Tokyo, JapanTokyo started as a small fishing village at an unknown time. In 1447, the local clan, the Edo (meaning Cove & Entrance), fortified it and built the castle where the Emperor current resides.
When the local leader, Tokugawa leyasu, became the Shogun of Japan (basically military dictator), he moved his capital to Edo. After the shoguns got walloped (as highlighted by Tom Cruise single handedly rescuing Japan's culture in "The Last Samurai"...), the Meiji were restored to power in 1868 and the Emperor took direct control again, and the city was renamed Tokyo.
In 1869, the Emperor moved here from Kyoto, making it the inclusive official capital of all of Nippon (Japan).
At 1900, the city was designed for rail service from the center to the suburbs and the rest of Japan. This led to rapid, albeit somewhat unfortunate choices in construction. The great 1923 earthquake leveled the city, 140,000 people are thought to have died. It was rapidly rebuilt primarily in wood , which left it quite vulnerable to American firebombing in WW2.
Rebuilt yet again, it has grown to an extremely train-based (driving is a nightmare of traffic) huge metropolis of 20 million people. The center of basically everything in Japan, everyone comes here and the constant renewal makes it a very modern city.
The ArrivalBoth times I have come here, I arrived at Narita airport which is 40 some odd miles from Tokyo, east across the bay. Taking the train in is an hour and a half affair and it can be quite confusing. There are different companies that run different lines and different subway lines too. You cannot transfer easily with just regular tickets. Get a prepaid IC Card, which allows you to pop on and off every train. Also get the JapanTravel app, it will tell you what trains and transfer points from your current location to your destination (almost nothing is a direct shot) . I'm really good with maps and I would have been very hard pressed without this app.
The city is huge, and just keeps going and going and going.
GinzaThe commercial district, home of shopping, theater and shopping. So much shopping. Very high-end and high-priced brands, home of many Japanese fashion and cosmetic houses. The price is the price, and the exchange rate from USD to Yen is not great either. For us, this is a very expensive proposition.
The area is visually exciting and full of people. One of my favorite passing experiences, I was crossing the major road in front of the Lumine shopping mall and the walk light was blinking, so I made a dash for it. It changed 3 steps into the crossing and I did a u-turn and ran back to the sidewalk. The Japanese were all clapping and like "Oooh, nice try!" as we shared a laugh.
RamenNormally this would not warrant a special section, but I was blown away. I was hungry and wandering along Ginza with a bunch of yen coins, and went down an alley (I tried to get names but everything is in Kanji and I can't read this it all), and this little hole in the wall ramen place was open.
Now, I'm hoping you're all familiar with the college students banquet, instant ramen cups, and I've had a few flavors of those. They are ok, and will do in a pinch.
Compared to real ramen, they are crap, and I don't think I can ever eat them again. The complete immersive flavor across your palette of this broth soup, home-made fresh noodles, vegetables, boiled egg and then choice of meat (usually pork) was beyond my ability to describe adequately. I've been spoiled and I still crave it to this day.
Boards hanging on the walls tell you what they still have available that day, they make it fresh and when it's gone, it's gone.
ShibuyaThe Times Square of Tokyo. More shopping, more neon and lights. Connected to an incredibly confusing train station, and just by the National Garden. At night, it seems it's nothing but people walking across and across all the time, as if they are paid to do it.
SummaryUltra modern but very conservative with a very different culture than the west. There were many instances of "Oh great, a Gaigin" I overheard when I was traveling. Train etiquette is hard, if you are taking bags with you to the airport, you're probably going to fail it. Basic rule, keep your hands to your sides or to your face using your phone, reading your manga. Backpacks to the floor. Crime is almost non-existant, no lie. Super safe except for - well, there are groping issues on the public transportation, women should find seats.
Exchange rate and costs in Japan will be one of the biggest sticker shocks you've ever seen. Not a cheap place to visit and plan to have at least 30% over what you think you will need.
There are a ton more places I didn't get to in Tokyo. Trains are life in Japan. Don't drive and eat all the ramen you can.