Tokyo's Five Best Photography Locations

Tokyo's Five Best Photography Locations

Tokyo is one of my favorite cities and I lived there for many years. While the crazy volume of traffic and crowds can be overwhelming at times, it's always an inspiring and surprising place to explore with a camera. So, where should you go if you only have a few days or less to shoot this incredible city? Here are a few of my favorite locations to visit with a camera, and the stories of some of the photos I have taken there.

Being a cityscape and street portrait photographer I am always looking for ways to best combine these two genres of travel photography. It goes without saying that Tsukiji fish market is also on the list but I have not included here. However, you can read about it in my previous article. I would suggest a minimum of three days to explore Tokyo.

1. Akihabara and Harajuku

In Akihabara (aka Akiba) is where you will find electronic shops, gamers, maid cafes, manga, and anime collectors. Stroll in just before sunset. Ask a few cosplay dressers for a quick street portrait or drop into a cafe to be entertained by the cartoon grins of a waitress dressed in a French maid outfit. At dusk set up your tripod on a busy intersection to mix street car light movements and neon-lit buildings. The area is riddled with photo opportunities that should keep you busy all night. In Harajuku it is best to visit on a Sunday afternoon. You will start to see many groups congregating around the train stations nearby. Simply walk up to them and ask permission for a portrait. Offer to email them a copy if they'd like.

2. Shibuya and Shinjuku

Shibuya Crossing is a bustling intersection in the center of Tokyo where seas of people cross from multiple directions every time the traffic lights turn red. Go at dusk and take your tripod or monopod to capture the movement of the crowds while keeping the streets, buildings, and neon lights in sharp focus. There are plenty of opportunities for street portraits of young and trendy couples in the surrounding streets; Look for well-lit areas and nice backgrounds. A shallow depth of field (f/2.8) with a 50mm lens will help to throw the background out of focus and create some consistency in your portraits. Alternatively, a wide-angle lens (16-24mm) will also work if you wish to capture the surrounding buildings. Walk across the infamous Shibuya crossing with your tripod or monopod and set it down in the middle of the road while crossing. Set your shutter speed to around 1-3 seconds and click. You only have about 30 seconds to cross so you only have one to two shots per crossing. Repeat the process at different angles to get different backgrounds.

long exposure, city, tokyo, shibuya

Shibuya Crossing has to be Tokyo's busiest intersection.

Shinjuku, near Studio Alta at East Shinjuku train station exit, is a good spot to float around looking for shots of neon-lit streets and funky revelers. A tripod for the streetscapes will help you get tack-sharp shots at slower shutter speeds, down around 5–10 seconds, with car tail lights creating streaks in the image to add a dynamic feel to your pictures. Try and focus on back lights (red) more than front lights (white). Wait for large traffic flows and pick a corner that has curves to add a more dynamic look. There is a lane way near the station known as piss lane. Here you might find some great street portraits with permission. Be careful when photographing without permission as too many tourists have been invading this popular spot in the last few years. Having someone who speaks fluent Japanese with you will break the ice and you'll still manage some spontaneous portraits. 

Shinjuku long exposure at night

Near East Shinjuku subway exit.

3. Ueno

I used to live in the old downtown area of Tokyo, which is also known as Shitamachi, so there's a little bit of bias in this choice. This is also where my wife is from so I've spent plenty of time exploring the back streets and alleys with my camera. Nighttime in these areas is best explored on a weekday. Anywhere along a railway track close to a station you will find hole-in-the wall style bars and street stalls. Local businessmen flock to these cheap eateries for beer and light snacks.

Streetscapes are usually best shot from walkways looking down on traffic. Use your tripod and shoot with a slow shutter speed around 10–30 seconds to get some interesting trails of car lights. Neon lights also make for lovely backdrops. The high viewpoint will help to isolate and frame your shot better. Consider a black and white conversion.

Buddhist Monk in Tokyo

Buddhist Monk in Ueno, Tokyo.

4. Ginza

The Ginza is another great spot for street portraits and modern architecture. Visit at the end of the day when the sun is low and the contrast between dark and light adds some drama to the scene. If you're looking for amazing modern buildings to use as backdrops or subjects of your photos, the following Ginza stores are worth typing into Google Maps: Hermes, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vitton, Prada, Ferragamo, and Zara. Best of all, most are within a three or four-block radius of the Ginza Station.

Ginza, architecture, tokyo

Ginza's Wako Department Store is one of Tokyo's oldest.

5. Asakusa (Traditional Temple)

Asakusa is a district of Tokyo famous for the historic Sensō-ji Buddhist temple. The Kaminarimon Gate entrance to Asakusa Temple is usually crowded, but you can avoid the rush by visiting at night when the souvenir shops have closed and the tourists have gone home. If you do want to visit during the day, the best times to travel on the subway — and avoid being shoved onto a train carriage like a human sardine — are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Another mini version of Asakusa is a place 45 minutes away by train called Shibamata also worth a look if you like this kind of ambience.

Temple in Asakusa, tokyo at night

Asakusa at dusk.

Of course there are many more areas in Tokyo you can explore so I would recommend a look at the very comprehensive site of Japan Guide for more valuable and up-to-date information. Traveling around Tokyo to get the best shots will have a lot to do with the best time and day of the week.

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Anonymous's picture

You might have titled the article, "Tokyo's Five Best Locations for Street Photography." I've been there several times and don't really care for any of the locations you mention, aside from the temples and shrines.

Alfonso Calero's picture

Patrick O'Connor where would you suggest to be a great spot to shoot?

Anonymous's picture

In Tokyo, um.. temples and shrines! :-)
It wasn't my intent to dismiss your suggestions. They are all wonderful places. It just never occurred to me to take the kinds of photos you suggest. Being more of a landscape and historical landmarks kind of guy, I like the Emperor's palace, Meiji Jingu Gaien, etc..
Generally, I visit my wife's relatives in Tokyo but sight-see everywhere else. :-)
Since I have your attention, where did you live in Japan?

Alfonso Calero's picture

Hey no worries! Thanks for your suggestions. Lived 4 years in Sumida, Arakawa and Inage Ku areas. Other less touristy areas I love are Shibamata and Kawagoe. Japan is my second home and still happily married to my wife from Mukojima in Sumida-Ku.

Anonymous's picture

We have a place in Akabane, we're planning to retire to. My wife is from Chiba. She said to tell your wife she loves monjya-yaki. :-)

I would also recommend the Ameyoko Shopping Street between Ueno & Taito, I've done some fantastic street shots over there! And in Shijuku, besides the street lights, the Golden Gai is great too.

Alfonso Calero's picture

Anyone else have location suggestions?

Arpad Ikuma Csizmazia's picture

Not exactly street photography spots, but I would recommend Nezu Shrine in Bunkyo ward, relatively close to Ueno actually. Also perhaps Roppongi Hills Mori Bldg's Observation deck with the view of Tokyo Tower from top, definitely at dusk or later. And I second Pierre's recommendation of Ameyoko.

Alfonso Calero's picture

Thanks! All suggestions welcome regardless of genre. Thats the beauty of travel photography to chop and change whatever you feel like shooting.

Anonymous's picture

If we're expanding the area away from Tokyo, you could write a book. In fact, several have been written! :-)
Next time you visit Fuji-san, try to stay at Kyukamura Fuji. The morning view from EVERY room is spectacular.

Anonymous's picture

Yep. I'm not sure if it'll show up but here's a photo I took from the dock by the lake.

Alfonso Calero's picture

Very nice.

Everywhere in Tokyo, regardless of outdoors or indoors, is a great photo location. If I am in Tokyo I walk around in Tokyo for several hours and just shoot what looks interesting. Samples: and Call it street photography or what ever you want. Friends and family where delighted and followed my traces every day ;-)

Alfonso Calero's picture

Thanks for sharing and interesting observations.

Thank you - my pleasure

Your suggestions feel like the 5 most obvious spots for first time tourists visiting Tokyo.... but if offering tips, might be worth adding to the Ginza part that on Sundays the streets are closed to traffic... so lots of people walking around & can shoot from in middle of road etc....

one of my favourite Tokyo photo locations is to walk across Rainbow Bridge... a little vertigo is good for you!

Alfonso Calero's picture

Yes exactly for first timers as not all readers are frequent travellers to Tokyo. Great advice on Ginza. This is exactly the kind of community exchange we need on this article to cater for all readers. Thanks!

Jeff McCollough's picture

Can we get articles like this for NYC, Philadelphia, Barcelona, Monaco, Rome, Florence, Venice, Madrid? I will be at all those places during the months of April and May.

Alfonso Calero's picture

Fabulous idea. I'll do 5 best areas for Madrid, Barcelona, Sydney and Manila!

Jeff McCollough's picture

I'll look forward to the ones about Barcelona and Madrid.

The deal is it's hard to know where to go to shoot decent locations. I found a site that had some tips for Venice and Florence.

The thing is when you travel to some place and you have never been there before and you don't have a lot of time it's hard to know where to go to find what you are looking for.

I could write a piece about Bolivia.

Kevin Allekotte's picture

If you want to get out of Tokyo, here are 20 locations to take the best photos near Tokyo and further:

Alfonso Calero's picture

Thanks Kevin Alle some great suggestions on that site 😊

Alfonso Calero's picture

Small wholesale market alternative from 8am.Cheaper.