One of Japan’s most intriguing cities, Tokyo is awash in patterns, hues, and art. From the graceful curves of its temples to the colorful crowds in its downtown areas, this city was made to be photographed. We’ve compiled a list of Tokyo’s most photogenic destinations!
Tokyo’s oldest temple is also one of its most beautiful. Independent since the conclusion of World War II, the temple is a relic of ancient Buddhism, and the complex features a five-story pagoda, the Asakusa Shrine, the Shinto shrine, and the Nakamise-dōri. Dedicated to Guanyin, Buddhism’s Goddess of Mercy, the Sensō-ji temple draws in over 30 million visitors a year. Because the crowds are so extensive, it’s best to visit in the early morning if you want a shot unobstructed by others. Remember to use a wide-angle lens to capture the complex in its entirety!
Cat lovers, this one’s for you. Located in Tokyo’s Setagaya district, Gotokuji is a famous Buddhist temple covered in maneki-neko (beckoning cat) statues. As Japanese legend dictates, a well-loved cat who resided in the temple led a lord safely through a treacherous thunderstorm, beckoning from the cozy hearth of the sacred space.
The waving gesture, thought to have been embodied by the friendly cat, has been recreated on all maneki-neko statues since. The temple is a fun location to photograph, and the repetition of the statues makes for whimsical and charming images.
One of the most popular crossings in Tokyo, the intersection that lies outside of Shibuya Station is busy day and night, bustling with traffic from students, commuters, and tourists.
But, a many times over the course of a single day, something magical happens — all of the lights at the junction turn red at the exact same time.
Automobile traffic is halted and you’ll witness pedestrians spilling out onto the street, crossing at every angle. This scene is best captured with a long exposure setting that will record the unusual flow of foot traffic. A good vantage point is from the second floor of the Starbucks located in the Tsutaya building outside of the Hachiko station exit.
Shinjuku Golden Gai
Navigating the maze of narrow streets that make up Shinjuku is like stepping back in time. Known by locals as “Golden Gai,” the tiny area is a hidden culinary treasure with over 300 restaurants and bars occupying close quarters.
Unique and quirky facades abound, so there is no shortage of photographic inspiration. Whether you shoot during the day or at night, photograph vertically so you can capture the seemingly endless passageways. Be sure to turn your attention to the hanging lanterns, unique signage, quirky storefronts, and crowds of late-night revelers.
The Soho Odaiba
While the man-made island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay is, in itself, an oddity, the collaborative workspace that graces its grounds is one of its most unique and photogenic facets. The Soho features 13 floors of office space, each with its own uniquely colored door.
When viewed from the lobby or a neighboring balcony, the doors create a stunning, rainbow-like pattern. The space is lovely during the day, but visiting at night will yield a moody, yet beautifully lit image. Experiment with shutter speeds until you get a balanced, colorful image.
Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku
While multi-tiered shopping malls are no novelty in stylish Tokyo, the plaza in Harajuku’s lobby offers a one-of-a-kind photographic experience. The escalators culminate in a jumble of mirrors that create a kaleidoscopic view. This vortex-esque phenomenon can be captured from the top step of the escalator, but look sharp, as you only have a few seconds to snap your view before your vantage point changes.
Meiji Jingu Shrine Sake Barrels
While many cultures celebrate a reverence for alcohol, the Japanese take it even further. Considered an almost spiritual offering, sake (and its production) is intrinsically connected to the gods. While the colorful and unique sake barrels at the Meiji Jingu shrine are empty, they represent decades of donations made in homage to Buddhist deities. Photograph the barrels from all angles and try to capture the variations in typography and illustration. Visiting early in the morning and in the evening will yield the best light!
There’s no better view of downtown Tokyo than from the Roppongi Hills building complex. The multi-purpose palace features restaurants, shops, an art museum, apartments, and most importantly, an observation deck. Ascend the 238-foot (73-meter) Mori Tower and ready your camera. You’ll be awarded with a truly stunning view of the buildings that make up Tokyo below. Use a wide-angle camera and be wary of harsh midday light.
While Tokyo is a bustling metropolis, Japan’s core values of serenity and zen are beautifully represented in the city’s loveliest park, Rikugien Garden. Built in 1700, the mesmerizing sprawls recreate 88 scenes from some of Japan’s most beloved poems. The undulating hills and meticulously-planned landscapes offer infinite vantage points for stunning shots — visit during fall for images dappled in gold, winter for a stark, but serene scene, or spring for bundles of blossoms.
Tokyo’s famous Rainbow Bridge spans the expanse of Tokyo Bay between the Shibaura Pier and Minato. The structure traverses 2,618 feet (798 meters) and each night puts on a fantastic show of multicolored lights that are entirely powered by solar energy. To photograph the bridge from afar, stand on either the Shibaura Pier or Minato and snap away. Be sure to calibrate your camera to shoot in the dark first though! For photos on the bridge itself, utilize the pedestrian walkway, but make sure to check if it’s open ahead of time.
Tokyo’s iconic red tower is a must-photograph on your visit to this capital city. Rising alongside the ultra-modern skyscrapers that define the city’s skyline, the tower’s unique structure makes for a fascinating shot. Visit the tower and aim your camera up for a dizzying view, or photograph this icon from a nearby high-rise — the Mori Tower is a great location for shots of the tower during the day and night. Another tip: post-processing is a good idea for skyline shots of Tokyo — just be sure to utilize the “de-haze” tool to rid your photo of any obstructing smog.
Header photo by Fred Chen