Explore Tokyo, Japan
Explore Tokyo the capital of Japan. At over 13 million people in the official metropolitan area alone, Tokyo is the core of the most populated urban area in the world, Tokyo Metropolis (which has a population of over 37 million people). This huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolis brings high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan, and has something for everyone.
Over 500 years old, the city of Tokyo grew from the modest fishing village of Edo. The city only truly began to grow when it became the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. While the emperor ruled in name from Kyoto, the true power was concentrated in the hands of the Tokugawa shogun in Edo. After the Meiji restoration in 1868, during which the Tokugawa family lost its influence, the emperor and the imperial family moved here from Kyoto, and the city was re-named to its current name, Tokyo. The metropolitan center of the country, Tokyo is the destination for business, education, modern culture, and government. (That’s not to say that rivals such as Osaka won’t dispute those claims.)
Tokyo is vast: it’s best thought of not as a single city, but a constellation of cities that have grown together. Tokyo’s districts vary wildly by character, from the electronic blare of Akihabara to the Imperial gardens and shrines of Chiyoda, from the hyperactive youth culture Mecca of Shibuya to the pottery shops and temple markets of Asakusa. If you don’t like what you see, hop on the train and head to the next station, and you will find something entirely different.
The sheer size and frenetic pace of Tokyo can intimidate the first-time visitor. Much of the city is a jungle of concrete and wires, with a mass of neon and blaring loudspeakers. At rush hour, crowds jostle in packed trains and masses of humanity sweep through enormous and bewilderingly complex stations. Don’t get too hung up on ticking tourist sights off your list: for most visitors, the biggest part of the Tokyo experience is just wandering around at random and absorbing the vibe, poking your head into shops selling weird and wonderful things, sampling restaurants where you can’t recognize a single thing on the menu (or on your plate), and finding unexpected oases of calm in the tranquil grounds of a neighborhood Shinto shrine. It’s all perfectly safe, and the locals will go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to help you if you just ask.
The cost of living in Tokyo is not as astronomical as it once was. Deflation and market pressures have helped to make costs in Tokyo comparable to most other large cities. Tokyo is one of the most popular places to live in Japan. It is also rated the fifth most expensive city to live in, in the world. Tokyo is so overwhelmingly crowded that apartments are usually no bigger than 175 square feet (16 square meters).
Tokyo is classified as lying in the humid subtropical climate zone and has four distinct seasons. Summers are usually hot and humid with a temperature range of about 20-30°C. Winters are usually mild, with temperatures generally ranging from 0-10°C. Snow is rare, but on those rare occasions (once every few years) when Tokyo is hit by a snowstorm, much of the train network grinds to a halt. The famous cherry blossoms bloom in March-April and parks, most famously Ueno, fill up with blue tarps and sizzled salary men.
In Japan, all roads, rails, shipping lanes and planes lead to Tokyo.
Tokyo has two large airports: Narita for international flights and Haneda for (mostly) domestic flights.
Tokyo has one of the most extensive mass transit systems in the world. It is clean, safe and efficient – and confusing. The confusion arises from the fact that several distinct railway systems operate within Tokyo
- the JR East network
- the two subway networks
- various private lines
Cash payment is the norm. Most Japanese ATMs do not accept foreign cards, but post office, 7-Eleven and Citibank (now branded as Prestia by SMBC) ones do and usually have English menus as well (more recently, Mitsubishi-UFJ has opened its ATMs to UnionPay and Discover card users. *NOTE* As of June 2013, most Japanese bank ATM do not accept MasterCard, therefore you will not be able to withdraw cash from them. However, purchase using MasterCard is accepted anywhere.
Although credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, retailers are much less likely to allow their use than in most other developed countries.
If it is for sale anywhere in the world, you can probably buy it in Tokyo. Tokyo is one of the fashion and cosmetic centers in the Eastern world. Items to look for include electronics, funky fashions, antique furniture, traditional clothing (kimono, yukata, jimbei, jika-tabi) as well as specialty items like Hello Kitty and Pokemon goods, anime and comics and their associated paraphernalia. Tokyo has some of the largest electronic industries in the world, such as Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba etc.
There are numerous convenience stores throughout Tokyo, which are open around the clock and sell not only food and magazines, but also daily necessities such as underwear and toiletries.
The sheer quantity, variety and quality of food in Tokyo will amaze you. Department stores have food halls, typically in the basement (called depachika), with food which surpasses top delicatessens in other world cities. Shopping malls and department stores have a restaurant section, usually on their upper floors. Some basements of train stations have supermarkets with free taste testers. It’s a great way to sample some of the strange dishes they have for free. Tokyo has a large number of restaurants, so see the main Japan guide for the types of food you will encounter and some popular chains. Menus with pictures are often posted outside, so you can check the prices. Some shops have the famous plastic food in their front windows. Don’t hesitate to drag the waiting staff out to the front to point at what you want. Always carry cash. Many restaurants will not accept credit cards.
Tokyo has literally tens of thousands of restaurants representing more or less every cuisine in the world, but it also offers a few unique local specialties. Nigirizushi (fish pressed onto rice), known around the world around simply as “sushi,” in fact originates from Tokyo. Another is monjayaki, a gooey, cabbage-filled version of okonomiyaki that uses a very thin batter to achieve a sticky, caramelized consistency. It is originally from the Tsukishima area of Chuo and today there are many restaurants near Asakusa offering monjayaki.
Coffee shops open around 08:00 (sometimes earlier at busy stations), restaurants start from 11:00 and sometimes close at 15:00 or 16:00 till the evening.
Having an early 11:00 o’clock-lunch is the easiest way of avoiding queues at popular places and will get you a seat, even if you come in alone.
- Hot PepperAvailable in various editions, by region, around Tokyo, this free magazine offers a guide to local restaurants in Japanese but provides pictures and maps to the restaurants. Some restaurants even offer coupons. Most restaurants within this magazine are on the mid-range to high end scale.
- Tabelogis a local restaurant directory that has rating and reviews for restaurants in Japan. Available in English and Japanese.
- There are also numerous blogs on the internet devoted to food and eating in Tokyo written by international foodies. These websites can be a good source of reliable information for tourists.
In Japan, the legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 20.
The party never stops in Tokyo (at least in the karaoke bars), and you will find good little bars and restaurants everywhere.
The most Japanese way to spend a night out would be at Japanese-style watering holes called izakaya, which offer food and drink in a convivial, pub-like atmosphere. Cheaper chain izakaya like Tsubohachi and Shirokiya usually have picture menus, so ordering is simple, even if you don’t know Japanese – but don’t be surprised if some places have Japanese only touchscreen ordering systems. There are also some good clubs to checkout in Roppongi with regular and frequent visitors.
Visiting clubs and western-style night spots can get expensive, with clubs and live houses enforcing weekend cover charges (usually including a drink coupon or two). For a splurge on a beverage or two, Western Shinjuku’s Park Hyatt Tokyo houses the New York Bar on level 52. Providing stunning views day and night across Tokyo, it was also the setting for the movie Lost in Translation.
If you’re new in town, Roppongi is home to a number of vibrant clubs and establishments which specialize in serving non-Japanese – but it’s also overflowing with hostesses and ‘patrons’ who will occasionally hassle you to visit their gentlemen’s clubs, where drinks cost ¥5000 and up. Nonetheless, the party scene thrives in Roppongi, in which case it might be a good idea to check out one of the many independently produced events such as the Tokyo Pub Crawl. As an alternative, some Japanese and foreign nationals instead prefer the clubs and bars in Shibuya, or trendy Ginza, Ebisu, or Shinjuku.