The International Travel Writer’s Guild (or whatever it’s called) must have a rule: you can’t write an article about Tokyo without using the phrase “city of contrasts.” I wouldn’t want to break that rule so I’ll just say this:
|Shrine in Yanaka neighborhood|
Tokyo is a city of contrasts.
No, really. It is. You can be weaving your way through crowds in the cavernous sprawl of Shinjuku Station (the world’s busiest), and then less than five minutes later find yourself on a quiet side street with a park and ballfield on one side and the only people in sight in a quiet line for a hole-in-the-wall noodle joint.
Or you can wander from Shibuyu Crossing (reputedly the world’s busiest street crossing) and two blocks later find yourself walking up a quiet hill (of course, you eventually realize that the reason why it’s quiet is that it’s lined with love hotels – the rates posted by the hour or half-day give that away – and it’s the middle of the afternoon, hence the quiet).
Or you can stroll through the majestic forests and gardens of the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, then cross the street into the fashionista district of Harajuku and almost lose your breath in the crowd.
Or (one final example) you can dodge the hurly burly dance of trucks, carts, motorcycles, bicycles and other carriers of infinite variety in the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, barely able to catch a breath from the press of people and the visual explosion of thousands of products, then cross a canal into the imperial garden of Hamarikyu and feel the stress and press of the city slip away as you amble along paths lined with trees and flowers.
It’s that contrast, that dance of the ancient and the ultra-modern that makes Tokyo such a delight. Here in a few bullets are my highlights of Tokyo:
- The aforementioned Tsukiji Market is not to be missed. I did not attempt the early-morning tuna auction madness (you’ll find plenty of online advice about that) but did experience the market at its crazy morning peak. Just wander with no particular destination in mind, have sushi for breakfast at one of the many restaurants, and keep your head up!
- Gardens, shrines and temples everywhere! Highlights for me were:
- Sensō-ji and surrounding temples – madness! Thousands of people, the smell of incense, the tinkling of fortune sticks, the gong of bells
- Meiji Shrine and surrounding garden – the opposite of the above with towering trees lining gravel paths, a lush and well laid out garden, and the sense of stepping back in time, plus lovely wedding parties!
- Hamarikyu, mentioned above
- Quaint neighborhood walks:
- Yanaka, a quiet residential neighborhood with hidden shrines and temples, an interesting sprawling cemetery, an old “ginza” (shopping street), and a couple of small museums
- Kagurazaka, sometimes referred to as the French Quarter of Tokyo due to an expat population that’s flavored the area, just another nice walking district with narrow streets and interesting hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafes
- Golden Gai – You don’t understand the meaning of the term “shanty bar” until you poke into this warren of narrow “streets” (most of which I could almost touch walls on both sides) with five seater bars and oodles of atmosphere. Like stepping back into the 19th century of Tokyo
- The free view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building #2
- Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, more popularly known as “Piss Alley,” a narrow lane of yakotori joints that reeks (quite literally) with atmosphere