Despite the area’s evocative name and long history (Toranomon means “Tiger Gate” and marked one of the crossing points into Edo Castle), modern Toranomon is mostly a bland office district offering very little of interest to either visitors or locals. If you have the misfortune of being stuck in the area, your best bet is to head to any of the surrounding neighborhoods, which are much more interesting. Alternatively, you can ignore the skyscrapers and visit some of Toranomon’s hidden treasures.
Atago Shrine is a small shrine atop a hill between Toranomon and Shinbashi. From the Shinbashi side, there are some extremely steep, vertigo-inducing steps that lead to the shrine. If the steps are too intimidating, there are some gentler approaches to the shrine as well.
There is a superstition that conquering the steps will bring success. So much so in fact that they are known as Shussei no Ishiden—the stone staircase of success.
At the top there are lots of shady trees and a pleasant pond next to the main shrine building with colorful koi carp. Opposite the shrine on the same ridge, is the NHK Broadcast Museum, with free admission.
Okura Museum of Art
Located on the grounds of the Okura Hotel, this is Tokyo’s oldest private museum. Surrounding the museum are beautiful examples of Chinese Qing and Ming dynasty bronzes and Korean Joseon dynasty stone sculptures collected by the first two generations of the industrialist Okura family.
Admission to the museum is ¥1,000. The second-floor veranda is one of the building highlights.
The Okura Tokyo
We’re not suggesting you stay here, unless you’re traveling on a super-generous expense account, but just wandering around this place is an experience. Sadly, the iconic 1960s Hotel Okura was demolished in 2015. Happily, the original architect’s son worked on the interior of the new Okura, incorporating many of the design elements of the original. The lobby is open to the public, so you can wander around and enjoy the ambience, even if you don’t plan to stay there.
Edo Castle Outer Moat Underground Museum
There is a road that skirts the Toranomon neighborhood called Sotobori-dori Avenue. Sotobori means “outer moat”. As Tokyo modernized, the moats were filled in and roads and buildings were constructed on top. Around the Toranomon area, nothing remains of the moat except for a few remnants of the walls next to Toranomon Station. On some of the boulders, dating back to the construction of the moat in the 17th century, the marks of the feudal lords who donated the rocks are still visible.
Although we said we were going to avoid the skyscrapers, we’ve made an exception for Toranomon Koffee, located in Toranomon Hills. Toranomon Koffee is actually the spiritual successor to the legendary Omotesando Koffee, which no longer exists in Omotesando—or Tokyo (the originator of Omotesando Koffee opened Koffee Mameya on the former location, but it isn’t a café). There are “Omotesando Koffee” branches in Hong Kong, Singapore and London, but the closest to the original that remains in Tokyo is actually Toranomon Koffee. If you’ve visited any of their branches around the world, you’ll be familiar with the design and the baristas in lab coats.