Beaming with a mix of the old and the new is the world’s largest capital by population, Tokyo.
To conveniently travel around Tokyo, it is greatly advisable to purchase a Prepaid IC card. IC cards are reloadable cards that let you ride any train or bus in Greater Tokyo and other neighbouring cities and can be used to make a quick purchase at a number of shops in Tokyo and across Japan with just a simple swipe over a card reader. There are two types of IC cards available for purchase: Suica Cards at JR Stations and Pasmo cards at non-JR stations.
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Tokyo has six major stations namely, Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Ueno which can be easily travelled to through the JR Yamanote Trainline, the most prominent among Tokyo’s train lines and is a circular line that connects multiple city centers. Tokyo has quite a confusing railway system so make sure to have a map with you or an app to use as a guide. It doesn’t hurt to come in prepared for a trip.
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First main attraction in Tokyo is the Akihabara district, also called Akiba, which is the center for Otaku culture in Japan. It has shops and establishments that cater to anime, manga, and video game enthusiasts. It also has cafes where waitresses dress up as anime characters and manga cafes where you can surf the internet, read comics and watch DVDs. During Sunday afternoons, they close the main street to car traffic so that pedestrians can walk around freely. One thing to note about Japanese people is that their main means of transport is walking. So be prepared for a hell lot of walking.
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Akihabara is also nicknamed as Electric Town mainly because of the hundreds of electronic shops that crowd its side streets. A quick reminder though, some of the electronics on sale here are only intended for use in Japan due to technical differences. However there are also products modelled for use overseas.
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Next stop is Shibuya, the center of youth fashion and culture in Japan. Feel free to get lost in dozens of department stores where you can find the latest fashion and entertainment trends in Japan. It is also famous for its large intersection where up to 3, 000 people cross at each light change. Crammed with neon lights and gigantic video screens, it has become a popular spot for photo and movie filming.
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A few minutes walk from Harajuku Station is the Meiji Shrine, which was completed and dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It offers a spacious ground that is perfect for long relaxing strolls.
Adjacent to the Meiji Shrine is the Yoyogi Park which is known for its ginko tree forest that turns intensely golden during autumn. It is also a great place for a relaxing stroll as it has beautiful ponds, great lawns, and several forested areas.
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Also near Meiji Shrine is Takeshita Dori which is the center of teenage culture in Japan. It is lined with fashion boutiques, pre-loved clothes stores, and fast food outlets.
Just south of Takeshita Dori is Omotesando Avenue where you can find famous brand name shops, cafes and restaurants.
Shinjuku is a business district with lively entertainment and great nightlife spots.
West of the Shinjuku station is the Skyscraper district where many of Tokyo’s tallest buildings are located including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building which has free observation decks on the 45th floor of each tower that provide unique views of the district.
On the east side of the station is the nightlife district with endless dining, shopping and entertainment options. Some of the places to explore are: Kabukicho with its restaurants, bars, nightlife and neon lights; Omoide Yokocho with its network of alleyways and tiny eateries; and Golden Gai with over 200 small bars and unique restaurants.
About a 10-minute walk east of Shinjuku station is Shinjuku Gyoen which is a large and beautiful park that contains 3 different gardens.
If you’re more into culture and history, one of the best districts to experience old fashioned Tokyo is Asakusa. It has the famous Sensoji Temple which is one of Tokyo’s oldest and most popular Buddhist temples.
Leading to the temple is the iconic gate, Kaminarimon and Nakamise Shopping Street lined with vendors selling specialty items and souvenirs.
Crossing Nakamise Street is Dempoin Street designed to look like a street from the Edo era. Should you get hungry while walking around the area, west of the Sensoji Temple is the Hoppy Street, a long nostalgic street lined with Izakaya (Japanese pub) food.
Around 15mins west of Asakusa, near Ueno is Kappabashi Street where dozens of best Japanese stores lined up, selling everything needed by restaurant operators except for food, from pots and pans, to dishes and plastic food samples, this street has it all and an interesting place to wander around.
While you’re at it, take a stroll along Sumida River or go see the Tokyo Skytree which is recognized as Japan’s tallest structure.
Lastly, one can’t go around Tokyo without appreciating its specialty cuisine items like Nigiri Zushi, Tempura, Soba, Chankonabe and Monjayaki.
And if you ever feel like taking a break from Japanese food there’s Korea Town in Shin-Okubo, Little France in Kagurazaka and Chinatown in Ikebukuro.
A few things to note though is that in Japanese culture, giving a tip and leaving your chopsticks crossed in a plate or poked on a bowl in an upright position is considered rude so be mindful of these dining etiquettes.
With vibrant cityscapes and a diverse selection of places to visit and food to try, not to mention, convenient and reliable transport system and its relatively low crime rate, Tokyo will surely be the highlight of all your other travels.