TOKYO: The Savvy & Fine Guide to the Best of Tokyo
Tokyo, one of my favorite cities I have ever visited. I remember the feeling when the plane started to land in Narita Airport - the excitement seeing the biggest and the most thrilling city in the world. What makes it so fascinating is the fantastic collision of past and future, the neon jungle mixed with ancient temples. Everywhere you turn, you will find reason to be astounded. You will marvel at the ubiquitous plastic food, the bullet trains, the omnipresent vending machines, the cleanliness and the politeness of the people.
In the early 1600s, when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu built his castle here, Tokyo was nothing but a tiny fishing village. By 1800 it was already the largest city in the world, with more than a million people calling it home. Now, more than 35 million live in greater Tokyo.
The choices that Tokyo presents, are absolutely overwhelming and you can only skim the surface in one visit. Savvy & Fine's motto is always quality over quantity - select a few spots, don't rush, enjoy, and take it all in. Come along on an armchair tour and a guide of what to see in this fascinating city.
This Tokyo's most famous Shintō shrine, is dedicated to the late 19th century emperor Meiji who was the symbol of the dramatic transformation of Japan from a closed feudal society into one of the great powers of the modern world
When the shrine was established, over 100,000 trees were donated by the Japanese people and it is now a thick 170-acre canopy of sacred forest in the middle of Tokyo. It is a beautiful and serene walk to the shrine, through several wooden torii (gates) and the sprawling forested grounds.
At the entrance is a display of sake barrels donated to to the shrine. According to Japan Times, for the Japanese, sake has always been a way of bringing gods and people together. Shinto shrines and sake manufacturers maintain a symbiotic relationship--the shrines conduct rites to ask the gods for prosperity of the brewers, and the brewers donate the grog that shrines need for their ceremonies.
At the shrine, visitors can write prayers and special wishes on small wooden tablets and tie them onto the prayer wall. They can follow the locals and toss some coins into the offering box close to the enormous drum, bow their head twice, clap twice, make a prayer, then bow the head again.
Not far from Meiji-jingu, is the famous Takeshita Street - one of the most popular youth subculture destinations in Japan. It is a narrow street packed with quirky shops and fast food outlets, where aspiring goths and Lolitas show off their fashion sense.
No visit to Tokyo is complete without seeing the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station where all lights turn red at the same time in every direction, traffic stops, people pour across the street from all directions, and meet in the middle in a frantic mess.
The best place to observe this organized chaos is from the second floor of the Starbucks in the Tsutaya building.
Ueno Park is not only Tokyo's most significant cultural center filled with museums, temples, and natural attractions, but also Tokyo's most popular cherry blossom viewing spot with more than 1,000 cherry trees lining its central pathway.
Hanami ("flower viewing") draws enormous crowds to the park and locals enjoy parties under sakura trees laying blue mats on the ground to reserve their spots. The mats are treated like floors in a Japanese house - you need to remove your shoes before stepping on the mat.
UENO PARK'S STREET FOOD
Japan is the absolute best culinary destination and not only for the elegant kaiseki meals or fabulous sushi. The street food is just as exiting!
In Ueno Park, there is a row of vendors selling everything from yakisoba noodles to cucumbers on a stick to sticky rice buns.
You have to brave the crowds to get a taste of all the different delicacies, and then find a spot under the cherry blossoms to enjoy.
Sensō-ji, Tokyo's most significant Buddhist temple, was founded in year 628 when Tokyo was just a fishing village.
The entrance gate is the majestic Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) with its large red lantern and the statues of the god of wind and the god of thunder.
Passing through the gate, you will find yourself at Nakamise-dōri, a bustling shopping street leading to the temple - a perfect spot for some souvenir shopping.
Before the main hall, a cloud of smoke winds its way up from the huge incense burner. It is believed that the smoke from the incense has a healing effect. Some people cover their head with the smoke...it is believed to make you smarter.
Yasukuni Shrine is a shinto shrine commemorating those who have died in war for their country and sacrificed their lives to help build the foundation for a peaceful Japan. The shrine has a scenic sakura grove in the front and one of the trees in the garden is used by the meteorological service to announce the official beginning of the cherry blossom season in Tokyo.
Chidorigafuchi attracts thousands of visitors, artists, and photographers day and night, as it is one of the best sakura spots in Tokyo. A row of cherry trees is lined along the banks of the moat of the Imperial Palace. The scenery is magical with flowers reflected in the water and colorful boats paddling under the branches.
TOKYO CITY VIEW OBSERVATION DECK
TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
This working fish market, selling $21 million of the freshest fish every day, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Tokyo. It is a busy workplace and absolutely fascinating - workers whisking fish around on electric ta-rays at full speed, carrying boxes full of octopus, huge fish eyes, giant tuna, buckets of urchins, and exotic fish. You have to be careful not to get run over by them.
Most of the stalls have been family run since the 1920s when Tsukiji was opened. Here, you'll see the entire ocean on display, from salmon and abalone to exotic crustaceans.
Read further about the fish market here: Tokyo: Tsukiji Fish Market
Update from October 2018: The market has moved to a new location in Toyosu.