Tokyo is not your typical city. In fact, it is not even technically a city! Instead, it is a metropolis that is home to 26 different cities, 23 city wards, eight villages, five towns, and more than 12 million people. Tokyo has been the centre of Japan's government for more than 400 years and has since grown to be the biggest metropolis in the world.
Tokyo is also Japan's cultural and financial hub and is a major transportation and communication nucleus. Tokyo has the highest ratio of universities and educational establishments in Japan and consequently the city has a high percentage of student population. Tokyo was named Edo until 1868 when it was renamed Tokyo when the Japanese Imperial Family took up residence there from Kyoto.
Top Things to do in Tokyo
Chidorigafuchi (cherry blossom parade). Visitors will delight in this magnificent array of cherry blossom trees, the national tree of Japan. Walk or drive along miles of cherry tree tunnels in the springtime.
The National Science Museum. Great for children of all ages as well as mums and dads, the Science Museum offers a superb range of interactive projects for children to try out, as well as a wealth of information and explanations on each exhibit in various languages. There is a lovely basement restaurant serving ice cream and pastries.
Yoyogi Park. Situated approximately 1.5 miles from the city centre and famous for its regular food festivals, green belt spaces, ideal for children and pets to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Yoyogi Park is also one of the best places in Tokyo for people watching.
The Tokyo Sea Life Park is situated inside a professionally landscaped park at Tokyo Bay and is absolutely fantastic for kids. Once the visitor steps out of the futuristic lift system, they are met with huge tanks of sharks and tuna swimming in and out of view. This aquarium is very popular with local schoolchildren and tends to become busy so it is best to visit in the morning.
Visit Ginza, domain for the cool young set. Ginza is an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and clubs and shows Tokyo cuisine at its best.
Parks and the Great Outdoors
If you are looking for natural beauty, you cannot beat Chidorigafuchi. The area is home to amazing flowers. Each spring, you can watch the cherry blossoms bloom. For the best view, take one of the many boat rides. Chidorigafuchi is just as beautiful at night.
For a look at historic Japan, head to the Sensoji Temple. The Temple itself is the centrepiece of an ancient fable. Around it, you will find traditional buildings, shops, and souvenirs.
If you are looking for the perfect place to take a photo, check out the Rainbow Bridge. Draped across the Tokyo Bay, the Rainbow Bridge is covered in colours - and it is especially beautiful at night. If you decide to walk across the bridge, you will get great views of the entire area
Tokyo has a great number of open-air parks and all of them are beautifully kept - evidence of the Japanese people's love of horticulture. One of the best formal gardens to visit is the Imperial Palace East Gardens. These gardens are integral to the inner palace courtyard area and are open to visitors. The gardens were built on the site of the former Edo Castle, and while none of the castle building remains, the moat, entrance gates and guardhouses survive.
Shinjuku Gyoen Park is one of the largest park areas in Tokyo. A massive 58 hectares in size, the park was a private garden to the Imperial Family until 1949, when it was opened to the public. Shinjuku Gyoen Park proudly displays three distinctive garden styles: a typical Japanese garden with symmetrical flowers and teahouse, a formal 18th Century French garden, and a wide-lawned English garden. Shinjuku Gyroen Park is home to dozens of species of the indigenous cherry tree which flowers each year from March to early May, and every year this wonderful and uplifting sight is enjoyed by the Japanese and international visitors alike.
Beer and Wine
The Japanese people have been enjoying beer since the 17th Century, when Dutch settlers opened a beer hall for trade route sailors. Nowadays, the Japanese method of brewing beer is exported to other Far Eastern countries and around the world. Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country, equated to more than two-thirds of the eleven billion litres of beer consumed in 2009. Popular Japanese beers include Asahi, Kirin and Suntory.
Traditional Japanese rice wine, or sake as it is called outside Japan, is brewed by way of rice, water and white-coloured koji mould, and can be drunk either warm or cold. The alcohol percentage in rice wine can be anything between 10 and 20 percent. In addition to the main brands of rice wine, also available are locally produced rice wines called jizake. In Japan, rice wine is called nigorizake, never sake, as sake is a general term for alcohol in the Japanese language. Japanese rice wines are a popular export to countries such as America, Southeast Asia and Australia.
As the inventor of karaoke, it follows that Tokyo would abound with karaoke bars, and the city does not disappoint. Visitors are warmly welcomed to the city centre karaoke bars and are encouraged to participate in a song. There are a great variety of nightclubs to choose from if dancing is your thing. Many of the clubs are owner/operator businesses and are usually family-run. This lends to a fabulous, fun-filled family atmosphere in the club which visitors do enjoy. Guests can be assured they will receive a warm welcome and will be encouraged to dance the night away with gusto. There are also several ex-pat bars and clubs in the city centre which afford all travellers a warm welcome. Most nightclubs and restaurants employ a dress code, locally described as 'business casual'.
Another popular Japanese form of evening entertainment is the Pachinko Halls. Pachinko is a game resembling pinball machines of yesteryear and has a great following in Japan. Normally, Pachinko Halls also house video games and sell quick snack foods.
Kids and Families
A must-see has to be Tokyo's Disneyland, which is guaranteed to delight children of all ages. Disneyland day ticket passes can be purchases beforehand and this is the most economical way to visit the park. The Hello Kitty Show features a show and a boat ride through the Sanrio Kingdom. It should be mentioned that some of the features may frighten very young children but most kids over five will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Kids will love Tokyo Tower and the stunning view at the top of the tower. The Tower also features a Waxwork Museum and the Mysterious Walking Zone - a fun and quirky day out for kids of all ages.
Kids will delight at the Giant Pandas at Ueno Zoo which is located inside Ueno Park.
Older children will enjoy a trip on the Bullet Train and close-up views of the train are available by purchasing a platform ticket at the Shinkkansen Ticket Office.
Tokyo's Monkey Park features free-roaming monkeys which may be ideal for older children although young children may be frightened.
Tokyo accommodation is diverse and ranges from corporate and business conferencing centres and five-star hotels in central Tokyo, to a fine selection of three and four-star hotels in and around the central belt.
Travellers on a budget need not feel forgotten, as Tokyo has many clean and comfortable single rooms and self-catering accommodation, as well as local hostels for both males and females, which serve inexpensive meals, and provide laundry services and other facilities.
Some travellers enjoy staying with a local family, and to this end, Tokyo offers a selection of friendly, family-run guesthouses and townhouses serving inclusive home-cooked meals and laundry services as standard.
Hotels in Tokyo can be found everywhere. There exists accommodation in each city ward - which stretch out for more than 2,200 km. If you want to be right in the heart of Tokyo, look for a hotel that's northwest of Tokyo Bay. Or, if you are looking for a place that has all of the action close together, head to Shinjuku, one of the city wards. Shinjuku is home to countless hotels, stores, restaurants, and bars - and it is the home of the world's largest train station.