Tokyo is known for its booming economy and its always original, ever-changing culture. Those who come to visit this vast, bewildering metropolis of 12 million people will likely be overwhelmed. There is so much to see and do that planning ahead of time is essential.
You could say all roads lead to Nihonbashi since all distances to and from Tokyo are measured from here. Nihonbashi, "Japan Bridge," is centuries old, though the present Western-style structure only dates back to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Once a prominent landmark, it is today dwarfed by buildings and an overhead expressway.
This is Tokyo's main business hub, and home to the country's three largest banks, as well as some of its most prominent companies, including Hitachi and Mitsubishi. Flooded daily with both businesspeople and tourists from all corners of the country, Marunouchi is a great place for touring the city's many impressive skyscrapers, including the
Here you will find everything from department stores and boutiques, like the
On the flip-side of the coin, the Ginza is also where visitors can experience some of the most refined aspects of Japanese heritage and culture. One example of this,
This is one of the most lively wards in Tokyo, and encompasses
By day or night, the Shinjuku district is a lively, neon-lit place with a bit of the atmosphere of New York's Greenwich Village. Looking for a smoke-filled jazz joint? You can find it here, along with ramen noodles shops, pachinko (gambling) parlors, and such global brand stores as Virgin Records, Tiffany and Gucci. There are also two major landmarks here: the
Also located in Shibuya are the neighborhoods of Azabu and Hiroo, where many expatriates reside in expensive high-rise buildings. It is here that some of the most sought-after properties in Tokyo can be found, as well as some of the most sacred, such as
This district is close to the popular Ginza. Check out the quaint yakitori barbecue chicken stalls that are set up beneath the district's raised train tracks, enjoy a quiet moment among the flower beds of
A quick subway ride from Ginza will take you here, a place world famous for its raucous nightlife. Once a sleepy village, Roppongi is crowded with discos, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants, including such trendy places as the
Asakusa & Ueno
Bustling centers of city life during the Edo period (1603-1868), these two districts belong to what Tokyoites call shitamachi, or "downtown." A must-see in Asakusa is
Sometimes called "Little Seoul", this district has a small section of nightlife, but it caters mostly to local yen-loaded patrons. The
Also known as Akihabara Denki Gai, (Akihabara Electric Town), this is the major hub of Otaku, or "geek," culture. People looking to buy electronic gadgets, computer accessories and anime/manga videos, books, toys and games know to come here, where they can not only get good prices but also meet people who share their special interests. Due to a recent boom in popularity, the cramped stores of
This district is most often visited for the sweeping view from the top of
For inexpensive, traditional Japanese accommodations, the
Ikebukuro is also the home of the well-known
This is the site of the
For something different in Korakuen, however, take a timeout to visit
Odaiba is an ongoing oceanfront development and artificial island, served by monorail, that has come to be commonly known as “Tokyo Teleport Town” in an effort to further cement it as a symbol of Tokyo's futuristic urban living plan. The Fuji TV Building is located here, along with one of the world's largest ferris wheels at Toyota's
If a contest were held for the World's Most Entertaining City, Tokyo would certainly rank among the finalists. Night and day, on a shoestring budget or with a big expense account, you can find fun on every corner.
Those who enjoy sightseeing may want to begin their Tokyo experience with a view from the top. The best observation decks are located at Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro, the Municipal Government Building in Shinjuku, the World Trade Center in Hamamatsucho, and Tokyo Tower in Shiba. Whether to view the city's magnificent, sprawling landscape by day, or dazzling light-covered visage by night, each of these places offers a very different view of this iconic metropolis, but all are sure to have an equally stunning panorama that you won't soon forget.
Perhaps more than any other Japanese city, Tokyo is jam-packed with famous landmarks, each of which offers unique insights into the culture, history and heart of the Japanese people. Among its most notable spots for sightseers are the seismically active island nation's first modern skyscraper, the Kasumigaseki Building, that houses the heart of the nation's government, and the Tokyo Dome (the so-called "Big Egg") at Korakuen, home of the national champion Yomiura Giants baseball team, as well as the popular Tokyo Dome City. At night, the colorfully lit Rainbow Bridge that spans Tokyo Bay is also not to be missed.
For those looking for sightseeing that's a little more cultured, the Imperial Palace grounds are located at the very center of both the city and Japanese cultural identity, while the 100-year old Ueno Zoo to the northeast is great for kids and adults alike. And, of course, always on the southwestern horizon is the picturesque Mt. Fuji, the most iconic feature of the Japanese landscape.
Gardens & Parks
If you're looking to get away from the city, there are many beautiful parks and gardens to visit, even in this most densely packed of all major Japanese cities. The Hama Rikyu Garden and Kiyosumi Garden are both beautifully ornate and dotted with ponds, sculpted bonsai trees and exotic flowers. Hibiya Park is located just outside Ginza, while Tokyo's largest, Ueno Park, is home to several museums, temples and even a zoo that is popular with children. Even amidst the brightly lit districts and thoroughfares, finding a spot for quiet repose in Tokyo is not a problem.
For those who require more active entertainment, the city teems with amusement parks and recreation centers. Tokyo Disneyland is the biggest attraction to the east; Toshimaen with its water park and carnival zone stakes out the west. At mid-town is Korakuen, featuring roller coasters, parachute rides, off-track betting and much more.
For family adventure indoors, there is an enclosed amusement park at Sanrio Puroland in Tama City, or take the kids out to the National Children's Castle in Omotesando.
Thanks to an incredible array of museums and galleries, Tokyo can be extremely entertaining even on a rainy day. The two major museums are arguably the National Museum of Western Art and the National Museum of Japanese History. Both will keep you occupied for the day. There are also a number of small museums that specialize in unique artistic forms. From the Bicycle Culture Center and the Museum of Tin Toys, to the Iris Button Museum and the Kite Museum, each houses an interesting collection of pieces that will teach you something new.
Cinema & Theater
Of course, there are cinemas all around the city, some new and many old, each different and interesting. Cine Front in Shibuya, Nichigeki Plex in Yurakucho and Tower Hall Funabori all show first-run road-show films, as well as art movies and classics.
Tokyo also has its own opera house, a Shakespearean playhouse, and many venues for dance, such as the beautiful Spiral Hall, or the more modern Session House and Space Zero. Huge concert halls like the Ariake Coliseum, On Air East, Tokyo Opera City and Zepp Tokyo have a regular schedule of live acts ranging from rock bands to orchestral quartets. In the evening you can sample some unique indoor relaxation at the National Noh Theater in Sendagaya, Kabuki-za in Ginza, the Puk Puppet Theater in Yoyogi or the Theater Tram for contemporary dance and dramatic performances.
Sports buffs will be happy to find all their favorite pastimes here. Professional baseball, sumo, soccer and volleyball are the major spectator sports in Tokyo, and betting is allowed on horse races, cycling and speedboat racing. Toshimaen is a water-themed entertainment complex, where visiting teams from the USA come regularly for exhibition football, basketball and baseball.
Rugby and tennis, ice hockey and boxing, all have their seasons here, and many of the world's top athletes make regular stops in Tokyo for track and field events. There are marathons for amateurs and pros alike, and locations abound for bowling, golf, billiards, darts, mah-jong and even ballroom dancing; check out the Shinagawa Prince Sports Complex and Tokyo Dome City to get started exploring the city's many sporting options.
Additionally, what would a metropolis be without an exciting club scene to party the night away? Serving up various kinds of popular and underground music, an array of different clubs around the city are open all night on the weekends to give clubbers a healthy dose of nightlife action.
Located on the outskirts of Tokyo and certainly the most sizable in comparison, Ageha is one of the top venues for fans of the electronic genre. However, if you're looking for something closer to the heart of the city with the same taste of music in mind, Womb is an excellent place to catch top notch DJs and sounds, while anyone who's looking for a good hip hop club should step over to Club Harlem. Alternatively, clubs such as Flower and Muse are good spots for all-mix selections and international crowds. Don't like dancing the night away, when you could be playing video games until late into the night? Sega Joypolis in Odaiba is for you.
Though archaeological studies have concluded that the islands of Japan were already inhabited several millenia before Christ, the history of Tokyo is relatively recent. It does not start until 1603 AD, when Tokugawa Ieyasu proclaimed himself shogun and moved the seat of government from Kyoto, home of the imperial court for nearly 1,000 years. Edo (the name of old Tokyo) began as nothing much more than a scattering of villages around Ieyasu's castle, site of the present Imperial Palace. It was only in the latter half of the 19th century that it took on the name Tokyo, meaning "Eastern Capital," to distinguish it from Kyoto in the west. Under Ieyasu's rule, Japan was unified for the first time, putting an end to bloody wars between rival factions. In 1615, Ieyasu's armies annihilated the Toyotomi clan, the last opposition to his absolute power. Ieyasu's successors kept a tight grip on the government, enacting the closed-door policy in 1639, which imposed a total ban on contact with the outside world. From then on, until the advent of Commodore Perry in 1853, Japan remained isolated, save for closely monitored transactions with Chinese and Dutch traders.
Ironically, the Tokugawas' one-party rule led to political stability. Following its turbulent past, the country settled down to a welcome period of peace and prosperity. Edo grew and flourished in what is known as the Edo Period (1603-1867), and by the mid-18th century it was inhabited by over a million people, topping both London and Paris. Though the imperial court continued to reside in Kyoto, Edo gradually evolved into a bustling center of commerce and industry.
Ieyasu introduced a four-tiered class system, topped by the samurai or warrior class, which greatly reduced the influence of the old nobility. Nurtured by the patronage of the rich merchant class, new popular art forms emerged, such as kabuki and ukiyo-e. Comparable to the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe, this shift from the court and aristocracy enabled the citizens to express themselves in art. It is said that popular Japanese culture has its roots in the Edo Period.
It is amazing that the Tokugawa shogunate retained the reigns of government virtually unopposed over such a long period of time, but corruption and incompetence finally led to its disintegration. Also, in the latter half of the 19th century, Western powers were increasingly calling on Japan to open its doors to trade. By the time the "black ships" of Commodore Mathew Perry steamed into Uraga in 1853, the greatly weakened Tokugawa shogunate could muster very little resistance.
This marked a crucial turning point in Japanese history. Not only did it open Japan to external trade, but it also ushered in the country's rapid Westernization. Following the resignation of the last Tokugawa shogun, the whole country, headed by Emperor Meiji, plunged into a frantic drive to catch up with the West. With full powers restored to the emperor, the court was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, making it the official capital of the country.
Even today vestiges of the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) can still be found in Tokyo. The present education system is based on reforms introduced during this period, and today many school children still wear uniforms patterned after European models from the late 19th century. Both the Diet (Parliament) and Bank of Japan were established during this period, and today these two institutions continue to dictate the political and financial affairs of the country. Even baseball, the most popular sport in Japan today, was introduced during this time.
Though greatly devastated by fires following the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and again during the Second World War (1939-1945), Tokyo was soon on its feet again, spearheading what has been called Japan's postwar economic miracle. Under the occupation forces commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, the city witnessed the writing of a new constitution that introduced the separation of religion and state, universal suffrage, human rights and the renouncement of war. With this new political and social order, Tokyoites, and the Japanese as a whole, focused all their energies on economic recovery and development. The result is the Tokyo of today: a cosmopolitan city that is truly the country's political, economic and cultural center, and which plays a leading role in global affairs. No small feat for a place that was once just a scattering of small feudal villages!
Most major four-star and five-star hotels are located conveniently within walking distance of Tokyo's major commercial and business centers, as well as most other places of interest around the city, such as the Ginza, Akasaka-mitsuke, Shinagawa, Ebisu, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Roppongi. Some of these hotels are locally-owned, others belong to global hotel chains, but all provide the highest standards of international hotel service. Rooms are usually smaller than in other cities, since space is at a premium in Tokyo, but you can be sure your stay will be a very comfortable and pleasant one. Most of the staff speak English and provide service with that unique Japanese attention to detail.
Take in some serious 70s kitsch at the Hotel Alcyone, a reasonably priced and comfortable hotel that has preserved all of its gaudy décor from this era. Check out the nearby Kabuki-za theater for some interesting entertainment. For the traveler on a budget, one hotel that won't cost you much is the Tokyo Hotel Urashima, and since it's located right in the middle of the Ginza shopping oasis, you'll have plenty of places to spend the money you saved on your bill. Also close to many shops and restaurants is the Ginza Nikko Hotel, which is slightly more expensive but definitely doable if you're on a budget.
It's good to be based in this district if you have partying in mind; you'll find a ton of trouble in Roppongi. Hotel Okura ranks among the top ten hotels in the world. You certainly get the best here: a choice of deluxe rooms, a salon, spa, photo studio, and even a dentist, while the Roppongi Prince Hotel, with its iconic wishbone-shaped pool offers a quiet place to escape the hustle and bustle right in the heart of this fast-paced district. Another option, the Hotel Ibis, is a more reasonably-priced place to stay, and just as relaxing as its more upscale counterparts.
The modern and very plush Hotel New Otani has a rooftop rose garden and a museum that is free to all guests, but for those who don't quite have the budget for such luxuries, not to worry; budget hotels do exist in Tokyo. Try the Asia Center of Japan. Rooms come with a bath or without, and there is an in-house cafeteria dining hall that serves up cheap, tasty eats. Another less expensive option, the Toshi Center Hotel, is set up to accommodate business travelers, offering conference rooms and banquet halls, but the rooms are comfortable as well, and a few dining options available.
The world's busiest train station is located in this district, along with the various businesses that comprise Tokyo's major commercial center. The Hotel Kent is situated close to many bars, restaurants and large arcades, perfect if you're in the mood to stay out all night. The English-speaking staff at Star Hotel Tokyo give guests all the basics to ensure that their stay is easy and comfortable. Looking for accommodations that are as lavish as they are conveniently located? Then check-in to the Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Hilton Tokyo, both of which are sure to exceed your expectations for service and amenities.
Several large department stores selling everything from cosmetics and hosiery to electronics and video games can be found amongst the bright, neon lights of this district, and with the popular Sunshine City close by, why wouldn't you want to find a hotel in Ikebukuro? The moderately-priced Ark Hotel Tokyo provides guests with Western-style accommodations and a friendly, English-speaking staff, while Hotel Grand City is an even less-expensive option for those looking to be close to Sunshine City. The Kimi Ryokan has rooms with tatami mats, if you're looking for a stay with traditional atmosphere, but be sure to book in advance, as rooms at this inexpensive inn sellout quickly during peak tourist seasons.
This is also a popular spot among travelers looking to stay close to Roppongi and Shibuya. Named for the Yebisu brand ale created by the Japan Beer Brewery, today you can visit the Yebisu Garden Place, which houses a free museum dedicated to the history of the Brewery. Nearby, the Japanese-style rooms of the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo offer a nice change from the ordinary, or try the beautiful, 30s-era Gajoen Kanko Hotel, which offers traditional, stylish rooms and top-notch service.
Moderately-priced hotels in this area include the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, which has a pool, karaoke bar and an in-hotel cinema, as well as its own Aqua Stadium, which has aquariums, dolphin shows and even a roller coaster. Quite an amount of amenities for the price! Budget travelers with a taste for an authentic Japanese ryokan experience can check-in to the conveniently-located Ryokan Sansuiso, while high-end afficianados should look to the Dai-ichi Hotel Tokyo Seafort, a friendly hotel that offers views of Tokyo Bay and a choice of three restaurants, all with large bay windows and lovely, modern decor.
The Sakura Hotel or the New Central Hotel are good for those looking for very inexpensive accommodations. Somewhat spartan, with shared bathrooms (bring your own towel) and cramped quarters, these lodgings makes up for their lack of amenities by often being as cheerful as they are cheap. Friendly and homey, their eclectic common rooms are the melting pot for countless travelers from around the world. The Hotel Juraku is another no-frills option.