My relationship with Japan started back in 2010 when I visited the amazing country with my family on holiday. Sticking to the cliché, it was definitely love at first sight. I’m a huge fan of exploring new cultures, traveling to new places and cuisines.
Everything from walking the busy streets of Shibuya in Tokyo, to the experiencing the stunning beauty of Mt. Fuji in spring covered with the Sakura trees, to letting my inner child run free at Tokyo Disneyland, Japan is a country I associate most with some of my most cherished memories.
Japan is a mix of age-old traditions passed down generations, and cutting-edge modernization incorporated in every aspect of life. This makes it the perfect playground for explorers like me. No other place in Japan incorporates this philosophy like Tokyo.
It is a dynamic, modern, ever-growing city whose heart beats a thousand miles an hour, all with a strong undertone of rich cultural history, and “ikigai” (which is the Japanese purpose of life). I’m going to be talking about 10 places in Tokyo that should convince anyone to book their next trip to Japan in the distant future. Let’s take a look!
Shibuya Scramble Crossing
I live in Mumbai: a populous city. I strongly believe, that what defines a city’s culture most are its people. Having said that, in my opinion, there is no better way to see Tokyo unadulterated and in its truest form than just standing and observing the Crossing at Shibuya. It is the largest scramble crossing in the world and is located in one of Tokyo’s trendiest districts.
At peak footfall, one can observe as many as 3000 people zig-zagging their way across the street; each of them, a tiny piece of the larger puzzle that is Tokyo. Shibuya is also home to some of the trendiest shops, restaurants, clubs, and livehouses in the city. Be sure to check those out when you visit!
A Little Bit of the Tokyo Skyline
Tokyo definitely has one of the most recognizable skylines out there. You don’t need to visit Tokyo to have heard of famous landmarks like the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. Both of these landmarks also happen to be one of the best ways to take in panoramic views of the Tokyo skyline.
The Tokyo Skytree opened much later to the public (2012) when compared to the more well-known Tokyo tower which opened back in 1958. Both these observatories are illuminated with spectacular colors after sunset and are definitely a sight to behold.
Both these locations are surrounded with shopping malls and eateries nearby so you can enjoy a hot meal or grab a beer after taking in the sights.
The Rainbow Bridge
This bridge happens to be one of the most recognizable landmarks in Tokyo city. This 27-year-old landmark is a massive suspension bridge spanning the Tokyo harbor. It is 789m (2,588 feet) long and is 126m (413 feet) off the water surface.
The rainbow bridge gets its name after the signature arch it forms spanning the bay. The bridge also has about 444 illuminations on it that light the bridge up all at once in vivid colors. The beauty of this bridge is best appreciated after dark, from a distance, with a cold beer!
If you’re visiting Tokyo, the fastest and most efficient way to get around the city (even the country) is by train. Japan Rail (JR) is well known globally for running the most punctual train services. Exceptional organizations like JR deserve exceptional and beautiful infrastructure. The Tokyo Station (AKA the gateway to Tokyo) is a great example of this.
The main building is a stunning Red Brick Building covered in about 850,000 bricks and is almost a century old. The amazing architecture and design are definitely a testament to time and the rich cultural history of the city. The station sees about 3,700 trains every day and has a footfall of about 760,000 passengers.
Tokyo Station is the origin of many Shinkansen (bullet train) services to all over the county. I highly recommend investing in a JR Pass when traveling to Japan; such a convenience!
Whenever I travel, I make sure to keep a separate budget for shopping. One of the best places to shop (mostly window shopping for me) for just about any and every of the top luxury brands in Tokyo, is in Ginza district. Ginza is an interesting mix of classy architecture and traditional establishments which makes for a shopping experiences what wows both the eyes and the wallet.
A few famous establishments one must check out are Ginza Mitsukoshi, Wako, or Matsuya Ginza. These department stores have come to define the shopping experience once can expect and have undeniably become symbols of Ginza to the world. One great thing about the area is that most establishment have staff that speak English, which greatly improves the chances to negotiate a deal.
Japanese Koen (Parks)
An interesting fact about Japan is that the country takes massive efforts to preserve nature and wildlife. About 70% of Japan is designated forest zones and are protected by the government. A taste of this ‘one-with-nature’ philosophy of Japan can be experienced with one of the many parks within Tokyo city.
Three famous parks that one must visit to just relax and take a break from the busy life of the city are, Hamarikyu Gardens, Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens and Rikugi-en. These parks are the preferred venues for local festival celebrations as well. If you happen to be visiting these parks during a festival, you can expect to find dozens of street food stalls selling traditional and modern renditions of classic Japanese cuisine.
A Fantastic View of Mt. Fuji
When I visited Japan, I was surprised to learn that Mt. Fuji, even though almost 100km away from the city center, can be seen from Tokyo. Yes, that’s right! Since the mountain is 3,776m (12,388 feet) tall, it can easily be seen from certain areas of Tokyo on a clear day. Good places to catch a glimpse of the mountain are from the Tokyo Tower or from Haneda Airport.
Mt. Fuji is given almost a deity-like status in Japanese culture and should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Japan. Mt. Fuji is accessible by either bus or train, and all along the way, you can expect to be greeted by nothing but stunning scenery. Personally, I feel the best months to visit Mt. Fuji are during the spring months, as this is when the Sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom, adding a whole new vibe to the scenery.
Established in 1920, this famous landmark of Tokyo was made under the rule of Emperor Meiji. It was built to enshrine his late wife and contains several pockets of lush greenery within its premises.
The Shrine has a beautiful wooden gate. Once you walk through these gates, you feel like you leave behind all the complexities of life and you enter a zone of inner peace. The temple itself features beautiful architecture and is a famous venue for many Japanese couples to have traditional weddings.
The oldest zoo in Japan is also the first zoo in Japan to have Pandas. Japan gives huge importance to protecting animals in their natural habitat. These animals include some species like, the red panda, the Sika deer, and the Ezo red fox.
Japan aims to spread awareness about these animals and help preserve their natural habitat via the Ueno Zoo. The zoo has 450 animal species housed in enclosures replicating their natural habitats. In total the zoo has about 3000 animals that call it home. The zoo is also famous for its adorable panda souvenirs.
100 Yen Shops
Japan has this really famous culture of 100 Yen stores. it is like the Japanese equivalent to a dollar store where just about everything sells for 100 Yen. It is a great experience visiting one of these stores because most of the time it is surprising to explore what trinkets one can buy for less than it costs to buy coffee these days.
These shops are dotted all around Tokyo and sell all sorts of essential goods. Everything from writing paper to stickers, mugs, and folding fans, to plush toys. For being this cheap, the novelties are of surprisingly good quality, making it complete value for money for thrifty shoppers.
Ever since my first trip to Japan, I’ve made it a habit to visit Tokyo at least once a year, and I simply love the varied experiences I’m greeted with, on each trip. For example, I was amazed to see how Halloween is celebrated with much gusto. Endless Mario Carts and the Mario Brothers hobnobbing with dainty manga-inspired dolls.