Last updated: 07:18 PM ET, Wed July 04 2018
View of Tokyo skyline at sunset in Japan. (photo via f11photo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Tokyo

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View of Tokyo skyline at sunset in Japan. (photo via f11photo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
PHOTO: View of Tokyo skyline at sunset. (photo via f11photo/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tokyo, Japan, is both a technology-obsessed society stuck on fast forward and an ancient metropolis enmeshed in a colorful history that will slow its pace for culture, honor and tradition. Between the pulsating nightclubs of Shinjuku, the high fashions of Ginza and the insatiable thirst for the latest Japanese gadgetry; this massive capital city is bursting with modern stimulation. Apart from the pop culture-crazed youth, Tokyo’s base camp fundamentals still consist of traditional sushi and sake bars, sumo events, cherry blossom parks and samurai lore.

With a population of more than 12 million people in metropolitan Tokyo alone, the city is divided into 23 wards. Though there are several outlaying islands, towns and villages within the city, most of the activity is centered within the districts of Central Tokyo. Chiyoda is considered the political and economic center of Japan and is home to the Imperial Palace, the Diet of Tokyo (Japan’s Parliament) and the corporate headquarters for the commercial district, Marunouchi. Next to Chiyoda is Akihabara, also known as Electric Town for its extensive array of electronic stores.

Shinjuku is known for its wide range of nightclubs and restaurants, but it’s also known for its futuristic high-rises and business complexes. The Kabukicho area of Shinjuku has one of the largest amusement squares in the country and is a popular draw for tourists. Ginza and Roppongi are upscale shopping areas with not only commercial streets and squares lined with stores and boutiques, but actual towers with several floors dedicated to exclusive and top brand shops. For even more shopping, Shibuya hosts several well-known shopping districts (Center Gai and Koen Dori streets), including Harajuku for younger crowds.

Tokyo, Japan view of Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest crosswalks in the world. (photo via SeanPavonePhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Tokyo, Japan view of Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest crosswalks in the world. (photo via SeanPavonePhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

For an experience of old Tokyo, visitors should head to the lower ward of Asakusa, where Sensoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple, Kaminari Gate and traditional market street, Nakamise, can be found. For a glimpse into Japanese culture new and old, Ueno hosts a variety of parks and museums including the Tokyo National Museum, Uenomori (Royal) Museum and Yushima Tenjin Shrine. To completely escape the raucous vitality of the city, tourists should not forgo a chance to visit Rikugien. This beautiful park is home to a spacious garden with a central pond, forested areas, several teahouses and miniature scenes from famous Japanese poems.

The culinary prowess of Tokyo is often the top reason people visit this diverse city. A large part of Japanese culture revolves around its cuisine -- and for good reason. Between traditional Japanese and international restaurants, bohemian cafes, street food tents, conveyor-belt sushi and basement food halls, there’s hardly a lack of variety when it comes to choosing a place to eat. For an authentic Japanese restaurant that even the locals love, check out the two-story Shousuke in Shinjuku. The first floor is a sushi bar which leads to semi-private booths for table service dining upstairs. For some yakitori, takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or something more adventurous like frog sashimi, head to the Ameyoko street market where various food stalls set up shop. For a cozy place all about ramen (and menus in English), try Ichiran in the Roppongi ward. For the freshest sushi you’ll ever have, a trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market is a must. Outside of the wholesale market is a smaller market with restaurants that cater to the public.

Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) are Tokyo’s two main airports, which service major international airline carriers, as well as domestic flights. Though Narita is located 43 miles from Tokyo, it is considered the major gateway for international flights in and out of the city. Haneda Airport is used mostly for domestic flights, despite its nickname of Tokyo International Airport. The fastest way from Narita Airport into Tokyo is the express train into Tokyo Station (in Chiyoda). It takes 55 minutes and costs just under 3,000 yen ($33) each way. The Shinkansen is Japan’s high-speed bullet train that connects Tokyo with most major cities in the country as well as stops within the city. For other train service throughout the city, visitors should take the Yamanote Line, which runs a loop around central Tokyo. This is the best way to navigate through the city, and most tickets are sold from automated vending machines located in the stations. Pre-paid fare cards are convenient for visitors who plan to travel frequently through the city, and are called either Suica or PASMO.

Tokyo has a temperate climate with vastly different weather conditions depending on the season. Starting in March, mild springs give way to cherry blossom trees and average temperatures around 19° C (66° F). Springtime and the cooler autumns are typically the best times of year to visit. Summer temperatures can reach 30° C (86° F) or higher, and can often become very humid. Tokyo winters start around late November and bring colder, dry air with an occasional snow shower.