Japan's capital is situated on the banks of the Sumida River. It incorporates 23 wards, 26 smaller cities, seven towns and eight villages. Central Tokyo is home to over 8 million people, with the sprawling metropolitan area home to 25 million people. Every day over two million of these residents pass through Shinjuku Station, one of the major train stations in the Tokyo transportation network. For many centuries Tokyo was a small fishing village called Edo. When the civil wars of the 16th century came to an end, the new shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa made the sleepy village the seat of his shogunate government in 1603. As it grew, Edo became not one but many smaller cities and villages. In 1867 the shogunate was overthrown and the Emperor moved his capital to Edo and renamed it Tokyo, meaning Eastern Capital. Today, Tokyo is a modern, exciting city full of energy and vitality. The combination of Japanese and Western, old and new, offers an ever-unfolding treasure trove of surprises for the visitor and resident alike.
Asakusa is in the heart of the shitamachi, down town district of Tokyo. Start your exploration with a visit to Tokyo's oldest and most beloved temple, Sensoji. In the year 628, two fishermen fished a small, gold statue of the Kannon Goddess of Mercy from out of the Sumida River. Sensoji Temple was built to enshrine the Kannon and has since been rebuilt and enlarged many times over the past ten centuries. The main entrance to the temple is the Kaminarimon (Thunder God Gate) is highlighted by a huge red paper lantern hanging in its centre. After taking the obligatory photographs follow the stall-lined avenue which leads from the gate to the temple. Many of these stalls have been in the same families for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to purchase Tokyo's most famous traditional sweets and souvenirs. The atmosphere conveys the feeling of old Tokyo. Kabuki actors come to pray before a new performance, sumo wrestlers pay their respects before a tournament and geisha still mingle with tourists as they come to purchase new fans and hair decorations.
Ueno Hill was the site of a large temple and castle during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, both were burnt to the ground during the civil uprising in 1868. The new Meiji government turned Ueno Hill into one of the nation's first public parks and established a museum and a zoo. Today it is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. The grounds continue to serve as the site for Tokyo's zoo, as well as smaller shrines and temples, art galleries, museums and concert halls. Leave the park, cross Chuo-dori and enter the heart of Ameya Yokocho Markets. A favourite with young people these large markets have stalls selling a multitude of goods ranging from chocolates, fish and vegetables to cosmetics, jeans and designer clothes.
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
Want sushi for breakfast? This gigantic, covered market is the place to make an early morning visit to watch fish and seafood arrive from all parts of the world. Arrive before 6am and watch the tuna auctions or simply wander between aisles to watch the show of hawkers shouting, knives chopping and the fishmongers in black rubber boots darting from stall to stall with loaded wheelbarrows. In the alleys nearby are shops and stalls selling kitchen knives, crockery, Japanese teapots and cups and bamboo items.
For the greatest sound and light show on earth, make your way to the city of Akihabara, known as Electric City. Best time to visit is at dusk when the neon lights can be fully appreciated. Clustered around Akihabara Station are narrow passageways of stalls and shops. These have changed little from the post World War II black market stalls, selling an array of electrical plugs, wires, switches and tools. Turn right and enter the main avenue of Chuo-dori to purchase the latest electrical products from washing machines and televisions to video cameras, DVD players, computers, games and software.
In 1612 the Tokugawa shogunate moved the gold and silver mint to an area of reclaimed swamp land which became known as Ginza (Silver Mint). Today the name is world famous as the most chic shopping district in Japan. Stand on the most expensive piece of land in the world, the intersection called yon-chome. On opposite corners are the landmark Wako Department store and the elegant Mitsukoshi Department store. Behind the stylish shop windows are jewellers, art galleries, boutiques and stores that sell kimonos and all things exquisite from traditional paper shops to high fashion. At night the Ginza area is popular for its neon lights and exciting bars, nightclubs, restaurants and Kabuki Theatre.
Strictly for the young Harajuku caters for teenage trends in fashion, food and music. Visit on a Sunday to mingle with the crowds dressed in outrageous fashion, listen to music and be generally entertained at the passing parade. Cross the road from Harajuku Station and follow the fashionable Japanese down Omotesando, the tree lined avenue flanked by sidewalk cafes, trendy boutiques and high fashion. Then turn and back track to Takeshita Dori. This narrow street is a shopping Mecca for the teenagers who throng daily to shop and browse amongst the eclectic fashion boutiques, inexpensive accessory stores, hamburger and icecream parlours. In stark contrast is the most important Shinto shrine in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu. Built in 1912 in memory of Emperor Meiji and his wife this shrine is a green oasis in the western district of Tokyo. The two 40 feet high torii gates are each made from 1,700 year old cypress trees. Passing through the gates symbolises entering the spiritual world of the shrine.
By day Shinjuku is a cluster of department stores, skyscrapers, office blocks, office workers and salarymen. Several skyscrapers feature coffee shops, restaurants and free observation floors. These include the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, Shinjuku Nomura Building and the spectacular Tokyo Metropolitan Building. By night it is a world of its own with some of the craziest nightlife in all of Tokyo. In the northeast district known as Kabuki-cho is a fascinating maze of over 4000 bars, discotheques, restaurants, clubs, movie houses and theatres, some of which are open 24 hours per day.
A trip to Tokyo would not be complete without a visit to Tokyo Disneyland and world famous Magic Kingdom ......... In September 2001 Disneyland opened a new resort called DisneySea. A monorail connects both themeparks and multiday passports can be purchased to enjoy the two Disney Parks.
"I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place." WALT DISNEY