Ever since I was 10 years old I decided that I wanted to go to Japan one day. Japan was the mysterious country with the great temples, unknown language and beautiful kimonos which I knew through their music. I started out with Visual Kei and gradually shifted my attention towards other music genres, eventually developing a full blown crush on the culture and history of the country as well. Two years ago I got the opportunity to visit Tokyo with my school to see the difference between communication styles in Japan and Europe. I jumped at the chance, excited to be finally going to Japan. Now, two years later, I’ve just returned from a four week trip which was the second time I visited Japan. Below are my reasons for only exploring Tokyo and why you should not cross that off your list.
#1: It’s a name everyone knows
Tokyo is the city that people know of the media as ‘huge’, ‘neon’ and ‘crowded’. It is true, Tokyo itself is huge in numbers, buildings and also expectations. If you walk one evening through Shinjuku you will also cross the ‘neon’ part of your list as ‘done’ and crowded is one way to describe the never-ending bustle that goes around all the major parts of Tokyo. Tokyo has always been a city of contrast for me. Where you find the crowded streets of Shibuya, you will also find the peace and almost quiet streets in Asakusa if you stride away from the main street of Sensoji Temple. Where you will find the hyper futuristic Pepper robot in stores and shopping malls, you also find the traditional craftsman ship in small restaurants, bars and shops which remind you of the previous era. Tokyo has it all, despite being the largest city in Japan and despite it being something that will give you a culture shock for two days straight if you fly in for the first time, can offer you so much insight on the Japanese style of life and culture.
#2: The contrast is huge
If you wander around Tokyo you will probably find every possible part of Japan cramped within one city (except for the outstretching nature like Nikko or in the more rural areas of Japan). In Akihabara you find all the neon lights imaginable with all the shops for electronics you can possibly imagine while in Akasaka you will find streets filled with restaurants in all sizes and cuisines. Asakusa gives you a more traditional option to explore and is a great way to see a bit more of the traditional side, as well as having the opportunity to wear kimono for a day or just simply admire people in kimono walking by and eating some delicious street food which is widely available. The tall skyscrapers are right next to the most beautiful trees you will ever see and the area around the Imperial Palace is a great example of the point mentioned above. You find contrast in every corner of this city and this is also the reason Tokyo will never get boring.
#3: Experience the culture
The Japanese culture is one you have to put some effort in to understand. While there is a lot written about the Japanese culture, enough videos about what to do or not to do while being in Japan and you can research a lot: You have to experience it to fully understand it. I’ve spoken to people who did a two week tour in such a high pace even the Shinkansen would be jealous. If you rush through Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and six other cities in less then 14 days you will not only be exhausted once you board the plane back home: You will also wonder about what you really did see of the culture. It takes time, effort and motivation to actually engage with the locals, eat where they eat but also see what they want you to see. It’s fun to see the Tokyo Sky Tree, visit Meiji-Shrine and eat in McDonalds on Takeshita Dori to see what they offer in Japan, but walking that side street and visiting that small antique store can be so much more rewarding. Don’t just rush through the tourist catalogue, try to find experiences yourself. I have had moments in which I seriously doubted my own sanity because I found myself standing in a side-alley, late at night in search of an izakaya and I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there. The mere guidance of Google Maps brought me there and I just went with it. These moments brought me the best memories of the trips I’ve been on so far, as they aren’t ‘made up just to please the tourists’. Don’t only go for the save and sound salmon sushi or yakitori. Try something different. Ask for recommendation of the chef and let them surprise you. Be brave enough to make an extra step to immerse yourself into a different, unknown culture.
#4: Tokyo is easily accessible
Not only is Tokyo itself easily accessible, it is also extremely easy to travel to a different destination for one day. I won’t be listing all the options for day trips as there are many lists available online. But the availability of so many spots to explore is a big plus for me. Only 30 minutes from Tokyo you will find yourself in Yokohama (Cup Ramen Museum, anyone?) and Kawagoe (Little Edo). A bit further away and after having spend about two hours in a rapid train you will find yourself in Nikko, one of the world heritage sights that is a welcome change when you are in Tokyo for a longer period. I haven’t even started about the convenience of having two airports (Haneda and Narita), the many trains that run in all directions and the Shinkansen that gives even more options to your travel schedule.
#5: It doesn’t feel like a huge city
Don’t get me wrong. Tokyo is huge, you will be dazzled by the amount of buildings, bars, restaurants and people wandering everywhere. But in a weird sense it is weirdly peaceful. Try walking a good couple of miles in Amsterdam and you will find yourself in a chaos of a lot of noise, a lot of people (who do not care if they bump into you and vice versa) and a lot of trash and dirt in general. Tokyo is by far the cleanest, most quiet and most peaceful city I have ever walked in. No one will bump into you (if you get lucky maybe once, but they will apologise while doing so). No one is screaming or walking loudly and no one will leave their trash on the street. You will always have exceptions and I’m not saying that this will always be the case, but we will leave that for now. Japanese people are very aware of their actions and how this can possibly effect other people in their surroundings. Because of this caution in their daily actions, it feels weirdly easy and peaceful to walk around Tokyo.
#6: The food is good
I am almost positive that this reason is pretty much true for the entire country, but there is so much diversity easily accessible in Tokyo that I just have to mention this as well. Tokyo has so much to offer on food, it is insane. Whether you are looking for kebab, Italian food, a good okonomiyaki or perhaps even Thai or Chinese. You will find it in Tokyo. I’ve seen German restaurants offering dishes that looked even more appetising then the originals in Germany itself. The food culture in Japan is very important and you will notice this in the amount of effort that goes into preparing each and every single one of the dishes that will be presented to you. There is a passion for food in Japan that I haven’t seen anywhere else. For all the foodies out there: Whatever you are looking for, I am pretty sure you will find it in Tokyo. Japanese traditional dishes are by far my personal preference, but if you ever crave anything else, you will be totally fine in Tokyo as well.
#7: It isn’t as expensive as you might have thought
When I told people I was going to Tokyo for a longer period the first question I got was ‘But isn’t Tokyo super expensive?’. It completely depends on what you want to do, but from my experience: No. Not at all. I’ve had dinners from the conbini (convenience store) that were as cheap as Y600 and they were even better then some food I’ve had in restaurants in Europe. The prices for accommodation and rent are pretty high compared to other countries, but this is also a judgement based opinion. I know that some products are sometimes more expensive in other countries and if there is one thing I should name for being expensive it would be fresh fruit and vegetables. But aside from that, exploring Tokyo on a (tight) budget is completely possible and also not hard at all.
(All photos are originally shot by me and further publication needs to be requested and approved by me. Please respect this.)