Japan National Stadium1/5
Photo: F11photo/Dreamstime Japan National Stadium
Japan National Stadium 2/5
Photo: Japan Sport CouncilJapan National Stadium
Japan Olympic Museum3/5
Photo: Japan Olympic MuseumJapan Olympic Museum
Tokyo Waterfront City 4/5
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa Tokyo Waterfront City
Ryogoku Kokugikan5/5
Photo: Nihon Sumo KyokaiRyogoku Kokugikan

6 Olympic venues you should visit in Tokyo

Our guide to the Tokyo venues where you can take in the Olympic spirit, whether you're here during or after the Games

By Emma Steen
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Tokyo's excitement during the years leading up to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games was palpable. The city revelled in the opportunity to reinvent itself and numerous large-scale projects were set in motion to wow those who visited Japan’s capital at the start of a new decade.

It goes without saying that last year’s setbacks were a tremendous letdown for everyone anticipating the quadriennal event. But the postponement and downsizing of the Tokyo Olympic Games doesn’t invalidate the awe-inspiring growth the city has achieved in recent years, nor does it cast a shadow over the spirit and history of the Games and its athletes.

While the bulk of the sporting events will now take place without spectators, the transformational impact of the Tokyo Olympic Games can still be felt, even long after the end of the closing ceremony. Here are five places in Tokyo where you can experience the true spirit of the Olympic Games anytime, including monuments dedicated to the city's historical 1964 Summer Olympics.

RECOMMENDED: An inside look at the sprawling Tokyo Olympic Village

Enduring spirit

Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium
Photo: Japan Sport Council

Japan National Stadium

Sport and fitness Shinanomachi

The centrepiece of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, this venue’s reconstruction from the pre-existing National Stadium, completed in 1958, was a contentious matter. The initial design by British-Iraqi architect Dame Zaha Hadid – estimated to cost ¥252 billion – was axed after it was deemed too impractical by the government, leading Kengo Kuma to compete with Toyo Ito to take over the project. Kuma’s design was ultimately selected for its emphasis on harmony with the surrounding neighbourhood, which is also home to the Meiji Jingu Gaien (Outer Garden).

Just under 200,000sqm in size and coming in at ¥157 billion to build, the new structure is significantly smaller and more affordable than Hadid’s plan. Completed in early 2020, the elegant stadium exemplifies classic Japanese aesthetics inspired in part by the pagoda of Nara’s Horyuji Temple.

Like the temple’s pagoda, the wooden eaves of the stadium overlap and are visible from the venue’s exterior. As you walk the perimeter of the mammoth structure, you’ll notice Kuma’s signature wood lattices. He has described the concept behind the stadium as a ‘living tree’, which features wood sourced from all 47 Japanese prefectures.

Rather than being purely decorative, the eaves provide a practical and sustainable way to keep spectators cool in Tokyo’s sweltering summer heat. By analysing wind conditions and air flow, Kuma was able to angle the eaves to maximise the breeze that sweeps through the stadium, which will eliminate reliance on air conditioning.

Komazawa Olympic Park
Komazawa Olympic Park
Photo: Momo/Pixta

Komazawa Olympic Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Komazawa-Daigaku

Originally constructed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Komazawa Olympic Park continues to serve as the preeminent locale for athletes and fitness enthusiasts in the city. The crown jewel of this massive facility is the Komazawa Olympic Park Stadium, which will serve as the practice venue for Olympic football this year. Surrounding it are a gymnasium, an indoor ball sports court, a tennis court, two baseball fields and three outdoor pitches for sports including lacrosse, football and field hockey.

With features including a children’s playground and the Jabujabu Pond – a shallow fountain area designed for splashing around in – the park makes for an ideal family outing as well as the perfect place to go if you are looking to get in shape. The tennis courts, gymnasium and playing fields are reserved for children’s lessons and the pros, but anyone can use the stadium’s archery range or fitness centre – just book your session (from ¥450 an hour) through the website.

You should check out the iconic monuments of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games here, which include Yoshinobu Ashihara’s Olympic Tower as well as the Tokyo Olympics Memorial Gallery. Pro tip: come here in autumn for the boulevard of yellow ginkgo trees. The scenery can rival that of the popular annual ginkgo festival at Meiji Jingu Gaien, but with far fewer crowds.

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Japan Olympic Museum
Japan Olympic Museum
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Japan Olympic Museum

Things to do Shinanomachi

Right across from the Japan National Stadium is the modern Japan Olympic Museum, where you can learn about the fascinating history and philosophy behind the world’s most iconic event. Opened two years ago, the facility features a plethora of immersive and high-tech exhibits that make it far more exciting than your average gallery of memorabilia kept in glass cabinets.

The museum is divided into three parts. On the first floor Welcome Area you’ll find the museum café, gift shop and the Olympic Studies Centre. The real excitement, however, lies on the second floor Exhibition Area: here you can relive key moments from previous Olympics via an immersive audio-visual system, or play interactive games to compare your strength and speed with the abilities of the world’s top athletes.

You can conclude your visit with a peaceful stroll through the outdoor Monument Area and see the three different Olympic cauldrons from previous Games held in Japan. There’s also a statue of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, regarded as the father of the modern Olympics.

Odaiba
Odaiba
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Tokyo Waterfront City

Things to do Odaiba

The Odaiba waterfront has always been a dynamic part of the city with its stunning Rainbow Bridge and its replica of the Statue of Liberty. With the area set to become a central location for a large portion of the Summer Games, the waterfront now also features the iconic Olympic rings, making for a fitting photo op.

Minutes away from the Olympic Village, Odaiba and Ariake will serve as the competition venues for sports including BMX racing and skateboarding. These two areas will be particularly buzzing during the Games as people walking along the Olympic promenade will be able to see the Olympic cauldron and possibly even observe athletes warming up and training for their events. Just don’t forget to take a photo of the floating Olympic rings as a memento of this historical moment.

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Olympic Bridge Harajuku
Olympic Bridge Harajuku
Photo: Kuremo/Dreamstime

Olympic Bridge

It's easy to cross this bridge in Harajuku without thinking much of it, but if you look closely, you'll notice some finer details that were added in 1993 to commemorate 1964 Olympic Games. With the aim of using the Olympic motto 'faster, higher, stronger' to reinvigorate the city, reliefs of athletes competing in sports like track and field, judo and gymnastics were placed along the bridge, complete with the official 1964 Olympic logo. 

Ryogoku Kokugikan
Ryogoku Kokugikan
Photo: Nihon Sumo Kyokai

Ryogoku Kokugikan

Sport and fitness Ryogoku

Sumida’s historical Ryogoku Kokugikan is one of Japan’s most eminent venues for sumo, but events held at the colossal arena aren’t limited to the Japanese martial art. With a capacity of over 11,000 people, the arena has been used for everything from yoga festivals to a Paul McCartney concert, and soon, as a venue for Olympic boxing.

With traditional box-style seating, where spectators take off their shoes and sit on cushions instead of chairs, Ryogoku Kokugikan also features a free-to-enter sumo museum (closed during tournament days). With a range of ceremonial loincloths worn by top wrestlers and portraits of famous sumo champions that are so old they were created using woodblock prints, the small but comprehensive collection of artifacts are rarities even in Tokyo. 

Advance tickets go on sale about a month before each sumo tournament. They’re not difficult to get hold of (apart from the most expensive box seats) – though weekends generally sell out fast. Some unreserved, back-row balcony seats (one per person) are only released for sale from 8am on the day of the tournament. Many spectators watch bouts between younger fighters from the box seats downstairs until the ticket holders arrive in the mid afternoon.

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