The observatory at the Bunkyo Civic Center is one of my favourites in Tokyo. On top of a building, it looks like a flying saucer (at least half of one). And considering that it is only twenty-five floors up, the views are very good. I've been there many, many times and enjoy it immensely.
I think most people go there for two views. One is the Shinjuku skyline. The other is Tokyo Skytree. Both are are amazing.
The Shinjuku views are good during the day, as you can see all of its skyscrapers and even Mount Fuji, weather permitting. But it is the sunset which is incredible. Usually with the sun setting in that direction the buildings will be backlit by the sun as it goes down and the sight is very beautiful. When the forecast is good, you’ll often see a line of photographers at the windows.
You can also see Tokyo Skytree which also offers some opportunities for photography. During the day, it looks pretty impressive towering above everything else in the area. But, at night it is spectacular - like a lighthouse in an ocean of lights.
As for the rest, walk around the viewing deck and you'll see Ikebukuro with its Sunshine City skyscraper, Tokyo University's famous clock tower, Koishikawa Botanical Gardens and Koishikawa-Korakuen. Sadly, the areas to the north of the observatory are mostly blocked by a nearby building, which is a little sad.
One thing I really like about the observatory are the windows. They are quite large and angled out so it is possible to get a good view down. I think they help to keep glare and, inside reflections to a minimum. Along the windows, there is a ledge on which you can put a camera for long exposure photography which is nice as the use of monopods and tripods is banned.
Another thing is that the observatory is quite spacious and has some tables, chairs and drink machines if you need a rest. And if you can play the piano, they have one there for you. Feel free to play it if you like, as many people do.
At Bunkyo Civic Center, you’ll learn something interesting about the city - most of the buildings are rather lowset. The skyscrapers are clustered in certain areas. Shinjuku has many, as does Ikebukuro, but in between there are almost none. And then from Ikebukuro across to Akihabara, there are hardly any again. Tokyo seems to be flat in many places!
As for problems, the Center has two small ones. One is that it is a bit far from most of Tokyo's major tourist sites. Only Tokyo Dome, with its amusement park and Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens are near.
The other is that the observatory has only a 330' view due to there being a restaurant at the back of the floor. If you want to see Tokyo Tower, you'll have to go into that restaurant. For a real 360` view, you're better off going to places like Tokyo Tower, Skytree, Roppongi Hills or the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Still, Bunkyo Civic Center observatory is great for cityscape photographs. It isn't perfect, but it does have some great views, is rarely crowded and is free. I think it is worth a visit. You can see its website here.
How to get to Bunkyo Civic Center
The closest station is Korakuen on the Marunouchi and Nanboku lines and it is just a one or two minute walk from either. Leave via exit 6. If you use the Mita/Oedo line’s Kasuga station, leave via the, "Bunkyo Civic Center", exit.
Here is a Google map here to show you the way:
Bunkyo Civic Center is open from 9am to 8:30pm seven days a week. It closed on the third Sunday in May and over the New Year period, from December 29 to January 3.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
Gotokuji - the home of Japan's maneki neko (or beckoning cats)
Hokutopia - another of Tokyo's free observatories
Jindai Botanical Gardens - the most beautiful rose garden in the city
Omiya Hachiman - one of Tokyo's local shrines
Shitamachi Museum - a great place to find out how some of the old Tokyoites used to live