The most striking aspect of Tokyo is its versatility. The diversity of the place is simply amazing – from the brightly-lit entertainment districts to the tranquil gardens, or from futuristic skyscrapers to the small traditional shrines and temples, Tokyo has everything. There’s no shortage of things to do and see in Tokyo.
Sightseeing: For a glimpse of Tokyo’s history and the traditional way of life, the Imperial Palace and the area to the north and east of it is the place to be. Modern Tokyo lies to the south and west of the Palace. For a look at a truly futuristic Tokyo, there’s the Tokyo Teleport Town, a group of artificial islands in Tokyo Bay billed to become Tokyo’s ‘Waterfront Town for the Twenty-First Century’. Some popular sights and landmarks of Tokyo include the Tokyo Tower, The National Diet Building, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices, the Tokyo International Forum, Opera City to name just a few. Then there is the wide range of both first-class and unique museums, numerous art galleries, parks, shrines and temples.
Outdoor Activities: Several outdoor activities can also be enjoyed in Tokyo – including bicycling, golf, hiking, and tennis. Tennis is the most popular sport among the young of Tokyo, with over 100 tennis courts in Roppongi alone. Bicycling is mainly done on the riversides, with bike paths alongside all the city’s rivers. For hiking there are the beautiful mountains outside of Tokyo while walking and jogging are common in the city’s many parks and gardens. Skiing is also popular with many skiing places close to the city. For those who love swimming and surfing, there are the beaches in the vicinity of Tokyo. Other aquatic adventures can be enjoyed by the side of the Sumida River.
Cruises: Rides on cruise boats along the Sumida River and on the Tokyo Bay is a popular activity during the warm weathers. Visitors can enjoy old and new buildings along the river on the Sumida River cruise as the boat passes under 12 unique bridges. At night the bridges are illuminated and the reflection of lights on the river brings a romantic mood to the cruise. During March-April the cherry blossoms along the river banks are a sight not to be missed.
Other Activities: Other popular activities of Tokyo include shopping, Mount Fuji or Disneyland tours, a visit to a Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater), relaxing in a sento (public bath) or onsen (hot spring), or going for a long scenic drive outside the city. A Japanese tea ceremony or flower arranging are other activities not to be missed.
Think of an activity and Tokyo has it. A visitor to Tokyo is never bored.
Tokyo is the cultural center of Japan . Having originated from the ethnic Jomon culture and then mixed with subsequent influences from first Chinese and Korean, then Greek and Indian, and finally from European and American influences, Japan developed its own unique culture.
Tokyo’s unique culture is reflected in its traditional arts – ikebana (flower arranging), origami (making objects by folding paper), and ukiyo-e (woodblock printing); crafts – dolls, lacquer ware, and pottery; performances – kabuki (complex dramas performed in elaborate costumes), noh (restrained and highly stylized drama), bunraku (puppet theater), kyogen (short satirical plays), and kamishibai (storytelling with animation, sound, and music); and traditions – games, onsen (hot springs used as public bathing places), and tea ceremony.
The large number of festivals, rituals, observances and celebrations in Tokyo are also all part of Japanese culture. Starting from the traditional New Year visits to shrines, the Tokyo calendar is full of various festivals and observances, the matsuris (religious festivals) with their mikoshis (portable shrines), and the cherry blossom viewing in the month of April being the most popular.
Although the Japanese may seem aloof and shy by western standards, the real reason for their behavior is that they are brought up to think of themselves as a separate group. Anything non-Japanese is thus not readily accepted. To a westerner this may seem odd, but Japanese culture is different and unique and has its own ways.
It is, therefore, important for a visitor of Tokyo to know some traditions that are ingrained in the culture of the city – bowing is the Japanese version of a handshake, and failing to return a bow is considered impolite; counting of change after a purchase is considered rude; shoes are generally not worn in homes, temples, and various other places; and bringing a gift when invited. Knowing and following cultural traditions of the city makes it easier for a visitor to be accepted by the people of Tokyo.
Tokyo is a city that is just as thrilling at night as it is exciting by day. It is a city that never sleeps. Come night, and the Tokyo streets are filled with neon lights and people who come out to have a good time. There is not one, by several entertainment districts in Tokyo, and each one of them stays alive till the early hours of the morning. There are five nightlife areas in Tokyo with places that welcome foreigners. These places are Akasaka, Ginza, Roppongi, Shibuya, and Kabukicho in Shinjuku.
Nightlife in Tokyo varies largely in style and kind. There are the traditional geisha bars (where trained women entertainers play musical instruments, sing, and hold witty conversations), hostess bars (where women sit and drink with you and listen to your problems and talk with you), drinking bars (these include both Western and Japanese style bars where most students and workers go for night drinks), dancing bars (drinking bars that include dancing), karaoke bars (drinking bars with music), besides various nightclubs (that include food with the dancing and drinking), gay and lesbian bars, and a variety of cabarets and discos.
Tokyo Parks and Gardens
As opposed to the popular belief that Tokyo is a concrete jungle, the city has a lot of green. The best part is that no one has to go far to get to one of these green places, as they are interspersed with the grey skyscrapers throughout the city. Many of them are as big as the localities they are situated in. These large green spaces consist of both parks and gardens, many of which date back to the Edo period.
The parks in Tokyo are of two basic types – public and Imperial. The public parks are open to the public and generally do not have opening and closing times. They are very spacious and do not have any kind of restriction on movement. Hence, you can find children running and playing around, young people performing music or holding outdoor classes, or older people resting on the green grass.
Imperial parks are stricter in the sense that there are opening and closing times, have entry tickets, and are mainly situated around a shrine, resort or palace in relation to the Imperial Family. They are much cleaner than the public parks and much more beautiful and amazingly well-maintained. Freedom of movement is only allowed in designated places. Here you will mainly find people enjoying the beautiful scenes, or reading and studying in the peace and quiet of the place.
The gardens of Tokyo are similar to the Imperial parks in their beauty, cleanliness, and maintenance. These are more of tourist attractions than places of relaxation. There are two basic types of Japanese gardens – Tsukiyama and Karesansui. The Tsukiyama feature ponds and tiny hills and stones. The hills and stones represent mountains and the pond represents the sea. The Karesansui contain white sand and stones. The white sand symbolizes the sea and the stones represent hills.
Both the parks and gardens of Tokyo, besides being places of relaxation for the people of the city, have always been one of the prime attractions for the visitors of Tokyo. The best time to visit these beautiful expanses of green is in April-May when the cherry trees are in full bloom creating some of the most beautiful scenes in the world.
Tokyo Shrines and Temples
Tokyo, a city steeped in history and tradition, has a wealth of religious monuments. No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to some of these impressive places of worship, which include both shrines and temples. Shrines are places of worship for the followers of Shinto faith, while temples are for the followers of Buddhism.
Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, dates back to 2000 years. With no founder, scriptures or catechism, Shinto is a conglomeration of various religious practices. Its followers believe that everything in nature is inhabited by a kami, or a deity, and when people die, they themselves become kami and are worshipped by their offspring and descendents.
Shrines are places of worship where devotion is paid to the Shinto kami. People visit them to pay respect to the kami or to pray for good fortune on special occasions.
Most shrines are architecturally similar as they tend to follow the construction styles of Asian mainland, especially the Buddhist style. All shrines typically contain the same structures, namely the torii (gates marking the entrance to a shrine), komainu (guardian dogs, lions, or foxes on either side of the entrance), purification through (fountains at the entrance where people clean their hands and mouth before entering the main hall), main and offering halls (some shrines have separate buildings for the two halls, while others have them combined in one building), and ema (wooden plates on which people write their wishes in the hope that they come true). Besides these, some shrines also have stages for special performances. Omikuji (fortune telling paper slips tied on tree branches) and shimenawa (straw ropes with white zigzag paper strips marking boundaries to sacred things) can also be seen in certain places. Sacred objects of worship representing the kami are usually kept in the inner chambers of the main hall and cannot be seen by anybody.
There are several shrines in Tokyo, but the most important are the “Ten Shrines of Tokyo”. In 1868, after Emperor Meiji moved to Edo and renamed it Tokyo, he selected ten shrines located in a circle around the palace and sent an envoy to go pray there for the safety and prosperity of Tokyo and its people. Ever since the shrines have come to be known as the Ten Shrines of Tokyo” and have become a small pilgrimage for the people of the city.
These ten shrines are:
1-28-9 Nezu Bunkyo-ku
5 minutes on foot from Nezu Station
2-16-2 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku
5 minutes on foot from Ochanomizu Station
Kameido Tenjin Shrine
3-6-1 Kameido, Koto-ku
15 minutes on foot from JR Kameido Station
5-31-26 Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku
3 few minutes from Hakusan Station
1-1-12 Oji Hon-cho, Kita-ku
5 minutes on foot from Oji Station
1 -12-7 Shiba-Daimon, Minato-ku
2 minutes on foot from Daimon Station
2-10-5 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku
5 minutes on foot from Akasaka-Mitsuke Station
3-7 Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku
2 minutes on foot from Shinbaba Station
Tomioka Hachiman Shrine
1-20-3 Tomioka, Koto-ku
2 minutes on foot from Monzen-Nakacho Station
6-10-12 Akasaka, Minato-ku
3 minutes on foot from Nogizaka Station
There are several other shrines in Tokyo. Some of the more important ones are:
1-1 Kamizono-cho, Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
A few steps from Meiji-jingu-mae Station
1-3 Akagi-Motomachi, Shinjuku-ku
A few minutes’ walk from Kagurazaka Station
Yushima Tenjin Shrine
3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku
3 minutes on foot from Yushima Station
Next to Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku-ku
A few minutes’ walk from Yoyogi-Koen Station
5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
6-7 minute walk from Shinjuku Sanchome Station
Fushimi Sanpo Inari Shrine
Mita Dori, Minato-ku
A few minutes’ walk from Mita Station
Namiyoke Inari Shrine
6-20-37 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku
3 minutes on foot from Tsukiji-Shijo Station
Ueno Park, Taito-ku
4 minutes on foot from Ueno Station
3-1-1 Kudankita, Chiyoda-ku
A few minutes’ walk from Kudanshita Station
Buddhism was introduced in Japan from China and Korea in the sixth century. It gained widespread acceptance in the seventh century after Prince Shotoku (537-621) established Buddhism as a national religion, linking it to Confucian ideals of morality and statecraft. In the beginning of the ninth century, Buddhism diverged into two sects – Tendai sect led by Dengyo Daishi (767-822), and Shingon sect led by Kobo Daishi (774-835). By the beginning of the Shogun Era (400 years later), four more new sects were formed – Jodo, Jodo-Shinshu, Zen, and Hokke. After the restoration of Emperor Meiji, Shinto was again made the national religion, but by then Buddhism had established itself deeply in the Japanese culture. Today both Shinto and Buddhism are practiced with equal devotion in Japan.
Temples are Buddhist places of worship. There are thousands of temples in Japan today, many of which are in Tokyo. They all store and display sacred Buddhist objects, and some of them also function as monasteries. As Buddhism had come to Japan from China, almost all temples follow the Chinese style of architecture and typically contain the same structures:
There is one main wooden gate which is the entrance to the temple, then several other smaller gates follow along the path. The temple contains main halls called kondo, hondo, butsuden, amidado or hatto , which contain sacred objects of worship, including statues. There are lecture halls as well, called kodo , which are used for meetings and lectures and often display objects of worship. Then there are pagodas, which are usually three or five storied and contain remains of Buddha such as a tooth, usually in form of a representation. The structure of the pagoda has evolved from the Indian stupa. All temples have bells which ring 108 times, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires, every New Year’s Eve. Cemeteries are also located on temple grounds, which are visited by the people several times a year to pay respects to their ancestors’ graves.
Some of the best known and important temples of Tokyo are:
Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kanon)
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku
A few steps from Asakusa Station
4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato-ku
Short walk from Shiba-koen Station
Kiyomizu-do Kannon Temple
Ueno Park, Taito-ku
3 minutes on foot from Ueno Station
3-16-16 Takanawa, Minato-chu
Short walk from Takanawadai Station
1-6 Moto-Azabu, Minato-ku
Short walk from Azabu-Juban Station
Tsukiji Honganji Temple
3-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku
3 minutes on foot from Tsukiji Station
1-8-5 Shimo-Meguro, Meguro-ku
5 minutes on foot from Meguro Station
Yagenbori Fudosan Temple
2-6-8 Higashi-nihombashi, Chuo-ku
2 minute walk from Higashi Nihombashi Station
Ikegami Honmonji Temple
1-1-1, Ikegami, Ota-ku
8 minutes on foot from Nishi Magome Station
2-8-10 Ryogoku, Itabashi-ku
3 minutes on foot from Ryogoku Station
2-11-1 Takanawa Minato-ku
2 minute walk from Sengakuji Station
1-14-11 Ueno Sakuragi, Taito-ku
10 minutes on foot from Ueno Station
2-6-4 Ueno Sakuragi, Taito-ku
10 minutes on foot from Ueno Station
5-40-1, Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku
One minute walk from Gokokuji Station
2-21-34 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Few minutes’ walk from Shimbashi Station
2-4-7 Atago, Minato-ku
Few minutes’ walk from Onarimon Station
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Edited by : Arlynne Hurley