Tokyo is a city of remarkable density, character and innovation. Originating as Edo, a modest fishing village, Tokyo has grown rapidly over the past four centuries to become an urban landscape of unparalleled dimension. A true metropolis, the city boasts a resident population of well over 12 million people.
The architecture of the Japanese capital is predominately closely-packed, tall buildings and plenty of concrete. Perhaps bland on the outside, Tokyo’s magic lies in the fantastic design and diversity of its interiors. With the city expanding vertically due to the constraints of its land area, the buildings in Tokyo tend to house a variety of experiences – everything from restaurants and shops to even sports stadiums and amusement parks.
Aesthetically, Tokyo is highly technological and at the same time traditional and serene. The city is just as much known for its love of the futuristic – think bullet trains, enormous video game parks and an obsession with robotics – as it is for its springtime cherry blossoms, tea ceremonies and meditative temples. Even the crowded chaos at Shibuya Crossing is ultimately orderly; and all in all, this extraordinarily populous, busy and round-the-clock city remains a very safe and pleasurable place to visit.
Two of Tokyo’s most recognisable landmarks are Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge. A massive orange and white structure similar in shape to the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower stands at 333 metres in height and offers two observation decks for visitors. While visitors to Rainbow Bridge are welcomed to stroll across its 918-meter length to take in the city’s skyline and waterfront.
The district of Shibuya is the best place to witness the human element of Tokyo’s enormity. Shibuya is an upbeat and flashy section of the city known for its entertainment and nightlife offerings, as well as its 24-hour crowds and an impressive aggregation of neon signs.
Just outside Shibuya Station is the popularly photographed Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian walkway. Here, all the crossing lights turn from red to green at once, so that innumerable pedestrians appear to flood into the crossing from all directions in a chaotic, yet surprisingly organised, stampede.
Tokyo loves to shop, and the premier shopping destination in the city the neighbourhood of Ginza. Here droves of shoppers come daily to visit the famed Japanese department stores Mitsukoshi and Wako. More recently, another draw is the number of upscale global brands who have opened large boutiques with beautiful window displays. Several of these retailers have adjoining cafes where their internationally-recognised branding has been rolled out across small menus of light meals, sweets and tea.
Harajuku is another popular and fashionable area catering to offbeat and youthful tastes. This is a place to visit not only for the shopping, but also for the people-watching, as groups of teenagers come to Harajuku to don their most head-turning ensembles. Besides the funky boutiques specialising in costume-like apparel, there are also plenty of international clothing stores here catering to a younger, more budget-conscious demographic.
Japanese cuisine is known for its beautiful presentation and everything from a bowl of soup to intricately crafted sushi platters is colourful, sculpted and exhibits an extraordinary attention to detail. Japan is also not averse to experimenting with the colouring of food, so shades of bright pink, green and violet that other cultures may only reserve for sweets, could just as easily be a fish cake or a pickle in Japan.
Sushi is one of the most popular cuisines in Japan, and fans of it come from around the world to visit Tokyo’s abundance of sushi restaurants. Anyone visiting the city with an appreciation for Japanese seafood should also try to pay a visit to Tsujiki Fish Market early one morning to see the incredible market apparatus at work, as well as marvel at the variety and freshness of fish sold there each morning.
If sushi’s not your calling, there are plenty of alternatives in Tokyo. Ramen, soba and udon noodle soups are often sold inexpensively as a form of fast food. At more traditional restaurants, consider ordering teriyaki, sukiyaki or dishes like shabu shabu if raw fish is not to your liking.
A popular post-dinner excursion is karaoke, which often carries on until the early morning hours. Most karaoke houses offer private rooms, but there are also spots that offer a more public platform to demonstrate your vocal abilities. Those seeking variety should head to Roppongi or Shibuya where karaoke places often neighbour arcades, bars and discos allowing one to go ‘hopping’ from place to place.
Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, is only 15 minutes by train from downtown Tokyo. Yokohama is home to Japan’s tallest building, Landmark Tower, as well as the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum dedicated to the history of the ramen noodle. There is also a happening Chinatown district where you can visit a food-themed park called Daska.
For those seeking some time outdoors, a trip to Hakone by bullet train from Tokyo offers a variety of experiences in a picturesque setting. Hakone boasts a world-famous golf course with views of Mount Fuji and is home to a popular hot springs spa. There are also several museums of art, as well as the Hakone Open-Air Museum and the Venetian Glass Museum.