Places to visit
Of all Tokyo’s districts, perhaps none other embodies the “Otaku” culture more than Akihabara, known to the locals at Akihaba. Among the many shops and stores of Akihabara are maid cafes, retro-video game parlors, game arcades and more. One could easily spend an entire day here enjoying the high pitched antics at the maid cafes, or getting caught up on the latest manga and anime offerings.
Ameyoko street. Small shops line this busy street which traditionally sold candies. After the end of World War II, the vendors sold black market goods to anyone willing to pay. Since then, the street has changed into an attraction for locals and tourists alike, seeking a bit of that old Tokyo flare.
Apart from its size, Tokyo has another claim to fame. Of all the cities in the world, Tokyo boasts the most Michelin starred restaurants, even beating out Paris. It’s no wonder, Japanese food is regarded not only as healthy but also delicious. So why not try making your own at a Tokyo cooking lesson? Class begins and ends with legendary Japanese foods: wagyu and kaiseki. Study the many steps to creating the Japanese luxury cuisine of kaiseki and prepare “wagyu”, a Japanese beef famed for its juiciness and taste. Naturally, afterward, it’s time to eat.
Koishikawa Korakuen is one of Tokyo’s great gardens, constructed in the early Edo Period. Built by the powerful daimyo Mito Tokugawa, the garden incorporates design from Shushunsui, an ancient Chinese scholar of the Ming dynasty. Many of the features within the park are of Chinese origin such as the “Full Moon Bridge”. It makes for a pleasant natural oasis in the concrete confines of Tokyo.
Before 1868, Tokyo went by a different name: Edo. Originally just a small town in a swamp, Edo’s stature elevated when Tokugawa Ieyasu declared it his capital in 1603. Since then, the small village has grown into one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. The Edo-Tokyo Museum explores the development of Edo from its humble beginnings to the present day and beyond.
Ginza takes its name from a former silver mint that once operated here. While the mint no longer functions, that shine of silver lives on in this upscale shopping district. Home to a legion of shops and department stores, Ginza is the mecca of the fashion minded in Japan.
Beautiful in any season, Hamarikyu Garden offers a pleasant contrast to the urban skyline that surrounds it. It once served as a residence for feudal lords visiting Tokyo and later as palace for the Imperial family during the Meiji period. Some popular attractions within the garden include a pleasant teahouse (Nakajima no Ochaya), and a 300 year old pine, planted by the sixth Tokugawa shogun.
Harajuku (Takeshita and Omote-Sando)
The ward of Harajuku hosts several famous Tokyo landmarks including the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park. In true Tokyo fashion, the very old mixes freely with the very new. At Takeshita street, just a stone’s throw from Meiji Shrine, modern Japanese culture abounds. This area hosts various shops for the fashion conscious Tokyo youth, and the latest fads are always on display. After a walk through here, take the next street, Omote Sando, Tokyo’s Champs-Elysees. This beautiful avenue is lined with all kinds of shops and cafes.
After the Tokugawa shogunate fell and the Imperial family returned power, they chose to move their government from Kyoto to Tokyo. Over the top of the Tokugawa’s Edo castle, they built a new Imperial Palace. Though destroyed during WWII, the city rebuilt the palace and it now serves as the primary residence of the Japanese Imperial Family.
Meiji Shrine (Meiji jingu)
The Meiji Shrine was built after the death of the Meiji Emperor, whose soul is enshrined there along with that of his consort. The emperor was regarded at the time as the key figure in the abrupt modernization of Japan from the point of his enthronement onward. After his death and during the shrine’s construction, people from all over Japan donated thousands of trees to the site. Though the shrine was destroyed in war, it has been rebuilt to its former glory.
The Nezu Shrine is one of Tokyo’s oldest shrines, with legends stating its origin some two thousand years prior. As the area around Nezu was spared the worst of the Allied bombings in world war two, the buildings of the shrine remain intact. Some date back as far as the 18th century. Their flamboyant style is fashioned after the Toshogu shrine of Nikko, and the many vermillion Torii gates here are not dissimilar to those of Fushimi Inari in Kyoto.
A manmade island, Odaiba once served as a fortress to protect against invasion from the sea. It has since been developed into a major shopping and entertainment island.
Owl Village Harajuku
At first there was the cat café. A space where tired Tokyoites could go to relax, have a coffee, and relax with a bunch of furry felines. After that came dog cafes. Not long after appeared the owl café, one of the trending types of “animal cafés” in Tokyo. In Harajuku, spend an hour relaxing amongst these nocturnal avian (well, actually about 35 minutes, as the owls need time to rest as well).
Also known as “Asakusa Kannon” temple, Sensoji has been in continuous existence for nearly 1,400 years. Dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon, this temple has been a popular site for worship since its inception. On the way into the temple, stroll through Nakamise Street, where various vendors peddle various foods, omiyage (the Japanese word for souvenir), and other trinkets.
Nothings says Tokyo like Shibuya. Its most famous landmark is the Shibuya Crossing, which regularly swarms with pedestrians when the signals change to green. The iconic spot can often be seen in major movie productions and is a favorite for photographers.
At the heart of Shinjuku, lies Shinjuku station, which is the world’s busiest train station. It’s thought that up to 2 million people pass through the station daily and one step into the station, it’s not hard to believe. Surrounding such an important transit hub is a miniature city-within-a-city made up of shopping malls, restaurants and bars and clubs.
A pleasant oasis among the urban landscape, Shinjuku Gyoen began as a private mansion to Lord Naito, a powerful lord during the Edo period. It was eventually transferred the Imperial Family in the early 20th century. After extensive reconstruction following the Second World War, the garden reopened to the public. Within the vast grounds are three types of garden: French, English, and Japanese.
Tokyo Skytree, the tallest structure in Japan at 634 meters. From the top observation deck, visitors can enjoy a truly magnificent view of the immense sprawl of Tokyo. But more than just a broadcasting tower, the Skytree sits atop a large shopping complex that includes a planetarium and even an aquarium!
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Up until recently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building held the title of tallest building in Tokyo. This gargantuan pair of pinnacles lords over Shinjuku. Though a somewhat imposing structure with its drab exterior, the building hosts a pair of observatories in either of its two towers. At 202 meters from the deck below, on clear days one can get a great view of the Tokyo city-scape as well as the distant peak of Mount Fuji. The best part of it all, is that it’s free to visit.