A vacation to the Far East is a trip of a lifetime! If you ever get a chance to visit Asia, take it and don’t look back. As soon as an opportunity came about to travel to Tokyo, Japan, I readily booked my flight and hotel and set off for my amazing journey. Having never visited the region before, Tokyo was definitely on my bucket list of places to visit for its vibrant culture that blends traditional Japanese customs with modern influences.
Tokyo is not only Japan’s capital, but the world’s most populated city, making for a very crowded experience. So if you’re not comfortable with people bumping into you and really crowding your personal space, you’ll do just fine. But if you can’t deal with someone invading your personal space, book your trip elsewhere. And it’s not because people are being rude, either; it’s because there are so many residents in the city that space isn’t something they’re familiar with. Riding on the subways or walking in the streets, people are always up on you or bumping into you without saying sorry or excuse me, so take in stride and just enjoy your trip instead getting upset over their lack of manners.
As the capital of Japan, Tokyo is home to an array of things to do and see. The city is split out into four regions: southern, eastern, western and northern Tokyo, and then outlying area of the city that have numerous attractions as well. A trip to northern Tokyo (Chiyoda, Chuo) features the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is the country’s largest and busiest fish market. But it also is the largest wholesale market for other things like fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and flowers. You’ll be hypnotized by its busy atmosphere, as scooters and trucks whirl past you and sellers and buyer hurry around. If you love seafood, you’ll want to dine at one of the restaurants located in the inner market, and since they’re so close to all the fresh fish, all of them are equally delicious.
In the same region is the Imperial Palace and is located on the former site of Edo Castle. It’s a short walk from the Tokyo Station so a quick subway ride will get you to the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family. The inner grounds of the palace aren’t really open to the public (except on special holidays), but you can still visit its outer areas. You can book a guided tour of the palace grounds, but you won’t enter any buildings. However the grounds around it are beautiful, especially the Nijubashi, which are two stone bridges that form an entrance to the inner place grounds.
To see the vibrant city in action, visit Shibuya, which is in the western part of Tokyo (Shinjuku, Shibuya) and a popular district among the city’s youth. It’s the city’s most colorful and busiest districts that is packed with shopping, nightclubs, dining and swarms of tourists eager to experience the district. It’s sort of like Times Square in New York City, but on steroids and with thousands of more people. Shibuya is also the happening place to be for fashion and culture for Tokyo’s youth. It’s the birthplace of many of the country’s fashion and entertainment trends. If you love to shop, then there’s no better place than Shibuya. Make sure you take a picture in front of the trams Hachiko Exit since it’s a prominent landmark of the district heavily decorated with neon signs and giant video screens. It’s also a popular spot for hundreds of films shot in the same place.
Another district you must see in this part of the city is Harajuku, home of the famous Harajuku fashion trend. The focal point of the area is Takeshita Dori (or Takeshita Street) and its many side streets that are lined by trendy shops, fashion boutiques, thrift store and fast food outlets that are all focused on fashion and trend-conscious teens. It’s an experience for everyone, young and old, and you’ll be able to see teenage culture at it’s most extreme. If you really want to take noteworthy pictures, go there on a Sunday and you’ll see loads of young residents dressed and engaged in cosplay (or costume play). And they’re dressed up in very eccentric and wild costumes that look like anime characters. And they don’t do it for the pictures, either; it’s just another Sunday in Harajuku for them! If you want to do something more serious in Harajuku, you can visit one of the city’s major shrines, Meiji Jingu, that’s located next to the spacious Yoyogi Park.
The northern part of the city (Ueno, Asakusa, Ikebukuro) is where you can visit the Tokyo Skytree, which is a 634-meter tall tower with observation decks overlooking the city. As the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world when it was completed, the Skytree is also home to a large shopping complex and a fun aquarium at the bottom of the building. There are two observations decks, the Tembo Deck that’s 350 meters high and the Tembo Gallery that’s 450 meters high. It’s considered to be the world’s highest skywalk and isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re afraid of heights, you will definitely feel your heart racing, as you look down and out over the region.
While other parts of the city are more modern, a trip to Asakusa will provide a glimpse into a Tokyo of past decades. You can easily explore the region on foot on your own, your get a guided tour on a rickshaw (a man-powered vehicle). It used to be the city’s main entertainment district and was the place that held kabuki theaters and had a large red light district. Many parts of the city were damaged and destroyed during the World War II air raids, and while most of the area has been rebuilt since then, you can still see some of the damage if you look closely.
The main attraction is this part of Tokyo is Sensoji, which is a popular Buddhist temple that was first built in the 7th century. As one of the oldest temples ever, a visit provides beautiful sites and a sense of tranqulity and peace. When you first enter the area, you go through the Kaminarimon (or Thunder Gate), which is a symbol of Asakusa and actually the entire city of Tokyo. You’ll see a shopping area called Nakamise that leads to the temple’s second gate, the Hozomon Gate, where you’ll be to purchase great Japanese souvenirs to take back home like folding fans and other things.
That shopping street alone is rich in history itself, going back several centuries. Beyond that gate is the temple’s main hall, where you’re sill a pagoda that five stories high. If you visit the temple in May, you’ll be able to partake in the Sanja Matsuri, which is the annual festival of the Asakusa Shrine and a beautiful event to experience first hand.
While in Asakusa, you can’t miss seeing Rikugien, which is the most beautiful Japanese landscape garden that’s the perfect example of a strolling garden from the Edo Period. It’ picturesque grounds features a large pond located in the middle of the garden and is surrounded by rolling manmade hills and other green areas that are all connected by trails you can stroll on. And don’t think you’ll do a quick lap of the garden because it usually takes about an hour to stroll around the entire place. But it’ll be an amazing walk as you transverse through forests and open lawns that lead to teahouses that are open to the public.
Many say that the best time to visit the garden is in fall, when the maple trees start to turn beautiful shades of red and yellow. But spring is amazing, too, because that’s when the flowering trees and other plants bloom. But one amazing scene to capture is the garden’s weeping cheery trees that are located close to the main gate. They’re in bloom from March to April and are an unforgettable sight as that area of Rikugien is filled with rich colors of pink and red.
Right before you leave Asakusa, stop by Ueno Park that’s located right near Ueno Station. You’ll find numerous museums on its grounds like the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and see Japan’s first zoological garden. There are also lots of cherry blossom spots that line the pathway of the park’s sidewalks.
If you have enough time, you can also visit Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, a waterpark with a Disney theme to it. But you can skip these for more culturally rich excursions in the city.
Overall, a trip to Tokyo, Japan is a fulfilling experience that left me exhausted and filled with amazing memories that I’ll never forget. With so much to see and do, the next trip you plan should be to Tokyo!