Tokyo, known as Edo until 1868, is by far one of the most futuristic cities in the world. Wondering through this high-rise and high-tech landscape and you will feel that the visuals from sci-fi thrillers have literally taken concrete shape: skyscrapers illuminated with glowing signs, taxis with automated doors, subways that stop in shopping malls, these are just some of the signs that showcase Tokyo as a city that belongs to the future.
The vertical rise of Tokyo has been shaped by a history of disasters. The 20th century was characterized by World War II bombings, fires and earthquakes. In fact the earthquakes in Tokyo are inevitable and people have taken them in their stride: each time there is a catastrophe, the city rises from the ashes and rebuilds its skyline taller than ever.
But just because Tokyo is futuristic, doesn’t mean the city has forgotten its pasth. The old world charm is visible in the Shinto heritage kept alive in the Meiji Jingu Shrine or in the pulsating chaos of the Tsukiji Fish Market. The enduring formalities of Tokyo’s social etiquette and the rituals of the tea ceremonies are signs that the city maintains a deep and enduring affection for its traditions and culture.
Whether it is kimono clad ladies or women dressed in the latest fashions, Tokyo is a paradox. The futuristic Roppongi Hills peacefully co-exists with the numerous Buddhist shrines and the Imperial palace. Whether you want to have sushi or a Big Mac, you’ll find the old and the new forever juxtaposed in Tokyo.
At first glance, the Tokyoites may seem sober, industrious and efficient going about their daily business with clock-work efficiency. However they take their entertainment equally serious. Once the sun sets, the discos, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants come alive with people who wish to let their hair down and turn their backs to the obligations of their daily lives.
Is It Safe?
Since the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent reactor meltdown in 2011, many people have been asking whether Tokyo is safe for visitors? The answer is unequivocally yes. Tokyo is 300 kilometers south of Fukushima and has not been affected by any dangerous radioactive fallout and radiation levels in the city remain normal.
Things To See
Tokyo is famous for its magnificent skyline, museums, parks, gardens, landscapes, archeological master pieces, and architectural wonders. While the list of things to do and see in Tokyo is exhaustive, we have listed some that should be visited in all itineraries.
Tokyo Tower: The Tokyo Tower is modeled on the Eiffel Tower but it is 333 meters taller than the original. The world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower, completed in the year 1958, is a symbol for Japan’s rebirth as a major economic power. You can go up to the main observatory at150 meters or to the special observatory at 250 meters to enjoy the beautiful view of Tokyo. Under good weather conditions, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance.
Bunkamura: This is Tokyo’s most well known museum. Apart from its collection, the museum is also a famous cultural center where you can enjoy some fine music, movies and various other interesting events. The exhibits feature the work of artists such as Grandma Moses, Monet, and Munakata Shikō as well as photographic displays by Man Ray.
Roppongi Hills: The Roppongi Hills complex is arguably Tokyo’s most upscale neighborhood, in fact a mini city where you can find just about everything: restaurants, pubs, discos, night clubs, boutiques, shopping stores and to cap it all, fantastic views from atop the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. There are more than 200 restaurants situated here ranging from affordable eateries where you can grab a quick bite to really lavish places that serve exotic Japanese cuisine.
Sensoji: Sensoji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Tokyo, is famous for its extraordinary beauty and architecture. Established in AD628, this temple is dedicated to Kannon Bodhisattva who is considered as the Goddess of Mercy. Thousands of people throng to this temple, either to worship or just to marvel at its grandeur.
Hama-Rikyu: Tokyo has its fair share of gardens, one such being the Hama-Rikyu. Filled with beautiful trees and flowers, it is an ideal place to relax away from the bustle of the city. The garden has three beautiful lakes and you can take a walk on the famous Rainbow Bridge.
Shinjuku-gyoen: This is considered as one of the most magnificent gardens in Tokyo. The perfect blend of traditional Japanese and French landscaping makes this place aesthetically appealing. Spring time sees a rich bloom of cherry blossoms, something that attracts tourists from all over the world.
Ginza: The Tokyo equivalent of Rodeo Drive, in Ginza you will find everything to be modern and expensive. It is a great place to window shop. Those with a reverence for technology shouldn’t miss the Sony Building. Here you can marvel at a whole floor devoted to the PlayStation and all of the latest gadgets.
Kabukiza Theater: The traditional ornate Kabukiza Theater dates back to 1949, but Kabuki plays have been around for at least 400 years. There are two performances a day and shows can last up to five hours, but you can buy tickets for a single act.
Tsukiji fish market: This traditional fish market is definitely worth checking out, the only catch (no pun intended) is you have to be there are 5 am in the morning to witness the action. You’ll see the restaurateurs battling it out for the day’s best catch. Generally visitors are not preferred, in fact they are not officially allowed but you can still go there provided you don’t take photographs or get in the way.
Ueno Park: Tokyo’s largest public park, Ueno-koen is best visited in the spring when the cherry trees are in full bloom. The park houses a zoo and some well known museums. It also has on its premises the famous Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan: The building’s white space ship look is an attraction in itself. The permanent collection on the upper floors reconstructs one-half of the bridge at Nihombashi, on either side of which are thorough histories of Edo and Tokyo respectively.
Shibuya: This is the place to visit if you want to see Tokyo at its futuristic best. Shibuya, with its sprawl of gleaming office blocks adorned with illuminated billboards and surrounded by surging crowds, has inspired countless sci-fi films. Away from the crowds, in the north of Shibuya, you can seek solace in the Meiji Shrine Inner Gardens. Home to some 125,000 trees and shrubs, these gardens provide a suitably peaceful setting for the Shinto Meiji-jingu Shrine.
Meiji-jingu: Built in honor of the spirits of the great emperor Meiji and and his consort Shoken, this shrine is a good place to see traditional Shinto architecture.
Shinjuku: Located next to Shibuya, Shinjuku is both a bustling business district and a vibrant nightlife and entertainment area. Home to the busiest train station in the world, 3.64 million passengers daily, Shinjuku is just as crowded as that figure would suggest. Worth checking out is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, consisting of two towers each with viewing decks 202 meters high which are completely free of charge to visitors. This makes an interesting alternative to Tokyo Tower. Also located in Shinjuku is the Park Hyatt Hotel from ‘Lost In Translation’ fame, have a drink at the New York Bar on the top floor of the hotel and relive some of the movie’s classic scenes. Shinjuku is also the address of Tokyo’s largest red-light district, where there are literally thousands of neon signs advertising hole-in-the-wall bars and seedy dive joints.
Yasukuni-jinja: This place is not for the weak-hearted. It is believed that the souls of people who were killed in the Japanese war rest in this house. This house will also give you a glimpse of the rich culture and history of Tokyo.
Tokyo Disneyland Resort: The first Disneyland to be built outside of the United States, Tokyo Disneyland is one of the most popular attractions in Japan. While this may not seem like a must-see attraction, and it isn’t if you happen to be coming from a place that has its own Disneyland, however for tourists coming from other Asian countries or who have yet to visit a Disneyland, this family attraction is definitely worth a visit. In the resort complex there are two theme parks, three Disney hotels and six normal hotels.
Harajuku: This neighbourhood is known for its peculiar street culture that attracts youth from all over the Tokyo metropolitan area, who come to stand around and sometimes prance around in all kinds of fantastical and elaborate costumes.