Best Things to Do in Tokyo
Japan (language: Japanese, currency: yen ¥) or otherwise known as the Land of the Rising Sun, consists of an archipelago of 6,852 islands east of Asia in the Pacific Ocean. His government consists of a constitutional monarchy headed by Akihito the present Emperor and Shinzō Abe as Prime Minister. No doubt this country has one of the richest and most diverse cultures thanks to the fact that for many centuries it was completely isolated from the rest of the world, and it is my favorite destination to experience a great cultural shock.
Tokyo is the capital of Japan, located in the center-east of the island of Honshu and in its metropolitan area live more than 36 million inhabitants, which makes it the largest urban agglomeration in the world.
Tokyo is usually the most visited city in Japan as it is the center of Japan's politics, economy, education, communication and popular culture. It also has two international airports, Narita and Haneda Airport which help access the city from anywhere in the world.
As I mentioned above, the richness of Japan is that they have an unique culture with many different things to the rest of the world that will surprise you and before sharing the places in Tokyo and the surrounding area that I recommend, I will share the most curious things of Tokyo and Japan.
1. Only Japanese: It may surprise you that as a first-world country you do not use English in your day to day, you will only find signs in English at airports and part of the transportation system, but the vast majority of signage is in Japanese only. It is rare to find restaurants with menu in English and not anyone on the street speaks it. There is a film that showed very well this point called "lost in translation". This is a very important thing to consider since I highly recommend you to hire an internet service during your stay, or watch out for free Wi-Fi zones since Tokyo is the city where I have most used Google Maps to move from a point to another or to verify places according to their names in Japanese (like tip in all metro stations and 7-eleven, as well as public buses you will have free wi-fi).
2. Methodical Culture: Absolutely everything has a defined process or method in Japan from greeting, or enter a room, or even make use of public transport, etc ... As a tourist is very common to not know about it, but being tourist or not speaking the language does not forgive to not to follow the processes or methods of the day to day. Everywhere I travel I try to learn beforehand to say hello, good morning or afternoon or evening, thank you, please etc in the local language; In Japan this is an obligation since cordiality when greeting or saying goodbye is very important. You should also know that when entering houses or some places, you are asked not to use shoes and change to sandals, or even barefoot (usually they have an area where shoes are placed and not always visible), at the airport and certain Zones of trains or metros you must follow the lines that correspond to where you are going you can not walk where you want or many trains have assigned seats and even assigned rows before boarding the train that you must respect and follow. My secret to not be wrong, observe and learn from the locals, as a second option to ask but the reality is that many times you will not find who can give you an answer in English.
4. Education and Service: The Japanese are not only very methodical but also very educated; If you ever ask for an address on the street, even with the difficulty of language if they do not speak English, the person usually does not retreat until they help you find a solution by asking maybe another person or even routing you; If someone walks really near you in the street, even if he has not touched you, he will immediately tell you "sumimasen" (sorry); they will also try to give you preference when crossing a door or climbing a ladder. And as far as service is undoubtedly the best in the world, when referring to the customer, they use the suffix "sama", which they use for a prayer towards a kami (god); Both when you enter a restaurant or shop and when you leave you will receive greetings with bows; In bars is very common to make friendship with the bar masters or those who prepare your cocktail; I had the experience of being escorted to the train station by a waiter on one occasion and all this without seeking a tip as they do not exist in Japan and is seen as an insult.
5. Punctuality: The Japanese are very, very punctual. They plan everything with much anticipation and always come to an appointment or meeting a little earlier than agreed. Everything in Japan is governed by punctuality: the arrival of buses, the arrival of the subway, office hours, etc. Being late for an appointment with a Japanese can be a great offense. Even trains if they were delayed for more than 5 minutes, one of the workers will apologize personally and give you a certificate of delay to take you to your work or appointment.
6. Toilets: The Japanese culture tends to improve things that already exist and the clear example of this is what they have done with the toilets. From the moment you walk into the airport and almost anywhere you will find toilets that look more like a spaceship, with many buttons and gadgets. They are an experience that you should not miss: when you enter the bathroom it lift the lid alone, the edge where you sit is hot and you can regulate its temperature, there is a button that activates a stream of hot water that cleans you, in the most advanced you can select between several types of cleaning options, there is also an option for women, when finished, there is another "drying" button that launches hot air; Some, when you wake up they detect it and pull them by themselves from the chain. And the last more modern ones that I found had ambient music or you can put your playlist of spotify so that you do not hear any unwanted sound, of course they release aroma too. With so much technology it is common to see that these toilets are of local brands of technology like Toshiba or Panasonic, although the most famous are those of the mark Toto.
7. Vending machines: It is very common to find in the street vending machines with drinks that surely you have never seen. Hopefully, they will have some normal things, such as soft drinks or known juices, but I have also seen machines where you can buy hot ramen (soup), green tea, bean drinks, soy drinks, etc. Something I love is that there are both hot and cold cans. In other words, if you boy a coffee t will come in a hot can. You can also find curious drinks like my favorite: peach cider. I recommend buying the rarest drink you find just to experience. By the way you could say the Japanese are too fond of the vending machines as they can find many other things like food, umbrellas, even underwear used by women.
8. Video Games, Cosplay and Urban Tribes: The Japanese are really otakus (geeks). In Tokyo you can find whole neighborhoods like Akihabara with buildings of up to seven floors dedicated to video games, mangas, anime, figures, etc. If you walk through Yoyogi for example or Odaiba do not be surprised to find people doing cosplay, disguised as manga characters or video games. There are also numerous urban tribes such as lolitas (women disguised as girls), kogal (tanned and blonde-tinted hair), goths, rockabillies (with tupes and leather jackets), or the maid (maidens) who serve you in cafes, etc.
9. Work and more work: Japan has for several decades been one of the great world economic powers and is currently the third largest economy according to its GDP. It is also the fourth largest exporter and importer of goods. This success is largely due to their work-related culture, although to some extent it has also become disproportionate.
By law you should work 40 hours a week, but the Japanese do a lot of weekly overtime as each extra hour equals the salary of a normal hour and a half, and companies pay them all. Many work 70 to 80 hours a week, Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world so money is more than welcome for a family's expenses, there is also a culture that imposes social and business interests before personal interest.
When I arrived in Tokyo it was midnight and I was surprised to see the subway full of people who seemed to leave work but also of others who seemed to go to work, it is common for companies to perform the "settai" that are meetings in the early morning and that include meetings with clients after official hours, or even companies that do not close if they provide global services for example.
And it is that they work literally to death, it is a tragedy so common that has been coined a special term for it: "karoshi". Government estimates estimate 10,000 karoshi deaths per year, caused by heart attacks or brain haemorrhages after too many hours of work. The fear of failure and family disappointment, causes Japan to record numerous cases of depressions and suicides that although they have a root derived from the overload of work, are not counted as karoshi.
This was the only aspect that I did not like Japanese culture since even when meeting Japanese on my trip whenever I wanted to meet again with them, they couldn't do it because of work.
10. Relationships and Fetish: Relationships and marriage are a complicated issue in Japan and especially in Tokyo. We have already seen that the Japanese work hard and often have little time for themselves. They also have a very practical and traditional marriage concept, the ¨wa¨ (established common thought) that requires young women to marry and have children soon or the opposite of a certain age it is no longer possible to find a partner, in addition the samples of affection in public or relations that are not practical like the casual ones are considered acts of bad taste. All this together has generated many single people in the new generations and that lead us to see various businesses around this.
The Kyabakura are bars where girls or hostess known as kyabajō (literally cabaret girl) give you company and have tasks such as lighting cigars, serving drinks, karaoke, giving conversation, etc. They may flirt with clients, but, as in the case of geishas, this will never lead to sexual intercourse. The host club, is the male equivalent of the kyabakuras, where customers will be women, and workers will be boys. In short these are bars where you pay to talk with a person of the other sex, something difficult to believe or not very common in other parts of the world.
Prostitution is illegal in Japan but that does not prevent the existence of places where it is practiced, there are "touching bars" with different rules, some only let touch the upper body, but there are also those that allow to touch more without reaching the sexual act. There are soaplands and places of erotic massages. There are also "image clubs" where women disguise themselves as your favorite character or favorite fantasy and live with you or at a certain price even have relationships with you. Many prostitution businesses or clubs are controlled by the Japanese or Nigerian mafias and are more of a scam so be very careful.
If you were to find a couple the only places you can attend for relations are the Love Hotels, their cost is by time and usually have very curious settings.
Another industry that has grown enormously is that of auto pleasure with huge sales of pornography, sex toys, panties worn by women, realistic dolls, etc. There are just places where you can pay to spend time with real women dolls, or as I mentioned earlier women's lingerie vending machines.
Japan in love and sex is a place where you mix the traditional with the bizarre.
As for tourism, the best way to enjoy Tokyo is by districts:
Asukasa is a famous district for the Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo, this is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Kannon bodhisattva. During World War II the temple was bombed and destroyed, its reconstruction was symbol of the peace and rebirth of the Japanese town. To access the temple you cross a street where local and religious products are sold. Next to the temple is the Shinto shrine of Asakusa.
In this district you will find several places to eat with a great choice of restaurants with menu in English, I recommend without a doubt the Crav Miso in Izakaya restuarant.
It is also in this district that you can appreciate one of the most famous sights or skyline of the city. Adjacent to the Sumida River you can see the Azumabashi district and the Tokyo Skytree.
Chiyoda is the district where the largest number of government institutions are located, including the Imperial Palace or Kōkyo along with the residence of the Japanese Emperor, the Japanese Supreme Court and several embassies.
The Imperial Palace or Kokyo is located in the ancient fortress of Edo Castle, has several gardens and buildings, which are not all open to the public, but the gardens of the east wing can usually be visited by tourists. The interior of the palace is open to the public only two days each year, the Emperor's birthday and New Year's Day (January 2).
In this district is also the central train station of Tokyo from where many of the trains leave to the outskirts of Tokyo even bullet trains.
In the district of Sumida is the Tokyo Skytree, formerly known as the New Tokyo Tower, this is a broadcasting tower, restaurant and gazer; from here you can see the best view of Tokyo and its sunsets.
It is also in this district where we can find the Ryōgoku Kokugikan, also known as Sumo Hall, this is an arena with capacity for 13,000 people. It is mainly used for tournaments of sumo combats and there are held the hatsu-basho (New Year) tournaments in January, natsu-basho (summer) in May, and aki-basho (autumn) in September. There is also a sumo museum there. If you are fortunate enough to attend Tokyo during a sumo tournament, I highly recommend buying tickets in advance.
Shibuya is mainly a commercial and entertainment district, has several fashion malls and the famous Shibuya Crossing which is considered the most crowded crossing in the world and along with its huge screens is also considered Tokyo Time Square.
In this district we also find one of the most beautiful and peaceful parks in Tokyo, Yoyogi Park that houses inside the Meiji Shrine. I must say that when entering this park it feels a great peace and spirituality that characterizes Japanese culture and not for nothing is the home of the Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
At the train station in Shibuya we can find a statue of Hachikō a dog of the Akita race, considered the most faithful dog, Hachiko accompanied his owner Professor Eisaburō Ueno to the station to say goodbye there every day when his owner went to work in the University of Tokyo, and at the end of the day returned to the station to receive it. This routine continued without interruption until May 21, 1925, when Professor Ueno suffered a cardiac arrest while giving his classes and died. That afternoon Hachikō ran to the station to await the arrival of his master's train, and did not return that night to his house. He stayed in the same place in front of the station for the next 9 years of his life.
Shinjuku is Tokyo's most commercial and administrative district. In it, there is its famous train station, which is the most used in the world, (an average of 3 million people use the station daily). It has the largest skyscrapers in Tokyo and many companies have cedes in their offices.
You can find in this district the National Garden Shinjuku Gyoen which is a favorite in Tokyo for its beauty.
Ginza y Roppongi
Ginza is famous for the concentration of department stores, boutiques and restaurants. The most expensive brands in the world have shops in this area, as well as restaurants and cafes of the best local chefs.
Roppongi is famous for hosting the rich Roppongi Hills area and for having an active nightlife popular with locals and foreigners alike. The area contains numerous restaurants, bars, night clubs, cabarets and other leisure establishments. In the past, Roppongi had a reputation with a high presence of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and although it still exerts some influence they have been disappearing of the zone. What is beware is that there are many bars and cabarets run by Nigerians mafia, so although it is the area with the biggest party and where you will surely find bars and karaoke, Be very careful.
In these areas you can find many capsule hotels, an experience you should try.
Akihabara is a commercial area where most of the businesses are dedicated to the sale of electronic products, computers, accessories and gadgets; As well as audiovisual entertainment such as anime, manga and video games. If you want to see people dancing on video game machines or using virtual reality, find the rarest anime products or costumes, mini spy cameras or personal robots, this is the place.
Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest wholesaler of fish and seafood products in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets in general. Many tourists arrive in the early hours to see the marine products that arrive every day from all over the world, in this market also occur the auctions of tuna although they no longer allow tourists to access. I recommend you visit it and try fresh fish and seafood.
In addition to touring the main districts of Tokyo, it is worth doing some day trips from Tokyo:
Nikkō is a city of Japan that is in the mountains of the prefecture of Tochigi, in the region of Kantō. It can be reached by train and takes around 1h: 40m. The series of sanctuaries and sacred precincts in Nikkō, as well as the onsen (spas) of the surroundings, makes of the town a very visited religious and tourist center. The set of temples and sanctuaries of Nikkō, was inscribed by the Unesco like Patrimony of the Humanity in 1999.
Mount Fuji is the highest peak on the island of Honshu and all of Japan at 3,776m. It is located between the prefectures of Shizuoka and Yamanashi in central Japan and just west of Tokyo, from where it can be observed in one day clear. Mount Fuji is classified as an active volcano, but with little risk of eruption. The last recorded eruption dates from 1707 during the Edo period. It is currently a popular tourist destination, as well as a popular destination for mountaineering. The "official" season for mountaineering lasts from the beginning of July until the end of August. Most are climbing at night to appreciate the sunrise. It takes about 2h: 30m to reach the nearest villages.
Although there are 300,000 people a year who make mountain climbing in Mt. Fuji, there are many thousands more who make tours and activities around it, you can visit nearby villages to eat with mountain views and make purchases, or enjoy spas (onsen) with a view to the mount, or even play golf since there are many fields around. If you are fortunate to be in spring there is the Shibazakura Festival where you can appreciate the mountain with the contrast of colors of thousands of flowers. Or there are also visits to Aokigahara (sea of trees) that has become the forest of suicides at the foot of Mount Fuji, being the second place with more suicides in the world after the Golden Gate.
Another option for a day trip is to visit Kyoto by bullet train, it takes only 2:20 min to get from Tokyo to Kyoto and Kyoto being the old Japanese capital there are many ancient temples to enjoy and traditional activities.
As you will see there is a lot to visit and to know in Tokyo and its surroundings, I highly recommend you check out what festivals are on the days you will travel as there are many festivals throughout the year in Tokyo and nearby towns or villages. Among my favorites are the "Cherry Blossom" or Cherry blossoming season and the Wisteria festival, both festivals admire the beauty and life cycle of flowers that are national symbols, it is very interesting to see still being a highly developed country there is a great connection with nature. Also the Golden Week (5 days of celebrations in April) is a good season to see many people dressed in typical costumes and performing rituals or celebrations.
Don't forget to check the weather very well as there are very hot summers and very cold winters in Tokyo and Japan.
Finally, four things I recommend doing independently of the neighborhood or city are:
- attend a Japanese spa: onsen.
- try the Fugu fish which is poisonous and should be cooked very carefully.
- eat a lot of sushi, sashimi, misos and of course sake and Japanese whiskey, it is definitely the Japanese food and drink a delicacy.
- experiment to the maximum, everything absolutely everything is an adventure in Japan: to go to the bathroom, to use the metro, to eat, the architecture, etc.
I say goodbye as always with a video in 4k from Tokyo and really do not miss to visit this incredible country, you will feel like a children seeing so many new and different things and your senses will be to the maximum. Until next time!