To the uninitiated, Tokyo may seem a whirlwind of traffic and people, so dense and confusing that visitors might think they have landed on another planet. More than 13 million people reside in Greater Tokyo’s 2,188 sq. km (845 sq. miles); no matter where you go, you’re never alone. After you’ve been here for a while, Paris, London, and even New York will seem deserted. Perhaps that’s why some visitors are disappointed with Tokyo: It has almost nothing of historical importance to match, say, Kyoto. Yet crowds and urban sprawl are what you’ll see only if you don’t bother to look beneath the surface. So, put any notions of quaint Japan out of your mind and plunge headfirst into the 21st century, because that’s what Tokyo is all about.
Even though the city has a fast-paced, somewhat zany side, it also has a quieter and often overlooked side that makes the city both lovable and livable. Although formidable at first glance, Tokyo is nothing more than a series of small towns and neighborhoods clustered together, each with its own atmosphere and history. What’s more, beneath Tokyo’s concrete shell is a thriving cultural life left very much intact. In fact, if you’re interested in Japan’s performing arts like kabuki as well as such diverse activities as sumo, Tokyo is your best bet for offering the most at any one time. It is rich in museums and claims the largest repository of Japanese art in the world. It also gets my vote as the pop-art capital of the world, so if you’re into kitsch or anime (Japanese animation), you’ll be in high heaven. And if you’re into style, you’ll find Tokyo a mecca for cutting-edge fashion and innovative design.
I love Tokyo. I can’t imagine being bored here, even for a minute.
Tokyo hasn’t fared very well over the centuries. Fires and earthquakes have taken their toll, old buildings have been torn down in the zeal for modernization, and World War II left most of the city in ruins. Save your historical sightseeing, therefore, for places such as Kyoto or Takayama, and consider Tokyo an introduction to the newest of the new in Japan and the showcase of the nation’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, fashion, pop art, and design. Tokyo also has more museums than any other city in Japan, as well as a wide range of parks, temples, and shrines. In Tokyo you can explore mammoth department stores, sample unlimited cuisines, walk around unique neighborhoods, revel in kitsch, and take advantage of the glittering nightlife.
When planning your sightseeing itinerary, keep in mind that the city is huge, and it takes time to get from one end to the other. It’s best, therefore, to cover Tokyo neighborhood by neighborhood, coordinating sightseeing with dinner and evening plans. Most museums in Tokyo are closed 1 day of the week (usually Mon) and for New Year’s (generally the last day or two in Dec and the first 1 to 3 days of Jan). If Monday happens to be a national holiday, most national and municipal museums will remain open but will close Tuesday instead. Some of the privately owned museums, however, are closed on national holidays, as well as for exhibition changes. Call beforehand or check websites to avoid disappointment. Remember, too, that you must enter museums at least 30 minutes before closing time. For a listing of current exhibitions, including those being held at major department stores, consult Metropolis, an English-language weekly available in hotels, restaurants, and bars around town as well as online at www.metropolisjapan.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.