Japan's electrifying capital
From glittering skyscrapers to rickety ramen shacks, Tokyo is a dazzling mix of the ultra modern and traditional.
Tokyo, meaning Eastern capital, grew from a small fishing village named Edo in the twelfth century to become the capital of Japan and one of the world’s most populous cities. It’s hugeness means that it has its own special definition as both a prefecture and a city, encompassing 23 special wards that are governed as mini-cities, as well as surrounding areas including the volcanic Izu islands and Ogasawara archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
Importantly, the city of Tokyo is home for more than 13 million people, each inextricably linked to the soaring skyscrapers and residential rabbit warrens, elevated highways and tree-lined hills, subterranean bars and fast-food restaurants. The city and its inhabitants live and breathe together. Exploring Tokyo you really get to feel its unique aliveness.
Each of Tokyo’s 23 wards has a distinct character of its own; there’s the bright lights of central business and entertainment district Shinjuku just a couple of metro stops away from the Harajuku hub of kawaii culture and outlandish fashion. Eastern districts like Asakusa and Ueno give off a more retro vibe, preserving their historic temples, museums and tiny izakaya hidden among pre-war winding alleyways. Then, there’s the super-sleek business centre of Tokyo, which gets a dose of royal zen from the Imperial Palace nearby, or the nightlife centre of cosmopolitan Roppongi where expats like to party but which also has a thriving art scene.
The list of things to do is endless – it’s a place where the old cliche ‘there’s something for everyone’ actually rings true.
Apart from all of the sights, there’s also a jam-packed calendar of events and festivals throughout the year, across the city, so make sure to check what’s on during your stay.
It’s hard to imagine where Tokyo ends but make it beyond the urban border and you’ll reach the subtropical islands of Izu and Ogasawara. Overnight ferries depart from the central Takeshiba port terminal near Hamamatsucho to the Tokyo islands, the furthest of which can take up to 26 hours to reach. This is where you’ll find the Tokyo of a post-apocalyptic future; seemingly uninhabited forested islands, pure white beaches and never-seen-before reefs that offer camping, hiking, surfing, snorkelling, whale-watching and more.