Tokyo, Japan is both a tech-obsessed society and an ancient metropolis entangled in a colorful history that will slow the pace of culture, honor and tradition. Between the bustling nightclubs of Shinjuku, the haute couture of Ginza and the insatiable thirst for the latest Japanese gadgets; this immense capital is full of modern stimuli. Besides the pop culture freaks out there, the basics of Tokyo base camp still consist of traditional sushi and sake bars, sumo events, cherry blossom parks, and samurai lore.
With a population of over 12 million in metropolitan Tokyo alone, the city is divided into 23 wards. Although there are several remote islands, towns and villages within the city, most of the activity is centered in the neighborhoods of central Tokyo. Chiyoda is considered the political and economic center of Japan and is home to the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Diet (Japanese Parliament), and the headquarters of the commercial district, Marunouchi. Next to Chiyoda is Akihabara, also known as Electric Town for its huge range of electronics stores.
Shinjuku is known for its wide range of nightclubs and restaurants, but it is also known for its futuristic skyscrapers and business complexes. Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district has one of the country’s largest amusement parks and is a popular draw for tourists. Ginza and Roppongi are high-end shopping areas with not only shopping streets and squares lined with shops and boutiques, but also veritable multi-storey towers dedicated to exclusive stores and big brands. For even more shopping, Shibuya is home to several well-known shopping districts (Center Gai and Koen Dori streets), including Harajuku for the younger ones.
For an experience of old Tokyo, visitors should head to the lower Asakusa district, home to Sensoji, a 7th-century Buddhist temple, the Kaminari Gate, and the traditional market street, Nakamise. For a glimpse into new and old Japanese culture, Ueno is home to a variety of parks and museums, including Tokyo National Museum, (royal) Uenomori Museum, and Yushima Tenjin Shrine. To completely escape the rowdy vitality of the city, tourists should not give up a chance to visit Rikugien. This beautiful park is home to a large garden with a central pond, wooded areas, several tea rooms, and miniature scenes from famous Japanese poems.
Tokyo’s culinary prowess is often the primary reason people visit this diverse city. Much of Japanese culture revolves around its cuisine – and for good reason. Between traditional Japanese and international restaurants, bohemian cafes, street food tents, conveyor belt sushi and basement food halls, there’s no shortage of variety when it comes to choosing a place to eat. For an authentic Japanese restaurant that even locals love, head to the two-story Shousuke in Shinjuku. The first floor is a sushi bar that leads to semi-private cabins for upstairs table service. For some yakitori, takoyaki (octopus dumplings), or something more adventurous like frog sashimi, head to Ameyoko Street Market where various food stalls set up. For a cozy spot devoted to ramen (and English menus), try Ichiran in the Roppongi district. For the freshest sushi you’ll ever have, a trip to Tsukiji Fish Market is a must. Outside the wholesale market is a smaller market with restaurants that cater to the public.
Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) are the two main airports in Tokyo, which serve major international airlines, as well as domestic flights. Although Narita is located 70 kilometers from Tokyo, it is considered the main gateway for international flights to and from the city. Haneda Airport is mainly used for domestic flights, despite its nickname Tokyo International Airport. The fastest way from Narita Airport to Tokyo is the express train to Tokyo Station (in Chiyoda). It takes 55 minutes and costs just under 3,000 yen ($ 33) each way. The Shinkansen is Japan’s high-speed train that connects Tokyo with most of the country’s major cities as well as stops in the city. For other train services throughout the city, visitors should take the Yamanote Line, which loops around central Tokyo. It’s the best way to get around the city, and most tickets are sold from vending machines located at train stations. Prepaid fare cards come in handy for visitors who plan to travel around town frequently and are referred to as Suica or PASMO.
Tokyo has a temperate climate with very different weather conditions depending on the season. From March, mild springs give way to cherry blossoms and average temperatures hover around 19 ° C (66 ° F). Spring and cooler autumns are generally the best times of year to visit. Summer temperatures can reach 30 ° C (86 ° F) or more and can often get very humid. Tokyo winters start around the end of November and bring cooler, drier air with an occasional snow shower.