Tokyo is one of those crazy places that everyone needs to see at once in their life. For many, it will be a huge shock to their system with the lights, sounds and people; for others it will be exactly the kind of place they’re looking for. It’s a massive city that can be intimidating if dropped into on a whim, but with some solid planning and a sense of adventure, it can be the most memorable place you’ve ever seen.
I spent some time there a few years ago doing the teaching thing and while I’ve long since moved on from there, the experience still sticks with me. It was a time in my life where I got to grow a lot as a person and really expand my horizons as a traveler and citizen of the world. Would I go back? As soon as I get the chance to!
I’m going to do the impossible thing here, which is attempt to list the things I think everyone needs to see. Now, I loathe this process because I feel like it’s cheating out the overall experience, which really is the most important thing. I started at 5 things, then realized that was just foolishness; expanded it to 10 and then added 2 more just for good measure. Take this as a guideline for your own planning and inspiration to get out there and see what truly is the most insane place in the world.
1. Visit Meiji Jingu – Rebuilt shortly after being destroyed in WWII bombings, this shrine is in honour of the late Meiji emperor who helped to bring Japan out of its isolationist period. Very little of what remains is an original – except the giant wooden torii that sits right in the middle, which somehow survived.
I would recommend seeing Meiji Jingu at least twice but at different times in the year if at all possible – once during a major festival to take in the crowds and festive spirit, but another during a more low key day to really bask in the tranquility of the site. When you consider how close this site is to the madness of Harajuku and Shibuya, just off the Yamanote line, its existence is all the more serene.
When to Visit: All year, but keep in mind New Years is quite congested.
2. Observation Deck at the NS Building – As soon as you get to Tokyo, you may feel a tad overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and the volume of high buildings (all the more impressive when you consider due to Tokyo’s status as an earthquake megacentre kept the largest buildings from being built until relatively recently!). There is no better way to get an idea of the magnitude of a city than by checking it out from an observation deck.
The government buildings located in Shinjuku offer the best view of the city and best of all – they’re free. Take the elevator up either building to the observation deck and, even if it’s a good day, you still won’t be able to see the end of the city. Madness!
When to Visit: Winter/early morning before the smog settles in.