Tokyo is the capital of Japan and has a population of nearly 12 million people, with around 35 million living in the greater metropolitan area. It is the center of the world’s most populous metropolitan area. It is a megacity - the Greater Tokyo Area is, at the moment, world’s largest city. It begun as a small fishing village of Edo 400 years ago and has developed into a business, education, culture and government metropolis. The city brings together the most modern architecture and wonders of technology with old tradition and distinct cultural heritage.
Tokyo is located on the southeast of the Honshu Island. The city has not one center but many: the official center is Nihombashi, from where all distances in Japan are measured. The visitors usually go to centers like Ginza (luxurious shopping and entertainment district), Shinjuku (transit center), Shibuya (trendy shopping district), Ikebukuro (hotel and shopping center), Ueno (cultural events) or Asakusa (historical district). The geographical center is marked by the Imperial Palaces. It can also be said that Tokyo’s center is the area that lies within the JR Yamanote line.
The city suffered several disasters: the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, the WW II bombing, the economic ‘bubble burst’ of 1989, and the 1995 nerve gas attack. Today, however, Tokyo is back on its feet and is a modern metropolis, with excellent restaurants, latest fashion, trendy nightclubs and inexhaustible shopping potential. The city is buzzing day and night. Traffic is dense and the streets are full of people all the time. It also offers many museums where the largest amount of Japanese art in the world is kept. In addition, Tokyo has one of the lowest crime rates and is one of the world’s safest cities.
Tokyo has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summer lasts from June to August and is usually hot and stifling. The highest temperatures and worst humidity occurs in August. Winters are cold with some snow. Sometimes the temperatures can drop below zero. Autumn (September to early November) and spring (April to May) are pleasant and mild and also the best time to visit. However, in autumn Tokyo is normally swept by strong winds and torrential rain caused by typhoons. On average the warmest month is August, which is also the wettest. The coolest is January.
January average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall February average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 61 mm rainfall March average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 99.1 mm rainfall April average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 124.5 mm rainfall May average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 137.2 mm rainfall June average temperature 22 deg Celsius, 185.4 mm rainfall July average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 127 mm rainfall August average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 147.3 mm rainfall September average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 180.3 mm rainfall October average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 165.1 mm rainfall November average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 88.9 mm rainfall December average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall
Tokyo has two major airports. Narita handles international destinations and Haneda the domestic lines.
Narita, formally known as New Tokyo International Airport, is an excellent airport located 80 km northeast of Tokyo. It handles all international carriers with the exception of China Airlines. Transfer to the city can take from 50 minutes to up to two hours. The train station is available directly under the terminal. In addition there are many taxis available. Airport Limousine buses to Tokyo have ticket counters directly across the customs area exits at both terminals.
Haneda airport is 16 km southwest of Tokyo and handles all domestic traffic.
The two airports are connected by a regular bus service.
Bus: There are two services: the Airport Limousine Bus and the Airport Express Bus. Their route takes you to Tokyo’s largest and most expensive hotels in various areas of the city. If you are not staying at one of these hotels you can still take the bus to the nearest stop and take a taxi from there. Buses run every hour until 11:00 pm. The ride takes approximately 70 – 90 minutes but in heavy traffic it can take up to two hours. The buses leave from platforms outside the terminal exits. Tickets are obtainable at the booths near the customs exit in the arrivals area. Taxi: The price of the transfer between the airport and the city is excruciating and thus rarely used. Train: The Keisei Skyliner trains leave from Narita Airport Train Station to the Keisei-Ueno Eki every 30 – 40 minutes. The ride takes 57 minutes and services operate between 7:49 am until 9:58 pm. If you are traveling to destinations other than the Ueno area you will have to change onto the Tokyo subway system or the Japa Railways loop line at Ueno station, which is in the nearby Keisei-Ueno Eki station. Japanese Railway have trains at both terminals. Narita Limited Express is comfortable and fast. The trains reach Tokyo center in less than an hour. Services operate between 7:43 am until 9:43 pm. Reserve a seat in advance as the train fills quickly.
The train system in Tokyo is extensive, efficient and safe. There are several railways systems operating in Tokyo. The JR Yamanote line runs in a loop around central Tokyo and is marked in green, the JR Cho in orange and Sobu in yellow. The latter two run side by side in the middle of the Yamanote loop.
Tokyo Subway is an extensive network with frequent trains operated by two companies. The Tokyo Metro has nine lines: Ginza , Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Yurakucho New Line, Hanzomon and Namboku lines.
The other company is Toei and it operates the Asakusa, Mita, Shinjuku, and Oedo lines.
The prepaid Passnet card is effective for both companies but if you buy single tickets, a special transfer ticket will be required to change between the Metro and Toei lines.
Most train lines operate between 5:00 am and 1:00 am. Trains run every three minutes during the rush hour periods and approximately every ten minutes otherwise.
Buses are much more difficult to use, they can be slow because of the frequent traffic jams and the services stop operating quite early. In comparison with the train, buses run less frequently and take fewer passengers and are in general quite inconvenient for travelers because the system is much more complicated and because of the lack of information in English.
Taxis are extremely expensive and traffic is often congested in Tokyo. Public transportation is a better option but if you miss the last train, be prepared to have a printout of where you want to go, or have it written on paper in Japanese, as most drivers do not speak English. Note that the meter runs 30% faster between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am.
The taxi doors open and close automatically and are operated automatically by the driver so do not open or close the doors by yourself.
Water Bus ferries are operated by the Tokyo Cruise Ship Company along the Sumida River and in Tokyo Bay. The ferries feature a recorded tour announced in English and Japanese. It is a pleasant and calm way to see the Tokyo waterfront areas.
Walking in certain districts is the only way to get around (for example the areas of Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ueno). However, walking between the districts is not recommended as it is easy to get lost.
Phone (Mt. Fuji visitor Center): 555 72 0259 Location: 100 km southwest of Tokyo Access: Fujikyuko bus from Tokyo’s JR Shinjuku station to Kawagutiko station. From Kawagutiko, take the bus to Fuji Gogome
Mount Fuji (3776 meters) is Japan's highest mountain. It is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1708, and is regarded as nearly perfect volcano shape. It has been worshipped as a sacred mountain since ancient times and is very popular with the public and especially artists. On clear days it can be seen all the way from Tokyo and Yokohama.
The official climbing season is July and August when the mountain is usually without snow and the weather is relatively mild. Access is easy due to good public transport and there are numerous huts open for reststops. During this seaseon the ascent to the mountain is not hard even for less experienced hikers.
The mountain is very popular and the crowds are biggest during the school holidays (from July 20 to the end of August) and during the Obon Week in mid August when it becomes really crowded.
If you want to avoid the largest crowds consider hiking on weekdays in early July. However, in the beginning of the season the weather tends to be less stable.
Relax in one of Japanese public baths (sento) or hot springs (onsen) where you can forget all about a stressful day in the big metropolis. Laqua in Tokyo Dome City is one such spa.
The entertainment center, Tokyo Dome City, offers numerous activities. There is an amusement park if you want your adrenaline pumping. For those who want to relax and be papmered there is a spa center. In addition there are numerous restaurants offering almost all kinds of cuisine, and a big shopping mall for those who want to spend a little – or a lot.
You can go on a boat ride on the Sumida River from Asakusa. It is a relaxing and leisurely way to see the city.
Tokyo has many high buildings offering magnificent panoramas. The best known, but also the most expensive, is Tokyo Tower. Another option is Tokyo Town Hall (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building) with platforms on its twin towers from where you can enjoy a free panorama of the city. The best is probably Tokyo’s World Trade Center that offers a view over the city and, because it is by the water, of the waterfront.
At night the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba offers a beautiful vista of the city with the added bonus that its walkways are free.
ODAIBA AND THE FERRIS WHEEL
You can take the Yurikamome elevated train that takes you across the baybridge to the modern, space-age district of Odaiba with its futuristic buildings, shopping malls and electric cars. It is also the site of the world’s largest ferris-wheel.
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku Access: Asakusa station (subway) Phone: +81 (0)3 3844 1575 Open: daily 6:30 am – 5:00 pm
Asakusa shrine is a Shinto shrine next to the Sensoji Temple dedicated to the three men who established the Sensoji. According to the legend two brothers caught a golden statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) in their fishing nets. The third one was the village headman who built the shrine. The statue is still kept in Sensoji today, but it is never shown to the public. Asakusa is the most famous shrine in Tokyo and it hosts many festivals, including the Sanja Festival in May.
IMPERIAL PALACE & GARDENS
Address: Kokyo Gaien, Chiyoda-ku Open: outer grounds - daily, 24 hours / inner grounds - January 2, December 23, 9:30 am – 3:00 pm Access: Tokyo Station (subway)
The Imperial Palace has been the official residence of Japan’s Emperor and Empress since 1868 when Tokyo became the political and imperial capital. It is located on the site of Edo Castle, once the seat of shogun Tokugawa. The interior grounds are closed to the public. The only time it is possible to enter the area is on January 2 (New Year) and December 23 (Emperor Heisei’s birthday ) when the Imperial family make public appearances from the balcony.
The palace is off-limits but visitors can enjoy a stroll in the East Garden, which provides a much-needed open space to the city. They are especially beautiful in spring when cherry trees are in blossom.
THE MEIJI JINGU SHRINE
Address: 1-1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku Access: Harajuku Station Phone: +81 (0)3 3379 5511 Web: www.meijijingu.or.jp Open: spring, autumn: 5:40 am – 5:20 pm / summer: 4:00 am – 5:00 pm
Meiji Jingu Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Under their rule Japan’s long isolation from the outside world came to an end. The shrine was completed in 1920 but was destroyed in the bombing at the end of WW II. What we see today is a reconstruction but an authentic one, made of original Japanese materials. The shrine is a perfect example of Shinto architecture and is one of the most sacred and picturesque shrines in Japan.
The complex consists of three areas, the inner precinct or Naien, the outer precinct or Gaien and the Meiji Memorial Hall. The outer area is covered in 72 hectares of forest, planted from trees donated from all over Japan at the time of the establishment of the shrine. There are over 120,000 trees of 365 different species to be found there. The area is used by the locals for recreation or relaxation. The complex also includes the Imperial Treasury House which displays various mementos of the Emperor and Empress.
Address: Soto-Kanda 1, 3 & 4-chome, Chiyoda-ku Access: Akihabara Station (subway) Open: various, usually 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Akihabara is the ‘Electric Town’ of Tokyo. Over 250 shops are squeezed into a small area selling all sorts of electronic appliances, computer hardware and software, and the like. You can visit showrooms of various major manufacturers. There are also duty-free shops and numerous events awaiting the customer. The area has been selling electronics since 1940s and has now become the world’s largest and best for modern gadgetry.
TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM
Address: 13-9 Ueno Koen Web: www.tnm.go.jp Phone: +81 (0)3 3822 1111 Access: Ueno Station Open: Tuesday – Sunday 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, closed on Mondays.
The Tokyo National Museum is located in the Metropolitan Imperial Gift Park, and is home to the largest collection of Japanese art in the world. There are at least 4,000 artifacts on display at any time and the museum operates on a rotating basis so there is always something new to see. The artifacts on display range from ancient kimonos, precious pottery, sculptures, prints, screens, rolls, paintings, woodblock prints, netsuke and archeological finds. The museum consists of five buildings, each with numerous galleries so plan enough time for the visit.
Tokyo has thousands of restaurants offering almost any cuisine in the world. However, there are not that many Tokyo specialties as one would imagine. In fact, it is quite difficult to find a ‘typical’ Tokyo eatery. Your best bet would be one of the akachochin shops, marked by big red paper lanterns. There you will find good food at reasonable prices.
For budget meals go to one of the bento shops where you can get take-out lunches. The food they offer is mostly good, basic food at reasonable prices. You can also find noodle shops, curry shops and bakeries everywhere.
There are all fast food chains represented here, including Japanese. Try MOS burger, Freshness Burger and Lotteria to taste the local fast food. Local fast food companies like Matsuya and Yoshinoya offer tasty food and good value for your money. You can find dishes like a bowl of meat, rice and vegetables, sometimes with an added egg.
Budget eateries are easy to find around larger train and subway stations where you can choose from fast food places, to chain coffeeshops, to yakitori places, to Italian restaurants.
Tokyo has one of the largest fish markets in the world. Here you can find and buy anything that swims in the sea. Your visit to this amazing market can be topped off with breakfast in one of the many sushi bars found in the alleys around the market.
The cherry blossom is Japan’s national flower and a symbol of Japan. The festival marks the beginning of spring when the beautiful pink and white blossoms bloom. The festival draws huge crowds of people watching cherry blossoms (hanami). The festival is usually celebrated under the cherry trees with picnics, singing and dancing. Many are dressed in costumes and masks.
The Japanese simply love New Year. Families usually spend this time together and it is also a time when people visit temples and shrines to pray for health, happiness, and prosperity. At midnight the Buddhist temples ring bells to drive away evil human passions.
Date: third Friday in May Location: area of Asakusa Shrine
Sanja Matsuri is Tokyo’s biggest traditional festival out of the ‘Three Grand Festivals’ – along with the Kanda Festival and Sanno Festival. It is celebrated in Asakusa Shrine. The festival lasts three days and draws huge masses of people who gather for glorious processions of portable shrines, dancing and drinking. The processions are held in honor of the three deities of the Asakusa Shrine.
Date: January, May, September Location: Kokugikan
Sumo tournaments are called Hon-basho and occur from the second to the fourth Sunday in January, May, and September, lasting for 15 days. Sumo is one of Japan’s most popular sports, submerged in ceremony, history and legend. It has over 70 different forms, throws and tricks. The sheer force of men in combat is breathtaking. Book tickets well in advance as they sell out quickly.
SUMIDA RIVER FESTIVAL
Date: July Location: Sumida River
Summer in Japan is marked by numerous fireworks festivals – hanabi. The Sumida River Festival is the biggest such event and is also among the most important cultural events of Tokyo. The sky is lit up by spectacular multicolored flashes watched by millions of people who gather on the bank of the river or watch from boats.
Kabuki-za Theater is Tokyo’s best known theater where kabuki plays are performed. Performances are held throughout the year except in August. The plays are usually quite long but it is also possible to buy tickets only for one act, which can be bought 20 minutes prior to each act. Kabuki is one of the most unique experiences in the world of theatre. The word ‘kabuki’ means: song, dance, and technique. The plays are performed by male actors only.
Address: Ginza Tokyo Web: http://www.shochiku.co.jp/play/kabukiza/theater / Phone: 03-3541-3131 Open: times vary, but generally: 11:00 am – 3:45 pm (matinee) / 4:30 pm – 9:00 pm (evening show)
BARS & PUBS
Tokyo ’s night scene is lively. There are numerous bars, clubs and discos of various prices and atmospheres. The best known areas are Ginza, Kabuki-cho and Roppongi.
Most office-workers, expatriates and students go out to the Western-style bars mostly found in Roppongi; or the Japanese bars called nomi-ya and yakitori-ya.
Geisha bars feature highly trained women entertainers who play traditional Japanese instruments, sing and hold witty conversations. Such bars are extremely expensive and usually off-limits to outsiders.
The archeological evidence shows that the region where Tokyo lies today was already inhabited in the Stone Age. Tokyo began as a little fishing village called Edo and was established in the 12 th century. In the second half of the 16 th century several military strategists rose to power but Tokugawa Ieyasu proved the most skillful. By 1600 he had won an important battle at Sekigahara and by 1603 he had defeated all of his rivals and became the shogun of the entire country. The village of Edo became the seat of the shogunate government. The emperor was left in Kyoto; intact but powerless.
Under Ieyasu Japan was united for the first time and bloody battles between rival factions ended. His successors continued to rule the country for over 250 years; until 1867. The Edo period was a time of peace and prosperity with flourishing art and culture. Ieyasu’s successors enacted the closed-door policy in 1639 and Japan was cut off from the rest of the world. All contact with the outside world was banned, except for commercial connections with Chinese and Dutch traders but the business was closely monitored. This radical policy remained in effect for almost three centuries. This however did not stop Edo from thriving. In fact, by the early 17 th century it was the largest city in the world and had over 1 million inhabitants.
The isolation lasted until the mid 19 th century when Edo started opening up to trade with foreign countries. In 1853 four ships of the US Navy under the command of Commodore Mathew Perry anchored in Tokyo bay and demanded that Japan be opened to foreign trade.
The arrival of the Westerners ushered in social revolution and progress. Ieyasu’s power was diminished and he was forced to hand over rule to Emperor Meiji. The feudal era was coming to an end. The Emperor moved the imperial seat from Kyoto to Edo in 1868 and renamed it Tokyo, the ‘Eastern Capital’, as opposed to Kyoto, the ‘Western Capital’. The Meiji period followed (1868 - 1911) during which Japan transformed from a feudal agricultural society into an industrial nation.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
Tokyo started changing rapidly: its architecture, design, fashion, department stores and food were all modeled on Western style.
The city suffered two major disasters in the first half of the 20 th century. In 1923 a huge earthquake hit Tokyo measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, followed by a tsunami wave. This resulted in over 100,000 dead and one third of the city in ruins. Tokyo was hit by another disaster during WW II when incendiary bombs destroyed half of the city and claimed another 100,000 victims. The extent of destruction caused by the bombs can be compared to that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945.
After the war ended the American occupation forces came to Japan and stayed there until 1952. The occupation forces were commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. Under this influence Japan adopted a new democratic constitution in 1946, the emperor was divested of his claim to divinity, and religion and state were separated. A parliamentary system of government was set up. After the introduction of new social and political order, the Japanese focused on economic recovery and development. Tokyo was completely rebuilt and got a chance to show it off to the world when the city hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics.
In 1965 Tokyo became the largest city in the world. In the 1970s the new airport Narita was built, and the city’s metropolitan population grew to 11 million. Tokyo was growing rapidly. In 1980s Tokyo’s Stock Market boomed and Japan became the world’s strongest trading nation. However, in 1989 the economy collapsed and a major recession followed, making the 1990s ‘a lost decade’.
Tokyo experienced another crisis in 1995 when a crowded commuter train was attacked with nerve gas. 5,000 people were injured and 12 killed.
Today Tokyo is a modern cosmopolitan city, and a cultural, economic and political center of the country.
It is impolite to blow your nose in public and it is also impolite to eat while walking or standing in the street. Exceptions are eating at a counter (ramen) or eating an ice cream.
Do not point your finger, feet or chopsticks at people as it is considered rude.
Do not enter shops, cafes and department stores with a wet umbrella. They usually provide a plastic cover for the dripping umbrella.
Never interrupt a person when they are talking or thinking about an answer. Do not stare directly into people’s eyes.
Japanese usually do not express their opinion. Usually they have a private opinion which they share only with close friends or relatives, and a public opinion which is used in most situations, so as not to disturb the group harmony.
Do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a rice bowl because this means that someone had died. Do not pass food with your chopsticks for the same reason.
Noodles are supposed to be slurped. Bowls and plates should be brought to the mouth as opposed to bending your head towards it.
When drinking with others it is impolite to pour your own drink. Instead you should pour your companion’s drink and wait until they pour yours. If you do not want a refill do not empty your glass.
Always take off your shoes when entering a Japanese home, a Japanese inn, or temple. The same applies for some schools.
When you are invited into a Japanese home bring a gift from your country. This can be either a small souvenir or some local food.
When it comes to giving gifts avoid the number four. It is pronounced the same as ‘death’. Nowadays, however, this superstition is becoming less important.
Tokyo is a very safe city, as is Japan in general. Street crime is rare and is on the decrease, even at night. However, you should still use common sense as you would anywhere else. Take the usual precautions against pick-pockets on crowded trains, in crowded tourist areas, at festivals and in department stores. It is also a good idea to avoid certain places at night like dark alleys and bar districts. The red light district can feel a little repulsive but it is rarely dangerous. Beware, however, that some bars in this area charge exorbitant prices.
Women who travel alone should avoid hitchhiking. Tokyo is a very safe city for women travelers although there are some molesters called ‘chikan’ who operate on crowded trains in rush hours and touch women. In case you are being molested shout Chikan! And push away the offending hand.
Earthquakes are frequent in Japan. Most are harmless but do follow the safety procedures. Do not put anything heavy in high places, especially above your bed. If an earthquake surprises you while indoors turn off all gas burners and candles, watch out for falling objects and seek shelter under a table or in a doorway. If you are outdoors stay away from brick and glass walls and vending machines and watch out for falling objects.
Emergency phone numbers: Police: 110 Fire & Ambulance: 11 9 Tokyo English Life Line: 03-5774-0992 (daily 9:00 am – 11:00 pm)
There are numerous police boxes (kobans) to be found everywhere. It is a good place to ask for directions if you get lost or to report a stolen object if you carry travel insurance.
Tokyo has four seasons. Summer (June, July and August) is hot and muggy, especially August. Winter is cold, especially January.
The best time to visit is spring and autumn. Spring begins in March and is especially beautiful because of the blossoming trees. It is also the most comfortable period to travel in Japan. However, it is also the peak of domestic tourist season. Autumn lasts from mid September to late November and is perhaps an even better time to travel than spring. The temperatures are pleasant and it is much less crowded and the autumn colors of the trees are beautiful.
Tokyo is a crowded city so you should be prepared for additional crowds during the New Year celebration and during the Golden Week national holiday.