How to get to Tokyo
Tokyo has two international airports - although one is technically located in Chiba and not in Tokyo. It is through these two airports that the vast majority of tourists arrive Japan.
Narita, which is the old airport, is located in Chiba and is the older of the two airports. Haneda is the new one, which is located next to Tokyo Bay. Haneda is preferred by the vast majority because it is closer to Tokyo city center and trains run right to the front door. In addition, Haneda has been named one of the world's best airports for several years in a row, and it is also one of the cleanest airports in the world.
The 23 original districts
As a first-time visitor to Tokyo, the city can seem very overwhelming and unmanageable. It is not a big city where one can walk around to all the famous sights as they are spread out over a fairly large area.
Tokyo is divided into two ways: There is what is referred to as the 23 wards, or districts, as we would say in Danish. These are the areas that are the original Tokyo all the way back from the time when the city was called Edo.
It is also in these 23 districts that the vast majority of Tokyo's sights are located. This area is home to just over 9 million people. A number that is multiplied daily by all the people who come to work here.
The 23 districts consist of Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shinjuku, Bunkyo, Taito, Sumida, Koto, Shinagawa, Meguro, Ota, Setagaya, Shibuya, Nakano, Suginami, Toshima, Kita, Arakawa, Itabashi, Nerima, Adachi, Katsushika and Edogawa .
Most people probably know the places Shibuya and Shinjuku, but the other districts also have a lot to offer.
Before a trip to Tokyo, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the different parts of the city offer in terms of sights. You also need to make up your mind what you would like to experience in terms of the time you have available.
As many of the sights are not within walking distance of each other, you can very quickly waste a lot of time on transportation back and forth. With a little planning, that time can be saved and spent on seeing and experiencing something else instead.
A good and central place to start is in Chiyoda. This is where Tokyo Station is located, and from here it takes about five minutes to walk up to the Imperial Palace. The palace itself is an enclosed area, but you can take a walk in the garden and the park around, and see more of the old gates and guardhouses.
You can also walk around the palace - a very popular route because it is exactly 5 km long. About halfway around you come to an area called Chidorigafuchi. It is one of the most popular places to see the cherry blossoms in April, especially in the evening when they are lit up.
Just across the road from Chidorigafuchi is the Yasukuni Shrine. Here are the names of all those who have sacrificed their lives in war for Japan written down. And this is where Japan's only war museum is located.
When a politician visits the place, it always leads to massive protests from both China and Korea. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting place historically. Like Chidorigafuchi, it is a very popular place to see the cherry blossoms in April.
It is also in Chiyoda that the Japanese government building is located. If you are interested in politics, you can get a guided tour several times a day. Remember to bring a passport, otherwise you will be denied entry.
If you are into everything new in electronics, Akihabara is one must to lay the road past. Here you will find a lot of small electronics stores, each with their own specialty.
The most visited store in Akihabare is Yodobashi Camera, where you can of course buy the latest cameras from Canon and Nikon, and other branded goods at a cheaper price than in Denmark. Yodobashi is Japan's largest electronics chain, and it is also found in many other places than in Akihabara.
In the last few years, the area around Akihabara has developed a lot. It has also become the center of Japanese otaku culture, the famous subculture consisting of a fan base of manga and animated drawings. It is also in this area that you can find the so-called maids-cafes where one can be serviced by girls in different maidcostumes.
If you are into Japanese J-pop, Akihabara is the place where you will find one of the most popular groups, namely AKB48. Here they have their own shop and stage where they perform.
Today, there are over 130 members of the girl group, enabling them to perform in many places in Japan simultaneously. They are to this day the best-selling Japanese group and the epitome of Japanese pop culture.
From Akihabara there is only a short walk up to Kanda Shrine, which is over 1000 years old and has a pony as a mascot. Every other year in odd years, Kanda Shrine holds one of the three largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo. It is a festival with over 1 million spectators. From Chiyoda it is obvious to take the train to the neighboring district of Shibuya or Shinjuku.
In Shibuya you will find one of the world's largest pedestrian crossings, Shibuya Crossing. Otherwise, the district is known as a shopping area at the expensive end. Especially if you go down Omotesando, where the expensive branded stores are located side by side.
At the end of Omotesando, there is a short walk over to Meiji Jingu. It is one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo. It is located in the middle of a forest, in the noisy Tokyo. The silence and tranquility you find here makes the place absolutely stunning.
If you have the opportunity to get there for a weekend, you can most likely experience a traditional Japanese wedding procession, as it is an extremely popular place to get married.
Yoyogi Park is also a very popular breathing space if you need a break from the vibrant metropolis.
Like Shibuya, Shinjuku is a shopping area, but also an entertainment and commercial area. This is where you will find the world's busiest train station. Shinjuku Station, which on average has just over 3 million people passing the counters daily.
In Shinjuku you will also find Tokyo's Tokyo Metropolitan Building. At the top of the building you will find an observatory with free admission, and a magnificent view of Tokyo. Be prepared to stand in line, especially if you visit the place around sunset and early in the evening.
One of Tokyo's best parks is also located here in Shinjuku. It is the Shinjuku Goyen, which is a popular excursion destination all year round. Especially in the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and in the fall, when the trees change color, there are a huge number of people here.
Shinjuku Goyen consists of a Japanese garden, a French garden and an English landscape garden. In addition, there is a greenhouse with tropical plants and flowers. Here is a tea house and a restaurant where you can buy something to eat.
Shinjuku is also known for many of the major shopping malls such as Takashimaya, which is one of the oldest and finest department stores in Japan. You will also find many small pubs and restaurants in Shinjuku.
Taito is another popular neighborhood. It is one of the ancient areas where much history is preserved, especially in the area around Asakusa and the Senso-ji Temple. Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo as it can be dated all the way back to the year 645. But some of the Buddha statues found at the temple are even older as the temple was built in honor of those statues.
During World War II, the site was heavily bombed, but the temple was rebuilt, and for many Japanese is a symbol of reconstruction and peace. A long street with small souvenir shops leads up to the temple.
It is also here in Taito that you will find the famous Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo. Near the park you will also find the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science and a number of other museums.
Another interesting district is Minato. Here you will find Tokyo Tower, which is located behind the Zojoji Temple. Zojoji is known for its small jizo statues that are in memory of unborn and stillborn children, or children who have died at a very early age. These statues are often dressed with small hats and clothes, just as one can see small gifts, in the form of teddy bears and toys next to these statues.
It is also here in Minato that you will find Odaiba, which is a large artificial island out in the Gulf of Tokyo. There are plenty of shopping opportunities and entertainment. In the evening you have the most beautiful view over parts of Tokyo, with the Rainbow Bridge and the Statue of Liberty in the foreground.
History of Tokyo and Japan
If you are interested in samurai and know the story of 'The 47 Ronin' - and possibly have seen the film of the same name - then you should visit Sengaku-ji temple in Minato. This is where all 47 samurai are buried.
It is also home to the National Art Center, Nezu Art Museum, and Akasaka Palace. The latter is the state guest house when there are visits by heads of state and royals from other countries.
If you are interested in sumo, it is also here in Minato that you will find the national sumo stadium Kokugikan. Sumo tuning is held here three times a year. In addition, there is a museum that tells the story of sumo.
In the area around Kokugikan there are many small restaurants serving chankonabe, which is a dish often eaten by sumo wrestlers. If you want to know more about the history of Tokyo and Japan through the ages, you can visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It is also located here in the area. It is a large museum that tells with many effects about the history of the country. And the best thing about it all is that you have to touch and try many of the things.
The Chuo district is also very popular because this is where Tsukiji Fish Market and Fish Auction is located. If you want to experience the fish auction, you have to be there very early - around 03.00. Tsukiji Market opens at 03.30 and they only let 60 people in at a time.
The first group will be allowed to see the auction from kl. 05.25 - 05.45 and another group will be allowed to watch the auction from 05.50 - 06.10. In the high season, you must arrive by 01.00 if you want to be sure of getting a place in one of the two groups.
If it's too early, you can just walk around the small alleys around the market, where all the small sushi restaurants are located, and see what they have bought at this morning's auction. One really must not deceive oneself, to eat here. You will not find as fresh fish elsewhere and it really tastes absolutely amazing. Most restaurants start to have sold out by 14pm, so come early.
If you need some peace after the fish auction, Hama Rikyu Garden is an obvious place. It is a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a lot of flowers that follow the course of the year. From the garden you have a nice view over parts of Tokyo skyline, which is also reflected in the lake in the garden.
It is also in Chuo that one finds Ginza, which like Omodesando, is filled with expensive fashion boutiques.
It is in Sumida that one finds the most famous landmark of Tokyo, namely the Sky Tree. With its 634 meters, the Sky Tree is the tallest building in Japan. It is a TV, restaurant and observation tower where in clear weather you can see pretty much the whole of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji med.
This is only a very small part of what Tokyo has to offer within the 23 original districts. There is so infinitely much more if one starts looking at the part of Tokyo that surrounds them.
Western Tokyo, Tama and Hachioji are often quite overlooked. There are far more residential areas here than in the original 23 districts. One finds a number of theme parks in western Tokyo such as Sanrio Puroland, or Hello Kitty Land, and the Ghibli Museum.
If you are interested in architecture, it is in western Tokyo that you can find the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. It may be a bit reminiscent of the Old Town in Aarhus, as you can find houses and buildings from many different time periods in Japan.
Hachioji is about 40 kilometers away downtown Tokyo, but is still part of Tokyo. That is the outer limit. When people from downtown Tokyo needs to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city, this is where they come. Mainly to hike on Mount Takao.
Especially in the fall, many people are here when the trees start to change color. Hachioji is Tokyo's green area where you can look out at the mountains that surround Tokyo.
If you are interested in the Imperial Family, it is also in Hachioji that you will find the tombs of several of the former emperors and their wives. These are very large cemeteries when you consider that lack of space is a general problem in Japan.
Tokyo with children
With its large size, Tokyo may not seem very child-friendly, but there are actually quite a few places in Tokyo that are kid-friendly.
The most popular are without a doubt Disneyland and DisneySea. Disneyland is the same as one can find in Paris or the United States and caters to families with smaller children who want to meet all the famous and classic Disney characters.
It is specially decorated for Easter, Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day, where it is really nice to walk around and enjoy the decorations, the twinkling lights and of course the parades.
DisneySea, on the other hand, is the only one of its kind in the world. It is mostly aimed at families with slightly older children who know the movies from Disney companies such as Indiana Jones, Journey to the Earth's Interior, etc. DisneySea has a really nice show with lights and fountains that are definitely worth spending time experiencing.
If you have children who love Hello Kitty and the other characters from Sanrio, Sanrio Puroland in western Tokyo is the place to visit. There are not as many rides as in Disneyland, but you can meet the different characters at certain times. And there are shops where one can buy various souvenirs. Otherwise, it is different worlds one walks around in, where the different characters each have their area.
Zoo and museum for children
Ueno Zoo is another popular activity to indulge in with the kids if the weather is for staying outdoors. Ueno Zoo has two pandas, which are extremely popular, and they have not become less popular after the female gave birth to a cub.
Ueno Zoo is located in an area with many sights and museums. Here is also the Museum of Nature and Science, which has special areas at each exhibition that caters to children.
In Saitama just north of Tokyo, there is a train and railway museum, which also has many activities aimed at children.
Kidzania is a place where children can be dressed up as a police officer, firefighter or whatever it is they dream of. It is very popular and tickets must be booked up to a month in advance.
There are also some aquariums in the Tokyo area, and several of them have various shows and other activities suitable for children. In addition, there are several different boat trips or bus trips where it is easy to get around with children.
Public transportation is the best way to get around Tokyo. All stations have a free map with all the lines on it, which is a really good idea to get before you start touring Tokyo. Without it, you will most likely get lost pretty quickly.
With its 2210 stations spread over 158 different train lines, you need to have an idea of where you are going. One should be aware that many trains change name when they reach certain stations. Many also change their name when driving from one city to another. Some of these train lines have up to 50 stations and run through several municipalities.
Yamanote Line is probably the most usable line. It runs in a circle and stops at all the major stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Shinagawa and Ueno.
You can easily buy tickets every time you go by train, but it is much easier to buy a train ticket where you deposit money. Then you do not have to think about how many stations you need.
In Tokyo, train tickets are called pasmo or suica. The train cards can also be used as a means of payment in vending machines on the streets and in kiosks such as 7-Eleven and Lawson. You can also buy different day tickets and tour passes, which apply to different lines and different destinations.
Obvious day trips from Tokyo
If you get tired of Tokyo and need a break, there are many opportunities to take a day trip out of the city. Mount Takao is a popular destination and you do not have to be in particularly good shape to climb the mountain. There is both a lift and a small train that can take one half way up the mountain.
From here it is less than an hour's walk to the top. Close to the top is the Yakuoin Yukiji Temple, which is closely connected with tengu from Japanese superstition. A tengu is an evil spirit or god that can be recognized on the long nose. From the temple there is about a 10 minute walk to the top, where in clear weather, you have a really nice view of the mountains.
Another popular destination is Nikko, where the Toshugu Shrine is located. The site is in memory of the first 'shogun' Tokugawa Ieyasu, who is also buried here. It is a large complex of many shrines. The buildings are colorful and stunningly beautifully decorated with hand-carved ornaments of animals and flowers.
South of Tokyo
Kamakura is a city south of Tokyo, here are ancient temples and shrines, and a popular beach that stretches across to the small island of Enoshima.
If you want to go even further south, you come down to Hakone, where you can really enjoy nature. How about a trip with a pirate ship over Lake Ash and a trip up to an active volcano where you can eat black eggs boiled in one of the craters of the volcanoes?
It is said that for every egg you eat, your life is extended by seven years. On clear weather days you have a great view of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is also famous for its many heat sources onsen. It is one of the things that one should not miss during a visit to Japan. To lie and relax in one onsen is some of the best one can offer the body and soul.
Tokyo is the city of contrasts, where new and old stand side by side. Tokyo is often opted out of on a trip to Asia because it is more expensive than many other cities and countries in Asia.
But one cheats oneself for an experience of the very great. Tokyo and Japan have everything the heart desires of culture, history, magnificent scenery and delicious food.
Have a good trip to Japan!