Not just a metropolis, but a megalopolis. It’s difficult to comprehend the size and density of Tokyo, and the constantly in-your-face buildings and bustle can make it difficult to get a point of reference - but it all works so magnificently. Clean, safe and hyper efficient, there’s something for everyone, with niche upon micro-niche of detail. It’s a wonderful city to get lost in, which is fortunate as that can happen a lot! You could lose yourself for years re-visiting Tokyo, and always find it anew - it’s a serious contender for greatest city in the world.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Tomes have been written about where to eat in Tokyo, but this jam-packed alley, known as ‘memory lane’, is a great place to get things started; a casual way to dive into Tokyo’s foodie scene. Lit by glowing akachochin (red lanterns) that denote the serving of alcohol (beer is the name of the game here), there are dozens of compact, open-fronted restaurants offering up tempting yakitori with added flair. Do it omakase style and leave it up to the owner to serve you a succession of their signature dishes. When imagining iconic images of Japan, this lantern-lit alley, with billowing charcoal smoke and slightly inebriated clientele, is one that instantly springs to mind.
Over the years, Tokyo’s reputation for youth subculture has become legendary, and cosplay and kawaii are terms that are now familiar the world over. Harajuku is where this scene culminates. Some of the more niche subcultures can feel very uncomfortable, and it’s worth remembering that, even in Japan, this style is very much a subculture and not at all in the mainstream. Aside from the diverse and colourful fashion, there are small shops selling beautiful, #instaready sweet crepes. Go for the one with the longest queue. For an escape from the eccentricity, the nearby Meiji Shrine is probably Japan’s holiest Shinto shrine. Wander there via the tree lined Omotesando Avenue, one of Tokyo’s most expensive neighbourhoods.
When you want an antidote to all the glass, electronics and glitz, Yanaka feels immediately different: somewhere local, where a lot of people actually live. Rent is cheaper here and the shops more ordinary, with lots of places selling practical items, but it’s still very central. You’ll notice the sudden appearance of cats, which create an instantly domestic feel in these ‘daily life’ parts of the city. Looking up there are wires…..everywhere. This area was spared some of the most catastrophic events of the city’s history, for example the fire bombing of 1945, so was never rebuilt in the same way as other districts. Run down and rustic, perhaps, but comfortingly real.
Wander along the ancient trails of Kumano Kodo and its spiritual shrines, enjoying the peaceful, and enchanting surroundings as well as taking in the hospitality of local families along the way.