Starting life as a small, unassuming fishing village named Edo, Tokyo has come quite the distance since it was formed in the late twelfth century. There’s still a good bit of fishing that goes on, but that’s the only comparison that can be made to its former incarnation; Tokyo, as we know it today, is one of the major metropolises of the world. A pioneering city when it comes to economics, technology, art and (most importantly) fun, a visit to this neon-soaked domain is almost like traveling to another world; it will blow your mind and stay with you for life. What more could you want out of a dream trip?
The sprawling metropolis of Tokyo is divided into separate districts, each functioning like a little town in and of its own, with its individual and distinct pleasures, attractions and atmosphere. Shinjuku has the nightlife, Ueno has the museums, Shibuya has the shops and Akihabara has the manga/anime stores; but even that is a serious underestimation of what each has to offer. There’s so much to explore in the city that you could almost write an article on each individual district. Have a look on BUCKiTDREAM to see which other travelers have made the long trip to the far East, and you’ll doubtless inspired and excited for your own trip. When it comes to Tokyo, you’ll definitely need to keep that BUCKiTDREAM planner handy, as you’ll need to keep track of everything you want to do when you hit the Japanese capital.
So here goes the nigh-on impossible task of summing up all that Tokyo has to offer in eight activities; hopefully, they prove helpful to get you started nonetheless!
Hang Loose In Harajuku A small district near Shibuya, Harajuku features some of the most colorful characters in a city full of colorful characters. Local teens like to parade around Takeshita Street in strange, vibrant garb; it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re smack bang in the middle of cutting-edge Tokyo culture.
Wander through the Meiji Jingu Shrine Located right next to Harajuku, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is a wonderfully tranquil and majestic spot to while away a couple of hours away from the manic city streets.
Get Feudal at the Samurai Museum Get a sense of Japan’s rich and unique history at the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku, which showcases a number of ornate suits of armor and, of course, the quintessential samurai sword.
Scale Tokyo Tower Built in 1958, this distinctive Tokyo trademark is open to visitors. You can climb all the way to the top and partake in the questionable pleasure of a glass floor once you reach the final observation deck.
Pass Through the Thunder Gate The old-school district of Asakusa contains the Kaminarimon, known as the ‘Thunder Gate’, which features a large, red lantern and two Shinto statues. It marks the entrance to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.
Score Some Loot in the Electric City Akihabara is the manga and anime capital of the world; its streets are lined with multi-floor stores, themed cafés and arcades. Even if you’re not an anime fan, this district is well worth a visit, just to experience the fanatic hold that the industry has on Japanese culture.
Kick Back at the Cat Café The Japanese love their themed cafés, and you won’t just find them in Akihabara; they’re all over the city. If you have a penchant for felines, check out one of the numerous cat cafés, where you can grab a coffee and hang out with a bunch of cats for an hour or so. If cats aren’t your thing, there’s always the Owl Café.
Hike Up the Magnificent Mt. Fuji Known as Fuji-san to the locals, you can reach Mt. Fuji via Tokyo’s clockwork train system. It takes about an hour and a half to get there, but be warned; Fuji is an active volcano and could blow at any moment. It’ll probably be fine, though.
High End The Mandarin Oriental is a luxurious, towering building located in the affluent district of Ginza. Beautiful rooms, beautiful views, and a central location; you couldn’t ask for more from a high-class, inner-city hotel experience.
Medium The wonderful Edo Sakura is situated in the quiet, low-key neighborhood of Taito, which means you can enjoy peaceful evenings and nights without having to sacrifice location; all the main districts of the city are just a short subway hop away.
Budget The hostel scene in Tokyo is mostly dominated by Khaosan, a group which operates a few different branches throughout the city. They’re clean, cheap, and usually situated next to a subway for handy access to the city center(s).
Tokyo’s cuisine scene is booming; you can find any flavor of dish you care for. Whether it’s Italian, Mexican or a slab of good ol’ American steak, the Japanese can sort you out, and probably better than you might expect. Of course, they also have their own brand of culinary delights, and it’d be a shame not to try some while you’re in their capital city.
There’s a sushi bar on every corner of almost every street in the city. You get to select your sushi from a conveyor belt of options, while the chefs work in the middle, cutting up and preparing new dishes. The plates are priced by color, so you know what you’re ordering; at the end, one of the waiters will come up, count your plates and give you your bill. It’s a distinctly Japanese experience, and one that can get quite addictive; the sushi is (mostly) very, very good indeed.
Tokyo nightlife is hopping, as you’d expect for such an important, cosmopolitan capital. Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Roppongi are the main areas to find the fun, with many bars, clubs and nighttime activities there for the taking.
Be warned though, the subway stops at 12:00am (sharp), and taxis are quite expensive in Tokyo, especially if you have to travel across town. For the all-night revelers, the trains start up again at 5:00 am, so, after a wild night at Gas Panic, you might just decide to power on through.
Tips and Culture
The main thing to remember about Tokyo, and Japan in general, is that although there are many customs and etiquette that differ from the west, foreigners will be forgiven for almost any faux pas. So rest easy there; as a visitor, you get a free pass. However, it is polite to try and fit in as best you can with the Japanese way; to that end, the most important rule is to remember to take your shoes off before entering any domestic dwelling. It’s hard to forget this one; the pile of shoes at the door of most hostels and hotels should be enough to remind you.
The Japanese find eating in public to be unsightly, so try and keep chowing down on the street to a minimum. The trains and subways are legendary in their timekeeping, and the legends are true; the Japanese rail system operates to the second. Not even the disastrous sarin gas attacks of 1995 were enough to significantly slow down the Tokyo subway.
Japan is an unstable land and is situated on a number of faultlines. Minor earthquakes are common, so don’t be upset if you’re woken in the middle of the night by a gentle, brief shaking. Bigger quakes are always a concern, however, especially in Tokyo. Most buildings in the city are designed to withstand earthquakes, but it’s still advisable to brush up on the safety procedures if a big one happens to hit during your stay.
On the flipside of that disquieting earthquake threat, street crime as we know it is almost unheard of in Japan, and you’ll be surprised at how safe you feel walking around the city streets at any given time of day or night (though you should, of course, always keep your wits about you).
Tokyo is a city of contradictions; cutting edge technology and towering skyscrapers easily mix with abstruse atmospheres and ancient traditions. But the Japanese pull this delicate balancing act off and pull it off with aplomb. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This stunning, beautiful park is situated right in the middle of the bustling hub of Shinjuku, yet manages to feel wonderfully isolated and peaceful. There are several different sections of the garden to enjoy, each full of wildlife and fauna. Plus, you’ll catch a lot of locals hanging around the park; it’s a top spot to catch a break from the fast-moving city hustle.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the delights and wonders that this magnificent city has to offer, and yet there should be enough there to get any intrepid travelers excited. Once you seriously research Japan’s capital, you should be able to get your BUCKiTDREAM planner full to the brim of cool ideas to prepare for your once-in-a-lifetime holiday to this otherworldly city. Dreams aren’t necessarily made in the West anymore; so waste no timing heading East, and start planning that bucket list trip today!