Whether you are indulging in quiet reflection as you stroll the manicured grounds of the Imperial Palace, being dazzled by the incessant neon flashes that distinguish the electronics mecca of Akhibara, rubbing a sore neck from craning your head upwards at the futuristic skyscrapers of Shinjuku, or trying hard not to obviously stare at the distinctive ‘fashionistas’ that frequent Shibuya, Tokyo is unlike any city you have been to before.
To say Tokyo is simply huge is quite the understatement. To put this into context, Tokyo is home to some 12 million people in the centre alone, but this swells to around 35 million once you consider the outer suburbs that have grown so much as to consume whole other cities. For reference, the nearby Yokohama – which is classed as part of the Tokyo Metropolis – is actually the second-largest city in Japan!
Big, bold and bright, Tokyo may be large but it remains a profoundly functional city that prides itself on its traditions and values. It goes a long way to explaining why you will still find quaint Shinto shrines dotted amidst glossy behemoths, as well delicately tended and gloriously colourful gardens tucked into otherwise ordinary neighbourhoods.
Downtown Shinjuku is where you will find some of the world’s largest and most architecturally striking skyscrapers alongside one another. It is also home to much of Tokyo’s foremost shopping areas, with the huge department stores of Isetan and Odakyu catering for every possible product you can image… not to mention some innovations that you won’t have even considered!
Additionally, Shinjuku is where Tokyo’s luxurious hotels are situated, as well as a sizeable portion of its nightlife, the latter an experience in itself, whether you’re downing a pint of Guinness with the locals in an Irish-themed pub, mingling with a cocktail at a more intimate venue or partying the night away in one of the many fluorescent-infused clubs requesting your attendance.
If Shinjuku is about participating, then the neighbouring ward of Shibuya is ideal for spectating… Renowned as the birthplace of the unique fashion movement of Harajuku (named after the area from which it specifically originated), you needn’t go far in Shibuya to find youngsters showcasing a variety of striking styles, whether it is clothes, hair or accessories. Bright, colourful and truly distinctive, the notorious Harajuku Girls and boys indulging in cosplay (costume play) are utterly captivating.
For a change of pace, head to the ward of Chiyoda, location for Japan’s much vaunted Imperial Palace, residence of the Emperor of Japan. Much like New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the Imperial Palace, with its beautifully tended gardens, are a refreshing respite the city centre. Entry to the inner palace area is restricted, but as a venue to find some peace and witness spiritualism at one of the many Shinto shrines, it is an imperative visit, particularly when the renowned Cherry Blossoms begin flourishing.
If the Imperial Palace is where to find Tokyo at its most traditional, then heading over to Akihabara, or ‘Electric City’ as it is known, is a vision of the city at its most futuristic. Best viewed at night, Akihabara is a riot of light and colour from the outside, while department stores offer floor-upon-floor of consumer electronics and accessories inside. Step outside and countless street-side markets vie for attention with everything from chargers, to fluorescent lighting, to nifty gizmos.
Head on over to Shitamachi, otherwise known as ‘Old Tokyo’, where the buildings are smaller (save for the new mammoth Sky Tree) and the history is more pronounced, such as the beautiful Senso-Ji Temple in Taito and Sumida, where you can indulge in some spectacular sumo wrestling in the majestically designed Ryogoku Kokugikan arena.
Indeed, Japanese culture is such that you can’t help but get involved, whether it is purchasing one of the many manga/anime comics, paying upfront at an arcade and getting your fill of Super Mario, karaoke and pachinko (an obsessively popular – and addictive – ‘pinball’ game), or accessorising yourself with something straight out of ‘Harajuku’.
Plan ahead and appealing day-trips to Tokyo Disney Resort and Tokyo Dome City amusement park are ideal for those travelling with children, while there is the thrill of riding the famous Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’ should you head over to Yokohama, a city that is steadily emerging from Tokyo’s shadow as an up-and-coming and trendy destination.
Underpinned by its wonderfully unique culture, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that Tokyo is unlike any other city in the world, with its effortless blend of forward-thinking and tradition. If you haven’t experienced it yet, there really has never been a better time...
Commonly referred to as the world's largest city, only when you have a vantage point high above the rooftops can you even begin to comprehend the sheer size and scale of terrific Tokyo.
It means even repeated visits to this spectacular metropolis will ensure you are never short of things to do on a Tokyo holiday, with every corner, every train stop and every building promising to conceal a new treasure waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveller.
Come to Tokyo to soak up the atmosphere, be dazzled by neon lights, get swept up in relentless activity, interact with smiling locals, cheer on at a sumo bout, have your food raw or cooked, spend hours exploring just one shopping superstore, stroll idyllic palace gardens and immerse yourself in a truly unique culture. In fact, if there is one thing you shouldn't do in Tokyo, it's simply stand still...
Key Highlights of Tokyo
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Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, is one of the most exciting, modern and epic cities in the world. Japan is bustling, busy and full of things to do and see – whether you want to explore old relics and temples – or the huge towering skyscrapers of the city.
When packing for a trip to Japan, take a variety of clothing suitable for a city-break. So, comfortable shoes, thin layers (that can double up and keep you warm, if necessary) and your camera of course!
Tokyo is home to everything you’ll ever want of need, so don’t worry about packing shampoo or toiletries - you can find everything once you arrive, and it’ll save on the luggage space.
The weather in Tokyo changes with the season, meaning you can choose to time your visit with whichever weather your prefer. The hottest months in Tokyo are July, August and September – during which, the temperature averages out at 27°C.
Remember - the city can often feel more humid than out in the countryside though, so packing thin, airy clothing will make you feel much cooler.
June and September have the highest rainfall in Tokyo, but you can expect the least rain during December and January – when the city also experiences its coolest temperatures.
Be wowed by the dazzling experience of spending Christmas and New Year in Tokyo, as the entire city literally shines with thousands of illuminated lights which will undoubtedly warm up your heart on the not-so-chilly December nights. With an endless array of special events, festivals and quirky things to do on offer, a visit to Japan’s capital in December will be unforgettable. Though Christmas is not recognized formally as a national holiday in Japan, the country more than pulls its weight with its festive offerings. Here are some suggestions of some of the most interesting ways to spend your holiday in Tokyo around December.
Feeling homesick? Avoid it by enjoying one of the traditional European Christmas markets that call the city home. Filled with everything from gifts to confectionery and other, often German-style foods, you'll definitely not go home on an empty stomach! The biggest Christmas markets are held just under the Tokyo Sky Tree on the outside deck of Solamachi shopping mall and between Yokohama’s Red Brick Houses. While you’re there,head up to the observation deck to enjoy the breathtaking night view of Christmas Tokyo.
Japan doesn’t traditionally celebrate Christmas so if you're looking for a traditional Western dinner you might want to try the high end hotels. But if really want to sink your teeth into a true Japanese Christmas meal the only place to be is KFC. Confused? Story goes that back in the '70s foreigners and expats couldn’t find turkey elsewhere during the festive season. KFC saw a golden opportunity and launched a successful marketing campaign in the country and a new tradition was born. The Japanese now even place their order months in advance to make sure they can get a table or takeaway and enjoy the special Christmas menu that includes a full sized turkey, wine and cake.
What is Christmas without the colourfully-lit shopping centres full of people rushing to grab that last minute gift or to enjoy the seasonal sales? Once a year, just after New Year’s, prices plummet and people flock to the department stores to get the must-have deals. Buy unique souvenirs, enjoy seasonal meals and drinks, listen to choir performances, or simply walk around the lavishly decorated “cities within cities”! You can also encounter the fukubukuro - a mystery or lucky bag sold at many stores which can feature a special gift worth way more than the price you pay - but you won't know until you look inside (and have paid), so good luck!
For many people in Tokyo, this period is an important time for traditions. So, get in the spirit and visit the Buddhist temple before the midnight of New Year’s Eve to watch or participate in ringing the Joya no Kane (New Year's Eve Bells) to ward off spirits; then venture to a Shinto shrine after midnight for Hatsumode, first prayers of the New Year. People of all ages flock to shrines within the first five days of the year to make their special wishes and prayers. Before you head off, make sure you dress up in something warm as temperatures take a plunge after midnight!
Check out our Blog to see some of the amazing experiences Tokyo has to offer
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