Japan is a country of ancient culture barreling into the future faster than the rest of us. It is the world’s third largest economy, extremely safe, and clean. Despite the generally high expense of a trip and the language barrier, Tokyo, Japan’s capital, is undeniably fulfilling.
As the world’s most populous metropolitan area, Tokyo offers a plethora of sights, sounds, activities and people watching. The many districts of the city offer distinct flavors to comprise a vast and exciting place that feels to have one foot in the past and one far in the future.
Central Tokyo houses the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market where the tuna auctions are held. This is the largest fish market in the world and to catch all the action, a trip bright and early (somewhere around 5am-6am) is necessary. In addition to witnessing the buying and selling of the massive tunas, there are stalls selling every sea creature imaginable. Yet the best part is the opportunity to indulge in the breakfast of champions, fresh sushi. There are numerous small restaurants within the market so stopping for a taste is a must. Another spot to check out in Central Tokyo is the Imperial Palace and Gardens. The Palace is where the Imperial family resides and is generally not open to the public except for special guided tours, but the gardens are lovely to explore.
For a taste of old Tokyo, the Asakusa district in the north radiates ancient practices and traditions. Here the Senso-ji Shrine, Tokyo’s most famous shrine is housed. To reach the temple you must first walk through Nakamise shopping street filled with a plethora of trinkets and gifts. Located in the central court of the temple is a large incense burner surrounded by people fanning the incense smoke, said to have healing powers, over their bodies .
Southern Tokyo is where the very modern Roppongi district is located. Roppongi Hills is both a swanky and rowdy area with numerous nightlife options. There are also museums and Tokyo Tower, a perfect vantage point to view the city.
Western Tokyo houses the funnest and funkiest districts that embody Japanese youth culture, Shibuya and Harajuku. The famous Shibuya Crossing is the busiest intersection in the world. After emerging from the subway and taking the obligatory crossing yourself, head to the Starbucks for the perfect view looking down onto the organized chaos. The shopping in both Shibuya and Harajuku are not for the faint of heart as the stores are numerous and filled with some of the most unique fashions found anywhere. In these areas you will also find teenagers dressed in wacky cosplay outfits (everything from gothic punk to lolita baby doll).
Tokyo is undeniably a foodie destination and does not disappoint. The sushi here is usually served as nigiri, not rolls and tends to melt in your mouth. If you are lucky enough, your sushi chef might just pop out behind his work station to show you the very fresh, still alive fish you ordered before it is prepared. Tempura houses and ramen stands are also a must for some cheaper albeit scrumptious meals. Even the convenience stores offer delicious snacks on the go; try the rice balls, steamed buns and all manner of interestingly flavored chips.
Japan is also filled with fascinating cultural oddities. The toilets here are almost an art form, they play music, are heated, spray perfume, and talk to you. One must also experience karaoke in it’s birthplace to get a true taste of Japanese social culture. There is an abundance of karaoke spots in Tokyo and they are a bit different from the western versions; patrons are in individual rooms with only their group, not in a bar singing in front of strangers. Along with paying for the room, some places offer free alcohol and ice cream sundaes all night. There are of course buttons on the wall when your pitcher of beer runs out.
Tokyo is such a weird and fascinating amalgamation of old and new, it takes your breath away. It is certainly one of the most unique cities the world has to offer.