Extensive, made of glass, crowded, loud, colourful, overpopulated …. – the largest metropolis in the world can be described in many similar words. About Tokyo, everything has been already written about. It is a city whose identity and character are changing with visiting the following districts.
The current Tokyo is one of the most important financial centres in the world. It is an important centre in terms of cultural, academic and economic. In 1964, hosted the Summer Olympic Games and is currently preparing for the Games in 2020.
Tokyo is often referred to as a city, but is officially known and governed as a “metropolitan prefecture”. Its official name is Tokyo Metropolis. It administers the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo, (which cover the area that was the City of Tokyo before it merged in 1943), 26 cities, 5 towns, 8 villages and 2 islands. Only in those 23 special wards of Tokyo, the population is over 9 million people, and in the whole prefecture, it is over 13 million inhabitants. However, this number is increasing by another 3 million people daily, when people come here to work or school. Tokyo is the centre of the Greater Tokyo Area, the largest agglomeration in the world, with a population of over 37 million people.
Below you can find a short table of contents. If you are interested only in one specific subject, please click the link and go there directly.
Tokyo – a historical outline
The origins of Tokyo are to be found in a small fishing village located on the banks of the Sumida River. For centuries, it was away from the political events of the country, because the main centre was Kyoto. At the end of the sixteenth century, when Tokugawa Ieyasu became the most powerful man in the country, Edo Castle (today’s Tokyo) has been chosen as his headquarters. After taking office in 1603, he made Tokyo the centre of political and cultural life. Edo became the real capital of united Japan, but officially the act of granting these powers was signed only in 1868.
During the reign of the first shoguns (17th century), Tokyo became the most powerful city of the then world, inhabited by more than 2 million people. After years of great urban sprawl, the power of the Shogunate came to an end, and the real dominant role in the country was taken over by the emperor. Edo became the official capital. Emperor Meiji has chosen the Tokugawa castle as his main seat, and he changed the name Edo to Tokyo, which meant “western capital“.
Meiji’s restaurant is a time of further modernization in Tokyo, mainly based on models taken from the West. Unfortunately, two more events made Tokyo known at the beginning of the 20th century, and have not survived today. The first major event was an earthquake in the year 1923 that devastated most of the city, and as a result, more than 140,000 people lost their lives. The second event was the Japanese military actions during WWII, which led to the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. It is estimated that more than 200 thousand people have lost their lives for this reason.
The city was carefully rebuilt to become a powerful economic power a few decades later.
Tokyo – how to visit it?
There is no way to see all major historical sites, religious sites and monuments, during only a few days of your stay. Tokyo occupies an area of over 550 square kilometres, so before your arrival here, it is good to consider what you are most interested in seeing and what you want to focus on.
I suggest visiting the city, according to the scheme of the JR Yamanote railway line, which is the bypass of the city and is connecting the majority of its districts. Among 29 stations, only two of them cannot switch to the subway or other railway lines. This is the most convenient and reliable means of transport in the city. The Yamanote Line is operated by the East Japan Railway Company, and trains run every day between 4.30 a.m. and 1.20 a.m. every 2,5 minutes. The whole loop ride takes about 60 minutes.
From Tokyo station – JR Yamanote line, about 15 min.
I recommend visiting this place mainly because of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. This is a government building, where on the 45th floor there is a magnificent observatory deck. Entrance to the building, lift access to the observatory deck and admiration of the beautiful panorama of the city – is completely free. For those who do not want to spend money to watch the city views from the “Tokyo Tower”, this place offers free entertainment. On the first floor of the building, there is “Tokyo Tourist Information Center”, where you can get a lot of free maps or guides. The information is also provided in English.
There are two observatory towers – North and South. Depending on the day of the week and the hour, the observation deck is always open at one of them, between 9.30 a.m. and 11.00 p.m.
Here, you can buy the entrance ticket to the Tokyo Tower Observatory*, note this is an affiliate link.
More information can be found directly on the website: www.metro.tokyo.jp
Tokyo Olympics 2020
There is also an exhibition in the Government Building, devoted to the history of the Olympic Games, paying particular attention to what Tokyo is preparing for the Olympics in 2020.
More to read about preparations, location, games, torch relay, medals, mascots, schedule and everything else, you can find on the dedicated website: Tokyo2020
From Tokyo station – take JR Yamanote line to Shibuya station, about 24 min. From Shibuya station to Harajuku station – 2 min.
Meiji Jingu – is the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo and the most popular temple in the city. Built just 100 years ago (in 1920), to commemorate the deceased emperor Meiji Tenno and his wife, Empress Shoken. It is believed, that their souls are enshrined here. Emperor Meiji sat on the throne when the Meiji Restoration came, which led to the fall of the shogunate and the great reforms. Meiji was only 16 years old when he was called “the first modern emperor of Japan”. The temple was erected on the grounds where the ruler designed a garden of irises for the empress. The solemn forest was created by the plantation of about 100 000 trees donated from all over Japan at the time.
During the New Year’s celebration, over one million people come here. It is also a popular place to conclude traditional Japanese weddings.
The temple is open daily from dusk to dawn. More details at www.meijijingu.or.jp
Shibuya Crossing is one of the largest and busiest intersections in the world. During one change of the lights at the intersection, during rush hour – about 2.5 thousand people can enter at once there. The intersection is crowded always: during the day and night. The phenomenon, however, is that the green light comes on at the same time on all sides of the junction, so people appear on it at one time, coming from different directions. Watching this place from the side, it seems impossible that people in the middle of the crossing do not fall into each other. All that you have to do is to try by yourself and get through this crossing. You will understand that even in the biggest crowd, crossing the street is possible and pedestrians are walking thru the crossing in a completely natural way.
It is worth coming here regardless of the time of day, but in the evening, you can see illuminated and loud multimedia large-format advertisements, distributed on the facades of all surrounding skyscrapers. Shibuya’s intersection is often used as a movie plan, also for Western productions, such as “The Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift.”
Shibuya and Hachiko’s dog story
There is always a crowd around the junction. It is also a popular meeting point for young people. It is worth looking for a monument of the most popular dog in Japan. Its history happened at the beginning of the twentieth century. Hachiko (Hachi in Japanese means number eight), a golden-brown Akita dog, has been a faithful friend to his owner, Professor Ueno, of Tokyo University. Every morning the dog walked his owner to the Shibuya subway station, and daily at 6.00 p.m. waited in front of the station doors. He knew that his owner always returns from work at the same time. Unfortunately, one day, the professor said goodbye to his dog in the morning and went to work, but he did not return because he died of a stroke.
On that day the dog also waited faithfully for his master’s return from work, and then … every day, for the following 10 years. The dog gained a lot of popularity in the local community, and the subway passengers were bringing him food. They were trying to find him a new home and take care of him, but Hachiko was always escaping and returning to the subway station waiting for his first owner to return from work.
Faithfulness and unusual attachment of the dog to his owner were very much appreciated, so after his death, his monument was built. The monument stands near the exit of the subway station, where the dog was waiting for the owner. The subway exit was called “Hachiko-guchi“, meaning “exit of the Hachiko“. After the dog’s death – he was stuffed and placed in the Museum of Science in Ueno. Every year, on the 8th of April, there is a ceremony in front of Hachiko’s statue to honour him. There are crowds of Japanese who come that day to celebrate it.
The heart-touching story of the dog became an inspiration for several films. In Japan, there was a movie “Hachiko Monogatari“, which was a Japanese movie hit in 1987. In 2009, the Hollywood film “Hachiko: A Dog’s Story” (“My Friend Hachiko”) was made, starring Richard Gere.
Asakusa district and Sensoji Temple
From Tokyo station to Akihabara station, with Yamanote line (4 min.). Change to Tsukuba Express to Asakusa station (5 min.).
On the way from Asakusa Station, on the other side of the Sumida River, there is a characteristic building belonging to Asahi Breweries. The building, which is the headquarter of the brewery, has been designed by the French architect Philippe Starck and completed in 1989. It is considered one of the most recognizable modern buildings in Tokyo. The main building resembles a glass of foamed beer. The golden flame, which is the crown of the neighbouring building, is called “the burning heart of the Asakusa brewery“. The construction of this flame was made by submarine manufacturers, using the same techniques as in the construction of ships. The whole flame weighs 360 tons, and the inside is empty.
In the background of the picture, you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree, measuring 635 meters. It is a television tower and a viewing tower, with a viewing terrace at an altitude of 350 meters. It is the tallest tower in the world and the second-largest building in the world (after the tower in Dubai – Burj Khalifa, 829 m).
Asakusa district is famous for its Sensoji temple, built in 628. It is the largest and most popular temple in Tokyo and the city’s biggest attraction. According to legend, the temple was built in a place where two fishermen were found in the river statue of Kannon goddess. Therefore the temple was erected there, which is visited today by about 30 million people a year.
The most characteristic building of the temple is the Kaminari-mon gate, or “Gate of Thunder”. In the middle of the gate, there is a large red lantern, and its entrance is defended by two mighty statues of the deities who are chasing demons: Fu-jin and Rai-jin, the god of wind and the god of thunder, lightning and storm.
It is also worth noting that the five-storey pagoda reaching 53 meters, is the second-highest in Japan.
The main building of the temple (Hondo), where the Kannon goddess is worshipped, leads the Hozo-mon gate. The oldest building in the temple area is the Yakushi Buddha’s pavilion, Yakushi-do, dating back to the 16th century. Unfortunately, the remaining buildings were seriously damaged during the Second World War or destroyed. Most of the buildings were carefully rebuilt just after the war was over.
The way to the temple leads thru over 200 meters long street – Nakamise-dori, which is full of numerous stalls and souvenir shops. The stalls appeared here with the permission of the priests who needed money to rebuild the temple destroyed during the war. You can buy here not only popular tourist souvenirs but also handicraft products: fans made of paper, brushes, umbrellas, paper products, and traditional clothing. There are also numerous food stalls.
The temple can be visited daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., with free admission.
Asakusa district is also famous for the fact that in the nineteenth-century shoguns recognized that the city centre was not suitable for popular at this time – kabuki theatre. They ordered to move of the theatre to the Asakusa district, which made it a district associated with entertainment and a nice time.
Near the temple, there is a monument made of bronze, depicting Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. He was a famous Japanese kabuki actor, the first one who played in front of the Emperor (1887). He played in the oldest surviving Japanese feature film (“Falling Maple Leaves”).
From Tokyo Station, Yamanote line to Ueno station (8 min.).
Ueno District is a part of Tokyo located in the area known historically as Shitamachi, which served as a place of relaxation and fun for warriors. Today is mainly known as the Ueno Park, where Tokyo Zoo is located.
Ueno Park is the largest park in Tokyo (85ha) and the oldest urban park in Japan. Today it is famous for its many museums, including the National Museum of Tokyo, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of Science.
Also, Ueno Park is one of the most popular places in Tokyo for viewing cherry blossoms. There are over 1,000 of them and they grow around central park alley. Cherry blossoms season is in late March and early April.
There is a statue of Takamori Saigo in the park. It is made of bronze and represents one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, living at the turn of the Edo and Meiji periods. Based on the events of his life, “The Last Samurai” film was made, with Tom Cruise starring.
Ueno Zoological Gardens
Ueno Zoo is the first and oldest zoo in Japan. The garden was opened in 1882. One of the most popular inhabitants is the Great Panda, which first moved here in 1972 to mark the normalization of relations between Japan and China. The zoo not only provides recreation but also plays a vital role in the protection of wildlife and public education. To protect species endangered by extinction, the zoo has piloted the “Gorilla Woods” and the “Tiger Forest” project, focusing on the protection of these two species. They have organized nationwide and worldwide zoo networks and shared experience and knowledge of animal husbandry and management.
Now it’s home to over 3,000 animals from 400 different species and provides visitors with a learning experience about the diversity of animals, as well as fun and enjoyment.
There is a Five-storied Pagoda in the garden, as well as a tea ceremony house which gives the zoo a real Japanese touch. The pagoda was built in 1631, rebuilt after destruction by fire, and in 1958 was given to Tokyo Metropolitan Government, who assigned its management to Ueno Zoo. The tea ceremony house was built to entertain shoguns in the 17th century.
Ueno Zoo is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (tickets sold until 16:00). It is closed on Mondays. The admission fee is 600 yen (5,5 $).
For more information, please check Tokyo zoo website.
Ueno Toshogu shrine
Toshogu Shrine in Ueno was built in 1627 and is one of many temples throughout the country, which are dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1651, the main part of the church was rebuilt and served as an example of the architectural style characterizing the Edo period. Despite several earthquakes and hostilities, the structure of the temple remained intact and was recognized as an important cultural property of Japan due to the representativeness of the Edo period. Today, it is enchanting with its golden colour, rich decorations, and colourful ornaments. The whole is decorated with golden leaves and numerous sculptures.
The temple is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., and admission is 500 yen (4,5 $). You can’t enter the main building of the temple, but you should see its main gate – Karamon (built in the Chinese style in 1651) and visit the gardens which surround the temple.
More information you can find on the Toshogu shrine website.
Ueno Botanical Garden
Next to the Toshogu temple, there is a Botanical Garden, open only for a few weeks a year. In the period between April and May, people can admire the beautiful Peony Garden. The garden was founded in 1980 as a sign of friendship with China. Peony comes from China. It is called the “noble and rich” flower and attracts attention as a blessed flower that brings wealth, prosperity, fame and fortune to people. The popularity of peonies is evident in many references in the Japanese haiku and is widely used in motifs of art, design and family emblems.
The botanical garden is open from January to mid-February and from mid-April to mid-May. Admission is 700 yen (about 6,2 $).
Akihabara – a district of electronics, games and entertainment
From Tokyo Station, Yamanote Line, to Akihabara station (4 min.).
Akihabara, also known as the “Electronics District” or “Geek District”. In a nutshell, it can be said that it is a large centre for the trade of small household appliances and broadly understood electronic equipment, computer games, manga and anime. It is also a centre of entertainment: loud game salons, such as the famous Pachinko, claw machines (known in Japan as “UFO catcher”), and finally karaoke clubs. In Akihabara, we can find several-storey electronics stores or small shops with cables, computer subassemblies or screws. Tourists can find Tax Free shops in this district, thanks to which shopping is a few per cent cheaper (an average of 8%).
Akihabara – Maid cafes
On the streets, you can meet young hostesses dressed as waitresses, maids or schoolgirls – distributing leaflets or encouraging them to enter restaurants, clubs or “maid cafes“. Maid cafes are a chain of cafes – specific for Japan, where young girls are working as a waitress, dressed in scant maid outfits. It is not allowed to take pictures inside, the same as girls standing by the street do not allow it either. They have “no photo” sticky notes on their skirts. If you want to have a photo with a such dressed-up girl, you need to enter the restaurant advertised by her. There – you pay just for getting in (about 500-600 yen / 5-6$), but being a customer you can invite a girl to take a picture together.
The streets of Akihabara sparkle with colourful banners and neon lights. Posters with cartoon characters or movies for young people are hanging on the buildings. Advertisements placed on buildings are loud, with flashing lights and are very colourful.
Most stores are located along the main street of Chuo Dori. In many places (including the metro station) you can find maps of this area with the indication of all the stores that are located here and those that offer a Tax-Free service.
Within a few minutes of walking distance from the metro station, there is a building “Akihabara UDX” – a 15-storey skyscraper. It is a multi-functional complex with several facilities such as restaurants and grocery stores, souvenir shops, tourist information, a gallery, a theatre hall and meeting places. There are also small cafes and bars. You can also find there a post office, ATM, car rental or parking for bicycles. Tourists like to come here due to the large selection of restaurants and the “Anime Center” located here on the 4th floor. There are also two outdoor terraces with numerous benches placed on the site, so it is a perfect place to relax.
The tax system in Japan has been changed and new regulations have been in force since October 2014. Consumer products, such as food, cosmetics and medicines, have been added to the list of items eligible for tax exemption. The procedure for applying for tax exemption is simplified and the number of stores operating the tax system has increased. Currently, small shops, pharmacies and drugstores have also joined the program, as the provisions have also been simplified for sellers.
There are two ways to apply for a tax exemption depending on the store. In the first method – when paying for shopping, we can get an 8% discount immediately. In the second method – you pay the normal price for shopping, but during this operation, you will get a special form to fill out. Typically, the passport data are entered there. On this basis, one should go to the window in which such tax is returned.
In our case, everything was done at one box office – payment for the goods, filling in the application, packing the goods in a specially marked bag and – a tax refund. A paper card was attached to the passport confirming that, being in Japan, we purchased products with a discount as part of the Tax-Free offer. Such a paper card means that you can’t use the purchased products in Japan before leaving the country. Goods originally packed, in this form must be transported across the border. At the airport, we approached the customs officer, who took the passport from us, tore the note attached to it and let us go on. The discounted shopping procedure is not so difficult, and the store retailers will try to help you to complete all the formalities.
More about Tax-Free you can find below:
GINZA – an elegant district of the city
From Tokyo station, Marunouchi metro line, to Ginza station (3 min.). To go directly to the Fish Market, at the Ginza station, take the Hibiya metro line, to the Tsukuji station (3 minutes).
Ginza is an elegant district of Tokyo. It has always been a district associated with modernity and luxury. Strolling along the main street of Chuo Dori, you can find shops with the most popular brands in the world: Chanel, Cartier, Dior, Bvlgari, Tiffany, Hermes and Armani. At the famous intersection of Chuo dori and Harumi dori, there are popular tourist buildings: Mitsukoshi Department Store, Wako Building with a Clock Tower and a semicircular San’ai building.
Ginza is also a well-known theatre centre. There are several theatres here: “kabuki theatre” or “Ginza nogakudo biru” with traditional performances of “no” and “kyogen” theatre. You can also visit here: The Art Museum, The National Museum of Modern Art, The Mitsuo Aida Museum and The National Center for Film.
In Ginza, it is also worth visiting the Buddhist temple of Tsukiji Hongwanji, built in the Hindu style in 1931. In 2011, the temple was registered as an important material and cultural asset of Japan. More information you can find on the Tsukiji Hingwanji temple website.
We visited Ginza to see the famous fish market located in Tsukiji Market.
Ginza – Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is the “Central Tokyo Wholesale Town Market” which is the largest fish market in the world. It is also one of the largest wholesale food markets. You can buy here all the possible fish and seafood – from sardines, mussels and octopus, to more than 300 kilo of tuna.
The Tsukiji market was founded here in 1923 and everything indicates that it will soon disappear from this place. When we visited it in April 2017, official communications said that the market would only function for a few months. The original date of closing and moving the market to the island of Toyosu was planned for November 2016. However, this date was postponed until autumn 2018, due to the high opposition of sellers and the government.
At the Tsukiji market, there is a large wholesale tuna auction every day, visited by the chiefs of the best and most well-known restaurants. In total, there are about 2,000 tons of fish and seafood sold here daily, and the number of officially registered employees is about 65 thousand. Morning bustle, scooters and truck journeys with goods, numerous sellers and buyers, small stalls and numerous shops – have made this place a major district tourist attraction in recent years. The constantly growing number of visitors surprised both the city authorities and the sellers because no one expected that the old infrastructure of the market could attract tourists’ interest.
Tsukiji market is divided into an internal part (where, among others, morning auctions of tuna are held) and the outside part, where retail sales take place and there are several small bars.
Wholesale tuna auctions are open to visitors, but admission is very limited, and it is difficult to get there. Every day, there are only 120 people who can enter the auction. Those willing to take part in the auction as an observer must complete the application form available at the office of the “Osakana Fukyu Center” (Fish Information Center) located at the Kachidoki market gate. Applications are accepted from 5.00 in the morning, and entries are granted on a first-come-first-served basis. The first group (maximum 60 people) enters the auction between 5.25 a.m. – 5.50 a.m. and the second group between 5.50 a.m. – 6.15 a.m.
A crowd of volunteers stands in the queue in the early morning hours. As a rule – the number of people willing to enter is greater than the number of places allocated. Tourists visiting the auction must strictly follow the rules. The auction can be viewed only from a designated place, you can’t use the flash when taking pictures, you can’t bring backpacks or large bags, and you must not touch anything or behave loudly.
After viewing the tuna auction, visitors must leave the wholesale section of the market. For tourists, it is open again only after 10.00 a.m, because the morning traffic, sales, trade negotiations and the delivery of goods can’t be disturbed by crowds of onlookers roaming the hall.
The outdoor market is open from early morning (5.00 a.m.) to early afternoon hours. This market is worth visiting! The morning busy atmosphere, crowd of sellers and buyers, and morning scents of seafood and fish as well as fried and baked dishes are unforgettable memories and the real “taste” and pulse of city life.
For more information, please visit the Tsukiji External Market page or the Tsukiji Market website.
Tokyo Toyosu Fishmarket
Edit 08.2019. Please note that the Tsukiji Fish Market was closed in 2018, and a new fish market has been opened at Toyosu Fishmarket. More to read about opening hours, wholesale trades and how to get there, you can find Toyosu fish market website
From Tokyo Station, Yamanote subway line, to Shimbashi station, then Yurikamome train to Daiba station. The whole journey takes about 25 minutes.
The Yurikamome train is a modern, automatic train that connects the Shimbashi station with all the attractions on the island of Odaiba and the Toyosu station of the Yurakucho line. Trains depart every few minutes and a one-way trip costs 320 yen (about 2,8$). If you are going to take a round trip or use it more than once in one day – it is worth buying a 1-day ticket for 820 yen (about 7,3 $). On the Yurikamomome train, you can’t use JR Japan Railway Passcards. The train gets thru the “Rainbow Bridge“, and the views of the modern district are breathtaking.
Odaiba is a large artificial island, built in the Gulf of Tokyo in 1853. Its original assumption was to execute defensive functions, but in the last years of the twentieth century, it was strongly developed, mainly as a seaport. Since the early 90s of the last century, it has mainly been a residential, entertainment and commercial function.
It is worth planning the whole day there and thinking in advance about what you want to see and where you want to get off the train, as the number of attractions and places worth visiting is impressive. We spent the whole day here and we were able to see only a tiny part of what Odaiba can offer.
What to see, where to get off the train?
Odaiba – a rainbow bridge and a view of the bay
Daiba station, get off here to see a spectacular view of Tokyo Bay, Tokyo Waterfront Tokyo City, “The Statue of Liberty” and the hanging “Rainbow Bridge”. There are several viewpoints and a walking path (1.5 km – 25 min).
The Rainbow Bridge can be crossed by Yurikamome train, by car r on foot. Its construction began in 1987 and last for 6 years. The bridge is almost 800 meters long, 49 meters wide, and has 2 levels and 3 transport lines. Two pylons that support the bridge are painted white to harmonize with views of Tokyo Bay and the island of Odaiba.
During the night – lighting is fully powered by the energy collected by solar panels during the day. Its official name is “Shuto Expressway No. 11 Daiba Route – Port of Tokyo Connector Bridge”, but city residents chose “Rainbow Bridge“- and this name functions in colloquial language. There are two separate pedestrian routes: on the north and the south side. The north side offers views of the harbour area and the Tokyo Tower, and from the south, you can admire Tokyo Bay and Mount Fuji if there is good weather.
You can use pedestrian paths only at certain times: in summer between 9.00 a.m. – 9.00 p.m., in winter between 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. Pedestrians are not allowed to cycle on footpaths. More information, you can find on the Rainbow Bridge website.
Observatory in the Fuji TV building
At a distance of about 5-10 minutes walk from the Daiba station, you can get to the headquarters of the private TV station: Fuji Television, which is open to visitors. The Fuji television network is the leading station in Japan. It is the flagship TV station of Fuji News Network (FNN) and Fuji Network System (FNS). Fuji TV sponsors the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix and is the only media patron of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in the world.
The Fuji TV building offers a spectacular view from the observation deck on the 25th floor. An observatory in the shape of a ball provides views of the island and Tokyo Bay in the 270-degree range.
In the building, there are also stores with souvenirs of characters created by the station, and film studios, you can also meet TV stars and get an autograph from them.
The observatory is open every day from 10.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. (on weekends until 10.00 p.m.), and closed on Mondays. An admission ticket of 550 yen (about 5 $), can be bought at the ticket office located in front of the entrance to the interior of the building. More information can be found on the Fuji TV website.
The Devil’s Mill, or “Giant Sky Wheel” is a place that you must visit when you are on the island. To get here, get off the train at the Aomi stop. The full carousel round trip takes 16 minutes. You can choose to ride a trolley with a glassy floor (there are only 4 such trolleys). The circle of the Ferris wheel is 115 meters high and 100 meters wide, and the trolleys are shaped like small cups. When the weather is nice, you can see not only the Tokyo Tower but also Mount Fuji. During your ride, you can take beautiful photos because the glass of each car is carefully wiped before each subsequent lap. Employees operating the queue take great care not only about visual values but also about the safety of travellers because getting in and out of the trolley is done without stopping the wheel.
The wheel is open every day from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. (on weekends until 10.40 p.m.). The entrance ticket costs 1000 yen (about 9,5$), and entrance is for people over the age of 4 years.
After more than 20 years, the iconic Ferris wheel in Odaiba, Tokyo Bay’s popular commercial district, ceased its operations on the 31st of August, 2022.
Mega Web – a theme park of Toyota (closed for good)
Mega Web is a theme park of Toyota. An ideal place for car enthusiasts and technical innovations. There are three main exhibitions in the park:
Toyota City Showcase
An exhibition of the company’s latest technical achievements, including cars designed for the transport of disabled people. The main attraction of this place is the MEGA Theater, a 4D cinema room. The screening of the film takes about 20 minutes, and access to the room is every half an hour. To enter the cinema, you have to be a min. 120 cm tall, because after entering the room, you sit on specially profiled seats attached to mobile platforms. In the seat, you must fasten your seatbelts and hold on tight, because during the movie we turn into rally drivers.
Platforms on which we sit begin to move, we hang in the air and we experience the same overloads and shocks as a rally driver. We feel a breeze on our faces as we rush through the desert or drops of water as we cross the riverbed. Fun, excitement and impressions – first class! Free entrance.
Garage presents all of Toyota’s historical car models from 1950 – 1970, from around the world.
Both children and adults can rent a car here and ride it with observance of the rules of the road. It is a form of entertainment and education. For children, cars are available from the age of three. You can also arrange car tests and drive on a specially prepared track, but this option is only available to holders of a Japanese driving license. The cost of travelling is 300 yen (about 2,6$).
In the Mega Web facilities, there is also a bar, cafeteria and souvenir shops.
In September 2021, it was announced that Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari, is going to close. The Odaiba district’s Palette Town entertainment complex, (which was opened in 1999), has begun a sequential shutdown before the redevelopment of the land it sits on. Among the buildings on the closure list was the Mega Web – a Toyota theme park.
December 31, 2021, was the last day for the History Garage. Regarding a car-focused book and memorabilia shops, cafe, test-drive course, go-kart track, and working restoration mechanic’s shop – they all have been closed for good as well.
It’s a big shopping centre with over 100 stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. There is an Outlet on the top floor. The shopping centre was built in the style of an eighteenth-century town in Western Europe. Open daily from 11.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. (restaurants until 11.00 p.m.).
March 27, 2022, was the last day, and it is now shut forever.
Odaiba – other attractions
On the island of Odaiba, there are several large shopping centres, there is the Nautical Maritime Museum in Tokyo, the Musashino University campus and one of the world’s largest hospitals specializing in cancer treatment “The Cancer Institute Hospital“. The island has also numerous halls and sports facilities as well as the largest exhibition centre in Japan – “Tokyo Big Sight“. All buildings on the island are surrounded by a large park, connected by numerous walking and cycling paths. When there is nice weather it is a perfect place for a walk, and during the spring and summer months, there are numerous festivals, concerts and outdoor events taking place. On the day when we visited the island (end of April) – we saw three large mass events, including the Octoberfest summer festival!
Shinagawa is one of the 23 districts of Tokyo. The railway station with the same name is one of the busiest stations in the city. JR Higashi Nihon trains, JR Tokai trains, high-speed Shinkansen trains, city lines and private railway – Keihin Kyuko stops here. From Shinagawa station, you can get to two international airports in Tokyo: Narita and Haneda.
A convenient and extensive communication node meant that this district has become a popular place for establishing a seat for embassies and large international corporations. There are offices of such companies as Sony, Microsoft, and Siemens AG and Japanese offices: Isuzu (one of the oldest Japanese car manufacturers) and JTB Corporation (the largest travel agency in Japan and one of the largest in the world). It is a dynamically developing office and residential district, which is part of the Tokyo Bay development.
During the Edo period, Shinagawa was the first stop for travellers from Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto. They could rent a room for a night, wash their bodies and eat. Currently, there are several large hotels, many restaurants and the Aquapark.
Sengakuji is a Buddhist temple located far from the city centre but permanently inscribed in its history. The temple was founded in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun from Edo. The first place where it stood was the area around Edo Castle. Unfortunately, 30 years after its creation, it was digested by fire and destroyed. During reconstruction, its place was changed to the one in which it is still today.
Sengakuji has always been recognized as a prestigious institution educating Buddhist monks. From the beginning of its foundation, monks from all over Japan have come here to deepen their practice and learning. This custom has survived to this day. Young monks are still willing to visit this temple while doing their internships during university studies.
In front of the main temple building, there is the Sawaki Kōdō Roshi statue, considered one of the most important teachers of the Japanese Zen Buddhism of the twentieth century. In the 1930s, he began working as a professor at Komazawa University, while travelling around the country with Zen teachings. He devoted himself so much to his work that he was given the nickname “Homeless Kodo” because he rarely stayed in his own home.
Sengakuiji –Ako story
This is probably the most famous story in Japanese history, touching on the subject of tradition, honour and revenge. The “incident from Ako” – took place in 1701-1703.
Asano Takuminokami was a feudal lord of Ako, appointed by the shogunate, to receive imperial envoys travelling from Kyoto to Edo at Edo Castle. Asano was supposed to get tips and advice on the label from the official clerk from Edo – Kira Kozukenosuke. Unfortunately, Kira did not like Asano, he treated him with no respect he deserved as a samurai. Provoked by Kira’s bad and naughty behaviour – Asano drew his sword and wounded Kira, but he did not kill him.
Asano’s attack was immediately noticed. According to the prevailing code, the use of a sword in the area of Edo Castle was strictly forbidden, so Asano was placed in custody. At that time, another law was in force, stating that all persons participating in the fight/skirmish/quarrel should be punished in the same way. It turned out, however, that Kira was not even arrested, while Asano was sentenced to death by seppuku (hara-kiri). The sentence was ordered to be executed immediately.
Asano was forced to seppuku on the same day that the sentence was ordered, without being able to defend himself. Additionally, seppuku was to be done in the gardens of the residence of one of the lords, while death in the garden was a disgrace for the samurai. So, Asano was humiliated once again. Also, he was ordered to confiscate his entire estate, and his family, servants and samurai working for him – were expelled from Ako.
Sengakuji – 47 Ronin
The faithful samurai of Asano could not come to terms with their master’s shameful death for a long time. Being a Ronin (samurai without a master), they planned revenge for almost two years. Under the command of Oishi Kuranosuke, 47 Ronin organized an ambush aiming to kill Kira. At the time, revenge was in line with the bushido principles (the old samurai code), but the law required the intention to be reported to the victim. Unfortunately, this did not happen, because in this case revenge was officially banned by the ruling shogun. The 47 Ronin, therefore, knew that their actions were illegal and could be punished by the death penalty.
On December 14th, 1702, they attacked and killed Kira in his residence. Then they marched to Sengakuji to lay Kira’s head on Asano’s grave and submit to the appropriate punishment.
Shogun, who was judging 47 Ronin had a huge problem with making a final decision. On one side, he knew that they had executed private justice and taken revenge, which was forbidden by the ruling shogun. On the other side, they followed the “old samurai code”, which greatly impressed the shogun. He was impressed by the fidelity and loyalty of Ronin to the dead lord, so it was not easy to decide the right punishment.
The verdict was passed in February 1703. All of the Ronin involved in the attack on Kira – were sentenced to death. However, Shogun let die the ex-samurai with honour worthy of their position, so the sentence was to be carried out through ritual seppuku. The ceremony took place on February 4th, and they all were buried in a small cemetery, next to the Asano grave, in the Sengakuji temple.
47 Ronin in the hearts of the Japanese
Those events, from over 300 years still inflame the hearts of the Japanese. Every year, on December 14th (on the anniversary of the attack on Kira) – crowds of faithful come to the temple to pray on the Ronin’s tombs. Every day, incense sticks burn there.
The history of “47 Ronin” is now part of the cultural identity of the Japanese. This story was exhibited on the stage of the Kabuki theatre, in the puppet theatre – bunraku, played at the opera, and finally – several times was filmed. In Japan, this story has 6 film productions.
The Sengakuji Temple is open every day, from April to September from 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., from October to March – from 7.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Entrance is free.
There is also a small museum on the grounds of the temple, devoted to “events from Ako”. In the museum you can see an animated movie (about 10 minutes), telling the whole story. There are also documents, swords, armour and other souvenirs related to the Ronin. On the way to the cemetery, walking along with the stone steps, on the right you will pass a small building in which there are colourful statues of all 47 Ronin. Worth seeing.
The entrance fee is 500 yen (4,5$).
The temple can be reached from the Sengakuji station, by the Toei Asakusa subway line (about 5 minutes on foot). You can also walk from the Shinagawa or Tamachi station, where the JR Yamanote railway arrives. Walkabout 15-20 minutes.
More information about the temple can be found on the Sengakuji website.
Yokohama – a port city and a modern metropolis
Yokohama is the second (after Tokyo) largest city in Japan. There are more than 3 million inhabitants. You can get to Yokohama from Tokyo by train, travel max. 30 minutes (from Yokohama station, Minato Mirai line). It’s a perfect place for a day trip if you want to explore the city thoroughly. We came here only for about 3 hours, as we were on the way back from a 1-day trip to Kamakura. As our visit was short, we focused only on two places: the Chinese Quarter, the largest in Japan and one of the largest in the world, and the harbour port “Minato Minari“, also called “the harbour of the future”.
During the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate, Yokohama was a small fishing village. The rapid development of the city occurred only in 1859 when the first port was built here and has been opened for trade with foreign countries. Yokohama quickly became a thriving and dynamically developing city. Today it is a famous place among ex-pats, due to its leisurely atmosphere. The former port area has been modernized, and its space has been opened for residents and tourists. There are many parks in the city today, with many concerts and festivals in the open air.
Yokohama – Chinese Quarter
The history of this place dates back to 1859, exactly when the port was open in the city.
In the Chinese Quarter, there are several intersecting streets, filled with numerous stalls, shops, restaurants, bars and trinkets which are more or less Chinese. The charm of this place is provided by numerous red lanterns hanging over the heads of passers-by, large, richly decorated gates, paper dragons, decorations sprinkled with gold coins and there are few Chinese temples.
At almost every step, you can see gold ornaments or figurines of cocks, carp or pigs. In this district, it is easy to get lost. For people visiting this place for the first time – all places seem to look the same, so it is difficult to find a way out, i.e. towards the port. The Chinese New Year celebrations are held here, and they attract crowds.
While in Yokohama, it is worth visiting the Chinese Quarter to feel its atmosphere, the heartbeat of life and smells.
Minato Mirai 21
The Minato Mirai district is the area of old docks located on the bay. In recent years, this area has undergone a thorough modernization, so today attracts many people who want to spend time outdoors. In this district, there are modern buildings, entertainment parks, restaurants and shopping centres.
Characteristic of this place is:
- Landmark Tower (296 m), which was the tallest building in Japan in 2014
- International Passenger Terminal with over 400-meter passage for walkers
- Sail Training Ship “NIPPON MARU” which, for many years was used as a training ship for cadets. Built-in 1930. In 1985 been opened to the public
- Museum of Instant Pasta “Ramen” – with an interactive exhibition presenting the history of pasta
- “Cosmo World” the amusement park – with the great Ferris wheel “Cosmo Clock 21“
- in the port, there is moored a luxury ocean liner “Hikawa Maru”, today open to visitors. Launched in the 1930s. The Hikawa Maru had a reputation for service that combined splendid food and beautiful art deco interiors. In 1932 Charlie Chaplin was travelling on the liner for part of his round the World tour
Garden Necklace YOKOHAMA 2017
When we visited Yokohama, there were held “33rd National Green Space Fair”. The fair started on the 25th of March and ended on the 4th of June 2017. The city was filled with a million flowers that changed its space into one big green garden. Yokohama Fair was held under the slogan: “Yokohama – the city of history and the future”. More information about this project can be read directly on the City Yokohama website.
How to summarize my visit to Tokyo?
How to summarize my visit to Tokyo? Is it possible? I believe that a visit to Tokyo is a must for anyone who would like to find the answer to the following question: what is real Japan like? “
I can say, that you have to get to know Tokyo to understand Japanese. How to do it?
- You should see modern Tokyo first, to be able to admire later the beautiful and traditional Kyoto, Nikko or Kamakura
- You have to travel by train during rush hours to understand what it means to “travel in a crowd”
- For breakfast, eat soup with chopsticks, buy a “bento” box for lunch and eat it while sitting on a bench in the park
- You have to try green tea from a coin machine and love the taste of non-sugared drinks
- Spend the night in a hotel room size of a traffic kiosk and use the toilet connected to electricity, with an electronic panel in Japanese and music imitating the sound of water
- In the evening you have to visit colourful and illuminated Akihabara and try to go several times through the intersection of Shibuya
- Try to get lost in the undergrounds of Tokyo station and try to find out where there is a way out to your hotel (good luck!)
- Learn how to sleep on the train, preferably standing
- Try to communicate in English, which most people do not understand
- Spend one afternoon in the park and admire a view of blooming cherry trees
- Contemplate peace and harmony in a typical Japanese garden
- Visit a few temples and try to get to know their history
- Watch the kabuki theatre spectacle to get to know the cultural heritage of the Japanese
- You also must take a ride on the high-speed Shinkansen train, to love modernity and the high comfort of travel.
Tokyo forever in my heart
It is not important how many historical relics we can see, and we do not have to visit all objects described on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We must get to know the different faces of this city, its dynamic pace of life, and changing landscapes. Let us pay attention to the combination and constant merging of tradition with modernity expressed not only in architecture, culture or technology but also in Japanese clothing and the manner of their preservation.
Tokyo is extremely diverse. At the beginning of this post, I wrote that Tokyo is extensive, made of glass, crowded, loud, colourful, and overpopulated. Now I need to add more words: Tokyo is a wonderful, surprising, dynamic and thriving city with many faces. This is an extraordinary place, there is no other such one in all of Japan. This city is different from the rest of the country and it makes that its energy delights you, absorbs, pulls you in and does not let you forget about yourself.
The experiences brought from Tokyo will always remain in my heart and my memory. I hope I will come back here again soon!
So far, my other posts about Japan
- Japan – how to organise the trip on your own
- Japan – tailor-made travel plan
- my own gallery of Japan photos
- Himeji – White Egret Castle
- Kamakura – the seat of the first Shogun
- Kanazawa – Kenrokuen Garden and Castle
- Kyoto and Kansai region
- Matsumoto – city overshadowed by the castle
- Mount Fuji – the most popular icon in Japan
- Nagano Prefecture – the roof of Japan
- Nara -first Japan’s permanent capital
- Nikko – the light of the sun