Looking back at all of the major cities I’ve visited, Tokyo was the one I was most looking forward to. A massive, bustling city with the crazy aspects of Japanese culture thrown in. And it turned out to be far different from what I expected.
I took the bullet train from Kyoto and happened to be one of the few that ended up delayed. In the UK I’m used to all sorts of excuses from train companies for delays, including leaves on the line, it being too windy, the sun being too low, or, my personal favourite, due to there being a cow on the line. In Japan it took a typhoon to delay the train.
The area around the station was far quieter than I expected. On the east side is Nihonbashi but I took another exit towards the grounds of the Imperial Palace. I had visioned a more ‘Penn Station’ exit on to a busy street and a crammed walkway but this was entirely different. In a pleasant way, of course.
My walk to Roppongi from the station showed another aspect of Tokyo that I hadn’t expected: it isn’t a particularly walkable city. I don’t mean that in the manner of US cities, where you can’t get around without a car, but my expectation of Tokyo having an epic city centre was in contrast to the multiple different areas, or mini-towns, making up the capital.
While Roppongi felt like the seedy, party town, Shibuya felt like a more mature, laid back area. And Shinjuku the mix of corporate and crazy I had expected from Tokyo. Getting between different areas is, of course, trivial by subway but attempting to walk will show just how massive Toyko is.
Both Shibuya and Shinjuku had me spoiled for choice in trying to pick places to eat. Even stopping for a coffee during the day or a beer in the evening had so many great options. In Shibuya, within a short two minute walk, there is the outstanding Craftheads (with perhaps the best bottle list I have ever seen in a bar) and the fascinating Roasted Coffee Laboratory, pushing coffee towards science. Shinjuku ramped this up a few notches, where you can have your lunch served by singing robots, visit the puppy/kitten cafe or aim for a more traditional restaurant, where even walking by is an assault on the senses you’ll remember for a while. Memory Lane provides a wealth of options in a small alleyway.
Something I was particularly keen to get in Tokyo was a skyline shot with Tokyo Tower. Roppongi Hills has a great viewpoint and on this night I timed it perfectly to see the sun set before snapping some skyline shots.
Five days in Tokyo provided a great visit but is only scratching the surface of such a monster city. The culture and the variety of areas to visit is fantastic, and the food was out of this world in most places I tried. While there is obviously a lot more to Japan, it seems to be a common trip to tie in Tokyo and Kyoto, giving the contrast of ultra-modern with history and a few days in both certainly makes for a great trip.