Toyko, the capital city of Japan, is the world’s most populous metropolis. No other city typifies Japan, both old and new, as Tokyo does. With a unique blend of traditional culture and passion for everything new, the city’s sumo wrestling quarter and historic district of Asakusa are only a stone’s throw from the blinding neon lights of the bustling Shinjuku district. Our Tokyo Bucket List highlights some of the top destinations in the city that is forever reaching into the future.
Shinjuku is one of the 23 wards of Tokyo but the name commonly refers to the large entertainment, business and shopping area around Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest railway station. Within Shinjuku are various districts. The Skyscraper District is home to many of Tokyo’s tallest buildings, including the twin towers of the Metropolitan Government Office, whose observation decks are open to the public for free. Kabukicho, named after Kabuki theatre, is Japan’s largest and wildest red light district, however it is also Tokyo’s liveliest entertainment district. Shinjuku is known for being the busy ward, full of everything that makes Toyko tick.
The Meiji-Jingū (meaning Imperial Shrine) is the most important shinto shrine in Tokyo. It is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. The shrine was constructed in 1920, destroyed in WWII air-raids and rebuilt with private donations in 1958. Unlike may of Japan’s postwar reconstructions, Meiji-Jingū is said to have retained its authentic feel. The shrine is located in an evergreen forest that covers 170 acres and the entrance is found at the end of a wide gravelled road, under a huge wooden torii (gate) that was constructed from a 1,500-year-old Taiwanese cyprus. The site consists of two precincts; the inner precinct that concentrates on the shrine, and the outer precinct that contains a museum displaying history and artefacts from the Meiji era.
The Shibuya Crossing, also known as the ‘Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble’ or simply ‘The Scramble’, is said to be the world’s busiest intersection. Situated in front of Shibuya Station, which handles more than two million passengers every day, at peak times over 1,000 people cross at every light change. It is said to be most impressive after dark on Friday and Saturday nights.
The sprawling Ueno Kōen (Ueno Park) is an urban refuge with wooden pathways that wind past centuries-old temples and shrines, which were built in the 1600s to navigate evil spirits away from the northeast. In March and April each year, more than 1,000 cherry trees that line the landscape come into bloom and the park becomes a prime hamami (cherry-blossom viewing) location, with picnic parties lining the paths. The park is also home to Shinobazu Pond (actually three ponds), which is an annual stop for thousands of migrating birds.
Built in the year 628 and dedicated to Kannon, the Buddist goddess of mercy, Senso-ji is known as Tokyo’s most sacred and spectacular temple, as well as being its oldest and most visited. The original building was bombed and destroyed during WWII, but the rebuilt temple has since served as a symbol of peace and rebirth to the Japanese people. Through the gate, protected by Fūjin (the god of wind) and Raijin (the god of thunder) is Nakamise-dōri, the temple precinct’s shopping centre.
At 634 metres tall, Toyko Sky Tree is the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world. Its main function is broadcasting, the building also hosts a large mall, restaurant, aquarium and planetarium. There are two observation decks; the lower Tembō deck at 350 metres high, and the Tembō Galleria at 450 metres high. The elevator between the two decks has a glass front, allowing visitors to see the city below shrinking as they race towards the top of the building.
During the Edo period almost all commerce came to Tokyo via its waterways and riverboats were the primary means of transportation. The centuries-old traditions has been preserved by water-buses that run along the Sumida River. The Sumida-gawa is the most popular line, running from Asakusa to Toyko Bay, passing under 12 differently coloured bridges along the way and offering a little-seen view of Toyko.
Kabuki-za Theatre is Japan’s most famous theatre for Kabuki, the mysterious and classical Japanese dance-drama. It opened in 1889 and the building is one of the oldest surviving examples of the use of Western building materials and techniques in the traditional Japanese style. A full Kabuki performance comprises of three or four acts (usually from different plays) over an afternoon or an evening with long intervals between acts, however tickets for single acts can also be purchased.
Odaiba is a collection of artificial islands in Tokyo Bay that was initially built for defence purposes in the 1850s. Today, it is a popular spot for families and teenagers, packed with giant malls and entertainments centres, restaurants, theme parks and futuristic architecture. The island can be reached by taking the driverless Yurikamome train from Shambashi Station, which crosses the Rainbow Bridge.
Ryōgoku, known as ‘Sumo Town’ is home to the National Sumo Stadium, Japan’s largest sumo stadium with a capacity of 10,000 spectators. The national stadium has been in Ryōguko since 1945, however the building dates back from 1985. Every January, May and September, 15-day-long tournaments take place, filled with ceremonies and rituals that are as interesting at the wrestling matches themselves. Around the area are many beya (sumo stables where the wrestlers live and train) and it is not unusual to see men walking the streets in yukata (light cotton kimonos) and geta (wooden sandals).
Japan’s highest and most famous peak is open for climbing from the 1st of July to the 31st of August but its natural beauty can be appreciated year-round, in fact, the mountain is often wreathed in clouds during the warm summer months and visibility is best in the winter. The 5th station, the gateway to climbing Mount Fuji, can be reached by car or coach and is said to provide the best views of Mount Fuji. One-day tours also take visitors to the top of Mt Komagatake on the Komagatake Ropeway (aerial tram) to enjoy views of Lake Ashi, the Owakudani volcanic valley and Mt Fuji.
Hakone is a hilly, hot-spring town that offers world-class art museums, traditional inns and spectacular mountain scenery, crowned by Mount Fuiji. It is a popular resort with a range of cultural and natural attractions, scattered across the collapsed remains of a huge volcano, which was active until 3,000-4,000 years ago. Hakone can be visited as part of a day-trip from Tokyo along with Mount Fuiji or as an overnight stay.
- DK Eyewitness Travel: Japan
- Wanderlust Pocket Guides – Best of: Japan
- Lonely Planet: Japan
- Images: Pixabay