By Gregory – Ever wanted to visit one of the great wonders on earth? Welcome to the largest metropolitan area in the world, Tokyo!
At first glance, Tokyo looks like a familiar city in the west – modern, sophisticated, busy. Stay here twenty-four hours and you’ll soon notice it’s like being on a different planet. Tokyo is unlike anywhere you have ever been, different in so many ways.
Let’s start our journey with a visit to one of the greatest temples in the city. The Meiji Jingu shrine, located in 70 hectares of forested grounds, is where Japanese people come to rest and reflect. Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is Japan’s original religion and remains deeply rooted in Japanese life. This religion has no founder and no holy book. It’s a way of life, a life in harmony with nature. Several wooden gates mark the entrance to the grounds to the temple. The largest one stands an impressive 12 metres high. Visitors are asked to purify themselves by pouring water over their hands before approaching the main temple. Make a wish by writing a note on a wooden tablet and hanging it with the thousands of others left each day for ceremonial burning the following day.
The temple itself was constructed in 1920 to honour Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. You could say that Emperor Meiji is the founding father of modern Japan. He took the initiative to promote friendship with other countries, thus pulling Japan out of its longstanding isolation in the world. Meiji introduced Western civilization and developed technology whilst preserving the Japanese identity.
Japan and technology? That must surely ring a bell! Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, Casio, Canon, Pentax, Casio, Honda, Nintendo, Sega…. Tokyo loves tech in whatever form it takes. Which brings me to another fascinating aspect of this great city. Tokyoites live in an almost ‘virtual’ world dominated by advanced technologies and video games. Akihabara Electric Town, or Akiba to the locals is the mecca for electronics, computer, gadget, games and anime shopping. Akihabara gained fame as home to one of the first stores devoted to personal robots.
Tokyo is shopping heaven. Every major district in Tokyo hosts a shopping area. Harajuku however is the paradise for cartoon lovers and everyone that feels a little out of the mainstream. A walk down the Takeshita Street will take you right back to your teen and pop culture years. Is pop culture not your thing, or you have grown out of it? Carry on and visit Aoyama, Tokyo’s catwalk. This area is home to Japan’s leading designers. Omote-Sando road is adorned with luxury brand boutiques designed by Japanese architects, a must see for fans of contemporary architecture.
Whilst on the subject of architecture. The Tokyo Skytree is an architectural and engineering marvel. This new landmark for Tokyo opened in May 2012 as the world’s tallest tower at 634m. The tower’s design can best be described as a fusion of futuristic architecture and traditional Japanese beauty. To withstand disasters such as earthquakes, which are common in Japan, the tower has been built as a tripod – triangle shaped at the base and round at the top. Take the lift to the cylindrical observation deck at 350m or go even higher to the 450m observatory from where you can enjoy breathtaking views over Tokyo, and on a clear day the glorious Mount Fuji and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
Tokyo’s location close to The Pacific means that fish is an essential and always present element in the daily diet of Tokyoites. Fish arrives into the city through the Tsukiji Central Fish Market, the world’s largest fish market. This institution, open to the public, sells mountains of octopus, tons of seafood and pallets of giant bluefin tuna a year. It is busy and impressive, but the smell is a little bit…well how could I describe it?…Fishy! With the market located in Central Tokyo, the sushi and sashimi can’t get fresher than here. When visiting Tokyo, eating sushi is a must. You have never eaten raw fish that melts on your tongue before!
Tokyo is an amazing place, and when you think you’ve seen it all have a walk through the streets of Shibuya and try the Shibuya crossing, probably the most famous scramble crossing in the world.
In Tokyo, light and sound fills your head wherever you turn. Large video billboards display advertising high up on the towering buildings and vending machines that talk to you in a voice that sounds more at home in a computer game. Even the metro stations ring out with Nintendo-style jingles at every stop. It is all though strangely enchanting, and at night Tokyo transforms into a total assault on your senses. This is the city that never sleeps. Bars, karaoke lounges, nightclubs, traditional Japanese eateries, European, American or Asian style restaurants. At night the entire world meets in Tokyo.
This city is electrifying, literally and figuratively, but as always in Japan it is in true elegant style.