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A Guide to Visiting and Photographing Tokyo

Planning to go to Japan? The island nation is on the top of many photographer’s bucket lists for its iconic, unforgettable views. However, when tickets are booked and it comes time to plan out an itinerary, choosing how to spend your time can be an intimidating feat. Even photographing Tokyo alone can be overwhelming for many.

Luckily, we’re here to help. We can’t go over all the must-see spots in the country, but we did the next best thing. In this article, we’ve determined a few areas in Tokyo that every visiting photographer should hit.

Some areas feature great deals on gear. Others offer a peek into the local art scene. All offer incredible photo opportunities that inspire visitors worldwide– if you know where to look, that is. Let’s get to it.

1. Akihabara

Smack in the center of Tokyo, you’ll find this bustling neighborhood, nicknamed the “Electric City”. A hub for all things electronic, it’s a great place to hunt for camera gear, unlike anything you’d ever find in Western shopping districts. Here are a few must-stop camera destinations you won’t want to miss.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Akihabara Spots:

Yodobashi Camera

I didn’t get the chance to check out Yodobashi’s Akihabara location, and it’s one of the biggest regrets of my entire visit. It’s always ranked among the top photo retail destinations in the area, and for good reason.

Like BIC, this retailer stocks a large variety of electronics ranging from cameras to PCs. Towering 9 stories tall, this behemoth of a store goes above and beyond what you’d expect out of a “camera store”. Outside of electronics, you’ll find a full floor food court as well as a double-decker driving range!

Lemon (Akihabara Branch)

Lemon is a high-quality consignment chain, stocked with curiosities like fountain pens and model trains. The Akihabara location, however, deals with photographic gear exclusively.

Because of the nature of their business, you never know exactly what you’ll find in their stocks. That being said, they’ve been known to carry imported products from acclaimed brands like Leica and Hasselblad. It’s conveniently located in Akihabara station, making it the perfect pit stop for those just passing through the area.

BIC camera (Akihabara Branch)

It’s practically impossible to miss BIC Camera, even in this flashing technicolor neighborhood. Here, you’ll find lenses, camera bodies, tripods, darkroom supplies, and almost any other photo accessory you can imagine.

Make a point to stop at BIC, even if you’re not looking to make a purchase. It’s truly astounding to see their electronics packed (quite literally) floor to ceiling among dozens of narrow aisles. If you can’t make it to Akihabara, don’t worry. There are other BIC locations scattered throughout Tokyo, as well as in other major cities like Osaka.

Nisshin Camera 

Though not nearly as large as BIC or Yodobashi, Nisshin’s bright yellow sign is another Akihabara staple that’s difficult to miss. Nisshin’s specialty is secondhand supplies, meaning that prices on gear may vary. You’ll just have to stop in to find savings for yourself!

One thing we love about Nisshin? It’s both tax-free (exempt from Japan’s consumption tax) and duty-free (exempt from other government taxes). So, at the very least, you’ll save a bit on that front.

2. Ginza

In short, Ginza is a shopaholic’s dream come true. Home to dozens of designer retailers, this polished upscale area may not seem like it has much in store for visiting shutterbugs. However, this neighborhood has plenty to offer photographers willing to get a little creative.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Ginza Spots:

Sony Flagship Store (and more!)

Even if you’re not into luxury clothes, handbags, or watches, there’s some serious shopping to be had in the Ginza neighborhood. For photographers, the biggest draw is without a doubt Sony’s Flagship Store. Just around the corner, you’ll also find one of two Leica stores in Ginza.

However, there’s plenty more to the area for those not looking to spend a small fortune. In particular, I got a kick out of photographing the elaborate storefront displays outside and around the Sony store. Filled with texture and color, they’re actually pretty great for capturing poppy, abstract shots.

Imperial Palace

Japan’s Imperial Palace is not to be missed by any visitor photographing Tokyo. Surrounded by a beautiful reflecting pool, it’s a great place to grab a cityscape that captures old and new structures alike. The palace itself is gorgeous, making it an obvious draw for architectural photographers.

But, surprisingly enough, I found myself most focused on people-watching more so than anything else. Tourists from around the world of all ages shuffled around, nearly all of whom were trying to get their own images of the impressive structure.

Tsukiji Market

If Louis Vuitton and Chanel aren’t really your style, head south to Tsukiji Market for an entirely different scene. The fish market is less cosmopolitan but packed to the gills with tiny makeshift vendors. You’ll find Japanese delicacies at every corner ranging from octopus tentacles to fresh wasabi root.

Whether you stop by for a quick snack or you’re committed to getting some candid street portraits, you won’t leave Tsukiji disappointed.

3. Shibuya

An epicenter for commerce, entertainment, and beyond, Shibuya is a force to be reckoned with. Especially popular with young people, the area is buzzing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For this reason, it’s one of our top picks for photographing Tokyo street culture and generally making portraits.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Shibuya Spots:

Shibuya Station

Have you really been to Tokyo at all if you haven’t witnessed the Shibuya Scramble? As one of the busiest railway stations in the world, a near-constant flow of people heads in every direction in and outside of Shibuya Station

If you have the time, try grabbing a seat at a coffee shop in any of the square’s towering buildings. You’ll have a better vantage point for capturing the iconic pedestrian crossing than you would in the thick of the crowd.

Harajuku

For fashion photographers, Harajuku can’t be beaten. As the cute capital of the universe, it’s unlike any other neighborhood on earth. And, if you can get over the initial sensory overload, it’s a haven for outrageous photographs

Everywhere you look, there’s cosplay and contemporary fashion. Pastel storefronts blare J-pop as endless vendors peddle cotton candy and crepes. Together, it melds to create the perfect conditions for compelling, edgy street portraits.

Just About Anywhere.

Shibuya is chock full of interesting little corners that would make any photographer drool. It’s hard to find a place that doesn’t have something exciting going on.

Though the district is easy to get around by rail, I actually found myself walking much of the time that I was in Shibuya. This was a great way to get acquainted with the area, but it also opened up a ton of small shooting opportunities I would have overlooked otherwise.

4. Shinjuku

By a long shot, Shinjuku was my favorite place to explore while photographing Tokyo. While it has the life of Shibuya in many areas, it also houses some sleepier neighborhoods with an entirely different vibe. The strange juncture of residential and commercial structures even has some nature and greenery, if you know where to look.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Shinjuku Spots:

Meiji Temple (and surrounding area)

Being in a drastically different country, I struggled for some time to determine where my first stop should be. Finally, I settled on wandering to the attraction nearest my hotel – Meiji Temple. So, still jetlagged from the flight, I wandered there on foot as the sun came up on our first day out.

For a metro sporting a massive population, you’d be surprised to see just how much nature thrives in Tokyo. With a wooded path and vast park surrounding the area, I took full advantage of the dappled light that flowed between tree branches. Meiji (as well as other large green spaces) offers a refreshing break from the neon lights and skyscraper’s the city is famous for.

Golden Gai

One of Tokyo’s nicest qualities is its vibrant nightlife. Golden Gai – a string of bars and izakayas jammed down a narrow alley – is no exception. I was far from the only photographer out on the three separate nights I went out.

Dim lights illuminated the night as smoke and steam poured out of sardine-sized eateries, making for some strong, moody images. The greatest challenge you’ll face in Golden Gai? Finding the space to take a shot without pedestrians blocking your view!

Kabukicho

Once you escape the labyrinth of micro-bars in Golden Gai, you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of Kabukicho. As one of the city’s most iconic entertainment hubs, you never know exactly what you’ll find wandering the heart and soul of Shinjuku.

Featuring live robot shows, “love hotels”, and much more, Kabukicho encapsulates what makes Japan such a unique place. Filled with colorful neon lights, it’s one spot you won’t want to overlook while photographing Tokyo.

5. Asakusa

If you’re looking to get a sense of what Tokyo once was, head to Asakusa. In some spots, every available inch is filled with traditional crafts for sale or tasty local delicacies. While it may not be as “hip” as Shibuya or Shinjuku, ancient temples collide with modern tourists for eyecatching, almost surreal shots.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Asakusa Spots:

Senso-Ji Temple

Asakusa’s biggest draw, without a doubt, is the massive Senso-Ji Buddhist Temple. Adjacent to a five-story Shinto shrine, this sacred space attracts visitors from around the world. Dozens of booths sell everything from keychains to soft-serve ice cream flank temple’s entrance.

Even if you’re not very interested in photographing Tokyo’s history or architecture, this temple is a worthy detour. Seeing people from all walks of life interact with this surreal environment is fascinating. Some things can’t be replicated outside of Japan. Senso-Ji is one of those things.

Sumida River

If you spend too much time among the towering buildings and racing railways of Tokyo, you’re liable to forget that the city is actually on the water. A walk along the Sumida is the perfect place to decompress and remind yourself of the area’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.

Unfortunately for us, our visit got cut short thanks to some torrential downpours. But if you’re lucky enough to visit during more agreeable weather, you might run into some fireworks or festivals. At the very least, the river is an excellent spot to capture some images of the city skyline.

6. Ebisu

As headquarters to the Sapporo Brewery, a vivid food and drink scene has developed in the Ebisu district over the years. Yet, this area has much more to it than good eats. This underrated, artistic neighborhood is a place where any photographer can find inspiration.

PhotoWorkout’s Must-Stop Ebisu Spots:

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

Nestled in the Yebisu Garden Place, you’ll find the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. It’s a little easy to miss if you’re not actively looking for it. Nevertheless, the galleries here offer a refreshing mix of old and new photography that makes it well worth the visit.

From hand-colored snapshots to expansive video displays, the museum fits in a little of everything. The museum also features works by renowned artists like Rinko Kawauchi and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Not to mention dozens of other moving works from photographers that haven’t yet made their way across the sea.

Our tickets were about $6 USD each, barely making a dent in our trip’s budget. If you’re looking for a little bit of motivation while you’re abroad, spend an hour or two visiting this hidden gem.

NADIFF A/P/A/R/T

All of us have seen impressive, beautiful photographs from Japan. Yet, many are unaware that Japan is also a hub for photo books. As such, Tokyo is one of the best places in the world to be if you’re looking to expand your photographic library. There are a few great book shops scattered throughout the city, but NADIFF A/P/A/R/T may have been my favorite.

Located a few blocks away from the Photographic Art Museum, this shop has a wide range of publications that you won’t be able to find outside of Japan. If you have a photo book fanatic to shop for or just want to grab a souvenir for yourself, it’s a stop that’s both convenient and cool.

Megu Tama Photo Book Cafe

Unfortunately, I found out about this incredible spot once I made it back to the US. However, I’d like to include Megu Tama on this list so that readers won’t make the same mistake I did.

The only thing that rivaled exploring Japan with my camera was the delicious food. Megu Tama combines both, serving up full course meals for under $20 USD while hosting one of the largest private photo book collections. While I may be a bit biased as a photo book nerd, anyone remotely interested in photography should spend an hour or two browsing their selection

7. Beyond Tokyo

There’s a lot to love about photographing Tokyo, but Japan is jam-packed with unique photo opportunities. And thanks to the country’s stellar public transit, it’s pretty easy to see what lies beyond the city.

Photographers looking to make the most of their stay should consider snagging a JR Rail Pass. For about $270 USD, you can grab a 7-day unlimited pass that grants you access to the shinkansen (bullet train) as well as local lines. This makes it possible to get just about anywhere you’d like in the country within a matter of hours.

While I loved Tokyo, I absolutely recommend getting out and exploring a bit off of the beaten path. Here are a few fantastic areas you can reach within a few hours.

Tokyo Day Trips for Visiting Photographers:

Hitachi (or whatever happens to be in season)

Japan’s incredible biodiversity offers unique shooting opportunities year-round. Do your homework ahead of time to see what you can capitalize on – even if it lies a little out of the way.

Case and point: between all the southern cities and the majesty of Mt. Fuji, many tourists never make it too far north of Tokyo. But, as it turned out, our short October stay happened to overlap with the peak bloom of the local Kochia bush. So, we hopped on a train one Tuesday morning to check them out for ourselves at Hitachi Seaside Park, located on the country’s east coast.

The extra effort provided us the chance to catch a scene that very few people get to witness in person, let alone photograph. Don’t get me wrong – grabbing a stellar shot of a famous landmark or an interesting city dweller can be rewarding. However, taking the initiative to photograph something out of the ordinary will really make for memorable work.

Hakone

If you have the time, visiting any of the towns surrounding Mt. Fuji is a must. Hakone is a particularly charming mountain town, far enough out of the city to feel remote but far from lacking amenities or attractions.

Nearby Lake Ashi provides some great views of Fuji dotted with swan boats, and couldn’t be a more perfect way to spend an afternoon. Getting there involves taking a ropeway over the Owakudani volcanic valley. If you can withstand the area’s sulfuric fumes, you can get some equally beautiful (yet very different) shots.

Some more great photo opportunities lie in Hakone’s open-air museum. Filled with 1000 sculptures, it’s an easy way to fill a morning or afternoon. Plus, it’s a fun place to take pictures outside the cityscapes and street portraits you’ll find photographing Tokyo.

Matsumoto

Japan’s Nagano prefecture is absolutely gorgeous, and at most times easy enough to access from Tokyo. We opted to spend a few evenings in the small sleepy city of Matsumoto, but a person could easily cover the area over the course of a single day.

The biggest draw to the area is the historic Matsumoto castle. This should be a mandatory stop for photographers interested in the ancient structures of Japan. Much like the Imperial Palace or Senso-Ji, it doubles as a prime people-watching spot.

Speaking of which, I found that the people of Matsumoto were genuinely pleasantly surprised to meet visitors from far away. If you want to photograph locals, you might have more luck finding a cooperative model here than you would in Tokyo or other high-volume areas.

Wrap Up: Photographing and Visiting Tokyo

Hopefully, this article has given you a real flavor for what Tokyo has to offer for photographers. Whether you’re looking to bag a good deal on some new gear or just want to capture some stunning images, Tokyo has something for everyone. If you’ve visited Tokyo or have plans to, why not let us know in the comments?

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