When I was living in Japan, Tokyo was an easy weekend trip for me. I adore the charming Japanese countryside, but I am really a city girl at heart, and there was always something about the energy of Tokyo that drew me back time and again. For many first-time visitors to Japan, Tokyo is the starting point of a grand adventure. There are simply so many things to discover about Tokyo! Bearing in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some snapshots of the most loved neighbourhoods for first-time visitors to Tokyo.
Right in front of Shibuya station is the famous Shibuya Crossing. People flock to Shibuya everyday to witness the madness of this scramble crossing. When the lights turn green, pedestrians spill across the road, participating in a spontaneous mass dance, streaming in all directions. It is good fun to participate, and also a sight to behold if you watch from above where you can witness the whole spectacle from a bird’s-eye view.
The other iconic representation of Shibuya would be the statue of Hachikō, an Akita dog with extraordinary loyalty to his owner. Hachikō would wait at Shibuya station everyday to greet his owner when he arrived home from work, until his owner passed away unexpectedly at work and did not make it home to Hachikō. Hachikō continued to go to Shibuya station everyday for over nine years, patiently awaiting his owner’s return until his own death in 1935. Hachikō’s statue is not large, but attracts many who admire his devotion and loyalty.
Just five minutes away from Shibuya is Shinjuku, another major shopping district. Shinjuku has the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which offers free access to its observation deck, some 200 metres above the ground. It affords visitors sweeping views of Tokyo city both by day and by night.
Then, restore your senses in urban green space at Shinjuku Gyo-en, a beautifully landscaped national garden. It is especially beautiful during spring and autumn, when there are cherry blossoms and red autumn leaves.
You also can’t miss Kabukichō, a famous night entertainment district. Here, we have plenty of excellent bars, eateries, karaokes, outlandish themed restaurants, and of course a full selection of adult entertainment as well if you so please.
Harajuku is the place to visit for a taste of Japanese youth culture. Takeshita-dōri is popping with stylish fashion shops, the latest fad in street snacks and trendy cafes. Tucked behind Takeshita-dōri are also some local artisanal boutiques and second-hand vintage clothing stores.
There is also Omotesando, a lovely shopping avenue with many designer boutiques and shops, housing major international retailers and high-end brands.
For full fledged luxury, head to Ginza, the most glitzy, upmarket shopping district in Tokyo. Leading Japanese department stores, international luxury brands, art galleries and fine dining restaurants are all present here. Tokyo has a high concentration of Michelin starred restaurants, and serious foodies can consider splashing out on a heavenly dining experience. Many of these restaurants have lunch deals as well, which can be really value-for-money given the superb quality of food and service.
Sometimes, the roads are closed to traffic on weekends, an event known as Ginza Pedestrian Paradise. It is a most pleasurable way to enjoy Ginza, walking on the usually busy roads while sipping a latte or even lounging on the chairs set up in the middle of the road!
Maid cafes, manga, anime- these come to mind when describing Akihabara. It is famous as the centre of otaku (an obsession with computers, anime and manga) culture. Here, you can buy all sorts of electronics, video games, anime, manga, as well as other paraphernalia related to anime and manga series characters.
Even for non-gamers, Akihabara is fascinating for learning a little about a very specific genre of popular culture in Japan. Also, Tokyo is big on themed cafes, so if you are in Akihabara, why not drop by the Gundam cafe for giant robot themed food?
One of my favourite areas to visit in Tokyo, Asakusa has retained the charming vibe of Tokyo from an older era. The most recognisable attraction of Asakusa is Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple, and the Kaminarimon red gates and giant lantern. Right by Sensō-ji is Nakamise shopping street where you can purchase souvenirs, and also try traditional snacks like Taiyaki (Fish-shaped cake filled with sweet custard or red bean paste), Senbei (Rice Cracker), or Melon Pan (sweet bread with a crispy sugary top).
With so much to do in Tokyo, it is no easy choice when trying to decide where to go with limited time. The good news is that Tokyo’s excellent, efficient public transport systems allows visitors to get from place to place quickly. These places listed are a very quick snapshot of the most iconic representations of Tokyo that most first-time visitors will not want to miss out on! I hope it gives a quick overview of the character of some of the most loved neighbourhoods in Tokyo. But as with all travel experiences, often, the best places are the ones you stumble upon or discover for yourself. So, happy exploring!
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