It’s difficult to describe Tokyo without using superlatives: the largest, craziest, most vertical city in Japan is also, by certain measures, the biggest metropolis on the planet. However you define it though, the Greater Tokyo area is vast, and is home to nearly 37 million individuals. That’s more people than the whole of Canada, or (to put it another way) bigger than London, Paris and Madrid combined!
With its humble beginnings as the small fishing village of Edo, this neon wonderland has grown relatively quickly in the last 400 years or so. Cementing itself as the Imperial Capital when the forces of the Emperor Meiji took over in 1868, it expanded at a staggering pace as Japan made itself known on the world stage. The most important city in Japan has been built and rebuilt many times due to fires, volcanoes, earthquakes and war. Tokyo still manages to keep its historical soul though, with temples and shrines dotted in between the towering glass and steel of its modern skyscrapers, reminders of its rich cultural past.
While other cities have a multitude of wonders easily on display, you need to work a little harder to discover them in Tokyo. UNESCO hasn’t put its stamp on many of the city’s treasures, but that is not to say they are any less important than those found in Kyoto. Sensoji Buddhist temple, in Asakusa, is one of the most visited spiritual sites in the world – and when you take a stroll in the surrounding areas you will feel like you are in another era. A wander through the old town shitamatchi districts – or ‘under cities’ – will give you an idea of how a wholly traditional Japan remains intact within the frenetic pace of a modern capital.
In more recent years, tourists have flocked to this futuristic cityscape to enjoy the high-tech wonders, surreal fashions and mouth-watering cuisine that has made Japan an icon the world over. While Nintendo, Studio Ghibli and Pokemon are now more recognisable than the works of Hokusai, this has made 21st Century Japan a pilgrimage destination for fans of pop-culture globally. Boasting more Michelin star restaurants than anywhere else on Earth, by quite a margin, Tokyo also gives you plenty of opportunities to have your taste buds entertained.
Whether you stay for a few nights or a few weeks, there’s so much here to keep you busy, fascinated and well-fed.