Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory: Free and Fabulous

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building illuminated in orange at night
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building illuminated at night.

Where is the best free observatory in Tokyo?  It is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.  At 243 meters in height, it is one of the city’s tallest and most iconic buildings.  Some people say it looks like a gigantic computer chip or Gothic cathedral.  And while it mightn’t be as high as Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree, has excellent city views! Photographers love it.

Its north and south towers have observatories on their 45th floors.  The north has fewer points of interest, but it is open until 11 p.m. (for some reason, is currently closed).  Yes, you can see Mount Fuji and skyscrapers, but the view is primarily of residential areas.  My advice is to skip it.

snow-capped Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is easily visible from the observation decks.

The southern one is best.  It offers views of the central part of the city.  At night, the scene is incredible.  Unfortunately, the north can’t match that. Seriously, get your camera out and click away as there is so much to see.  This is one great place for your Japanese travel photography.

Yoyogi Park in middle of city
The green patch is Yoyogi Park.

Photography at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

What can you see?

  1.   Mt. Fuji (when the weather is fine)
  2.   Roppongi Hills (with its Tokyo City View and Sky Deck)
  3. Shinjuku Gyoen
  4.   the skyscrapers of Nishi-Shinjuku
  5.   Tokyo Bay
  6.   Tokyo Dome
  7. Tokyo Tower (mostly obscured)
  8.   Tokyo Skytree
  9. Yoyogi Park

This isn’t a comprehensive list. There are so many other things you can see from this fabulously free observatory. If you think I’ve made a serious omission, please tell me by writing it in the comments section.

Problems photographing at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

  • It can get very crowded.
  • Tokyo Tower has almost disappeared!  Over the last year, some new buildings have gone up and decimated the view.
  • Tripods are not allowed.  But, the ledges along some windows can serve almost as well.  Be careful of people dropping their bags right next to your camera, though.
  • Glare on the windows can be terrible.  Unfortunately, you can’t use hoods.
  • This is a personal one. There is a piano that Yayoi Kusama decorated. It’s free to play and many people take the opportunity to do so. When I’m taking photos, the performances break my concentration. Sorry.
Tokyo skyscraper skyline
Tokyo skyscapers!

Photo spots near the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

None of the following locations are more than 1.7 km away (in a straight line):

Shinjuku Park Tower and Tokyo Opera City high over city
Shinjuku Park Tower (L) and Tokyo Opera City (R).

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observatory details

See the observatory’s opening hours and location on the official website.

Wrapping up

If I had to pick a time to photograph at Tocho, I’d choose sunset as the light at that time can make the whole city beautiful.  And, if the weather is good, you might luck out and get a fantastic view of Mount Fuji.  But, be wary of the mountain’s magic.  Some people focus on it and forget about everything else!

The one bad thing is Tokyo Tower.  You can hardly see it anymore due to other buildings in the way.  That was a tremendous blow. Now that it has gone, the view seems strange to me. The march of city development is always onward and upward. It does not halt for us mere photographers.

Nishi-Shinjuku skyscrapers area
The Nishi-Shinjuku skyscapers with Tokyo Skytree in the distance.

Still, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a fantastic place for photographers.  I recommend it.  If you look at the images here or on the net, I’m sure you’ll agree.  It is one of the best places to take your Japan travel pictures.

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