If you are visiting Japan for the first time then your very first day in Tokyo is guaranteed to be a bit of a culture shock. Neon lights, busy streets, crowded trains and a fast pace of living makes Tokyo one of the most energising cities on the planet, but it can take some getting used to. Thankfully, Japanese people are incredibly courteous, respectful and helpful, and facilities and amenities across the city tend to be very easy to use.
Arriving at Narita Airport, we were off the plane and onto our hotel shuttle in less than 45 minutes, a fraction of the time this would take in just about any other country on earth, and a testament to the efficient nature of Japanese society.
Tokyo is exceptionally safe for foreigners, and crime is rare. It is pretty much safe for tourists to walk around just any part of the city at any time of day. Waiters, shop assistants and even strangers, especially those who speak English, are happy to help offer directions or language assistance, and generally the deferential, respectful nature of Japanese society means there’s always people looking out for others.
Transport in Tokyo is easy and inexpensive, and the city boasts the world’s largest train and subway network. With 882 railways stations in the Metro area there are stops just about anywhere, while over 40 million passengers use the air-conditioned rail system each day. This may sound overwhelming, but signs are printed in Romaji, or western script, and the system benefits from great design and ease of access. Also, whereas crowded stations in other nations can be claustraphobic and confusing, the polite nature of Japanese commuters means that crowds are usually orderly and well behaved, with passengers even queuing up at assigned spots on the subway platforms.
Tokyo has one of the best food and drink scenes on the planet, with an astonishing 160,000 restaurants in the city, and more Michelin stars than Paris. While you may read that food in Tokyo is expensive, many of the Japanese capital’s eateries are small independently owned ventures, some offering only a handful of seats, or even just standing room, and these types of place sell delicious meals at very low prices. Want to enjoy a range of small plates over beer and sake? Look for izakayas, friendly, informal restaurants where the emphasis is on enjoying yourself. A Meat eater? Try yakitori, grilled meat on skewers.
Prefer the freshest Sushi possible? Head for Tsukiji market, the world’s biggest fish wholesaler, where a host of sushi restaurants serve the world’s best sashimi. To eat authentic and cheaply, wander around the immediate vicinity of main train stations such as Shinjuku or Ikebukero, where tens of thousands of cheap hole-in-the-walls operate late into the night.
Tokyo’s shopping is also amongst the finest in the world, with designer stores in Ginza and Otomesando, discount electronics in Akihibara, youth fashions in Shibuya and kitchenware in Kappabashi. Department stores tend to be located within, or above train stations, and it is difficult not to get lost in their labyrinthine layouts.
Tokyo’s plentiful and well tended parks are a perfect place to escape the congested city streets. One of the most atmospheric is the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, where tourists can walk through a shaded 175 acre evergreen forest to a traditional Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. For an even more impressive Imperial experience, visit the Kyokyo gardens that surround the home of the Japanese royal family. If you would prefer a more laid-back park, try Shinjuku Gyoen, while a quintessential Tokyo experience has to be walking the perimeter of the stunning water-lily pond at Ueno Park. The Sakura River in hip Naka-Meguro is a superb place for a stroll, with artsy and stylish boutiques and galleries lining the banks. In spring the trees that line the river turn pink with cherry blossoms.
Most buildings in Tokyo are just a few decades old, and for this reason you will not find as much beautiful, historic architecture as you would in Paris or London, nor as many stand alone tourist attractions as New York City. Yet just experiencing the urban fabric of Tokyo itself, walking down streets and popping into local establishments, is enough of a reason to make a visit to the world’s biggest metropolis.Write a Review
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