Japan’s capital is a hurtling, modernized city in which fads come and go in days and everything seems to be electronic. Its extraordinary subway system is a test of your traveler’s nous, while its humming shopping districts welcome visitors to shopping themes that could only be here: shops dedicated to dressing as cartoon characters, half a plane being used to promote hair accessories, and even a tiny corner shop with an unsubtle specialization: Condomania.
Underneath the glimmering façade, however, Tokyo still has its traditional side. You can stare across the clear water moat at the Imperial Palace (but, sadly, get no closer), head to the Meiji Jingu Shrine and gape wide-eyed at the mammoth lanterns labeled with oversized Chinese characters, or watch the cherry blossoms fall from the trees of Ueno Park in spring. At the shrines, grab a fortune, ask for a translation, and then tie it to the fluttering strings for luck.
At the other end of the spectrum there’s Tokyo Central, where a meal means Sushi grabbed one plate at a time from a tiny conveyor belt, and the local teenagers drift around in costume, never stepping out of character. Check out Shibuya and see the young fashion walking the streets. Explore the Tsukiji fish market – the world’s largest – before heading over to ‘geek paradise’ and snapping up a handful of pages of the cartoon artwork fully grown men like to read on the subway.
There are so many ‘only in Japan’ experiences to be had that you could spend your entire trip doing them. Head to the Sento public baths and relax for the evening, spend a night in a tiny ‘pod’ hotel, stacked up against a wall, slurp Sake in a pricey bar or take an Origami class in a room with paper doors. There’s the Asahi brewery to investigate, Tokyo’s own Disneyland, and the markets displaying extraordinarily ornate fans and tiny mechanical advices to take home with you.
Tokyo is huge, and it would take years to see it all. Then again, you can pick out your highlights in a few days, and never be bored for a month. Just don’t turn up with a tight budget.
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