Tokyo is the frenetic, densely populated Capital city of Japan that draws visitors in from all over the world. This ancient capital, which grew out of a modest fishing village called Edo, 500 years ago, is now home to 13 million people and is, at its center, the most populated space in the world. Tokyo is a vast city both in population and in the area, indeed looking at the city it is more of a group of cities that have grown and merged into one over the years, rather than a single city.
For first-time visitors to Tokyo, the one thing that hits you straight away is that it is unbelievably crowded. It is one of the most popular places to live in Japan and is a popular tourist destination, meaning that whenever you travel there you will always find it crowded and frenetic. The noise and bustle can be something of a shock to its visitors, everywhere you look there are people, noise, lights, neon signs, buildings; this Urban jungle to many people seems almost out of control and yet there are surprising order and tranquility to be found as well. This is one of the massive contradictions of Tokyo, that this hyper city also has many areas of calm, quiet spaces to sit and relax. Its other major contradiction is the fast-paced, ultra-modern exterior also mixes seamlessly with tradition and history.
Although Tokyo isn’t so much about sightseeing as more soaking up the atmosphere, there is still plenty to see and do in this intoxicating city. It is a good city to visit all year round although April and May and September through to December really are the best months.Cost wise it is no more expensive than any other major world city and it does have excellent transport links, with two large airports and all inland routes lead to the capital city as well.
An absolute must when exploring Tokyo is to take a trip to its most visited Temple, Senso-Ji. Senso-Ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo and also one of the most noteworthy. Founded in 628 to honor the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kennon, the temple is now recognized worldwide thanks to the giant red paper lantern that hangs at the Kaminarimon Gate. The legend says that Kennon was pulled from the river in nearby Sumida-gawa by two fishermen and that a golden image of her was placed on the spot and has remained to this day. Whether this legend is true or not no one knows as the image has never been seen by the public, though it doesn’t deter visitors from flocking to the shrine to worship.
There are always a large number of visitors to the shrine, no matter what time of the year and so one of the best times to pay a visit is at night when the numbers aren’t as great and you have the added advantage of seeing the temple complex illuminated as well.
Meiji – Jingu Shrine.
The grandest shrine to be found in Tokyo has to be the Shinto shrine Meiji – Jingu, that is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Yoyogi Park lies opposite the shrine and this site is the largest densely forested area in the city. A trip to this shrine will offer plenty of places to relax and stroll around in a tranquil environment. By Japanese standards, the shrine is comparatively new. It was built in 1920 eight years after the Emperor died and was destroyed during WW11 and then rebuilt in the 1950s.Despite the present building being a rebuild there is still an authentic feel to the shrine and is an impressive place to visit, not least because of the massive 12m wooden torii gate that has been constructed from a 1500-year-old cypress tree.
The best times to visit the shrine are 8.00am or 2.00pm when you will be able to watch the nikkusai, a ceremony that offers food and prayers to the gods. There are plenty of kiosks that sell ema- wooded plaques that have prayers written on which can be left at the shrine.
One of the most stunning times to visit is in June when the gardens of the complex are at their most impressive with a beautiful display of irises.
Cherry Blossom Festivals.
One thing that Japan is famous the world over for is the cherry blossom trees that appear for a short period every year and mark the arrival of Spring. If you would like to see this amazing sight, then you have to time your trip well as there is a very short window in which to see this beautiful iconic image. The long-awaited flowers bloom and can be enjoyed for just two weeks a year but if you are lucky enough to be in Tokyo during these two weeks than you are in for a real treat.
There are many festivals that take place during this period but be warned it does get exceedingly busy as this is a real highlight for local people who see the arrival of the cherry blossom as the end of the winter months and because of this they love to come out and celebrate. This is not a new custom but one that has been practiced in Japan for over a thousand years and the cherry blossom trees are very much revered by the Japanese.
There is much symbolism in the cherry blossom for the Japanese and they embody the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Nation. Today there is a great deal of science behind the cherry blossom festivals to inform people when they will arrive although it can never be an exact science. Tokyo has many great places to view the blossom, Ueno park being one of the best places to go with over 1,000 blossom trees. Ueno park does attract many people and so if you are looking for somewhere slightly less manic then try Shinjuku Gyoen afar more serene park with 1,500 trees to enjoy.
One of the most prominent and famous landmarks in Tokyo also offers one of the best vantage points in the city to see the skyline of Tokyo, that being Tokyo tower. Built in 1958, this observation and communications tower is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris apart from its striking paint effect of white and international orange, which it has, to comply with air safety regulations.
Standing at 332.9m (1092ft) the tower is the second tallest structure in Japan. One of the tower’s main functions is for tourism and since it has been built 150 million tourists have visited to view the sights of Tokyo.
Foot Town, which is a four-story complex built beneath the tower is a whole area of museums, shops, and restaurants. As well as visiting this area, tourists can also visit the observation decks. The main observatory is 150m ( 490ft )and the second, the special observatory, is 249m (819 ft). Both of the viewing platforms offer impressive sights over the city to the many tourists who come here.
Tokyo offers its visitors every kind of shopping experience you could want. From high-end electronic goods to arts and crafts and traditional wares, Tokyo has a shop offering practically everything the consumer could wish for.
Each district of Tokyo has a different feel and flavor and this is reflected in the shopping experience. From Shinjuku, one of the largest shopping districts in Tokyo, which has many major department stores, electrical retailers and boutiques to Shibuya, which is home to the Youth Culture and Fashion center of Tokyo. Here you will discover trendy boutiques and high-end fashion stores.
Ginza offers an upmarket shopping experience, here high-end stores nestle with art galleries, boutiques and designer shops. Whilst Nihonbashi has a completely different feel and experience. Here is the more traditional Tokyo in a more historic setting with traditional goods and local and regional food on offer.
Tokyo is not the place to visit if you are looking for a quiet time to relax and unwind. Undoubtedly there are areas within the city that offer the visitor a place to relax and unwind, a pleasant garden to stroll in or a temple area to be more contemplative. What Tokyo offers is a high adrenalin experience, a place that is fast and loud an array on all of the senses. Tokyo is an experience, a place that once you have visited you will be unlikely to ever forget but may find yourself wanting to return to experience it all over again.