Tokyo is the capital of Japan and with a population of nearly 40 million also the largest metropolis on Earth. In the middle of the Greater Tokyo area is Tokyo Prefecture itself and at its most populated core are 23 special wards called “ku”. Here you’ll find Tokyo’s multiple downtown areas which are all connected by the JR Yamanote Line. From Tokyo station, it’s only a few hours by bullet train to several other major cities.
Despite its size or possibly because of it, Tokyo has developed into an extremely orderly city with a convenient and reliable public transportation system as well as a remarkably low crime rate. Although it has a high population density, it can feel surprisingly suburban or even rural once you venture away from the major railway stations. A friend of mine who owns a Chiropractic clinic that specializes in Shockwave Therapy in Edmonton recently traveled to Tokyo and had nothing but praise for the city and all it has to offer. Today Tokyo is one of Japan’s premier hubs for culture, cuisine, entertainment, and shopping and also has countless historic temples, gardens, parks, landmark, and museums. Here are our top five recommendations in Tokyo.
Also called Akiba – in the last few decades, the Akihabara district has emerged as a center for anime, manga, and video game otaku culture in Japan. It has dozens of specialty stores selling everything from figurines to collectible, trading cards to retro video games. There are also several multi-floor arcades, called game centers, as well as maid cafes and other themed restaurants. On Sunday afternoon Chuo Dori, the main street of the area is closed to car traffic so pedestrians are free to walk anywhere they like. Another nickname for the Akihabara district is “Electric Town” because of the many electronic shops here ranging from large department stores selling the latest technology to small stalls selling computer components.
Meiji Shrine and the Surrounding Areas
A few minutes’ walk from Harajuku Station is the famous Meiji Shrine and its forested grounds. Completed in 1920, the shrine itself is dedicated to the late Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. During the Meiji period, the country transitioned from being an isolated feudal nation to becoming an industrialized world power. The shrine’s grounds are a peaceful oasis amid the densely built-up city. Together with neighboring Yoyogi Park, this forested area of Tokyo provides an excellent place to escape the busy city.
Shinjuku is a lively entertainment and business district known for being one of Japan’s premier nightlife spots. During the Edo era, it used to be located outside the city center and was the first rest stop along the Koshu Kaido which was one of the five major trade highways at the time. Since then Tokyo has expanded and Shinjuku has become one of its multiple major downtown areas handling over three and a half million passengers every day – Shinjuku Station has become the busiest train station in the world.
To the west of the station is the skyscraper district where many of Tokyo’s tallest buildings are located. Among these is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building which has free observation decks on the 45th floor of each tower that provides unique views of the city. On the east side of Shinjuku Station is the nightlife district. Here you’ll find endless dining shopping and entertainment options.
One of the best districts to experience an old-fashioned Tokyo is historical Asakusa. Located in the center of an area traditionally known as Shitamachi, this was a part of the city generally inhabited by common townspeople during the Edo era. The main attraction in Asakuka is Sensoji Temple. Completed in the 7th century, it is one of Tokyo’s oldest and most popular Buddhist temples. Leading up to the main temple building is the iconic gate Kaminarimon and Nakamise Shopping Street which is lined with vendors selling local specialty items and souvenirs.
Crossing Nakamise Street is Denpoin Street which is designed to look like a street from the Edo era. For food, west of Sensoji Temple is Hoppy Street which is a 70 to 80 meter long street that has a nostalgic charm and is lined with Izakaya serving Japanese pub food. About 15min west of Asakusa near Ueno is Kappabashi Street. This unique street has dozens of specialty stores selling everything needed by restaurant operators except for food. From pots and pans to dishes to plastic food samples this street has it all and is an interesting place to wander. A day in Asakusa could easily be combined with a stroll along the Sumida River and a visit to nearby Tokyo Skytree, Japan tallest structure.
As a city, Tokyo has received the most Michelin stars of any city in the world and offers an amazing range of dining opportunities. Of course, like every region of Japan you can find local specialty cuisine items such as nigiri-zushi, tempura, soba, chankonabe, and monjayaki to name a few. However, because people from all over Japan have been relocating to the capital for hundreds of years, it’s also possible to find authentic regional food from all across the country in Tokyo.
Similarly, the city has become the home of a wide variety of international communities which have brought their local cuisine with them. As a result, Tokyo has become an excellent destination for finding a broad range of high-quality international food. There are even several districts with concentrated ethnic specialties such as Koreatown in Shin-Okubo, Little France in Kagurazaka, and Chinatown in Ikebukuro to name a few. It’s safe to say there are dining establishments to accommodate all tastes and budgets in Tokyo.
You could easily spend several weeks exploring Tokyo and not experience everything but we hope this top 5 list gives you a good place to start.