Tokyo is a lively pulsating super-metropolis which fascinates curious travellers, drawn to the high-tech futuristic city that also offers pockets of traditional culture dotted throughout the city. This is the city where Harajuku-styled girls mingle easily with manga pop culture and sharp-suited businessmen.
Catch the spring Cherry Blossom at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
If you’re in Tokyo in the springtime you must head to one of the local parks to witness the delicately fragranced and colourful cherry blossom. One of the best parks is the Gyoen National Garden in the Shinjuku district which was originally opened in 1906 for royalty. Since 1949 however the exquisite gardens have been within the public domain and the 58 hectare site has around 20,000 trees including 1,500 cherry trees. This makes for a magical sight in both spring and autumn when the leaves turn to rich hues of gold, orange and red. There is an entrance fee, which keeps the crowds to a minimum. There are English, French and Japanese Gardens with an impressive botanic conservatory.
Tokyo is the largest city on earth and the bustling Shinjuku district features many luxury hotel chains, tech stores, gleaming skyscrapers and hundreds of boutique shops catering to the luxury travel market.
Explore the National Museum of Western Art
There are hundreds of intriguing museums in Tokyo covering art, history, science and speciality interests. The National Museum of western Art is located in Taito’s Ueno Park in central Tokyo and is particularly appealing thanks to its superior paintings and sculptures gallery. The museum houses more than 4,500 pieces dating back to the 14th century. There are works by Rubens, Monet, Picasso, Pollock, Rembrandt, Cézanne and many others. The block-like building was designed by a Swiss architect and opened in 1959. It’s also listed on the provisional UNESCO World Heritage List.
If you’d prefer to learn about the local history, head to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida. The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum and the Nezu Museum, both in the Minato district, have some interesting pieces.
Wonder at the Meiji Shrine
One of the most fascinating elements of Tokyo is the traditional heritage contained within the ancient shrines and temples dotted throughout the city. The most famous and arguably most stunning example is the Meiji Shrine. The magnificent Shinto shrine features two large entrance gates to the shrine that is dedicated to the Emperor and Empress Meiji. Built in 1920 the shrine was damaged in World War II. Located in the fashionable shopping district of Shibuya, the über-fashionable district of Harajuku is also within easy reach.
Get Lost in Translation
One of the biggest movies to be filmed entirely in Tokyo is the 2003 film ‘Lost in Translation’ – who can believe its 10 years old already! Director Sofia Coppola filmed Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in various locations across the city including the colourful and lively Shinjuku and Shibuya districts. Most travellers head to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, to the 52 storey skyscraper where Johansson and Murray’s characters meet in the film. This is also one of the most expensive hotels in the city – a warning if you’re heading there for a drink! Shinjuku is home to many modern architecturally-interesting buildings such as the modern Tokyo City Hall – make your own mind up about this one!
Explore Tokyo’s Temples
You cannot visit Tokyo and not take in some of the city’s exquisitely presented temples. The finest example of a Buddhist Temple has to be the Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa, Taito district. Opened in 645 AD, Sensō-ji displays typical Japanese Buddhist architecture. Pass the Kaminarimon, aka Thunder Gate, with its giant lantern and statues of gods. Head into the Kannondō, aka Kannon Hall, to witness worshippers praying and donating tokens amongst the billowing clouds of thickly scented incense.
Whilst in the Asakusa district, you can also take in the Chingodo Shrine, which is dedicated to a raccoon god and Denpoin Temple which has carefully manicured gardens.
Try the local sushi
Japan’s most famous cuisine is sushi, which is often (poorly) replicated across the world. To get a taste for authentic Japanese sushi, head to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which offers the freshest and tastiest sushi in town. This huge market, also known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, has over 1,600 market stalls with rare and impressive fish species on display such as live lobster and crab and whole salmon. And yes Tokyo is home to the delicacy of the Fugu fish, whose consumption can be fatal unless it is specially prepared!
If you’re on a tight budget in Tokyo, a good dining option is the traditional street food vendors who cook up fresh noodles, yakitori and tasty takoyaki dough balls.
Experience a Japanese-style themepark
One of the busiest tourist attractions in Tokyo is the local Disneyland and DisneySea resort. This was the very first Disney franchise to open outside of the USA, in 1983. And with over 13 million visitors annually, it’s also the busiest themepark outside of America. It has to be experienced to be believed.