Having lived in Tokyo for many years and married to a Japanese, I have to say I love this city despite the crazy volume of traffic and crowds. It's all about managing your movements through this vast city at the correct time and place. It's also about being there at the exact moment when photography can be captured in the best light. Below is a brief look at the places I love and how they were captured. Most of theses locations are best photographed in the late afternoon up to two hours before sunset and early evening up to an hour after sunset. Carrying a light weight tripod and camera will allow you to move around the city faster and set up in tight spots without being obtrusive to the general public.
1. Tsukiji Fish Market - If your flight happens to arrive at Narita or Haneda International Airport early in the morning then your first stop has to be the fish market. Drop your suitcase off at a coin locker or the hotel concierge. You will read in various blogs and guide books about trying to line up and join a 5am tour to watch the Tuna Fish Auctions. With any luck you might get in to watch an incredible display of fresh and frozen tuna. No flash or tripods allowed and not much room for movement in a small and confined space. Shoot with a high ISO of around 800-1600 and make sure your shutter speed is not below 1/30-1/60th when shooting with a lens up to 70mm.
Another option if you don't want o line up or wake up too early is to visit the market from 09am. The wholesale shop vendors will be a lot more friendly towards trigger happy tourists as the rush is over by then. Be prepared for some hostile and overly busy movement until 09am if you get there too early. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They have a business to run and need to get their produce delivered to retailers as soon as possible. Space in Tokyo is a commodity and tourists are not there main bread and butter.
2. Shibuya & Shinjuku -Dusk at Shibuya Crossing with a monopod or tripod is a must when trying to capture some movement of the crowds and still keeping in sharp focus any stationary objects or subjects. Street Portraits of young trendy couples are usually walking around these streets in droves. Look for a well lit area and nice background. Shoot with a shallow depth of field (i.e. F2.8) and stick to a 50mm focal length for some consistency in your series of street portraits.
Shinjuku near Studio Alta at East Shinjuku train station exit is a good spot to float around looking for night-caps of neon lit streets and funky revellers. A tripod for the streetscapes will help give you sharp shots especially when shooting with at least 5-10 seconds. Timing of back car lights and interesting angles can add a dynamic feel to your scene.The billboard neon lit photos of men is an advertisement for the popular male hostess in the Kabuki Chou area of Shinjuku where women pay men thousands of Yen to be pampered with a conversation and a very expensive drink. This is the reverse of female hostess bars but are now as popular for businesswomen looking to have a chat and laugh with a flock of hairdressers out of Manga character.
3. Ueno - The old downtown area of Tokyo A.K.A. Shitamachi 下町 is the area I used to live so a little bit of bias in this section might shine through. This is also the area where my wife is from so an insight into the back streets and local knowledge has always brought me to some unique places. You will also find lots of interesting back alleys. Don't be afraid to explore with your camera. Night time 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 a beer O'clock drink and a light snack to release stress. Be aware that most of these outside areas allow smokers.
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 a lovely backdrop.
4. Ginza -Another great spot for street portraits and modern architecture at the end of the day. When the sun is low the contrast between dark and light can add some drama to a scene. Compared to other street portraits with permission this style of shooting is more paparazzi. The 10 most popular and beautifully designed buildings by world famous architects are Hermes, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vitton, Prada, Ferragamo, and Zara. A google map search will reveal that most of them are only a 3-4 block radius from Wako building intersection.
5. Asakusa & Akihabara - Kaminarimon or Thunder Gates entrance to Asakusa Temple is usually very very crowded. My favourite time to visit this area is at night when all the souvenir shops have closed and the tourists have gone home. Maybe I am getting old but I prefer to avoid the crowded trains and hoards of tourists. On weekdays, 10am - 3pm are the best times to travel on the subway to avoid being shoved into the train carriage like a can of sardines. The rush hours are from 07am-10am and 5-8pm. Then finally once again 11-12pm for workers to head home on the last trains.
Akihabara (Akiba) is where gamers and anime otaku flock. It's where maid cafes and manga buffs meet. Geek freaks feel most at home in this area exchanging there love for Japanese animation and gaming.