Ginza and the surrounding districts will impress and entertain even the most seasoned traveller among us. Starting with The Imperial Palace and moving on to lush parks, traditional dining and lively markets, you’re in for a full day of cultural delight. I explored this area in the Chiyoda and Chūō districts of Tokyo on foot with my friend, Lek, in one day.
The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace, situated opposite Otemachi Station, is the actual home of the Emperor of Japan and his family.
Access to part of the palace and the beautiful surrounding gardens are free of charge, but you have to register online or at the venue as there is limited space. So get there early. Check the website before your visit because the palace is closed on Mondays and certain days of the year.
Stroll through Hibiya Park, a large western-style park, before you walk from the Palace to Ginza. It’s a bonus, peaceful extension to the palace gardens and contains interesting features that we enjoyed.
One such feature is an identical liberty bell to the one that rang out America’s independence in Philadelphia. It was given to Japan as a sign of freedom for all mankind. When you stand in front of it in Hibiya Park, it must remind you that you are a free person in a free country.
Lunch in Yurakucho’s Gado-shita Joints
Yurakucho is the more relaxed area next to Ginza where you’ll get to be part of the unique Gado-shita dining scene and I highly recommend that you stop here for a meal or a cold beer.
Gado-shita means “below the girder” in Japanese, or ‘under the railway’. This place is special because all the restaurants are built into the brick arches beneath nearly 700 meters of the elevated train tracks of the JR Yamanote Line on both sides of Yurakucho Station. The Yurakucho Gado-Shita is the most popular with tourists and has many quaint pubs and shops to browse.
A firm favourite among Tokyo businessmen – and they are clearly identifiable in their black suits all over this area – you’ll not only find amazing authentic food in the izakaya and yakitori joints but also a good selection of casual European grub.
You’d think it’s as noisy inside as it is on the outside when the trains pass over. But once we were seated inside a restaurant, the air was filled with only casual chatter and vibey background music as we devoured amazing spicy noodles and cocktails for lunch.
Ginza is a popular affluent shopping district, dripping with opulence and glitz. Here you can shop to your heart’s content in all the top department stores and feast on the best cuisine Tokyo has to offer if your purse allows it. It’s also where you can visit the famous Kabuki-za theatre to see traditional Japanese dance and drama performed on stage.
One of the most contrasting yet endearing things about the city is the shrines you’ll see nestled in among skyscrapers and ultra-modern department store, such as this one in the high street of Ginza.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The best fish market in Tokyo and it’s situated within walking distance from Ginza. This is an absolute must-see place, especially for seafood-lovers. If you’re squeamish, maybe avoid this one, because there are guts and gory bits in areas where fish are prepared in front of excited onlookers.
According to Taka-san, this is where you go if you want the freshest sushi in Tokyo but you have to go early. They start bringing fish in the early morning and run out by lunchtime.
Currently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the inner market may be closed, but the outer market is open. Check before you go.
While the lively colourful and noisy market was a feast for the senses, we – unfortunately – did not go with a guide. Consequently, we had no idea what we were looking at most of the time.
Plus, the one traditional treat I chose to try from a friendly old lady (she probably ‘evil-laughed’ on the inside when she sold it to me), was deeeesgusting! She gave me that roasted soybean flour warabi mochi she’s holding on the photo!
The mush ended up, half-chewed, in my hand, for the REST of the day! I kid you not. I walked with it in my hand, to my friends’ sadistic delight, all the way home looking for a bin, which of course, is nowhere to be found in Tokyo.
Yes, they did away with public bins in the city some years ago as part of a clean-up program, forcing people to take their rubbish home with them. The initiative worked; the city is spotless and kept super clean. But I did not know this before we set out for our walk and that wasn’t very nice. So…
Top Tip: Remember to pack a bag for your rubbish when you explore Tokyo on foot.
You can book a guided tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market here.
Don’t miss the Ginza musical steps to hear Queen’s We Will Rock You as you dance down them!
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Queen in the park – sony musical steps in Ginza. My friend steps on the yellow lines in tune to start the clapping and stomping and hope Queen will sing for us. We will rock you! #ginzamusicalsteps #tokyomusicalsteps #queeninthepark #wewillrockyoumusicalsteps #awesomememories #tripsofalifetime #traveljapan
In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), various facilities around Tokyo may change their operating days or hours. In addition, some events may be cancelled or postponed. Please check official facility or event websites for the latest updates and information.