Tokyo is all about contrasts. A very tech focused country with so many sounds, so much technology, so much going on. But at the same time you meet a strong culture, politeness rises above all and the traditions are really important.
You should definitely go there sometime. In all of my travels I have almost never seen the culture so visible in every day life. With everything happening there you just can't get enough. And all the sounds! If a shop sells something that has a sound, they do not display only one, but many many and all with the sound on. But even though all the people and the sound can be overwhelming, you won't find aggressive sellers like in China or India. The politeness over rules it all.
Sitting at the metro in Tokyo is almost embarrassing, people look down all the time, it's not polite to look people in the eyes. Money, recites etc. are always given to you with both hands, you take of your shoes outside the dressing room and everything you buy is wrapped nicely.
I was in Tokyo for about a week, here are my recommendations:
The food is great
And Sushi is the best. The different kinds of fish you get here is enormous, and it's fresh all the time. You should try different kinds of sushi restaurants for different experiences. Most restaurants are pretty good in Tokyo, the hygiene and the service holds a high standard. I did get tired of Miso soup and rice, and I did eat the worst Pizza ever there, but all in all, it's a great city for food lovers.
The city area where the cool kids hang out, always loads of people. And the place where you find the famous Shibuya crossing. A must see fascinating experience. Many restaurants and shops in the area, amongst them Shibuya 109, my favorite shopping mall. I lived in Shibuya, very central.
The Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine
This park is partly located in Shibuya, partly in Harajuku. A huge nice park, a calm oasis's just beside the busy areas. Meiji shrine is located in the park and is one of the largest shrines in Tokyo. I went there on new years day, the same day as half of Tokyo goes there to pray for luck and happiness the coming year. It was a nice experience and thanks to the amazingly well organized queuing they managed to get thousands of people through there that day.
This is where they stroll, the girls we have seen pictures of so many times. They spend most of their time dressing and putting on make up, and the rest of it walking down Harajuku street to show it off. Harajuku is shopping. Many local designers mixed with vintage stores, other fun stuff and cool cafes and restaurants in Harajuku street. For more mainstream and luxury shopping, it's all about Omotesando street.
A small part of the city that is more traditional. Very nice just walking around there, especially in the nice shopping street. There are many shrines and a fascinating big cemetery.
Tsukiji Fish marked
The worlds largest fish marked. Fascinating and very fun, one of the things I enjoyed most in Tokyo actually. You should be there around 9.00 when they open.
You have to see Tokyo from some kind of viewing spot, it looks great from above. I did it from Mori Tower in Rappongi Hills. The ticket there also included a ticket to the Art museum, worth a visit.
Great Japanese garden. There are many, but this one has less tourists, I liked it very much.
Geek or not, Electric Town is a great way to experience the other part of the teenage culture, the geeky part. The area has buildings filled with Anime and games and the largest electronics shop I have ever been to (loved it).
I also visited Ginza, another shopping area, but I didn't like it that much. But for shopping you should also check out Tokyu Hands and Loft, where you will find tons of things you didn't know existed. Asakusa was another nice area, but the Imperial Palace was not very impressing.
Other stuff - Nice to know about Tokyo:
- Walk! You might have heard that Tokyo is to big, that you can't walk around, but you can. For example from Shibuya via Yoyogi park to Harajuku. You always see more when walking.
- Transportation: When you are not walking, take the metro. It works fine. But I never really understood the ticketing system, there are so many systems. But the guards were always very understanding when I made a mistake (guess they are used to it). Taxi is also ok, but bring the street name in Japanese, the nicely dressed taxi drivers with white glows doesn't speak English, but they have gps.
- Money: My Visa card only worked in very few cash machines so if you find an international one like Citybank, make sure you get money there. But you can pay with your card most places.
- Language: Their knowledge of English is very poor, so be prepared. The hotels are normally ok, but not all restaurants and you will often only find the menus in Japanese and maybe pictures of the dishes. So you just have to point and hope for the best:) And all the street names etc. are in Japanese so you will use more time navigating.
There you go - my take on Tokyo. Please add a comment if you have others tips for travellers.
And - just go with the flow, enjoy it, throw away your map and get lost. You will never be bored in Tokyo.