Having visited Tokyo three times already, and with a fourth trip in the pipework for the end of May 2019, finding unique photo locations for photography is key for me. Also, with people asking me about where I find these areas, and as much as I tend to direct them to the tools I use to help me search for photography spots, people just want to know the photo locations in Tokyo that I’ve found. This list is by no means complete! I have probably another 30 odd places within Tokyo to add after my May trip to Japan too, which I will write into a Part 2 article!
There are of course the more popular areas that are widely known, and I have included some of those places in this list, but the idea of this list is to give you the chance to explore more of Tokyo in the surrounding areas and not just being confined in central Tokyo. Some of these places are only ten minutes train ride away, and given how efficient Japan’s rail system is, you’ll be able to easily visit them.
Now, finding photo locations is not just for my Instagram, for me it’s also for my portfolio that I show to people, and with the photos I capture, I am able make some one-off photobooks for myself, because let’s face it – with everything being digital nowadays, there is just something about holding a print of your own work in your hands.
I can’t stress this enough with travelling, but it is always best to find general places of interest to you to visit, and to then walk around discovering the more intricate areas on your own; the best memories and stories of your travels to share with others are the ones you make yourself, not the ones you see on social media.
Of course, there are other cities I’ve visited as well within Japan: Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, which I will also write separate articles for, just like this one (when I get the time!).
Please bear in mind that some of these locations are in residential areas where people live, so just like travelling to any other place, respect the area you are in, respect the people you see and above all, respect their culture.
Akihabara, or Akiba as it’s also known, is pretty much the area to go for all things anime and electronics. The key with Akiba is to visit in the afternoon near twilight when you get shops turning on their lights but there is still some daylight left in the sky.
This yokocho runs parallel to the Ueno train track, which slightly curves round down towards Akiba. There are plenty of alleys that lead underneath the train to more narrower spaces lined with shops.
Nakano Dori, Araiyakushi-mae
The name probably doesn’t mean much when you read it, but you will probably recognise it from photos with cherry blossoms (sakura) and a yellow train passing by. However, even without sakura, in summer, it still looks awesome with that yellow train crossing through against the green leaves.
So fumikiri isn’t actually a specific place, its Japanese for train crossing, and believe me when I say I have no interest in trains, but somehow I find myself photographing train crossings… a lot. They are really good areas to do hand-held long exposures; if you get someone standing at the crossing with a train passing by, you can capture that sense of movement perfectly. Keep your eyes open when you wonder around for fumikiri.
There are two views to this area, one is seeing Tokyo Tower in the distance peeking through buildings, and the other is the Tokyo Monorail snaking its way through the city towards Odaiba island – both make some good photo opportunities.
A small shrine, on a street corner near Shimbashi station provides the ideal contrast between the old and the new, which is frequently seen in Japan. The red torii gate against the cool concrete gives that nice colour contrast too.
This shrine is located on top of hill and has something unique about it. At its West entrance, there are steps lined with torii gates leading up to the shrine. This is similar to the Senbon torii gates at Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine. Be prepared to allow for people to walk up/down before taking photos. The shrine itself is surrounded by Tokyo’s modern buildings, but is so quiet.
Every seen four trains crisscross in one place? This is the bridge to see that near Akihabara, although, usually its just three trains, but if you wait long enough – you’ll get all four trains in one photo (you’ve been warned).
A free view of Shibuya and Tokyo’s skyline is guaranteed by visiting the observation deck at Hikarie tower. But with the glass windows, it’s best to bring a cloth to remove any smudges before photographing through it. It’s open until late, so arrive around sunset to get a nice golden glow over the city; if you have a telezoom lens, all the better!
The station at Idabashi is pretty cool (actually, anywhere in Tokyo is pretty cool to be honest)– there is a road that goes under the station itself. Nearby is a pedestrian bridge opposite the station, which is perfect for people watching. Bring a telezoom lens (like a 70-200 mm) for close ups for street photography.
The main entrance to Kabuchiko is the red gate which serves as a good focal point for street photography. Standing opposite it and framing up the red gate, you can capture the infamous Tokyo taxis passing by. This street can be explored both day and night, each with a different atmosphere to it.
A little train ride away from Enoshima station, there is a wealth of areas to photograph from Hase temple to the great buddha statue in the north of Kamakura. Lets not forget the train that runs alongside the seaside that provides stunning views – stop off at a random stop along the way to explore the local area.
Have you noticed by now that pretty much all of my locations I visit are around stations? Well, there are loads of alleys and izakaya’s around stations which offer so many great photos. Kanda, at night, has some incredible spots, which are greatly enhanced when it rains with the night lights. If you feel up to it, you can follow the main train track all the way up to Akihabara.
Magnet by 109 Shibuya Rooftop
For a while, to see the Shibuya crossing you had to be on the ground, amongst the chaos of moving around and avoiding colliding into people. But now, you can see all that from above on the rooftop at Magney by 109 Shibuya rooftop. When I visited, it was about 500 Yen for three hours, but now (and I need to check this), it is free to visit! Around sunset is the best time to photograph the crossing, as well as at night time with the buildings lit up; and just like when visiting the Hikarie building, take along a cloth to wipe the glass clean before taking photos.
Travelling to the suburban areas around Tokyo is something everyone must experience. Central Tokyo can be chaotic, packed and overwhelming; but a slower pace can be experienced. Matsubara is great as you can walk along the tram line up towards Shimotakaido.
Located south of Shinjuku near Harajuku, the Meiji shrine is surrounded by woodland. If you’re lucky to go on a weekend, you might witness a traditional Japanese wedding taking place. Be sure to pass the wall of sake barrels on your way to the shrine – the calligraphy and artwork is extremely detailed.
Personally, this is my favourite area to walk around and photograph. I found it by sheer chance when walking from Ikebukuro station. It’s a quiet, residential area that offers numerous winding turns and streets to walk down. It’s best to visit during summer time with the green leaves and the yellow colours from the train crossing.
Taking the Tokyo monorail to the island is an experience in itself – you can capture long expsoures as the train make its way to the island. Odaiba is the go-to place for video games and food, but you get a great view of Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge which is lit up every night. Or head to the Fuji TV station at sunset to see that incredible view of Tokyo’s skyline.
Hidden amongst Shinjuku’s buildings, this little yokocho is host to some amazing restaurants and bars which open in the evening. Each season the flowers are changed, so for summer there are sunflowers and of course, for spring there are cherry blossoms. During the day, the yokocho has a bright atmosphere to it, but at night (and especially after it has rained), this yokocho has a completely different vibe to it and you really do forget you are in Tokyo. Just be aware that some owners do not like their photos being taken, so please respect that – there are signs outside their shop saying so.
Watching the sunset over Tokyo is the one thing I will never forget, and the place to see that is at the top of Roppongi Hills Tower. As the sun sets, the city begins to turn its lights on, and eventually Tokyo Tower is lit up to. Well worth the time to sit back with friends to watch it all. No tripods are allowed on the roof deck and it may be closed if it is windy.
Next to this shop is a curvy road kinda like the one in Beverley Hills, but lined with cherry blossom trees. You probably recognise it instantly with cherry blossom petals floating across and a yellow taxi coming down the street. However, even during other seasons, this place is great to photograph, especially when you get delivery man walking across.
Tokyo has a number of temples and shrines to visit, but Sensoji is probably the most popular with tourists. At its main gate, there is a huge lantern, before leading through a market street straight up to the main temple. Be warned, it gets packed, especially at the market street, though on either side of the market street are quieter areas perfect for photographing. There is an incense burner in front of the temple, which you cleanse yourself with the incense, and also a good spot for capturing those moments. If you wait for night time, the temple is lit up and looks absolutely beautiful but also slightly eerie.
The world’s busiest crossing – and it’s chaotic! But so fun to do. You could spend hours at the place, walking across it, but if you take a spot near the crossing, you can capture so good moments of people walking by; use continuous focussing to keep the subject in focus as you track them and a high shutter speed to freeze their movement – you’ll be surprised what moments you photograph.
Not far from Shibuya, this is becoming very popular with university students for its hipster/relaxed vibe. The shops are very independent in style and there are some good places to have food and drink.
I have to admit that the Tokyo skytree is aesthetically pleasing to look at. Anywhere you are, you’ll be able to see it looming over Tokyo’s skyline. Just east of the skytree is a train crossing, which offers a great opportunity to capture a long exposure of trains passing by with the skytree in the background.
This iconic red metallic structure is probably best captured at night time when it is all lit up. Just southwest of the tower is an avenue of trees leading up to Tokyo tower which is also best captured at night when the street lamps are turned on.
If you haven’t seen the movie “Your Name” (kimi no na wa, 君の名は) then you need to, to understand this part. The movie takes some real life scenes from Tokyo, and the area around Yotsuya station and Suga shrine are the key areas. The directions to get from scene to scene are described over on the website Tofugu.
Yodabashi East, Shinjuku
To me, the Yodabashi East store is what I recognise and associate the most with Shinjuku. Its neon signs along the side of the store front and it’s massive neon sign at the front are the perfect backdrop for photographing people – be it during the day or night. If you have a wide angle lens, then a low angle view looking up at the store is best captured; although it’s up to you how you photograph this store.
Zozoji temple is the epitome of Tokyo for one reason – Tokyo Tower. Standing at the entrance to Zozoji temple, Tokyo Tower stands in the background and you can see such a contrast. For me, this captures how the past and the present can coexist with each other in Japan perfectly. Visiting during the day or night is equally rewarding.