Tokyo – The World’s Eastern Capital. Here’s where global business starts its day; home of Kabuki & Pokemon, Sumo & Sega; city of safe streets, cell phones, on-time trains and sky-high prices; Godzilla’s playground, where East & West collide and coexist.
By the numbers
Population: 13,617,445 (metropolis); 37,800,000 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 40 meters / 130 feet
Time Zone: GMT +9; Japan Standard Time (JST)
Average Annual Precipitation: 153 centimetres / 60 inches
Average January Temperature: 5.2°C / 41.4°F
Average July Temperature: 25°C / 77°F
Did you know?
Tokyo is officially a metropolis and is one of the most populous cities in the world.
Tokyo is a busy city! It is home to the busiest fish market in the world, Tsukiji fish market, and the busiest rail station in the world, Shinjuku Station.
Tokyo is known for its booming economy and its always original, ever-changing culture. Those who come to visit this vast, bewildering metropolis of nine million people will likely be overwhelmed. There is so much to see and do that planning ahead of time is essential.
You could say all roads lead to Nihonbashi since all distances to and from Tokyo are measured from here. Nihonbashi, “Japan Bridge,” is centuries old, although the present Western-style structure only dates back to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Once a prominent landmark, it is today dwarfed by buildings and an overhead expressway. Mitsukoshi, Japan’s oldest department store, which still stands on its original site, and Takashimaya, another venerable shopping institution, are worth visiting here. Nihonbashi is also home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, whose museum should be a stop for anyone interested in the economic history of the industrial and high-tech powerhouse that is Japan.
This is Tokyo’s main business hub, and home to the country’s three largest banks, as well as some of its most prominent companies, including Hitachi and Mitsubishi. Flooded daily with both business people and tourists from all corners of the country, Marunouchi is a great place for touring the city’s many impressive skyscrapers, including the Shin-Marunouchi Building, which houses over 150 stores, and is the tallest building in the Chiyoda Ward. Located between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, two stunning examples of Japanese architecture, modern and ancient, visitors can begin their tour of this district the moment they step off the train.
Here you will find everything from department stores and boutiques like the famous Wako, to bookstores, bars, and restaurants that fit every taste and budget. Practically every major fashion label can be found in Ginza, and the number of upscale and high-street shopping complexes found here is truly astounding. Among the many commercial centres, Ginza Six, Itoya, and Marronnier Gate are worth a glance. Ginza is the nation’s showcase. It is to Tokyo what Fifth Avenue is to New York and Oxford Streets are to London.
On the flip-side of the coin, the Ginza is also where visitors can experience some of the most refined aspects of Japanese heritage and culture. One example of this, Kabuki-za, the city’s main Kabuki Theater since 1889, still puts on two shows daily and the vibrant Yurakucho Gado-shita Dining district is but a step away.
This is one of the most lively wards in Tokyo, and encompasses Shinjuku and Harajuku, two popular districts for young people, and major centres of activity within the city that have the usual mix of department stores, shops, cafes and restaurants. The unique monument Hachiko, which commemorates a dog’s loyalty to its master, can also be found right near Shibuya Station, where it commonly serves as a popular rendezvous point for Tokyoites. The famous Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world, with some 4 million commuters passing through daily, is also located in Shibuya.
Harajuku comes alive on weekends when the young and trendy come to see and be seen. This is where Tokyo’s fashion-forward attitude manifests itself most prominently, with no shortage of off-the-wall outfits and hairstyles to be found strutting up and down the streets, particularly Jingu Bashi just outside Harajuku Station. If you tire of fashion, however, just around the corner from the train station are the Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most beautiful and sacred shrines in Japan, and the adjoining Yoyogi Park.
By day or night, the Shinjuku district is a lively, neon-lit place with a bit of the atmosphere of New York’s Greenwich Village. Looking for a smoke-filled jazz joint? You can find it here, along with ramen noodles shops, pachinko (gambling) parlours, and such global brand stores as Tiffany and Gucci. There are also two major landmarks here: the Tokyo Tocho (Metropolitan Government Office), with its futuristic twin 48-story towers, and the huge Takashimaya Times Square department store, which is sure to sate even the most enthusiastic shopaholic.
Also located in Shibuya are the neighbourhoods of Azabu and Hiroo, where many expatriates reside in expensive high-rise buildings. It is here that some of the most sought-after properties in Tokyo can be found, as well as some of the most sacred, such as Samboji Temple, an important religious site of the Shingon Buddhist sect. There are many small, independently-owned, shops, cafes and restaurants in the area as well, like the Thrush Cafe with its upscale beer garden atmosphere. Many foreign embassies can also be found here.
This district is close to the popular Ginza. Check out the quaint yakitori barbecue chicken stalls that are set up beneath the district’s raised train tracks, enjoy a quiet moment among the flower beds of Hibiya Park, or take in the sight of the impressive Imperial Hotel, which was erected along the park by imperial edict in the 19th Century, and once featured a building designed by the eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. You could also join the many joggers who can be seen circling the 5-kilometre (3.1-mile) periphery of the Imperial Palace grounds, on what is otherwise called the Imperial Palace Jogging Course, or stick to a leisurely stroll around the Palace East Garden.
A quick subway ride from Ginza will take you here, a place world famous for its raucous nightlife. Once a sleepy village, Roppongi is crowded with discos, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants, including such trendy places as the Hard Rock Café and the massive Roppongi Hills mega-complex, which has just about everything a visitor could ask for, from stores to restaurants, and even a museum, all in one place. You can’t miss it; it’s iconic Mori Tower is 54-stories tall. Tokyo Tower, modelled on the Eiffel Tower, but taller, is also visible and easily accessible from here. Take the elevator to the observatory; you might catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from up there on a clear day. Worn out from all the sightseeing? Take a soak at the Shimizuyu, whose relaxing waters come from a natural hot spring underground.
Asakusa & Ueno
Bustling centres of city life during the Edo period (1603-1868), these two districts belong to what Tokyoites call shitamachi, or “downtown.” A must-see in Asakusa is Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, the approach to which is lined by stores featuring colourful displays of traditional crafts, while the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, which attracts a crowd of more than one million people every year on the last Sunday in July, is a spectacle you won’t want to miss.
At Ameyoko market street in Ueno, you can pick up unusual bargains ranging from dried squid to fake designer shirts. Culture buffs, however, should head for the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Western Art, both located in Ueno Park, Tokyo’s first public park, established in 1873, that is also home to the 100-year old Ueno Zoo.
Sometimes called “Little Seoul”, this district has a small section of nightlife, but it caters mostly to local yen-loaded patrons. The Kotohiragu Shrine is a good place to stop to pick up some good luck charms, while others might prefer to browse the wares for sale at the flea markets at Nogi Jinja Shrine, where you’re sure to find a good deal. The Akasaka Act Theater, featuring everything from live music to drama to dance, is also located here, and is a great place to spend an entertainment-filled evening.
Also known as Akihabara Denki Gai, (Akihabara Electric Town), this is the major hub of Otaku, or “geek,” culture. People looking to buy electronic gadgets, computer accessories and anime/manga videos, books, toys and games know to come here, where they can not only get good prices but also meet people who share their special interests. Due to a recent boom in popularity, the cramped stores of Akihabara, like Animate with its 8 sprawling floors of everything from comics to anime soundtracks, are always abuzz with hip techno-ites. Another popular store, Sofmap, offers a huge selection of consumer electronics to choose from, spread out over 7 floors, while the Nishikawa Duty Free Square specializes in assisting foreigners with their high-tech purchases.
This district is most often visited for the sweeping view from the top of Sunshine City’s 60-story tall center skyscraper, Sunshine 60, which was one of the first skyscrapers to be built in earthquake-prone Tokyo. Sunshine City itself is definitely worthy of its name; you can get lost in this huge cluster of buildings for days. Within its many walls are an indoor amusement park, movie theatre, shopping mall, museum and planetarium. There’s clearly something to keep everyone happy here.
For inexpensive, traditional Japanese accommodations, the Kimi Ryokan is located conveniently close to Sunshine City, as well as transportation and other attractions. Many authentic but inexpensive dining options can also be found in Ikekuburo.
Ikebukuro is also the home of the well-known Ankokuron-ji Temple of the Nichiren Buddhist sect. It is said that it was on this site that Nichiren himself lived in a cave for three years, and wrote his famous religious tract entitled, “Rissho Ankoku Ron,” one of his defining treatises. The temple was later established on the site in 1274.
This is the site of the Tokyo Dome, Tokyo’s modern sports arena that can accommodate up to 55,000 spectators. Baseball games are most popular here, but there are also concerts and festivals in the off-season. The Koishikawa-Korakuen Garden is attached to the Dome, offering a tranquil escape for those looking to have some peace and quiet. And as if that weren’t enough stimulus, the rest of the area in the immediate vicinity, known as Tokyo Dome City, features everything a tourist might want, from shopping and restaurants to a luxurious spa and an amusement park.
For something different in Korakuen, however, take a timeout to visit Muryozan Jukyoji Temple, where you can learn about the Shogunate Period. Many other famous religious sites are also located in the area as well, including Tennoji Temple, with its beautiful and ancient cherry trees, and Gokoku-ji, a major Buddhist Temple that dates back to 1680.
Odaiba is an ongoing oceanfront development and artificial island, served by monorail, that has come to be commonly known as “Tokyo Teleport Town” in an effort to further cement it as a symbol of Tokyo’s futuristic urban living plan. The Fuji TV Building is located here, along with one of the world’s largest ferris wheels at Toyota’s MegaWeb, several shopping malls, museums and even a full-size replica of the Statue of Liberty. Lovers of video games must check out Tokyo Joypolis, where some of the most advanced simulation games abound, while toy collectors can join over 100,000 of their fellow enthusiasts in Odaiba at the annual International Tokyo Toy Show.
Dining and drinking
Whether your budget calls for a cheap bowl of noodles, or a melt-in-your-mouth Chateaubriand for two, you are certain to find food and drink to suit your taste in Tokyo. Nepali, Persian, Greek, Cajun…anything goes. For a price, of course. Korean restaurants are represented well, second to Japanese in the capital, followed closely by Chinese, then American, French, and Thai. Tokyo also has a wide range of Indian restaurants and Italian cuisine.
The Royal Park hotel houses Kei-ka-en, which specializes in Cantonese dishes and offers many fresh, seasonal items on their menu. Several floors up, you’ll find Palazzo, which switches things up with its eclectic French cuisine and large wine selection. Also, be sure to sit near a window to take in the stunning views of Tokyo at night. Go to Genjikoh for a traditional Japanese dinner that includes tempura, shabu shabu and a nice glass of sake.
You’ll find some quality Chinese and Thai at Coca near the famous Seibu department store. If you find yourself in the mood for different kinds of sake, you have to stop at Sake No Ana, which translates into “The Sake Hole.” 130 different kinds are available for tasting here, and there is also a menu of classic Japanese dishes. Italian may seem out of place in Tokyo, but La Fontevini knows how to do it well. They specialize in fresh, local seafood, but have affordable pizza and pasta options also. Alain Ducasse’s BEIGE TOKYO also beckons with its French food that is served in a sleek, modern décor.
The American-Caribbean flair of Lahaina definitely sticks out in this city. It’s well known for the quality of its universally-comforting Cajun food. Belgo is a fine Belgian pub with over one hundred different brews to choose from and a good selection of light meals. Barbacoa embraces the spirit of Carnival with its vibrant dining room and eclectic Brazilian menu. Meals are served informally; you can pick what you’d like from a large buffet.
For a pleasing Thai meal, try Ban Kirao or Ban Thai. Soak up the earthy ambiance of AUREOLE, which serves healthy, contemporary food that will satisfy anyone looking for a macrobiotic meal, like fresh vegetable tortillas. Esperia is known for their large selection of cheeses; different kinds even decorate the dining room. You can incorporate any kind you like into one of their many fine Italian dishes. Nagani is a bar and restaurant that serves Burmese food in a jungle-themed dining room.
The Bombay Cafe combines Indian, Thai and Mexican on its eclectic menu, while Cay offers exotic food in a warmly lit atmosphere; try the lobster in coconut sauce. Aoyama Sakura is another very cozy and intimate place to go, where you can sit in a lush, dark décor and enjoy some traditional Japanese food and a nice glass of sake. For something unique, check out Jap Cho Ok, where you’ll find Korean dishes that cater to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike; try the special liquor made from ginseng for a late-night boost. The seafood and wine bar is the big draw at Underground Mr. Zoogunzoo, where you can dine in a warm, earthy atmosphere.
Phothai Down Under is just what it sounds like: Australian-Thai fusion. You can get a tasty steak here, and some nice Australian wine. The buffet during the week is also worth checking out. To the delight of many Western tourists, the Hard Rock Cafe is located here, so if you want a good hamburger and some rock and roll nostalgia, you know where to go.
Trader Vic’s specializes in flavourful Polynesian meals with colourful ingredients like coconut and bananas, and a wine list with choices that originate mostly in California. At the Rib Room, you’ll be able to find different cuts of steak cooked to perfection, like Matsuzaka Beef.
Laten is and Italian restaurant and crêperie that will give you a large portion of whatever you order, and you can top it all off with a decadent chocolate crepe. Watch your meal being prepared at Fukusuke, where the sushi is known for its freshness and quality. The delicious Okinawa-inspired food at Miyarabi is accompanied with some skilled dancers on certain nights; you can spend an entire evening here and never be bored.
If a contest were held for the World’s Most Entertaining City, Tokyo would certainly rank among the finalists. Night and day, on a shoestring budget or with a big expense account, you can find fun on every corner.
Those who enjoy sightseeing may want to begin their Tokyo experience with a view from the top. The best observation decks are located at Tokyo Skytree, the second tallest building in the world when it was completed in 2012, Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro, the Municipal Government Building in Shinjuku, the World Trade Center in Hamamatsucho, and Tokyo Tower in Shiba. Whether to view the city’s magnificent, sprawling landscape by day, or dazzling light-covered visage by night, each of these places offers a very different view of this iconic metropolis, but all are sure to have an equally stunning panorama that you won’t soon forget.
Perhaps more than any other Japanese city, Tokyo is jam-packed with famous landmarks, each of which offers unique insights into the culture, history and heart of the Japanese people. Among its most notable spots for sightseers are the seismically active island nation’s first modern skyscraper, the Kasumigaseki Building, that houses the heart of the nation’s government, and the Tokyo Dome (the so-called “Big Egg”) at Korakuen, home of the national champion Yomiuri Giants baseball team, as well as the popular Tokyo Dome City. At night, the colourfully lit Rainbow Bridge that spans Tokyo Bay is also not to be missed.
For those looking for sightseeing that’s a little more cultured, the Imperial Palace grounds are located at the very center of both the city and Japanese cultural identity, while the 100-year old Ueno Zoo to the northeast is great for kids and adults alike. And, of course, always on the southwestern horizon is the picturesque Mt. Fuji, the most iconic feature of the Japanese landscape.
Gardens & Parks
If you’re looking to get away from the city, there are many beautiful parks and gardens to visit, even in this most densely packed of all major Japanese cities. The Hama Rikyu Garden and Kiyosumi Garden are both beautifully ornate and dotted with ponds, sculpted bonsai trees and exotic flowers. Hibiya Park is located just outside Ginza, while Tokyo’s largest, Ueno Park, is home to several museums, temples and even a zoo that is popular with children. Even amidst the brightly lit districts and thoroughfares, finding a spot for quiet repose in Tokyo is not a problem.
For those who require more active entertainment, the city teems with amusement parks and recreation centres. Tokyo Disneyland is the biggest attraction to the east; Tokyo DisneySea, Universal Studios and Legoland are a few of the other major amusement and theme parks in the city that welcome visitors of all ages.
Thanks to an incredible array of museums and galleries, Tokyo can be extremely entertaining even on a rainy day. The two major museums are arguably the National Museum of Western Art and the National Museum of Japanese History. Both will keep you occupied for the day. There are also a number of small museums that specialize in unique artistic forms. From the Bicycle Culture Center and the Museum of Tin Toys, to the Kite Museum, each houses an interesting collection of pieces that will teach you something new.
Cinema & Theatre
Of course, there are cinemas all around the city, some new and many old, each different and interesting. Uplink in Shibuya, Yurakucho Subaruza in Yurakucho and Shinjuku Ward 9 show films from first-run international releases to art movies and classics.
Tokyo also has its own opera house, a Shakespearean playhouse, and many venues for dance, such as the beautiful Spiral Hall, or the more modern Session House and Space Zero. Huge concert halls like the Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo Opera City and Zepp Tokyo have a regular schedule of live acts ranging from rock bands to orchestral quartets. In the evening you can sample some unique indoor relaxation at the National Noh Theatre in Sendagaya, Kabuki-za in Ginza, the Puk Puppet Theater in Yoyogi or the Theatre Tram for contemporary dance and dramatic performances.
Sports buffs will be happy to find all their favorite pastimes here. Professional baseball, sumo, soccer and volleyball are the major spectator sports in Tokyo, and betting is allowed on horse races, cycling and speedboat racing.
Rugby and tennis, ice hockey and boxing, all have their seasons here, and many of the world’s top athletes make regular stops in Tokyo for track and field events. There are marathons for amateurs and pros alike, and locations abound for bowling, golf, billiards, darts, mah-jong and even ballroom dancing; check out the Tokyo Dome City to get started exploring the city’s many sporting options.
Additionally, what would a metropolis be without an exciting club scene to party the night away? Serving up various kinds of popular and underground music, an array of different clubs around the city are open all night on the weekends to give clubbers a healthy dose of nightlife action.
Located on the outskirts of Tokyo and certainly the most sizable in comparison, Ageha is one of the top venues for fans of the electronic genre. However, if you’re looking for something closer to the heart of the city with the same taste of music in mind, Womb is an excellent place to catch top notch DJs and sounds, while anyone who’s looking for a good hip hop club should step over to Club Harlem. Alternatively, clubs such as Muse and Hard Rock Tokyo are a good spot for all-mix selections and international crowds. Don’t like dancing the night away, when you could be playing video games until late into the night? Tokyo Joypolis in Odaiba is for you.
Considering that Tokyo covers some 1,813-square-kilometres (700-square-miles) and is home to over 12 million people (the daytime population greatly exceeds that), it is all the more remarkable that the city’s public transportation system is second to none. This can be attributed to planning (construction was concomitant with the post-war rebuilding of the city), timing (there was a certain urgency in showcasing the capital at the 1964 Olympics), and the fact that the Japanese are sticklers for order and discipline.
The center piece of Tokyo’s train system is the overland Yamanote Line, begun in 1885 and completed in 1925. The Yamanote (sometimes shortened to Yamate) comprises some 30 stops in a loop linking most of the city’s major centres: Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Tokyo, Shinagawa and Shibuya. Fast, clean, efficient, safe, and invariably on time, the Yamanote is part of Japan Railways (JR) East, a vast network of tracks spread out over eastern Japan. Because the transit system is so easy for outsiders to navigate, touring the entire city is no problem.
Shinjuku is a district with a flavour all its own, with much more to offer than just Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest train station, though this is where most any tour of the area will begin. Apart from such modern sights, however, the most remarkable of this district’s features is the variety of Buddhist temples and shrines that can be found throughout the area. One example of the plentiful shrines in the area is the Hanazono Jinja Shrine. This Inari shrine is located in the middle of a bustling commercial district and is known for its role as the site of the annual Festival of the Fowls. One temple of note in Shinjuku is the Taisoji Temple, known for its two statues of the Buddha: one to protect good children and one to scare away naughty children. But the one stop not to be missed in this district is the Shinjuku Gyoen, a former Imperial garden, now famous for its 1500 cherry blossoms trees, which paint quite the pretty picture each spring when they bloom in a dazzling array of colours. And if you’re hungry after all this touring, not to worry because Shinjuku is filled with some of the best restaurants Tokyo has to offer. Just to name a couple, New York Grill offers a high-class Manhattan-chic atmosphere and menu that will put a pleasant finish on any day, while Kuwaranka serves up local specialties for those who want to experience authentic Tokyo flavours.
Another district that is both easy to get to on Tokyo’s metro system and a great pleasure to visit is the Ueno district. There are so many things to see here that it’s hard to choose just a handful. A district within a district, Ameyoko is a great place to walk through because many people believe it’s one way to get a real taste of Tokyo. Being at the terminus of the Ueno metro line, it’s the jumping off point for those that come in from outlying areas. Another world-class sight to see is Sogakudo, Japan’s only, and one of the world’s only, concert hall pipe organs, which operates by a special compressed air mechanism, can be found. The one place in Ueno that both locals and foreigners alike come to see, however, is Ueno Park, which is home to numerous museums, shrines, and historical monuments, including the Tokyo Natinoal Museum, National Science Museum, and National Museum of Western Art, as well as a Shinobazu Pond and hundreds of beautiful cherry blossom trees. While there, you won’t want to miss the Ueno Zoo, which houses three famous pandas, a handful of Siberian Tiger kittens, and many other animals, as well as a children’s petting zoo.
Shinagawa Jinja Shrine
Every district in Tokyo has its fair share of temples, some new and some old. If you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, paying a visit to each neighbourhood’s favorite shrines and temples is a good way to start, and Shinagawa is no exception, with three such locations, as well as two other popular places of interest. The Ebara Jinja Shrine is noteworthy as being the possible cause of the Meiji Emperor taking up residence in Tokyo, as he visited the shrine just before doing so. Another Meiji period shrine in this district is the Shinagawa Jinja Shrine, which sits atop ancient lava flows from Mount Fuji and is more heavily adorned than most other Jinja shrines. Next, for history and culture visit the Tokaiji Temple. Built by a Tokugawa shogun in the 16th or 17th Century, this was a major Buddhist complex until the mid-19th Century.
Apart from temples and shrines, however, Shinagawa, like the rest of Tokyo, has much more to offer. Your first stop in this respect should be the Shinagawa Aquarium, which features an underwater glass tunnel that gives visitors a true marine experience, as well as over 300 species of marine life and multiple deep sea and shallow sea aquariums.
Yoyogi Hachimangu Shrine
The ideal place to start a tour of Shibuya is at a statue that is considered the meeting place for the neighbourhood, the Hachiko Statue, which depicts the loyal Akita of the famous Professor Ueno, who once taught at the University of Tokyo. The story is that Hachiko walked to work with his master every day, and when his master died, he continued to wait for him. From here, you can continue on to see Shibuya’s two main shrines, both of which are especially of interest to fans of history and lore. The Yoyogi Hachimangu Shrine is the site of an unearthed hut believed to have been built around 8000 BCE. A model of the hut and actual pieces of the original are still on view there. The second shrine is the Konno Hachimangu Shrine, which is notable for its cherry tree, which is reputed to be at least 900 years old, and which sprouts different numbers of petals on its blossoms.
In addition, the Shibuya district has two museums, one devoted to the arts and one devoted to riches. The Koga Memorial Museum is devoted to Masao Koga, who was a composer known for blending Western and Japanese melodies. The gardens at the Koga Museum alone are worth a visit. The other museum in Shibuya, the Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum, is devoted to treasures of the past, and is a great place to learn about Japanese Imperial history. The museum contains many artifacts from Japan’s Meiji Period, such as the Imperial Carriage and several items of clothing that are worn by the Emperor and Empress on special occasions.
Finally, top off your day in Shibuya with a romantic dinner at Tokyo’s most popular French restaurant, Kinoshita, but be prepared because reservations generally need to be made literally months in advance. Didn’t plan that far ahead? The stylish Grand Blue is another great option.
Sky Bus Tokyo (+1 81 33 215 0008/ http://www.skybus.jp/English/index.html)
Hato Bus (+1 81 33 435 6081/ http://www.hatobus.com/en/index.html)
Nippon Travel Agency (+1 310 768 0017/ http://www.ntainbound.com/domestic/bustour/index.htm)
Excel Air Service (+1 81 47 380 1111/ http://www.excel-air.com/english/cruising/index.html)
Asahi Heli (+1 81 35 569 7255/ http://www.asahi-heli.co.jp/)
Though archaeological studies have concluded that the islands of Japan were already inhabited several millenia before Christ, the history of Tokyo is relatively recent. It does not start until 1603 AD, when Tokugawa Ieyasu proclaimed himself shogun and moved the seat of government from Kyoto, home of the imperial court for nearly 1,000 years. Edo (the name of old Tokyo) began as nothing much more than a scattering of villages around Ieyasu’s castle, site of the present Imperial Palace. It was only in the latter half of the 19th century that it took on the name Tokyo, meaning “Eastern Capital,” to distinguish it from Kyoto in the west. Under Ieyasu’s rule, Japan was unified for the first time, putting an end to bloody wars between rival factions. In 1615, Ieyasu’s armies annihilated the Toyotomi clan, the last opposition to his absolute power. Ieyasu’s successors kept a tight grip on the government, enacting the closed-door policy in 1639, which imposed a total ban on contact with the outside world. From then on, until the advent of Commodore Perry in 1853, Japan remained isolated, save for closely monitored transactions with Chinese and Dutch traders.
Ironically, the Tokugawas’ one-party rule led to political stability. Following its turbulent past, the country settled down to a welcome period of peace and prosperity. Edo grew and flourished in what is known as the Edo Period (1603-1867), and by the mid-18th century it was inhabited by over a million people, topping both London and Paris. Though the imperial court continued to reside in Kyoto, Edo gradually evolved into a bustling center of commerce and industry.
Ieyasu introduced a four-tiered class system, topped by the samurai or warrior class, which greatly reduced the influence of the old nobility. Nurtured by the patronage of the rich merchant class, new popular art forms emerged, such as kabuki and ukiyo-e. Comparable to the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe, this shift from the court and aristocracy enabled the citizens to express themselves in art. It is said that popular Japanese culture has its roots in the Edo Period.
It is amazing that the Tokugawa shogunate retained the reigns of government virtually unopposed over such a long period of time, but corruption and incompetence finally led to its disintegration. Also, in the latter half of the 19th century, Western powers were increasingly calling on Japan to open its doors to trade. By the time the “black ships” of Commodore Mathew Perry steamed into Uraga in 1853, the greatly weakened Tokugawa shogunate could muster very little resistance.
This marked a crucial turning point in Japanese history. Not only did it open Japan to external trade, but it also ushered in the country’s rapid Westernization. Following the resignation of the last Tokugawa shogun, the whole country, headed by Emperor Meiji, plunged into a frantic drive to catch up with the West. With full powers restored to the emperor, the court was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, making it the official capital of the country.
Even today vestiges of the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) can still be found in Tokyo. The present education system is based on reforms introduced during this period, and today many school children still wear uniforms patterned after European models from the late 19th century. Both the Diet (Parliament) and Bank of Japan were established during this period, and today these two institutions continue to dictate the political and financial affairs of the country. Even baseball, the most popular sport in Japan today, was introduced during this time.
Though greatly devastated by fires following the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and again during the Second World War (1939-1945), Tokyo was soon on its feet again, spearheading what has been called Japan’s postwar economic miracle. Under the occupation forces commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, the city witnessed the writing of a new constitution that introduced the separation of religion and state, universal suffrage, human rights and the renouncement of war. With this new political and social order, Tokyoites, and the Japanese as a whole, focused all their energies on economic recovery and development. The result is the Tokyo of today: a cosmopolitan city that is truly the country’s political, economic and cultural center, and which plays a leading role in global affairs. No small feat for a place that was once just a scattering of small feudal villages!
Getting there and getting around
From the Airport
There are a number of transit services that provide transportation from Narita to Tokyo and destinations throughout Japan.
Airport Limousine Bus (+81 336 65 7220 / http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/e/)
Keisei Bus (+81 354 38 8511 / http://www.keiseibus.co.jp)
Odakyu Bus (+81 42 734 5211 / http://www.odakyubus.co.jp/)
Tokyu Bus (+81 44 988 7979 / http://www.tokyubus.co.jp/
Be advised that services available in English are limited and visitors should plan accordingly.
Car Rental Companies
Hertz has 18 locations throughout the greater Tokyo area. See http://www.hertz.com/ for locations, pricing, and online reservations.
National Car Rental also has 18 locations throughout the greater Tokyo Area. See http://www.nationalcar.com/ for locations, pricing, and online reservations.
Narita Airport can be reached by JR East line on the Narita Express (+81 334 23 0111 / http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/) or Keisei Railways (http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.html). These companies also provide transportation to and from Tokyo Station.
JR Bus Kanto (http://www.jrbuskanto.co.jp/), Keisei Bus (+81 354 38 8511 / http://www.keiseibus.co.jp/), Odakyu Bus (+81 42 734 5211 / http://www.odakyubus.co.jp/), Tokyu Bus (+81 44 988 7979 / http://www.tokyubus.co.jp/), and a number of other local providers offer transportation to destinations throughout Japan.
The Higashi Kanto Expressway, the Shin-Kuko Expressway, and Route 295 are easily accessible to Narita Airport.
Tokyo is serviced by an efficient and comprehensive subway system. The Tokyo Metro (+81 338 37 7111 / http://www.tokyometro.go.jp/e/index.html) offers a variety of fare tickets including the TTA Subway One-day open ticket.
Comprehensive bus services are also available in the city, but they aren’t the most ideal choice for short-term visitors.
Taxis offer superb service and are readily available, but make for an expensive affair.