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Japan Travel Guide

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Edited by: Declan Murphy
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Along with Paris, New York and London, Tokyo is one of the great cities of the modern world and can offer you something new or different to see, do and enjoy every day. With a population of about 14 million, supposedly rising to nearly 20 million on weekdays when commuters from Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki & Kanagawa arrive for work. In Tokyo it is possible to find almost everything under the sun - and underground or on the many smoggy days - quite a few things that aren't.

Tokyo has many faces. The high-rise Shinjuku & Shiodome contrast with the wooden temple structures of Asakusa, chic neighbourhoods in Akasaka & Harajuku or the old tenement houses of the handful of remaining shitamachi areas. Tokyo is often called a city of the future - but it is not. Anyone who considers it to be so has probably seen only an unrepresentative fraction of metropolitan Tokyo. Like most large cities, Tokyo is simply a mix of the future, the past, and the on-going grind of the realities of the present. It includes flashing neon lit boulevards and dim alleyways, narrow winding streets and elevated motorways, one of the busiest train & subway systems in the world and some of the most congested streets. There is great nightlife, and also incredible boredom - even busy nightlife areas shut down surprisingly early since the public transport system (including all trains) closes around midnight.

Wedding photos at Meiji Jingu
Wedding photos at Meiji Jingu
Tokyo is Japan's capital, and while it has effectively been the seat of central government since not long after Tokugawa Ieyasu moved to Edo (the old name of Tokyo) in 1590, the official capital remained Kyoto - as it was from 794 for over 1000 years until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. With the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the so called "restoration" of imperial rule, the young emperor Meiji was relocated to the Tokugawa's vast Chiyoda Castle (also known as Edo Castle, now called the Imperial Palace) and the city officially renamed Tokyo (literally Eastern Capital). Compared to older but smaller cities such as Nara, Kyoto, or even Okazaki, historical sites can be hard to find. Tokyo neé Edo has been rebuilt many times, not only after the fire-bombings in WWII but also because Tokyo is prone to earthquakes.

The city is located on a major seismic fault line and experiences many tremors. Repeat conflagrations labelled "flowers of Edo", fires caused by seismic shocks have always been a problem here. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 measured 7.9 on the Richter scale killing approximately 140,000 residents and leaving 1,900,000 homeless or refugees (by contrast the 1995 Kobe earthquake measured 7.2 and resulted in 6,000 deaths and widespread damage). Unfortunately another major quake is predicted. Despite the attrition over the years, there are still historic buildings to see such as the Toshogu shrine in Ueno Koen and in the Imperial palace, some of the guardhouses from the Tokugawa era. On the whole though, Tokyo's main attractions are thoroughly contemporary destinations such as Odaiba, Akihabara, the various museums in Ueno Park and elsewhere, plus interesting workplaces such as the Tsukiji fish markets and Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Any traveller interested in experiencing Japan should take the time out to visit Tokyo. It is expensive to live in, but with careful budgeting a visitor can usually enjoy much of what Tokyo has to offer. Regular trains and flights connect Tokyo with the rest of the country, though these will rapidly eat into any budget. One disadvantage of Tokyo is that it is a difficult and expensive base for visiting central and western Japan - train fares and travel time to Kyoto, Nara, and destinations such as Nachi in Wakayama and other UNESCO World Heritage sites are a considerable barrier.

Tokyo also has many universities and colleges including some of the most famous universities in Asia such as Todai, Keio and Waseda universities, with excellent facilities. It is also one of the three major financial centres of the world, and has the headquarters of some of the world's biggest and most powerful corporations and financial institutions as well as regional offices for almost every major company operating in the Asia-Pacific area. Tokyo is big, busy, slightly expensive, a fun place to visit, a slightly frustrating place to learn Japanese in, and since it is often where the jobs are - home to about 80% of Japan's foreign residents.

The weather is similar to the rest of eastern Honshu - hot and sticky in the summer, and cold in winter. The air in summer is particularly unpleasant, as heavy traffic, the concrete creates a heat island effect and the vast numbers of car exhausts and airconditioner exhaust fans can make the center of the city distinctly unpleasant in July and August during the height of summer. Despite vast improvements, especially since the 1970's when many Tokyoites wore surgical masks to protect themselves from the smog, air quality is still a problem. On days where there are photochemical smog warnings the Tokyo Metropolitan Government advises people to "restrict outdoor activities" while the warning is in effect. If you are an asthmatic or have respiratory problems, just wear a mask - wearing a mask is fairly common in Japan and people wear them whenever they have a cold.

  • City Highlights

    Akihabara, Ameyoko Arcade, Aoyama, Asakusa, Benten Do, Ginza, Hama Rikyu Garden, Harajuku, Ikebukuro, Imperial Palace, Kabuki-cho, Kanda, Meiji Jingu, Odaiba, Omotesando, Shinjuku, Shitamachi Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo Station, Toshogu, Tsukiji, Ueno-koen, Yasukuni Jinja

  • Region Highlights

    Chiba: DisneySea, Disneyland, Narita-san
    Kanagawa: Enoshima, Yokohama, Kamakura, Shonan Beaches, Hakone
    Shizuoka: Mt Fuji
    Ibaraki: Nikko, Mashiko

  • Things to see and do - Shopping, Entertainment, Accommodation, Museums and Galleries,

    Tours - Japan Discovery visits Tokyo.
    Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

    Photographs and contributions

    View from Rainbow Bridge
    View from Rainbow Bridge
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