General Information about Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens. The city's many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).
Tokyo is the capital city of Japan, and the biggest city in Japan in terms of population and area. Tokyo is located roughly in the middle of the Japanese archipelago facing the Pacific Ocean. Tokyo is on the Kanto plain, bordering Tokyo Bay.
The Tokyo Megalopolis Region, or Greater Tokyo Area, comprises Tokyo and the three adjacent prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa. The Tokyo region contains about 26% of Japan's total population. The National Capital Region comprises Tokyo and seven surrounding prefectures: Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Gunma, Tochigi, Yamanashi, and Ibaraki.
Two major rivers flow through Tokyo, the Sumida River, running north-to-south into Tokyo bay, and the Tama River, running west-to-east, and forming the border between Tokyo and Kawasaki. Other rivers include the Edo, Arakawa, Sumida, Tama and Kanda rivers.
Tokyo has a total land area of 2187.42 square km and is home to about 10% of the population of Japan. Including the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, the Tokyo conurbation has a total population of over 37 million inhabitants, one of the largest population agglomerations in the world.
Tokyo has an average temperature of about 16.5 degrees Celsius (62 degrees F), an average minimum temperature of about 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees F), and an average maximum temperature of about 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F). Average humidity is about 60%.January and February are the coldest months in Tokyo with an average of 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees F) and average humidity of 44%. It is the sunniest month with an average of 55% sunshine hours.July is the hottest month in Tokyo with an average of about 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees F) and average humidity of 74%. It is the cloudiest month, with an average of 13% sunshine hours.Tokyo's total rainfall in 2013 was 1900.5 mm. September and October often form the wettest period, with April not far behind. February is usually the driest month. Tokyo has generally milder weather than the large cities of Nagoya and Osaka to the south.
Tokyo is the cultural center of Japan . Having originated from the ethnic Jomon culture and then mixed with subsequent influences from first Chinese and Korean, then Greek and Indian, and finally from European and American influences, Japan developed its own unique culture.
Tokyo's unique culture is reflected in its traditional arts – ikebana (flower arranging), origami (making objects by folding paper), and ukiyo-e (woodblock printing); crafts – dolls, lacquer ware, and pottery; performances – kabuki (complex dramas performed in elaborate costumes), noh (restrained and highly stylized drama), bunraku (puppet theater), kyogen (short satirical plays), and kamishibai (storytelling with animation, sound, and music); and traditions – games, onsen (hot springs used as public bathing places), and tea ceremony.
The large number of festivals, rituals, observances and celebrations in Tokyo are also all part of Japanese culture. Starting from the traditional New Year visits to shrines, the Tokyo calendar is full of various festivals and observances, the matsuris (religious festivals) with their mikoshis (portable shrines), and the cherry blossom viewing in the month of April being the most popular.
Although the Japanese may seem aloof and shy by western standards, the real reason for their behavior is that they are brought up to think of themselves as a separate group. Anything non-Japanese is thus not readily accepted. To a westerner this may seem odd, but Japanese culture is different and unique and has its own ways.
It is, therefore, important for a visitor of Tokyo to know some traditions that are ingrained in the culture of the city - bowing is the Japanese version of a handshake, and failing to return a bow is considered impolite; counting of change after a purchase is considered rude; shoes are generally not worn in homes, temples, and various other places; and bringing a gift when invited. Knowing and following cultural traditions of the city makes it easier for a visitor to be accepted by the people of Tokyo .
Getting around Tokyo is easy, with a multitude of public and private railway systems and subway lines that run on schedule. While there is no specific city center, The Yamanote Loop train line marks the center of the city. Buses and cabs constantly circle the city. Buses usually run until late while train and subway lines generally operate until midnight. Getting a prepaid IC cards such as PASMO or Suica is recommended to make traveling within the city on private lines and other transport simple. Your most important purchase is a Japan Rail Pass if you plan on Japan-wide travel and using the national rail and bus network.
Places to Dine
Tokyo has a vast variety of restaurants that cater to all possible tastes and budgets. According to the latest counts, restaurants in Tokyo numbered over 80,000. As Japanese love eating out, most of these restaurants offer Japanese cuisine. These range from standup noodle shops and sushi bars around subway stations to the more up-market places in Akasaka, Roppongi, and similar areas. Restaurants serving Western food are found mainly in international hotels, or in areas like Akasaka, Roppongi and Shiodome, where the Western community is expected to be found in larger numbers. Other restaurants serving French, Italian, Indian, Chinese, and other international cuisines can be found in and around Tokyo. Generally speaking, the farther downtown you go, the more Japanese restaurants you are likely to find; and the more “outward” you go, the more likely you are to find eating places with foreign cuisine.
Shima: Chef Manabu Oshima prepares perfect steaks using beautifully marbled premium wagyu beef from his native Kyoto, and he ages them himself. He serves them as part of a set meal, usually with an appetizer of crab or other seafood. If you fancy second helpings but are too full, you can even order steak sandwiches to go for your breakfast the next morning. Be sure to get a map link (or print-out) as the entrance to his basement location is nondescript and hard to find.
Fukamachi: Inside and out, Fukamachi looks the typical old-school Tokyo restaurant, with its modest facade and simple dining room with one counter plus two small tables. But for its many fans, there is no better tempura in the city. Order the omakase ("leave it up to the chef”) menu for batter-fried morsels of seasonal seafood, vegetables including sansai (wild herbs) in the spring and mushrooms. If you still have room, order the awabi (abalone) or uni (urchin) from the a la carte menu — both are outrageously good. Open for lunch and dinner.
Sushi Sugita: Tokyo’s cognoscenti have long championed Takaaki Sugita as one of the city’s top sushi chefs. Now at work in a sparkling new premises in Nihonbashi, he is at the top of his game and finally starting to get the mainstream attention and respect he deserves. Needless to say, Sushi Sugita has become one of the hardest places to book, so out-of-towners should get their concierges working on it well ahead of time.
Sushi Tokami: One of the most talented of Tokyo’s sushi young guns, Hiroyuki Sato won a Michelin star within months of opening Tokami in 2013. From his opening tossaki tuna roll to the distinctive red vinegar he uses in his sushi rice and the closing brûlée-style tamagoyaki omelet, Sato's omakase menu demonstrates that he already has a clear signature style of his own.
Kagari: Creamy white chicken-based paitan soup, delicate al dente noodles, and elegant toppings of chicken breast and seasonal greens: just three reasons why many people rate Kagari their favorite ramenya in Tokyo. Both the ramen and tsukemen (dipping noodles) are so popular you can expect waits of an hour or more at peak times. If it’s raining or you’re pressed for time, head to the nearby branch in the Marunouchi Line subway station.
Shopping in Tokyo
Tokyo is a shopper's paradise with some of the choicest shopping in the world. From flea markets to designer boutiques, from underground markets to elegant department stores – Tokyo shopping has something to offer everyone. Following are some of the major shopping areas and stores of Tokyo. Most stores are open every day from 10 am to 8 pm. Department stores usually close at 7 pm, with different stores closing one day on different weekdays, so at least some are open on all days.
Major Shopping Areas:
Akihabara: Considered to be the world's largest single place in the world to buy electronics, Akihabara is the perfect place to buy such things. Everything from computers, laptops, mobile phones, digital cameras, televisions, music systems, CD and DVD players , to second hand items, electronic parts, tools and wires can be bought here.
Aoyama/Omotesando: This shopping area, especially the broad tree-lined Omotesando Avenue, is the epicenter of high fashion. All the big names of designer wear have their boutiques here. Besides the Japanese brands of Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Tsumori Chisato and Frapbois, such names as Prada, Tod's, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana can also be found here.
Ginza: Ginza is regarded as Tokyo's traditional shopping center. The main thoroughfare of Ginza is Chuo Street , which has a large number of high end stores that sell everything from high fashion to traditional Japanese wares. Some of the lavish stores here, which are attractions unto themselves, are flagships of Hermès, Dior, and Chanel. Tokyo's four largest department stores – Mitsukoshi, Matsuya, Matsuzakaya, and Waco - are also located here. Harumi Street , which crosses Chuo Street, also has several brand name stores. The best known here is the 7-floor Sony Building that features all of Sony's electronic gadgets and gizmos. The small and side streets leading from the main roads have distinctive shops of their own. Here you can find everything from paintings and graphics to traditional trinkets and souvenirs. This popular shopping destination's streets are closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays.
Jimbocho: Jimbocho is Tokyo's bookshop district. There are well over a hundred bookstores in the area. Though most of the books sold are in Japanese, you can find English titles in Sanseido, Tuttle, Kitazawa, Matsumura, and Issei Do.
Ochanomizu: Ochanomizu is known for its musical shops, which sell almost every musical instrument; and for its high concentration of sports shops with goods and equipment of almost all sports.
Shibuya: Shibuya is another major shopping area of Tokyo. It is mainly known for its trendy fashion shops and boutiques. Some of the main big department stores – Tokyu, Tokyu Hands, Seibu, Shibuya 109, Parco, and Loft - are also located here.
Shinjuku: Shinjuku is a bustling shopping area of Tokyo which is always crowded with shoppers. The nerve center is Shinjuku Station with several massive department stores – Lumine Est, Lumine 1, Lumine 2, Odakyu, Odakyu Mylord, Odakyu Ace, Keio, Metro Promenade, and Shinjuku Subnade – located within the station. The area surrounding the station is filled with shopping complexes. The most prominent of these are Takashimaya Times Square and Flags on the east side, and the many large camera and electronic stores on the west side.