Overview of Tokyo

The capital of Japan, Tokyo is a massive city with the sheer variety of sights and activities on offer.
The capital of Japan, Tokyo is a massive city with the sheer variety of sights and activities on offer.

From the world famous 'scramble crossing' of Shibuya to the beautiful Imperial Palace of Chiyoda, Tokyo is a city that truly has something to offer for every traveler. With a population of close to 12 million within the central city and a whopping 35 million within its greater urban area, Tokyo is the world's biggest city both in population and in the sheer variety of sights and activities it offers.

With over four-hundred years of history behind it, including an incredible rebuilt effort following the devastating bombing campaigns of World War II, Tokyo is one of the world's most fascinating cities for history and culture buffs. Home to gorgeous palaces and massive glass-coated skyscrapers, it is a city of extreme contrasts between Japan's history and its rapid technological growth.

Tokyo is, to put it lightly, a massive city. Covering over two thousand square kilometers, it's a city that can catch visitors by surprise and leave them without any sense of direction easily. Thankfully, the city itself is divided into twenty-three separate wards, each connected to one another using one of the world's most efficient and widely-used public transportation networks.

In the middle of Central Tokyo is Chiyoda, the city's historical district and home of Japan's major government complexes. From the Diet to the beautiful grounds of the Imperial Palace, this district attracts a great deal of foreign visitors, and for good reason. Beautiful public gardens, historically significant buildings, and places of immense political importance are all found in this area.

Surrounding Chiyoda are two wards that Tokyo is internationally famous for – the bustling inner city district of Shinjuku, and the vibrant transit hub and shopping heaven of Shibuya, home of the famous 'scramble crossing' seen in various Japanese films. Known for its nightlife and fantastic dining, Shinjuku is home to most of the city's high-end hotels and boutique restaurants.

The world famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is one of the busiest intersection in the world.
The world famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is one of the busiest intersection in the world.

Shibuya, on the other hand, is slightly more teen-oriented than its grown up counterpart. From high-end shopping to high street brands, it's one of the best places in Tokyo to shop for apparel and good quality clothing. Home to one of the city's biggest railway stations, it's a great district for observing Tokyoites going about their business underneath ten-foot screens playing music and advertising.

For Tokyo teens and twenty-somethings, the hottest place to be is Harajuku, a district found close to Shibuya station and packed with interesting people watching opportunities. Home to Yoyogi Park, a Tokyo landmark that must be seen to be believed, it's packed with cosplayers and bizarrely dressed teens every Sunday. Get there early, as late in the day it can be crowded with people and vendors.

Outside the city center, but still of interest to visitors, is Taito, one of the city's oldest districts and the home of sumo. A more laid back area than Tokyo's central wards, it's one of the best places to soak up the city's culture and explore massive urban markets. Finally, the Akihabara district, found nearby the political area of Chiyoda, is home to Japan's biggest technology shopping center.

Despite its immense size and the often huge distances between key attractions, getting around Tokyo isn't a difficult task. The city's train network is arguably the best in the world, allowing access to almost every corner of the city within a couple of train transfers. New visitors might be confused by the railway's decentralized management – there are five different railway systems in Tokyo. If you're lost or confused, the line's staff can always help you find your way around.

While Tokyo isn't Japan's center of cuisine, it's certainly one of the world's best cities for eating out. From the high-end restaurants of Shinjuku to the mega-cheap roadside noodle bars found all around Shibuya, finding food in Tokyo is never a difficult task. Sushi bars are found in most parts of central Tokyo, and offer a simple, inexpensive dining option at a variable level of quality.

Likewise, finding a place to drink in Tokyo is rarely a difficult experience. From the exciting and very tourist-focused Roppongi to the tiny independent bars of Shinjuku's Golden Gai, Tokyo is an incredible nightlife destination and one that must be seen to be believed. Whether you're a fan of Japanese classic 'izakaya' bars or ultra-modern nightclubs, Tokyo will have something to offer.

It's worth pointing out that Tokyo is considered one of the world's most expensive cities, not just for tourists but for locals alike. It's far from rare to pay thousands of yen for a cocktail in high-end bars, or to pay equally bloated sums for lunches and other meals. After a few days in the city, you'll learn to separate the costly from the affordable – it's a skill that comes after some exposure to the city.

For technology gurus, gourmet cuisine enthusiasts, history buffs, and adventurers alike, Tokyo is a city that must be seen to be truly experienced. From its massive skyscrapers to its refreshing parks, its incredible cultural monuments to its neon-lit shopping districts, this mammoth of a city truly has an experience waiting for every visitor.