With an actual single word of English vocabulary devoted to describing the people interested in its history, art, and culture, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Japan attracts millions of tourists a year. The Land of the Rising Sun has brought us sushi, anime, origami, and so much more. Diving into its capital Tokyo is no easy task, with over 800 square miles to the metropolis itself, but there are few places you’ll find that are both so completely different to the Western world and so welcoming to visitors.
Without doubt, the most enchanting time of year to visit Japan is hanami – the glorious three-month blossom viewing season in early spring, when life makes its grand reappearance on tree branches citywide. Hanami can refer to the blooming of any fruit tree, but cherry blossoms or sakura, which unfurl in late March and early April, are the most popular and internationally renowned. Experience the magic for yourself from the paths of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Ueno Park, or Yoyogi Park.
Despite its centuries-old history, Japan is a country on the cutting edge, and Tokyo is a city of the millennium. Natural history and technology converge in the Kita-City Disaster Prevention Center. As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, with thousands of tremors rocking the tectonic plates beneath the archipelago’s crust each year, Japan certainly stands to benefit from as much earthquake protection as possible. Here, you can ride out a bone-rattling simulation and learn all you need to know about the basics of seismology.
Don’t miss taking a different sort of ride on the city’s subway. Tokyo is one of the most expansive capitals in the world – you’ll be surprised how long it takes for you to cross the city, even on a high-speed train. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in local culture. Packed tighter than sardines, you’ll see at exceptionally close quarters what a considerate and hard-working populace you’re amongst.
For a uniquely Japanese night on the town, head to the district of Akihabara – home to the worldwide phenomenon of costume play, cosplay for short. Dress up as your own favorite cartoon warrior, or just sip your beer in peace and marvel at the manga-clad hordes. In addition to characters from graphic novels and video games, you may also run into a Hello Kitty impersonator or two. The Sanrio character beloved by children worldwide makes her home here as well, and serious enthusiasts can visit her house in Puroland.
If you’ve had enough of Tokyo’s hustle and bustle, you can find an inner city escape at one of the Japanese capital’s many temples. The popular neighborhood of Akasuka is anchored by one such temple, while the peaceful shrine of Meiji Jingu also attracts several visitors. You can even start your day on a religious note with a stay inside a Buddhist temple. Quiet and respectful travelers will get far more than a place to stay out of a temple occupancy as you take part in early morning meditation, sip sake in a zen garden, bed down on traditional futons, and expand your palate with unique vegetarian meals.
Alternately, you might choose to catch forty winks in one of Tokyo’s capsule hotels. No spacious lodgings with tatami mats here – your room won’t be much bigger than an air-conditioned coffin. Pick up basic necessities from a lobby vending machine, or kick back in your capsule at the end of the day to watch one of the country’s famous variety television shows.
In that sense, Tokyo’s accommodations sum up the city itself perfectly: it’s a place where ancient religion and culture make odd bedfellows with modern technology and creativity.