Tokyo Travel Photography Guide
If you have read my previous articles about my last trip to Tokyo then you might be wondering about where the best places to go are. I am not sure why it took me this long to actually go through all of the locations that I shot that trip. I think mostly because there are probably better people out there that can do it with a lot more skill and finesse. At any rate, here are my recommendations.
Where To Stay
First, let’s get this out of the way. Tokyo is HUGE! Tourist areas are overpriced for hostels and hotels. Many of my searches just ended up confusing and leading me to over-priced capsule hotels geared towards smelly backpackers. So I reached out to famed travel photographer Elia Locardi and he offered some great advice to stay around the Minato City area.
I soon found a reasonable hotel a short walk from Ueno Station and where the train drops you off from Narita Airport. I found this area to be perfect for a number of reasons. The first being that Ueno station is a major station in Tokyo and is centrally located. So it is only a few stops from many of the major sites. Also there was a Yodobashi Camera across the street from Ueno Station. I could pick up anything that I needed on my way out too.
For me, this was a good location as I don’t like lugging around my bags long distances. I did that too many times when starting out. I just as soon get to my lodging as fast as possible and then get ready to shoot. I stayed at the Hotel Centurion, which was your typical Japanese business hotel. It was not too expensive, but you can certainly find cheaper hotels or hostels on sites like Booking.com.
The hotel was a short walk from Ueno Station, Ueno Park and several subway lines. This meant getting around was a simple process. I prefer this to areas that might be cheaper but are far from the places that you intend to photograph. Also it was a little off the tourist map in some ways. So cheap food and quiet places were easy to find.
The main purpose of this trip was to really update my travel portfolio. I had not been to Tokyo in many years and when I did I was extremely sick. We also didn’t really hit Tokyo as much as I would have liked. So this trip was a way to get the shots, albeit touristy ones, that I missed many years ago. I was not going to waste my time trying to find “hidden gems” as I really didn’t have much time to spare. I wanted to get a lot of the shots that people are familiar with and add my style to them.
This was top on the list as I saw so many wonderful shots of this temple over the years. I got up at 4 am and headed out to the subway station. Keep in mind that the Tokyo subway system starts running at 5 am and it will take a while to get to you. On this day, it did not really matter as it was rainy and there was no sun to be seen. I later swapped out the skies using luminar 4, which helped make a better looking image all around.
Tip: Get there early or really late unless you want to be stuck in the crowds. The temple is open 24 hours a day so for me, sunrise was the best. There were hardly any people there, only a few tourists and the weirdos twerking in the garden…
This was more of a tourist stop for me. The last time I was here I was on a large dose of some random allergy medication. Waking up on a subway train surrounded by cosplayers and exiting into the madness that is Shibuya pretty much melted my brain. So this time around, I wanted to have a better experience. During my time there, the weather was still acting up a bit but sadly it wasn’t raining enough to get out the umbrellas. It was just a hazy grey mass of meh. So I did what I could to make the most out of the situation.
I went to the infamous starbucks, got an iced coffee and fought the influencers and Rugby players for a spot overlooking the street. I then took some time lapse shots. I checked out a few locations to find the best angle. Sadly, other than the starbucks location, I really didn’t find a good one.
Tip: Head there around blue hour and get some long exposure shots. I found that daytime shots are not really that great as the appeal of this area is more the mass of people crossing the street surrounded by the tall buildings and the flashing lights. Blue hour would emphasise the lights and still give you details in the street below.
Odaiba Beach and the Rainbow Bridge
For years I had wanted to get this location and finally check it off my shot list. Thanks to a few helpful recommendations and Elia’s video, I managed to find a great spot. Thanks to my lack of sleep and poor planning, I also missed my stop and also the amazing sunset. However, I worked with what I had.
The Rainbow Bridge at blue hour was the shot that I was going for anyway but the sunset that night was absolutely amazing (as I saw from the train). The reason why I suggest this shot at night is for not only the bridges lights but also the yakatabune boats that light up as well.
Odaiba beach is a great place to start and probably one of the most common places to photograph from. There is also a replica Statue of Liberty there as well. The biggest issue that you are going to run into are the crowds and the islands. However, at night they sort of blend into the darkness a bit.
Tip: If you want to get an unobstructed view or rather less of one, walk around to Dai-San Daiba which is the little island visible from the beach. It will take you some time to walk out there but it is a popular spot. I was not a fan of the angle that I saw from google maps, so I stayed on the beach.
Gundam Robot Statue
Ever since I first visited Japan, I was fascinated with gundam robots. I am not into anime or anything but I just loved the detail and variety. I actually build them from time to time because the process is somewhat therapeutic to me. At any rate, getting a chance to see a life-sized one blew my mind. It is also quite close to the Rainbow Bridge and it lights up at night. So you can shoot it after the bridge.
Tip: There are a few times that the robot will move and change colours. Check online and try and time your arrival for the last show so it will be dark enough to catch the lights and the movement.
If you follow my work then you know that I love temples and shrines. This time around I wanted to really see something new and the Nezu Shrine was recommended. It has a large number of tori gates which line a path along the edge of the grounds and that is a shot that I have been wanting to get for a while. It’s not quite as big as the ones in Kyoto but it was a great spot to spend the morning.
Tip: Keep in mind that this is not a tourist attraction and does not exist for your photographic needs. Be quiet and polite. I was quite disgusted seeing the twerking couple at the Senso-ji Temple. Places like this are smaller but still deserve your respect.
The Imperial Palace
This is a wonderful site but sadly it was closed when I went. However, I was still able to photograph the Seimon Stone Bridge there. The front grounds surrounding the palace are also always open and that is a plus. However, do check the times before heading over there. There is a ton to see surrounding the palace as well. If I get a chance to go back I will certainly spend more time in that area.
This is also a tourist spot and high on the influencer hit list. So it does get quite busy. It was interesting to see the influencers/wanna-be influencers work the site. At any rate, they can be an indication of where or where not to go at these locations.
Tip: There are swans in the waters surrounding the palace. Timing the shot right so that you have a few of them in the frame would add a lot to the image. Like most things, it is a waiting game. This is also a location that I would say looks great during the day time. So you can slot it in after your morning shoots as I did and still come away will decent shots.
Tokyo International Forum
If you are looking for some unique architecture this is one spot that a number of people go to. Overall, I would say that it is nothing special but I did find it interesting. However, to be honest it does not really scream “Tokyo!” for me. It was a nice calm space to get some shots and take a bit of a rest.
Tip: Bic Camera is right next door to this place as well as the subway station. So be sure to pop in if you need anything on your way to your next location. You can walk to the forum from the Imperial Palace too.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
This is a great spot for cityscapes but you have to shoot through a window. It gives a great view of the city in almost every direction. The issue here is that it is also hugely popular, so long lines form and people tend to get a little pushy around sunset and blue hour. Also there is a “no tripod” rule in effect and they will yell at you for using any kind of device to stabilize your camera.
Tip: Bring a scarf or a towel to wrap around your lens to cut the reflections from the glass. If you are trying to get a steady shot, huddle in and over your camera while resting it on the ledge. I found that the security guards only checked on me when I was alone and in clear view. If they tell you to stop, just stop. There is no point in getting thrown out for a shot like this.
If there is one place that you should check out that clearly says “I am in Tokyo” then it has to be Shinjuku. It gets pretty crazy at night and there are a ton of flashing lights and people. Perfect for those street shots. I had this one image in mind (below) when I went there and really had no idea how to find it. I just walked to the flashing lights and found it… along with a group of other photographers getting the same shot. So not the most original shot but one to check off the list.
Tip: Use a wide-angle lens here. Shooting tight does not give the scale of this area and how flashy the buildings are. Also if you are using a tripod be careful that you don’t trip people here. It gets super crowded at night.
If you are looking for cheap sushi, check out Kura Sushi, they have a number of locations around Tokyo and are the standard rotating sushi place but they are also cheap. Usually about 100 yen per plate and they will have English menus.
Google maps is your friend here. Tokyo is huge and google maps has a lot of information and directions. This may seem obvious but if you travel through Korea, google maps is useless.
If you are staying for a short time, get the 3-day subway pass as part of the ticket package when you get the Skyliner into Tokyo. I am pretty sure that I saved a small fortune with that pass. You can order it online and pick it up at whichever airport you are flying into.
The bottom line here is that Tokyo is a massive city and a great one to check out. This is only a small chunk of mediocre advice but I hope that it is useful. You could easily spend a week or two in Tokyo and still not cover everything. So picking and choosing your locations is a must.
If you have any other tips and advice for Tokyo, please drop a comment below.