Originally a small fishing port, Tokyo was chosen by the ruling Shogun Tokugawa leyasu to become the capital and the centre for his government in the 17th century. The port developed at a rapid pace and 100 years later, Tokyo became the biggest city in the world with one million inhabitants (at this time, Paris, the largest European city, had only half this number). Since then, this vast conurbation has expanded even further into the Kanto Plain which holds another 13.5 million inhabitants.
We cannot treat the Japanese capital the same way we would a European one. It is useless to try and define its centre, as it does not exist. At least, it is not visible to the naked eye.
The Japanese Emperor's Palace is tucked away behind bars and barriers, and only the gardens are accessible to the public. This is a building which has been preserved in its original state - which can be said for very few historic monuments these days. This souvenir of the 'great days' became even more important in Japan after disasters such as the great fire in 1923 and the atomic bombs dropped by the Americans during the Second World War.
After the war, Tokyo developed at an even faster pace than before - erecting endless skyscrapers surrounding residential areas and multiplying the number of neon advertisements. Whether you find this architecture beautiful or not, the city embodies the idea of modern fast paced life.
Nevertheless, Tokyo has managed to retain a certain feeling of 'village life' with its 23 districts, each composed of numerous sub-districts and each with its own unique character. Among the most popular districts is Electric Town. Here you will find: Akihabara, which is known for being a symbol of geek culture and which attracts fans of manga and electronic music; Shibuya, the district of the Tokyo youth and well known for its crazy fashions; Ueno, which provides an insight into popular Tokyo culture and Shinjuku where, come the end of the working day, you will find hordes of businessmen.
When to go?
A trip to Tokyo is worth the visit at any time of year, but spring - with its beautiful cherry trees - is a particularly great time to plan your holiday. Spring also marks the return to warmer temperatures, a national event which is celebrated and reported on daily by most main television channels. Why not share the moment with the Japanese and join them for a picnic in one of the city's public parks - such as those of Ueno or Asukayama - whilst watching the newly formed petals and leaves blowing in the wind. Unfortunately, being the best time to travel, spring is also the most expensive time to visit the city.
However, an almost equally good time to travel is autumn. As with spring, nature marks the transition between seasons with style and beauty. The vegetation catches fire, with tree leaves - particularly those of the maple tree - turning beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow, whilst the climate remains mild.
On the other hand, summer is generally not seen as a good time to travel to Japan due to the extreme heat and humidity. However, it is nothing intolerable and the Tokyo has no shortage of air conditioned cafes and restaurants to cool down in. Moreover, it is during summer that you will see the Japanese reveal their festive spirit and their love for gatherings. Several celebrations take place in the city, and notably from the end of July onwards firework displays are put on (the display on the Sumida riverbanks normally draws crowds of around 100,000 people).
Winter in Japan is cold and dry, with particularly blue skies…when it isn't snowing that is!
Where to stay?
Contrary to popular belief, a trip to Japan will not leave you feeling drained and short on sleep. The capital has several accommodation options: chain hotel skyscrapers; traditional Japanese youth hostels, also known as ryokans; mini pods or 'capsule hotels' providing a quality and unpretentious service close to railway stations for those travellers just searching for a place to crash for the night; or minshukus - the equivalent of the western world's guest houses (meals usually included). Of course, there are also plenty of hostels and cheap dormitories - providing backpacker havens in the city.
How to get around?
This clearly depends on your budget. Public transport is expensive in the city, as the majority of the metro lines are run by private companies. However, higher prices also transmit certain benefits to travellers, such as spotless metro stations and service punctuality. There are few alternatives for those tourists wanting to avoid or minimize these travelling costs; unlike certain other metro services where buying a weekly pass will often save you a little money. However, there are several options when buying a day pass - the best of which is the Tokyo Free Ticket, which allows tourists unlimited travel on all the metro lines for 1580 yen (around £12). Tokyo is really a city for pedestrians. Therefore, make the most of the chance to do a little exercise whilst exploring the city on foot.
* Take a trip to a sento (public bath) or an onsen (hot spring hotel).
* Head to a rooftop bar for an incredible view over the city at night.
* Go shopping in Shibuya and Ginza. Shibuya is the area to which the city's youth flocks to seek out the latest fashion trends. In Ginza, luxury brands compete for custom and original or quirky architecture.
* Ride the Yamanote train line from end to end (takes approximately one hour) to see the diversity of Tokyo's neighbourhoods and learn a little on the way about Tokyo fashion.
* Make some time to get lost in the city, rich in impromptu discoveries.
* Spend at least one day in Kamakura, an hour from Tokyo by the sea.
* The skyscrapers of Shinjuku are particularly impressive, towering over their surroundings, as an example of the world's most modern architecture.
* Head to the Shinjuku district at night to see it lit up in all its glory as well as a quick visit to the neon-lit district of Kabukicho - an area famous for its restaurants, bars and...sex shops.
* The Tokyo Skytree (the tallest building in the city, completed in 2012) in the district of Asakusa is a must-see. At 634m tall, it's a spectacular feat to behold.
* For an area that buzzes 24/7 and provides great nightlife, Shibuya is the place to go. It's also home to one of the most famous crossroads in the world, the Shibuya Crossing.
* The Senso-ji Temple and the Asakusa neighbourhood east of the city are both great areas to visit if you're in search of traditional Tokyo.
* Be sure to catch a performance at the Kabuki theatre, it is simply magical.
* The Edo-Tokyo Museum, home to weird and wonderful examples of futuristic architecture and a surprisingly educational experience.
* Take a little currency with you to last for several days. ATMs do not accept any foreign credit cards and you can rarely pay on card in shops.
* Remove your shoes when you enter someone's home or when you see others do.
* The Japanese often remove their shoes to enter significant or important buildings so remember to ask (and choose your socks wisely...).
* When eating with chopsticks, don't stick them into a bowl of rice, this is only ever done at funerals with the rice that is put on the altar.
* If your hotel has a public bath, remember to take a shower before. The bath is only for relaxing, not washing.
* In some areas, it is forbidden to smoke in the street except in areas provided for this purpose. Take a look around before you light up.
The Japanese are crazy about food! And Japanese cuisine is something of a national obsession (constant programs on television, numerous blogs detailing the correct methods and ingredients...). Take a look in shops and restaurants to find something you fancy - sushi, kebabs, noodles, curry... the options are endless!
Japan is a shopper's paradise. It's amazing the sheer quantity of toys, gadgets, goodies and plain useless objects that the Japanese produce. You'll have filled your bag before you even realise it and be struggling somewhat when you come to pack your suitcase.
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