Self-Drive in Tokyo: 10 Things to Do That Are Under 30 Minutes Away by Car!

Self-Drive in Tokyo: 10 Things to Do That Are Under 30 Minutes Away by Car!

Hit the roads and see the sights of Tokyo on your own terms.

Self-driving holidays are very possibly the best option for the traveller who wants freedom and adventure. Getting from place to place on your own terms and schedule is liberating, and makes it so much easier to explore places that would otherwise be less accessible via public transport. Yes, even Japan’s world-renowned train and rail transport system cannot beat chucking the luggage in the boot of a rental car and seeing the city at your own pace and time; no need for furrowed brows and a crumpled train timetable!

Tokyo

Image credit: Freeman Zhou

In Tokyo, the driving experience gets bumped up to a whole other level. Fans of Wangan Midnight, rejoice! You’ll get to see all the hallmarks of the highways you saw on the pages of the manga, with the winding roads and layers upon layers of flyovers and tunnels all coming together under the tungsten glow of the street lamps. While you can’t follow in the footsteps of the protagonist and zip through traffic in their souped-up sports car, the Shutoko (首都高速道路; translated as ‘Metropolitan Expressway’) is definitely a great way to get around and see the city. So, read on for our handy guide on where and what to see along this convenient loop around metropolitan Tokyo!

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1. Odaiba

Odaiba, Tokyo

Image credit: ©Sotsu

A good place to start your Tokyo sightseeing would definitely be Odaiba, a manmade island packed full of shopping and leisure opportunities. You’ll even find the famous larger-than-life Gundam statue here! It comes alive with a dazzling light display at night, and really leaves an impression on you right from first glance with its awe-inspiring scale. 

Statue of Liberty, Odaiba

Image credit: Jacob Ehnmark

Other photogenic landmarks include the geometric Fuji TV Building, and Odaiba’s replica of the Statue of Liberty overlooking the Tokyo Harbour. The shopping malls here cater to the thrill-seekers too, with everything from arcades to water parks right in their cavernous interiors. 

Rainbow bridge, Odaiba

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A destination for the romantics in us, Odaiba Marine Park sits on Tokyo Bay, and offers a stunning view of the Rainbow Bridge at dusk. The Rainbow Bridge is illuminated with multicolored lights at night, making for quite the experience when you drive along it! Be sure to catch a photo opportunity while you are perched on the 5 kilometre-long boardwalk as well. What a way to end the night!

Odaiba

Address: Minato City, Tokyo 105-0000
Access: Take the Bay Shore Route, exit via Rinkai-fukutoshin (B22), Ariake (B23) or 11 Daiba Line, exit via Daiba (1101).
Recommended parking area: Odaiba Marine Park, Central Parking or North Gate Parking
Rates: ¥600 for first 2 hours; ¥150 every 30 minutes thereafter

2. Imperial Palace

imperial palace

Image credit: Thilo Hilberer

Next, drop by the Imperial Palace, right smack in the centre of the Inner C1 Route of the Shutoko. Home to the Japanese Royal Family, the Imperial Palace is a historical compound much like Windsor Castle, and is steeped in an atmosphere of elegance and royalty. The carefully manicured vegetation and ponds are quite the sight to catch, although you won’t have much access to the main building where the royal family reside.

Imperial palace

Image credit: Ray in Manila

The main grounds are mostly off-limits to members of the public, except for two special dates every year — 2nd January to welcome the new year, and 23rd February for the Emperor’s Birthday. On any other day, you are still free to join a twice-daily guided tour that will take you around the gardens of the palace. Keep in mind to reserve a spot beforehand!

Imperial Palace

Address: 1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 100-8111
Access: Take the Yaesu Route, exit via Marunouchi (44).
Recommended parking area: Marunouchi Central Parking Lot
Rates: ¥400 every 30 minutes

3. Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

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One of the two towers gracing the skyline of the metropolis, the Tokyo Tower is a must-see for first time visitors. Inspired by the iconic Eiffel Tower, the popular tourist viewpoint is the second tallest freestanding structure in the whole of Japan, standing at 332 metres tall, and doubles up as a communications tower for the city. 

Tokyo Tower night

Image credit: Sen Lee

There are two observation decks on the tower, both of which are pay-to-access. The one at 150 metres up is the main observatory deck, which has interesting information panels and a great bird’s eye view of the city. The other deck at 250 metres has a great 360° lookout, and at this height, you’re standing pretty much above everyone else in Tokyo! There’s even a section with glass flooring for the adventurous, letting you look straight down through the tower. Not for those with a fear of heights!

Tokyo Tower

Address: 4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato City, Tokyo 105-0011
Access: Take the Inner Circular Route, exit via Shibakoen (19) (20).
Recommended parking area: Tokyo Tower Parking Centre
Rates: ¥300 for first 30 minutes; ¥300 every 30 minutes thereafter

4. Ginza

Ginza

Image credit: Yoshimitsu Kurooka

Ginza is the high-end shopping district of Tokyo, with boutiques and department stores everywhere you look. One place to check out: the largest Uniqlo in the world! There are many levels for you to find exactly the style you might be looking for.

Ginza

Image credit: Kakidai

Once you are done with that, hit up Kimuraya Pan for a taste of anpan (a Japanese pastry with red bean paste) straight from the original creators. The popular treat was invented in 1874 by the bread store, but there are also many other flavours for you to fill your stomach with. 

Kabukiza Theatre

Image credit: knhiraoka

Ginza is also home to the famous Kabukiza Theatre, the foremost theatre for the traditional Japanese stage drama. You can enjoy tea in the tearooms before the performances, and for those who might not know Japanese, translation devices are available for rent so you get to enjoy the full experience. Do plan ahead for this if you are keen on watching a performance, though, as the whole affair usually lasts for 3 to 4 hours.

Ginza

Address: Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061, Japa
Access: Take the Inner Circular Route, exit via Ginza (15) (16).
Recommended parking area: TIMES Marronnier Gate 3
Rates: ¥310 every 30 minutes

5. New National Stadium

The New National Stadium is the centrepiece of the city’s preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and will be the main venue of the event. Recently completed in November 2019, the stadium towers five storeys above ground, and has a capacity of 60,000. The seats are coloured in five different earth tones to create a sort of mosaic, representing sunbeams as they filter through the forest canopy. 

Wood and greenery come together in harmony for most of the stadium’s exterior design, creating a sort of interplay between urban and nature. The 850 metre-long concourse on the fifth storey is open to visitors, and is a great viewing spot for the cherry blossoms blooming in spring and the vibrant colours of the surrounding trees in fall. You can also get a pretty good view of the Shinjuku skyline from here, as well as the ever iconic Mount Fuji in the background. 

New National Stadium

Address: 10-2, Kasumigaoka-machi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0013
Access: Take the 4 Shinjuku Line, exit via Gaien (401) (402).
Recommended parking area: Mitsuino Repark Parking Lot or Meijij-ingu Gaien Ice Skating Rink Parking Lot
Rates:

  • 5am to 9pm: ¥300 for first 30 minutes; ¥600 after 60 minutes
  • 9pm to 5am: ¥400 for first two hours; ¥100 every hour thereafter

6. Tsukiji Outer Market

Seafood at Tsukiji Outer Market

Image credit: Tuan Nguyen

Tsukiji Market was arguably one of the most well-known fish markets in the world — and for good reason. Since having come under the international spotlight from the news of the relocation of its famous tuna auction and wholesale market due to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the Tsukiji Outer Market is still alive and kicking. The main draw of Tsukiji is the myriad of fresh local fish right from the harbour, and you can get a chance to sample them right there and then from the vendors.

There are over 300 shops and restaurants in the Outer Market, and sushi joints are the top popular attraction among them, with the queue for the two most lively shops, Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai, taking as long as two hours before you can squeeze your way to a seat!

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Image credit: Karsten Gohm

Tsukiji Outer Market was initially developed as an extension of the old Tsukiji market, one of the world’s biggest hubs for sashimi-grade bluefin tuna. The Inner Market, where the tuna auctions took place, were predominantly for wholesale transactions, and were inaccessible to the public. The wholesalers then sold the tuna on to the vendors in the Outer Market — this practice remains even with the relocation, the restaurant and shop owners simply have to travel a bit over two kilometres each way to buy the same fresh tuna!

Tsukiji Outer Market

Address:  4 Chome-10-16 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-004
Access: Take the Inner Circular Route, exit via Ginza (15) (16).
Recommended parking area: Tsukiji-Gawa-Daiichi Parking Lot
Rates: ¥200 every 30 minutes

7. Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine, tokyo

Image credit: IQremix

The Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine, is an ornate Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The shrine is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, surrounded by thick foliage and tall trees, almost like an oasis in the middle of such concentrated urbanisation. 

The forest is no slice of preserved nature, though. It started out as a crop of 100,000 saplings donated from well-wishers all across Japan, a sign of the reverence that was accorded to the late Emperor. The simple, traditional architecture of the shrine harkens back to the 1920s, although this incarnation is a recreation of the original, destroyed in firebombings in World War II. 

Meiji Shrine, kota

Image credit: kota

A good photo op is the long, colourful wall of stacked sake barrels. No, they’re not for your consumption. Rather, they’re offered as a token of respect to the enshrined spirits of the Emperor and his Empress.

Meiji Shrine

Address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-8557
Access: Take the 4 Shinjuku Line, exit via Gaien (401) (402).
Recommended parking area: Harajuku Quest Parking Lot
Rates: ¥500 every 30 minutes

8. Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo

Image credit: Chris Yiu

Ah, Akihabara — the Electric Town, home of the video game, anime, and manga enthusiast. Yodobashi Camera, a major landmark in the district, is a haven for anything related to consumer electronics, such as cameras, laptops, even household appliances like washing machines. You name it, they have it! 

Hobby shops are plentiful in the area as well, chock full of rare manga and anime merchandise. For the arcade game lover, there are whole buildings dedicated to arcade games run by the juggernaut of the genre itself, SEGA. Akihabara Gachapon Hall is also a treat for the collector, with row upon row of the ubiquitous capsule machine and their randomised offerings ready for you to take home in the form of a souvenir or two. And if all those weren’t enough, the 8 storey-tall Don Quijote megastore is just the place to splurge on discount items and the most ridiculous of costumes. It’s truly an otaku’s paradise!

Akihabara

Address: 1-1 Kanda Hanaokacho, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0028
Access: Take the 1 Ueno Line, exit via Honcho (181) (182).
Recommended parking area: Akihabara UDX Parking Lot
Rates: ¥300 every 30 minutes

9. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

Image credit: Gino Mempin

The red maple leaves in autumn are an iconic sight of Japan, and there might be no better place in the country to see it than the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden. The maple trees are mostly concentrated around the Japanese Garden section of the park, and you can get all your Insta-worthy shots of the orange-and-red foliage in the sprawling park. If you are lucky, you might get a chance to see the ginkgo trees in all their golden-yellow glory too!

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

Image credit: Tatters

The garden is the largest in all of Tokyo City, and it offers everything from red fall views to sights of the stunning pink blooms in sakura season. Traditional pagodas beside calm ponds are another highlight of the garden, exuding an air of peace, especially as ball games and music are not permitted in its premises. 

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Address: 11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0014
Access: Take the 4 Shinjuku Line, exit via Gaien (401) (402).
Recommended parking area: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden Parking Lot
Rates: ¥600 for first two hours; ¥200 every 30 minutes thereafter

10. Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Image credit: pixabay

To round up your trip, visit the other tower of Tokyo — quite unlike the Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo Skytree has a decidedly modern, futuristic vibe to its architecture. Similarly, there are two observation platforms, at 350 metres and 450 metres. Both decks allow for stunning views of the city at dawn and dusk, and we really recommend going at night to catch the streets light up in all their neon and tungsten glory to cap off your night!

A cafe can also be found on the 350-metre platform, giving you the unique opportunity to sip a cuppa while watching life go on far down below. The fun doesn’t stop when you get down from the dizzying heights, too. The base of the Skytree has both a shopping mall and a water fountain display, so you can grab some souvenirs to remember the visit with.

Tokyo Skytree
Address: 1 Chome-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida City, Tokyo 131-0045
Access: Take the 6 Mukojima Line, exit via Komagata (605).
Recommended parking area: Soramachinishi Parking Lot
Rates: ¥600 every hour

Tokyo city night view

Image credit: Josh Soto

This should have sparked some of your imagination to explore Tokyo via a self-drive. Limited only by your own energy and enthusiasm, the sky’s the limit! If you’d like more resources to help you plan your self-driving trip in Tokyo, visit the Shutoko’s website.

Note: In view of the COVID-19 outbreak, some of these places may be closed from operations. Please check the respective official websites for the latest updates.

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Brought to you by Metropolitan Expressway Company Limited.

About Author

Hern Tan
Hern Tan

From the sunny streets to the dim red glow of the darkroom, a camera is never far from Hern’s hands. And so, he can be found travelling ever further in pursuit of the perfect scene, the perfect light, the perfect image. Or in bed, all tuckered out.

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