Tokyo Pictures Guide
Skyscrapers in Shinjuku, Tokyo's both commercial and administrative centre, with Mt. Fuji in the background. Photo by Morio, and he must have used a very long lens, this is not a regular view!
Tokyo does not offer tourists an easy-to-find, lively city centre (there's no Manhattan or Leicester Square here). Instead the city sports at least five distinct action zones that are not within easy walking distance of each other - apart from Harajuku and Shibuya - but the rail transportation system
is superb, clean, reliable and partly in English - if somewhat complex, totally packed at times (avoid the rush hour!) and not cheap. The Yamanote line, for example, runs a circular route including some of Tokyo's favourite haunts and popular tourist destinations such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya and Akihabara. Get there at 8.00am and trains arrive every 15 seconds and they still need white-gloved hands to cram you into the trains!
The Imperial Palace Gardens are in Maranouchi though regular tourists only get to see the monstrous Imperial Palace walls, moats and gardens. More or less in the centre of the city and free of charge but beware, it's free, spacious, green and tranquil - yes, but full of fascination, revelation, palace views, historical artifacts and sightings of the Emperor - no!
Best in the spring or autumn for tree magic, the Imperial Palace Garden is fundamentally a walk in the park, albeit a park with serious walls.
The Garden is closed Mondays, Fridays, 23 December, 28 December - 3 January 3 and for occasional Imperial Court functions.
Nearby (walking distance) are some other worthwhile sights such as the Yasukuni Shrine; another section of the the palace gardens - Kitanomaru Park with its massive Budokan stadium, the lively Science Foundation museum, the National Museum of Modern Art and the Crafts gallery.
Chidorigafuchi, a moat located northwest of the Imperial Palace in early April. Photo by Arashiyama
- Fantastic shrines and temples, particularly Meiji-Jingu (conveniently near Harajuku and Yoyogi park), Asakusa (Japan's oldest temple, Senso-Ji), Yasukuni Shrine (Japan's magnificent but controversial warrior shrine, hosting war criminal souls in addition to several million others).
Meiji Jingu (Shrine)
Lucky travellers may catch a Shinto wedding ceremony at Meiji-Jingu, is a favoured shrine for traditional Shinto weddings. Photo by Peter Van den Bossche
The Meiji Jingu (Shrine) is perhaps not the oldest, nor the most impressive religious edifice that Tokyo has to offer but it is peaceful, exceedingly green and extremely convenient to get to, easily accessible from the Yamanote line's Harajuku station or Chiyoda line's Meiji-Jingumae stations.
Furthermore, any tourist serious about Tokyo sightseeing, shopping or youth culture will want to visit the fashionable area of Harajuku, shop in Omotesando or cruise the street music scenes and gawp at Japan's young tribal groups around Yoyogi park at the weekend.
Meiji Jingu was finished in 1920 (though partly rebuilt after WWII), a memorial to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who ruled Japan from 1868 to 1912 and oversaw the modernisation of the country.
Note that the entry route from either direction is quite lengthy.
Sumida River fireworks display and Tokyo Skytree, one of the world's tallest structures and a new landmark in Tokyo. Photo by Sherry Sakuraba
- For the city overviews, try the spectacle from the 634m Tokyo Skytree. It is the Kanto's (Eastern Japan) prime television and radio broadcasting site which replaced Tokyo Tower as it is no longer high enough to support digital broadcasting. It has been opened to public since 2012 and drawn huge numbers of visitors. So the high price and queues are inevitable. You can book admission tickets, though only for halfway up the tower, up to two month in advance online here (why only in Japanese?). Opening hours can be subject to the weather but no worries, it is earthquake resistant!
Still you get a brilliant view from the 333 metre-high Tokyo Tower, the second tallest or FREE view from Shinjuku's Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, 45th floor, with the added excitement that it sways 7m side-to-side in an earthquake.
Roppongi's Mori Tower, guarded by 'Mother'.
- Alternatively Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills is pricey to enter but offers perhaps Tokyo's best views along with some comfortable seating.
The multi crossroad at from busy Shibuya Station. Yes, that's the TV shot that is always used to represent Japan. Actually it works for me! Crowded but controlled and surrounded by tall buildings yet quirky stuff is right nearby, such as the famous Hachiko dog statue about 2m to the left (out of shot).
- Yoyogi park area, near Harajuku and Shibuya, is not just a vast green space but for flea markets, free live music and plenty of weirdness at weekends, if it's not raining enough to blow the amps, both towns are great for shopping.
- Sumo wrestling, Tokyo National Museum? Disneyland? Odaiba (an artificial island in Tokyo Bay) with excellent shops, open space, beaches (don't swim) and virtual reality playgrounds courtesy of Sega.
- Tsukiji Fish Market
(the world's biggest wholesale fish and seafood market and one of major and the best sushi dining places)
The Rainbow Bridge, another landmark of the city, suspending across nortern Tokyo Bay between Odaiba waterfront and Shibaura Pier in Minato-ku. Photo by Cors.
- Odaiba beach, shopping and Fuji TV headquarters on Tokyo Bay's massive island of entertainment and romance, built on water from garbage.
Tokyo HD video on wild bikes and cars, published late 2014: As the sun goes down, Tokyo transforms into an exotic playground for those who like to pour on the speed. As a method of expression, the custom vehicle scene thrives in Japan.
Harajuku's Omotesando shows off plenty of super-modern, chic brand name stores but manages to retain a little tradition, some humour and a lot of teen madness. Photo by Rs1421
Shopping in Japan and particularly Tokyo is sensational - product quality is world-beating, creativity and variety are expansive while prices range from very competitive to pretty silly.
For trendy shopping, eating and drinking try Harajuku (Omotesando street in particular), Shibuya (unusually, within walking distance of Harajuku), Shinjuku (set design for Blade Runner was inspired
by this nightly neon-frenzy) and Tokyo's Shimo-Kitazawa suburb offer way better value and style. For the classy stuff or grobal brand, head to Ginza or Aoyama.
Roppongi? Hmm, mainly a culture-free, after-dark watering hole with plentiful mating opportunities, though Roppongi Hills is an interesting but labyrinthine city-within-a-city.
A garish teens' shop in Harajuku in the weekend.
Eating and drinking
Tokyo is one of the greatest cities in the world to offer not only authentic Japanese cuisine but also high quality and diverse dining experiences. Whether in supermarkets, cafes or restaurants of top quality but nevertheless reasonably priced, just be very wary in places such as some sushi joints - and notoriously little old bars in Shinjuku's Golden Gai district - where prices are not displayed.
The easy route to comfortable eating for gaijin (foreigners) is to choose establishments where plastic replicas and prices are displayed outside.
Japan, especially the big city like Tokyo, the fast foods or ready-meals are excellent, from ramen or soba (noodle) to sushi, from gyu-don (bowl of rice topped with beef scrumble-egg) to all sort of lunchboxes for train journey.
Price in some of the top sushi chef restaurants is perhaps out of your budget but to taste a good quality, authentic sushi is not difficult in Tokyo. Ask any locals for a favourite sushi diner, they know a good one or two. Try popular sushi bars around Tsukiji Fishmarket, though bear in mind that you have to queue up for hours in the dawn for the breakfast or lunch. Otherwise have a fan at one of the fast sushi restaurants with fresh and speedy serving system. Order on the tablet in front of you, a plate of freshly made sushi comes along the automated line on the table in 60 second!
Asakusa Sanja Matsuri, Senso-ji. Photo by Torsodog
Japan does festivals as well as it does high quality manufacturing, and though the Kyoto and Nara region may offer the best fests Tokyo plays host to several celebrations that can be easily enjoyed by foreign tourists, not least early April's Hanami, or Cherry Blossom Viewing, an event that celebrates the transient beauty of both nature and life. This is not a costume or procession festival, more of a life attitude display as Japanese people enjoy micro-moments to the full.
Sanja Matsuri is held in May in Asakusa is one of Tokyo's biggest festivals, with one hundred Mikoshi (divine palanquin or portable shrine), each carried by 40-50 people. Sanno Matsuri (one of Japan's three prestigious festivals) and Kanda Matsuri, Kanda, Tokyo, both shinto rituals, take place each in alternate years.
The Sumida River's annual fireworks display in late July, believed to be originated in Edo time, is Japan's biggest summer spectacle.
Kawasaki, a name that normally resonates 'motorcycles' is a town less than an hour from Tokyo by train and a place that resonates with 'genitalia' in early April when a local Shinto shrine holds a colourful and hilarious one day festival to pray for safe sex - the Kanamara Matsuri or 'Festival of the Steel Penis.
Kawasaki Kanamara Festival Photos >>>
Get around Tokyo
Great thing about Japanese public transport is being always on time! In fact, everybody would panic if the commuter train is late even for 2 second! So you will be informed the delay by the announce.
Tokyo Metro goes almost anywhere in the capital including greater Tokyo. You buy tickets on a single-ride basis but instead of having to buy different tickets for different train and bus lines, two universal money storage cards (refundable) are available that simply need to be touched onto a blue illuminated sign to permit entry. PASMO is the easiest pass to buy, with English instructions available on the machines and fillable in ¥1,000 units. PASMO can also be used where Suica is indicated. Many shops will now accept payment via PASMO.
To get a reusable PASMO travel card from a Tokyo - or any other - ticket machine, press 'English', number of travellers and amount required, insert that amount (or more), and a tourist has a multi-trip travel card.
Taxies are equipped with meters and the price is reasonable. Remember, the doors open and close for you automatically.
A night view of the historic Tokyo train Station in Marunouchi, a business district. Photo by Toshinori Baba.
One of the shopping malls with fanky design in Harajuku. Photo by Joe Mabel
'Akiba', Akihabara's main street, Tokyo
Tokyo's Akihabara, sometimes known as Electric Town or Akiba, is traditionally the place to go for low-price hi-tech, a zone loaded down with massed lights, colour, noise, electronic toys....and now, Otaku.
These obsessive nerds (though actually Otaku means your house in Japanese) have been coming to Akihabara for years to acquire the latest inventions or work in local shops but soon realised it was easier to live there than commute to Akihabara (commuting anywhere in Japan and especially Tokyo, is a squeezee business and geeks do not like being exposed to humanity).
Kamakura, on the coast and about an hour from Tokyo by train is one of Japan's oldest capitals (but hardly even a city now) dating from the 12th - 14th centuries. This ancient and attractive town, generally jammed with tourists, is scattered with more than 70 well-preserved Buddhist shrines and temples including the famous Big Buddha pictured above.
Kamakura Photos >>>
Kyoto Photos >>>
Japan Travel Guide >>>
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