Its big… very big. By any measure the largest conglomeration on earth with some 39 million inhabitants. What we call ‘Tokyo’ is actually a collection of several cities and towns that have fully merged.
Despite the size and population Tokyo is regularly ranked as the world’s most liveable city and certainly the safest, with the cleanest streets, best shopping and politest, most helpful residents. It is also the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants. It did feel busy – certainly at key parts of the city such as the famous Shibuya crossing below – but never felt frenetic like some other Asian cities can feel (Asian cities in particular) and traffic was remarkably light – probably because of the hassle of car ownership. It is without doubt the cleanest place I have ever been (the whole of Japan really), in the 2 weeks we were there I can count the times I saw litter on one hand…
Public transport is cheap and efficient and the best way to get around under normal circumstances, Taxis are widely available and very tidy (white gloved drivers and antimacassars), but are painfully expensive – best reserved for difficult trips with luggage.
There is a useful app that covers metro train option in Tokyo (Tokyo Subway Navigation) and its highly recommended as the system of non connecting/ separately owned/ individually ticketed networks can be very confusing. Some of the stations are as large as cities in their own right (Shinjuku has 200 entrances and is used by between 2 and 3 million people a day) an signage is not always that good. The system works well tho and gets you around quickly.
Its efficient, clean and well run, but I did feel that Tokyo was a bit soulless, endless buildings, most of which are not that special. The neon is startling in places like Akihabra and Shinjuku (East side), but its not really charming. Only a short visit, but first impressions.
One area that does have some charm and pretty street markets is what is referred to as ‘Old Tokyo’ – old being a relative term.
Near Sendagi Station there is a small street called Yanaka Ginza and this operates an interesting street market (certainly at weekends), with craft items and street food options, it is busy, but with a local feel rather than tourists. Nearby, but on the other side of the station is the Former Kasuo Yasuda House, now owned by the Japanese National Trust this is a good place to visit to see how life would have been conducted years ago – the house only just survived demotion, land being more valuable than history…