Tokyo, Japan’s busy capital, mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine is known for its towering gate and surrounding woods. The Imperial Palace sits amid large public gardens. The city's many museums offer exhibits ranging from classical art (in the Tokyo National Museum) to a reconstructed kabuki theater (in the Edo-Tokyo Museum).
There is nothing more relaxing to some, and horrendously terrifying to others, than getting naked in front of a load of strangers and hopping in a bath. I was the latter and have been transformed, and you can be too (our guide might help). Onsens are great—you come out feeling relaxed and soft and great (and maybe a bit dehydrated so don’t ignore the milk vending machine). In Tokyo you can choose from the local sentos like this one which are like bathhouses, traditional onsens or full-blown resorts and even onsen towns like Hakone. Traditionally they are divided by gender, but you can find many mixed pools which require bathing suits. Tattoos are often banned but this is relaxing slowly, and many are now tattoo friendly. Try it once; it’s a brilliant part of Japanese culture and you’ll be stared at far less in Tokyo than rural Japan – so it’s ideal if you’re nervous!
Who wants to go shopping?! Ginza is renowned as one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world. This upscale area was built on a swamp in the 16th century and originally used as a mint during the Edo (or Tokugawa) era. In the 19th century, the Japanese government tried to “modernize” the district along Western lines after a fire destroyed most of the existing structures in 1872. Gradually, newspapers and magazines opened offices here and, between the World Wars, it became popular amongst locals to “kill time” in Ginza. The district became renowned for its window displays and soon attracted both shoppers and stores alike.
Today, Ginza is home to the flagship stores of large companies like Sony and also boasts many designer and haute couture brands, such as Carolina Herrara and Louis Vuitton. On Saturdays and Sundays, the roads are closed to vehicles between 12 noon and 5 p.m., making the area a “pedestrian haven” for shoppers. Ginza is home to several major department stores, including the Wako Department Store. There are also several art galleries in the area.
Prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo. A small castle town in the 16th century, Edo became Japan's political center in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government there. A few decades later, Edo had grown into one of the world's most populous cities. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the emperor and capital moved from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"). Large parts of Tokyo were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the air raids of 1945.
Today, Tokyo offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining to its visitors. The city's history can be appreciated in districts such as Asakusa, and in many excellent museums, historic temples and gardens. Contrary to common perception, Tokyo also offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center and within relatively short train rides at its outskirts.