2020 is Tokyo´s big year: After a few economical ups and downs in the past few years and the terrible Nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan´s capital and most populous metropolitan area in the world is getting ready for the Summer Olympics and a restored self-confidence. To show the world once again that (almost) everything seems better in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Reason enough to plan your visit soon! By far, Tokyo is one of the most colorful, energetic, crowded, modern and exciting metropolises around the planet and should therefore be ranked on any bucket list. I am not over-exaggerating if I claim that once you visit, you will be overwhelmed by contrasts and visual impressions, by inspiration and excitement that will make you feel you have traveled to another planet.
There is fashion, there is design, there is art and culture. Endless opportunities to explore and do while in town. Yet one week is far away from enough to discover all the amazing sights that Tokyo has to offer. That is why I have put up for you the most important spots to stop at when coming to town for the very first time!
Mount Fuji Sunset
One of my most favourite viewing platforms in Tokyo and, in my opinion, the best view on clear days onto the Mount Fuji offers the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku (Tochomae Station – Oedo Line). The entrance is free and the platform is particularly busy during sunset hours. The usage of tripods is not permitted though. This is a great place to come to after the long flight over as it is open until 11:30pm.
Public Park Retreat
Tokyo is a green city with lots of public recreational areas. The most popular ones are the Imperial Palace East Gardens, Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden or the park around the Meiji Shrine. All of them are easy accessible by subway and are a great refuge if you need to take a little time out. Best times are mid or end of March when the cherry trees begin to blossom or fall, when the rich autumn colors glow mystically.
There is no love on earth like a dog´s love. Hachiko, an Akita dog, was so intensely connected to his master Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo, that the dog greeted him every day at the nearby Shibuya Station after he commuted back home from work. In 1925, the professor died of cerebral hemorrhage and did not make it back to the station where Hachiko was waiting for him. Hoping to see his master again, Hachiko returned to the exact same spot at the precisely same time every day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days. In 1935, after Hachiko died himself, he was finally united again with his master at Aoyama Cemetary. Today, Hachiko´s statue embodies the symbol for loyalty and fidelity in Japanese Culture. I still get tears in my eyes every time I read about the story! (Shibuya Station – Exit Hachiko)
Scramble in Shibuya
Shibuya is one of Tokyo´s most populous areas and the train station one of the busiest in Japan. It is referred to as the center for fashion and nightlife, particularly for the younger generations. Emerging from what was originally the site of a castle of the Shibuya family in the 11th century, the neighbourhood these days is the symbol for the modern, extraordinary and crazy side of Tokyo. The extremely busy crossing was featured in movies such as Lost in Translation, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift or Resident Evil´s Afterlife and Retribution.
Rush Hour Subway
I have done it once and I don´t necessarily favor to do it again, but being pushed into a train with crowds of people actually should be experienced once in a lifetime. It is such a weird and unique situation that afterwards you will absolutely appreciate any kind of personal space that you are granted in your life. Other than that, the subway is generally the best and easiest way to get around in Tokyo. Signs and announcements are both in Japanese and English and the network seems almost never-ending. There are two major subway operators in greater Tokyo. The day pass valid on both is only 1590 Yen (as of December 2016).
Nakamise is one of the oldest shopping centers in Japan and spreads right in front of Senso-ji Shrine (Asakusa Station – Ginza Line/Asakusa Line). Traditionally, you enter through the massive Thunder Gate to walk the dramatically with red and black painted lanterns decorated alley where you can enjoy typical Japanese souvenirs and snacks.
Pray for the Good
Senso-ji is Tokyo´s largest ancient Buddhist temple and major Tokyo attraction for Japanese and Foreign tourists located in Asakusa (Asakusa Station – Ginza Line/Asakusa Line). The temple consists of various buildings and is dedicated to the Bodhisattava Kannon, also known as Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. It is the city´s oldest temple and also the most significant. Get yourself some incense sticks and watch the locals spiritually wash their hands.
Hang with the Expats
Roppongi (Roppongi Station – Oedo Line/Hibiya Line) can also be called Tokyo Midtown. This is where most of the Foreign embassies are located and the area bursts with bars, restaurants and clubs. It is peculiarly popular amongst foreigners visiting or working in greater Tokyo.
Style Up on Ginza
Ginza (Ginza Station – Ginza Line/Marunouchi Line) is Tokyo´s upscale shopping district and recognized worldwide as one of the most prestigious ones. Stroll once through the famous Mitsukoshi department store and enjoy the main road to be closed for traffic on the weekends (Saturday and Sunday, noon until 5:30pm).
Can you spot the giant Godzilla head nestled into the dense buildings of Kabukicho red-light district? For those of you who would even fancy to sleep next to the giant, Shinjuku Gracery Hotel offers rooms with a view! Cool.
Wherever you go, there is always something to see! Tokyo´s architecture is various, colossal and sometimes so fragile. Take the chance from time to time and climb up one of the many exterior staircases of smaller buildings. You will enjoy amazing vistas onto the surroundings and the skyline!
You do not always have to visit a public viewing platform to enjoy spectacular panoramas. As most hotels in Tokyo are built as high as 50 floors, the view from your room may even be well worth to kick back with a drink while enjoying the round view. Other than that, my personal highlights are Sunshine City, Tokyo Tower, Mori Tower, World Trade Center and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Kabuki Opera Culture
Kabuki-za (remains until today the only Kabuki theatre in Japan that presents shows on a monthly base, sometimes even daily. Taking photos or videos inside is strictly prohibited (seriously, I do not have any pics…). Visitors are not allowed inside the building, but if you have time, this is an experience that no one should miss when having the chance to!
Tokyo by Night
As exciting as Tokyo is during the day, as soon as night falls, the city becomes even more thrilling. Kabukicho is an entertainment and red-light district that is so much fun to walk through in the evenings. Simply watch the busy scenery or dive into the rich restaurant and bar culture that this hotspot close to Shinjuku Station (Marunouchi Line/Oedo Line/Shinjuku Line) has to offer.