IF you want to see a place unlike any other, Tokyo is the place to go.
Only in Tokyo will you find shopping malls filled with cool and unique items, to temples of serenity to nearby prefectures of unparalleled beauty. Japan’s capital city garners many accolades: one of the world’s safest, most livable city, the most populous metropolitan area in the world, most Michelin stars of any city, the best place to live as a university student, and home to 51 of top Fortune Global 500 companies. In Tokyo alone one finds cleanliness at daytime and beggars under the bridge at night time; good-looking millennials fashionably outshone by mobile Baby Boomers. Even if you take one whole year to explore Tokyo, you will not be satisfied.
If you are a rushed or budget traveler, the most efficient and affordable way to explore the city is through the Tokyo Sky Hop Tour bus. Sitting on top of the Asakusa-Tokyo Skytree course bus deck, you’ll see city highlights like electrical equipment center Akihabara, serene and historical Ueno and Edo-era looking Asakusa. The entertainment district Shibuya is not a stop on this tour, but it’s an experience to cross the hectic Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit together with almost 2,500 pedestrians. Each of the thousand stalls at Tsukiji Market seems like a miniature endless city to explore, from one to the next introducing you to things you’ve never seen before – unagi siopao, white strawberries, and umami-filled ‘otoro’ that give you goosebumps and flavor lingering for hours. I have not seen a lovelier spectacle at night than the Rainbow Bridge on the way to Odaiba.
But a visitor to Tokyo finds his joy not only by merely sitting on a bus, but also by exploring each neighborhood on foot. Shinjuku is described by Tokyo Handy Guide as, “Japan’s greatest entertainment district where tall buildings are lined up next to each other along with plenty new hot spots.” One of these buildings is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government near the Tochamae Subway Station. Entrance is free and the Observatory on the 45th floor is the perfect place to get a 360-degree day or dark view of Tokyo.
Shinjuku shopping is so vast that Tokyo Greeters give free guided tours of the electronic area and department store basement food floors. Takashima bookstore’s international section is heaven for bookworms, as well as Sekaido stationery store on 3 Chome-1-1. Just a few steps out of the Sekaido you’ll find one of the best steaks, Ikinari, whose signature style is serving meals while the customer stands up. Everywhere you go, you’ll meet Japanese locals who will most likely not speak English, but will return your smiles and kindness.
Just outside of Tokyo, three prefectures are must-sees: Mount Fuji, Hakone and Kamakura. Declared as a Unesco world heritage site in 2013, Mount Fuji, in its full snow-capped glory in winter, is elegant, holy and revered in Japan. It is even more beautiful in person than in any digital form. To ride up Hakone’s Komagatake Ropeway and see the lonesome Hakone Shrine Mototsumiya is like a shortcut hiking adventure to a fairyland landscape - Lake Ashinoko on one side, Mount Fuji on the other, and Japanese foliage in between.
No garden is lusher in winter than Hasadera Temple in Kamakura. Its flower index lists Japanese witch hazel, apricot blossoms, cornel, bush clover, anemone and many more exotic florae. A few blocks away is another stunner: the Great Buddha (Daibutsu), standing at 13.35 meters and known as the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. Mount Fuji, Hakone and Kamakura are within a few hours drive from the Tokyo city center.
By the time you get back to the city, clouds of workaholic salarymen will crowd the subways and bright LED lights will make its own mark against the sky. You cannot have a bad night in Tokyo. You may cringe at the cost, you may get dizzy in its irony, but always, Tokyo remains one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. And rightly so. Crystal Neri
*Crystal Neri is a Cebu-based Inbound Marketing Consultant. Her passion for encouraging people to travel flows through in the extensive blogs she writes and videos she produces. You can catch her on Twitter (@nericrystal) and on her blog, www.crystalneri.com.