Mission (practically) impossible: Tokyo in 48 hours
at in a restaurant where you’re served by robots before visiting a 1,500-year-old temple. In Tokyo the contrast between tradition and innovation is all around you. The Greater Tokyo Area, with 36 million inhabitants, is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Getting under the skin of this vast megalopolis presents a challenge for even the most experienced traveller.
Two observation points over Tokyo
Tokyo City Hall is known as Tochō and it was designed to look like a computer chip while also emulating a Gothic cathedral. Inside the two main buildings there are observation points that are free to enter. Situated 202m above the city, they are the perfect starting point for your Tokyo adventure.
Tuna worth millions
The biggest fish market in the world is in Tokyo. In November 2016 the market moved from Tsukiji (in Ginza) to Toyosu Island. Attending the tuna auction, in which people pay fortunes –the record is $1.3 million- is a must for tourists willing to get up at the crack of dawn. The custom is to eat sushi for breakfast after the auction.
It’s common all over Japan to see people passing by with a ‘bento’ under their arm. Boxes of food that usually include rice, fish, pulses and fruit, sometimes arranged to look like animals or comic characters. To really lunch like a local, take your Bento and eat while sitting on the grass of the Japanese garden, Shinjuku Gyoen.
Shibuya, chaos and calm
Besides being a shopaholic’s paradise, the Shibuya district is the proud home of the busiest intersection in the world, where a million people cross every day.
If you need a rest from the hustle and bustle, it’s just a short stroll from here to the peacefulness of the Meiji Shrine. The building is surrounded by a forested oasis containing 100,000 trees and safeguarded by the ‘torii’ gates. As you cross the wood and go through the gates your heart beat will slow down, enabling you to fully appreciate this Shinto shrine.
The underground world
Tokyo Metro is the fourth largest in the world and the only one to be fully automated. It receives 2.8 billion users every year. Shinjuku Station is the busiest on the planet; 4 million users walk along its 36 platforms every day. Private railway lines usually provide women-only carriages.
‘Lolitas’ and boutiques
Cross the Jingu Bashi bridge and you will come to Harakuju, Tokyo’s trendiest district. Its backbone is Omotesando Avenue, flanked on either side by designer shops selling haute couture fashion labels. This is the case of the Prada boutique, housed in a building designed by the prestigious group of architects, Herzog & de Meuron.
Close by is the busy pedestrian-only Takeshita Street which, together with the Jingu Bashi bridge, is one of the main meeting points for cosplay fans. The teenagers dress up as the characters from their favourite comics, series and videogames. Boys prefer superheroes, while girls love dressing up as ‘lolitas’ and turning themselves into walking dolls.
Cosplayers spend their Sundays wandering around Takeshita, going into souvenir and merchandising shops in search of products related to their Japanese idols. Another favourite pastime is going to restaurants and eateries as original as Calbee, where they serve chocolate and chips.
The best way to get to Tokyo Tower is to catch a monorail train to Hamamatsucho. The landmark, which looks a bit like the Eiffel Tower, is 332m high and one of the city’s icons.
Bikinis and giant robots
When dusk falls, the Shinjuku district transforms into a festival of neon lights, especially in the Kabukicho area. Known as Tokyo’s ‘red light district’, it is the home of the most disparate establishments: ‘Izakayas’ or Japanese taverns, casinos, karaokes, ‘love hotels’, etc. One of the most striking is the ‘Robot Restaurant’, where bikini-clad girls handle robot-waiters that stand three metres high. Apart from serving dinner, they dance to techno music under strobe lighting.
The thunder gate
The Asakusa district is one of the oldest in the city and the low houses in this area bear the stamp of traditional Japanese architecture. The Sensō-ji temple, dating back to 645, is the biggest and oldest in the city. The entrance, guarded by the impressive Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) is one of Tokyo’s most photographed attractions.
The power of pink
Growing in Ueno Park, the largest in Tokyo, are hundreds of cherry trees that create quite a display whilst they are in bloom (from the end of March to the beginning of April). Japanese people come out in droves for ‘hanami’, the annual viewing of the cherry blossom. The National Museum is also in the park, offering visitors the chance to deepen their knowledge of the city’s roots by way of the Japanese and Asian galleries.
The geek universe
Once again the contrasts of this city are only too evident. After visiting the museum, it’s time to go to the Akihabara district to admire the vast geek universe set within the Japanese capital. Video game and manga-lovers, lit up by infinite neon lights, wander around shops selling comics, technological gadgets and electronic items.
Sony vs. Apple
The exclusive district of Ginza is a good way to end this express tour. It is home to some emblematic buildings such as the ones occupied by Sony and Apple that compete to show their technological innovations to passers-by. The area’s main artery, Chuo-Dori, is compared to Fifth Avenue in New York City.