require knowledge of Japanese.
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The Mitsubishi Ichigokan was the area's first office building, designed shortly after the Meiji Restoration by controversial architect Josiah Conder. Though the first structure was destroyed long ago, the current structure (completed in 2009) is an exact replica of the original. Today, the building is one of Tokyo's most inviting gallery spaces. The concept behind the museum is simple: to create a convivial place where local businessfolk can stop by on their lunch break to unwind and enjoy the exhibits. Thus, the museum doesn't overload you with art – the gorgeous galleries take only around 45 minutes to explore. International exhibitions rotate regularly, meaning that the area's workforce could ostensibly stop by several times a year. Admission fees vary.Consider visiting around lunchtime and check out the in-house Café 1894, which, like the rest of the building, has been reproduced inch by inch from the original floor plans. The space used to be the central bank – you'll notice dark wood teller windows near the entrance. The cafe is one of the new favourite spots for the ladies who lunch in nearby Ginza.
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This wonderful neighbourhood in Tokyo's far west corner is a sanctuary for families with its open spaces and almost European vibe. The area's highlight is Inokashira-kōen (井の頭恩賜公園), a gorgeous greenbelt with tucked-away cafes, plenty of space to roam and an inviting lake peppered with the occasional swan boat. In spring, this is one of the most scenic spots to snap photos of the electric cherry blossoms.There are many roads leading down to the park from the train station, the best being Nanabashi-dōri (found just to the right of Marui – 'OIOI' – when coming from the station's South exit). Teeming with skewer shops, cat cafes and boutiques selling oddities like Nepalese crafts, this largely pedestrian thoroughfare is a great place to pause for an espresso and some people-watching. On the back side of the station you'll find neon lights and gaudy shopping – also worth a look as it sharply contrasts with the hippie-hipster vibe near the park.A trip to Kichijōji (combined with the Ghibli Museum) makes the perfect half-day getaway from the hustle of central Tokyo.
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Japan's Imperial Palace is an appropriate place to start the city's laundry list of interesting sights, as it is – geographically, at least – the centre of Tokyo. The leafy grounds occupy the site of the original Edo-jō, the Tokugawa shōgunate's castle when they ruled the land. In its heyday the castle was the largest in the world, though little remains of it today apart from the moat and walls. The present palace, completed in 1968, replaced the one built in 1888, which was destroyed during WWII.As it's the home of Japan's emperor and imperial family, the palace itself is closed to the public for all but two days of the year, 2 January and 23 December (the Emperor's birthday). It is possible, however, to take a tour of the imperial grounds, but you must book ahead through the Imperial Household Agency's website. Reserve well in advance – slots become available on the first day of each month. Tours run twice daily from Monday to Friday (10am and 1.30pm), but on weekends, public holidays and afternoons from late July through to the end of August.The main park of the palace grounds is the Imperial Palace East Garden, which is open to the public without reservations. You must take a token upon arrival and return it at the end of your visit.
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Weekend picnics in Yoyogi-kōen are the perfect way to stumble upon the cool and unusual, from shamisen (three-stringed lute) players to practising punk rockers and everything in between. The area was once home to the American headquarters during the occupation after WWII. Later, Tange Kenzō gave the area a new vibe when he created the swirling Yoyogi National Stadium for the 1964 Olympics. Today, this 53-hectare woodland is at its best on a sunny Sunday in spring or autumn when it teems with local families and friends.
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Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall
Boasts six kid-friendly storeys and a number of ingenious play areas – check out the human-body maze or get messy in the hands-on art studio where children can make pottery and origami. It’s 300m northeast of Shibuya Station, next to Mitake-kōen.
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Has playrooms, puppet theatres, a swimming pool and a music lobby where kids can make all the noise they like. The Children's Castle Hotel next door was built especially for those with young children and can be a convenient refuge for travelling families. It's located off Aoyama-dōri.
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Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan (National Science Museum)
This large, sprawling, multistorey museum dedicated to the pursuit of science is packed with delights, especially if you're travelling with the little ones. Displays (eg of the forest or animals of the savannah) are imaginatively presented, some allowing kids to climb up, down, around and even within.
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Ō-Edo Onsen Monogatari (Ō-Edo Onsen Story)
Public bathing in onsen (hot springs) is a Japanese obsession, and, believe it or not, they’ve managed to find an actual hot spring 1400m below Tokyo Bay. Of course, Ō-edo Onsen is so much more than just a mere hot springs complex. Something of Disneyland-meets-health-spa, this bathing theme park re-creates an old Japanese downtown indoors, selling old-timey foods, toys and souvenirs. Wander around in your yukata (light cotton kimono) and you’ll fit right in. Sure it’s kitschy, but what the hey… Bathing opportunities (most separated by gender) include indoor and outdoor pools, a foot bath, a bed of hot stones and the opportunity to be buried in hot sand. Massage services are available, as are relaxation spaces in case all that pampering makes you sleepy. Bathing products and rental of towels and yukata are included. Admission prices are highest between 11am and 6pm, and lowest between 5am and 8am; there’s a surcharge of ¥1700 per person between 2am and 5am. Visitors with tattoos will be denied admission.
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When you saw Spirited Away by Miyazaki
Hayao (or Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, My
Neighbour Totoro and so on) you probably fell in love with its
mythical themes, fanciful characters and outrageous landscapes. Needless to say, so
did every kid in Japan, which means you need to arrange tickets long before you
arrive at Ghibli Museum of the work of
Ghibli, Miyazaki’s animation studio.
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Love Hotel Hill
Anyone who thinks that Japan is all about raked pebble gardens, geisha in
kimono and Zen meditation hasn’t strolled through Love Hotel Hill. Just west of
central Shibuya, this neighbourhood offers one of the largest concentrations of love
hotels in Tokyo, where men and women out on the prowl hope the night will end.
Depending on your tastes, you can bed down in a variety of themed hotels ranging
from miniature Gothic castles and kitschy Arabian palaces to traditional
Japanese-themed inns and Balinese-inspired resorts. Although choosing where to go is
the best part of visiting a love hotel (well, aside from the actual act itself), our
personal favourite is a particular Caribbean-themed love hotel with fake palm trees
at the bedside – we’ll leave it to you to find it! To reach Love Hotel Hill, take
the road up Dōgenzaka to the left of the Shibuya 109 building. At the top of the
hill, on the side streets that run off the main road, is the main concentration of
love hotels. Of course, the best way to get around this area is to meet a nice
Japanese guy or girl to show you around!
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Meiji-Jingū (Meiji Shrine)
Tokyo’s grandest Shintō shrine, this 1920 edifice enshrines the Emperor Meiji
and Empress Shōken, under whose rule Japan ended its isolation from the outside
world. Destroyed in WWII bombings and reconstructed in 1958, the shrine buildings
occupy just a corner of the precinct’s 70 forested hectares. In fact, its 100,000
trees are said to have been donated by 100,000 visitors from all over Japan.
Meiji-jingū might be a reconstruction of the original, but unlike so many of Japan’s
postwar reconstructions, it is altogether authentic. The main structure was built
with hinoki cypress from the Kiso region of
Nagano prefecture, while the cypress for the huge
torii was imported from Alishan in Taiwan. If
you’re there when a wedding is on, the procession is photographic gold. The grounds
are also home to the Meiji-jingū Gyōen,
a lovely strolling garden. It was once the property of two
daimyō families, after it came under imperial
control, Meiji himself designed the garden as a gift to the Empress Shōken. There
are peaceful walks to the pond and teahouse and a good dose of privacy at weekdays,
and spectacular irises and satsuki azaleas in season.
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