How – And Why – To Visit Tokyo

Tokyo
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Tokyo was quite unlike anywhere else I had been. Big, overwhelming… and amazing! Let’s have a look at why you should visit Tokyo, what you should do, and what you need to know before you go.

Urban Sprawl Or City Of Beauty?

It is said that the Japanese have a great sense of beauty, but no sense of ugliness. I pondered this as I took the airport train to Tokyo. From the window I could see a hotchpotch of houses, some elegant and well designed, others less so. There seemed to be no planning oversight, just houses built to individual taste and specification. The result was a massive urban sprawl: concrete blocks with rusty fire escapes, thick ugly cables running separately to each house, and garish adverts pasted to the sides of buildings. But every so often there was a glimpse of a house with a carefully tended garden, or a graceful pagoda rising above the skyline. 

It may be true that Tokyo is a fast moving modern city full of cars and mismatched buildings. But you don’t have to look hard to find the careful design, both modern and traditional, that makes it a city of beauty. 

Japanese lantern with design of trees and buildings with mountains in the background
A lantern lights the way in Ueno Park

Parks And Gardens Of Tokyo

It’s not long before the other side of Tokyo starts to reveal itself, the side where every effort has been made to please the eye. This is a city of parks and gardens, with sculpted landscapes of bridges, lakes and flowering plants. Even apartment blocks seem to have roof gardens – I spotted one with its own greenhouse!   

I walked around Ueno Park at sunset, when trees and other features were festooned with coloured lights. The ornamental lake was filled with plants, sadly dormant when I was there at the end of winter, but they would become a riot of colour in spring and summer. And the path was lined with illuminated lanterns, each with an individual design to light the way of passers-by.   

Formal Japanese garden with lake and trees
The Shinjuku National Garden

Then there was the Shinjuku National Garden, which was exactly as I had imagined a traditional Japanese garden. Read more about Springtime in the Shinjuku National Garden.

Shrines And Temples In Tokyo

Gardens and religious buildings are often interlinked here: you’ll find pagodas in the gardens and the shrines and temples may be set in their own parkland. You can read about my visits to two of the city’s most impressive religious sites:

Shrine consisting of wooden buildings at different levels with green roofs
At the Meiji Shrine

National Museum Of Modern Art

The National Museum of Modern Art is a must for any art lover. Here you will find traditional Japanese woodblocks and painted screens with delicate pictures of birds, mountains and cherry blossom: timeless expressions of perfection. 

Panelled screen covered with a painting of cherry blossom
Painted screen in the National Museum of Modern Art

But there is also an eclectic selection of modern paintings. In particular, impressionist influences are evident, and 20th century styles are much more aligned to what was happening across the rest of the world. I was intrigued to note that some artists had tried to copy the style of Van Gogh – with only black and white prints for inspiration – with a surprising level of success.

Food In Tokyo

Food is another part of the Tokyo experience. Delicately laid out platters of sushi with flowers carved from vegetables, or plates of meat and noodles, each element of the meal carefully positioned to create an aesthetic whole. And one evening my Kirin beer arrived topped with a sculped head of granita. You don’t get that anywhere else!   

Food is a must when you visit Tokyo - here we have a long tray of Japanese food with vegetables, sushi and rice
Typical Japanese food

If you’re looking for an authentic Japanese food experience when you visit Tokyo you could take a food tour or even try a sushi making class. Check out these posts:

Looking for food experiences in Japan? ByFood is the one-stop English language platform for food tours, food-based activities and restaurant reservations.

How To Visit Tokyo: Some Practicalities

  • Narita International Airport is around 65 km from the city. Trains (including the JR Narita Express) and buses are available.
  • Accommodation options include hotels, hostels and capsule hotels. Have a look at the options on booking.com.
  • A frequent question that visitors ask is, do you need to speak Japanese? While it’s true that the language can be a bit of a barrier, the city is perfectly navigable without it: I certainly managed to use the metro to get everywhere I wanted to go. However, to make the most of your visit you might want to try one of the many guided tours offered by companies such as GetYourGuide or Viator.
  • One area where I might have appreciated some assistance was in choosing restaurants and making reservations. ByFood offer a restaurant reservation service, acting as an intermediary to enable you to choose and book a restaurant.
  • If you’re looking to explore beyond the city when you visit Tokyo there are lots of ways to take advantage of the very efficient public transport. Have a look at these Easy Day Trips From Tokyo.
  • Finally, before you travel have a look at these 5 Things To Know Before Visiting Japan.

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Karen Warren

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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