My first memory of Tokyo, Japan was as a small boy in the 1970s at Christmas. I was given a tin wind-up robot that was packed in a brightly coloured cardboard box with the words “Made in Tokyo” on the back. Excitedly, I would wind it up and watch it walk, its lights would flash and then it would fall over. I loved those toys – such simple days.
Forty-five years later I landed in this high-rise and hi-tech mega city knowing that over the next few days no doubt I would need winding up every morning, I’d probably walk a few miles and then no doubt I would fall over….and so it proved!
Tokyo is an experience. Its bright lights, its the unusual, its the crazy, it’s loud, its ordering food and crossing your fingers, it’s staying awake for as many minutes in the day as you can, so as to savour a city that is just magnificent whilst at the same time quite bizarre – it was right up my street.
Where on earth do you start with Tokyo? Well, I guess you have to start at one of the two international airports – Narita or Haneda. I swiftly moved through an immaculately clean and spacious terminal before taking an equally well-managed train straight into the heart of the city. Here however you have to have your wits about you in order to take on the monster that is, the Tokyo underground.
Once you have, it’s a dream and a great place to observe people – on a weekday during rush hour on a packed train there was not a sound. Everyone was on their mobiles yet they were all switched to silent and hardly anyone was talking and if they were, they were whispering – how is that for respect!
I was staying at the wonderful Hotel Gracery a skyscraper hotel right in the heart of Shinjuku with a giant Godzilla Dinosaur on the roof – I mean why not! On the hour every hour, he breathes smoke, roars and flashes those beady red eyes. This was one of my first bizarre experiences in Tokyo and it only fuelled the fire and made me more excited to discover the rest of this astonishing city.
Tsukiji Outer Market
An early morning visit to Tsukiji Outer Market is well worth it. Consisting of a few narrow lanes packed with stalls selling fresh and processed seafood this lively bustling market is a window into local life.
There were also many other food-related items like pots, knives and kitchenware however its the people watching that really makes it a unique and interesting experience.
With locals arrival on bicycles and al fresco seafood stalls offering an array of locally caught produce the Tsukiji Market is a must. One word of warning though, the blow-torched eels are a little on the tough side!
I was based in the Shinjuku area where you will find little time to switch off as the area is party central and everything you expect from Tokyo. Busy bars and Izakawa restaurants line the streets with perhaps the most famous visitor attraction being the Robot bar. Every day there are crazy dance and musical performances which cost approximately £60 per person.
Shinjuku is also home to the largest railway station in the world so get your bearings as it can be confusing. I didn’t and spent some time wondering if I would ever see my hotel again!
Shibuya is a little more formal than Shinjuku and a popular shopping and entertainment area for the young and trendy. It is also one of Tokyo’s most colourful and busy districts, packed with cafes, dining and nightclubs.
A lot of tourists and businessmen migrate towards the large intersection in front of the station’s Hachiko Exit. Decorated with neon advertisements and giant video screens it is also home to the largest pedestrian crossing in the world.
Roppongi is a lively entertainment district where locals and tourists mix in heaving late night bars and clubs.
By day, the vast Roppongi Hills skyscraper draws visitors for its observation deck, boutiques and the Mori Art Museum.
For a classier part of Tokyo head to Ginza which is the “Kensington” of Tokyo with its imperial palace, amazing shopping and great luxury hotels.
There is also Asakusa, a more traditional yet laid-back part of Tokyo with some good 3/4* hotels, nice shopping a good local atmosphere.
Here you will also find the Sensoji temple which is Japans oldest and most celebrated. Alongside the temple are shops and stalls where you may see the resident Sumo wrestlers wandering around, some of whom are happy to share a selfie – I mean these guys are celebs!
Originally a post-World War II black market area this colourful narrow street is near Shinjuku station and means Memory Lane in English.
There are over 50 small ramen and yakitori restaurants where you gather around the grill and watch them serve up a selection of meats cooked right there in front of you.
Some of the items from the menu are for the more refined or should I say obscure taste, in particular, the grilled rectum which I opted against.
The locals many of whom are suited up and straight from work come for a few beers and rectum and chips. Friendly and well-mannered – just not sure about their eating habits.
This picture of me posing with a mask came 6 months before Covid 19 arrived on our doorsteps – what seemed like a bit of fun then soon turned into the nightmare that we have all endured. It’s a funny old world sometimes.
For real authentic Japan, this street takes some beating.
The Japanese People
In the months and years that have followed my trip to Tokyo if I am ever asked for my thoughts and suggestions what always comes to mind is the Japanese people.
So welcoming, so friendly and with so much respect for fellow human beings.
Tokyo is of course a must-see in Japan. Like any large city, there are the shops, the sites and the seedy areas.
I loved the energy, the madness and even the non-stop noise of Tokyo. It really was a schoolboy dream fulfilled even if I wasn’t so keen on those blow-torched eels!
If you are planning a trip to Tokyo and want to pre book some excursions here are three of the very best.