Tokyo Travel Checklist: 5 Must-see Spots
Here are five must-see spots in Tokyo for an experience that is unique to Japan.
Tokyo, Japan's capital and its largest city in terms of land area and population, is a city that mixes the new and old world in a unique and fabulous collection of tourist attractions. From modern landscapes such as skyscrapers and Japanese anime shops to Shinto shrines and cultural sites -- visiting Tokyo is a smorgasbord for the senses, a prelude to the beauty and wonder that is Japan. So below are just some a few of the many great places in Tokyo you should check out.
1. Cherry Blossom Festival
History tells us that Tokugawa Yoshimune (the 8th Shogun) wanted to share the joy of the cherry blossoms which was originally reserved for the elite of the imperial court. Today's cherry blossoms owe their popularity to the first 100 cherry blossoms that Tokugawa Yoshimune ordered be planted.
When I was a kid, nothing conjured the wonder of Japan better than the Cherry Blossom Festival. It is by far the most famous event during spring in Japan. Of the 52 weeks during a year, the 2 weeks that the cherry blossoms bloom signals the end of winter and gives people of all ages a warm and renewed feeling of hope and happiness.
There are several spots around Tokyo where you can view the cherry blossoms, like Ueno Onshi Park, Bokutei near the Sakurabashi bridge, Higashi Shirahige Metropolitan Park, and more. If you do visit Tokyo in spring, don't ever leave without viewing the cherry blossoms. They are a joy to watch during the day at night.
2. Ryogoku Kokugikan
Sumo wrestling are icon figures in Japanese culture, much like the samurai or ninja that stand out and color Japan's history. So it's always a real treat if you can see it in real life at a sumo tournament in Tokyo. To pique your appetite for wrestling action, a sumo museum is also available to showcase the 1,500 year old Japanese cultural tradition of sumo wrestling before enjoying the real thing.
After an exciting match, you'll want to grab some food before moving on. And ordering chankonabe (a hearty Japanese stew for sumo wrestlers) from a nearby chanko restaurant, maybe even one run by a former sumo wrestler.
Senso-ji temple in Asakusa district was founded in the year 645, which makes it the oldest temple in Tokyo. It is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Bodhisattva Kannon or Asakusa Kannon who is believed to be a deity enshrined in the temple, said to bestow blessings on earth. It draws visitors in the millions every year and is the site of Tokyo's most popular festival, Sanja Matsuri. One famous section of this temple is the Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate which is an imposing structure that has a massive paper lantern with bold red-and-black tones which suggest thunderclouds and lightning.
Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori which is a street leading to the temple that houses several shops that serve traditional Japanese handicrafts and food for visitors. At the end of Nakamise-dori is the Hozomon or Treasure House Gate which leads to the inner complex of the Senso-ji temple. Even if you are not a religious person or someone who believes in the supernatural, one can't help but be awed by the rich religious culture of Japan.
Located in the Ginza district, the Kabuki-za is the premier theater of traditional Japanese dance-drama more popularly known as kabuki. Kabuki is a traditional performing art that is well known for its extravagant and dramatic flourishes. A full kabuki performance comprises of three or four acts that will span four-plus hours, so be sure to expect to pick up a snack between acts. Or if that is too long there are also options to view just a single act. Be it the full performance or single act, seeing kabuki in person vividly transports one to the past and gives a renewed appreciation for the performing arts.
5. Akihabara Electric Town
Akihabara, commonly known as Akiba, is a district in Tokyo known as the electronics hub of Japan, and is even considered as a shopping mecca for electronic goods. It gained popularity after world war II when it was the center of commerce for electronic household goods at a time when Japan was still rebuilding itself after the war. The consumer market changed and today Akihabara now is the main destination for electronics, computer, gaming and Japanese anime-manga enthusiasts. From video games, computer goods, smartphones/mobile phones, and anime-manga shops, this area has what every otaku (geek) would ever want. Akihabara is also considered as the center of otaku culture, so if you get a chance to visit, you'll have lots of fun areas to explore!
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