Japan’s legendary capital certainly befits its official name, Tokyo Metropolis. Huge and overwhelming, it’s the largest metropolitan area in the world and Yokohama, the port which serves it, is a popular destination on Far East cruises, with lines such as Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises and Cunard all including it on their itineraries. Cruisers to Japan will certainly be eager to experience the city’s futuristic neon-soaked streets, but even with limited time in the city, there’s still time to explore its past, too.
The ‘Eastern Capital’ as it exists today was formed in 1943, when the former Tokyo prefecture merged with the City of Tokyo, to create the Tokyo Metropolis. Now home to well over 13 million people, it started off life as a small fishing village, occupied by the Edo clan whose name it shared. A castle was built, and the village expanded into a town and the centre of military government under shogun rule. By the 18th century it was already one of the biggest cities in the world and later, under Imperial rule the City of Tokyo was officially established. Since then it has undergone two massive building programmes after the devastation it suffered from the infamous 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and allied bombings during the Second World War.
Even if you’ve booked a cruise and stay in Tokyo, the chances are you’ll have limited time to explore this sprawling mega city. However, there are certainly some locations which are definite must-sees on a tour of the city.
The Tokyo Sky Tree is the city’s tallest point and offers a stunning view of the expansive city below. It does get very busy however, so get there early or perhaps take in the panorama from one of the city’s other lofty observation areas; Tokyo City View, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office or the World Trade Centre Tokyo Observation Deck. Tokyo tower is another must-see lofty landmark, though it’s enough to admire its colourful nightime display if you’ve already enjoyed the view from elsewhere.
For a taste of Tokyo-past, Sensoji Temple is the perfect place to visit. Built to honour the goddess Kannon, it’s a delight inside and out and offers some beautiful gardens too. It’s a great place to pick up a traditional souvenir as well and there’s everything from buddas and tea cups to kimonos and lanterns available. One of the city’s most popular museums is the centrally located Nezu Museum, which houses all manner of artworks and statues located in its gardens.
Shopping and food
If you’re looking to pick up a bargain or two or some souvenirs to take home, Tokyo is a real shopper’s delight and there are a number of districts to explore. Shinjuki is where you’ll find many of the city’s tallest buildings and it’s very much Tokyo’s modern face. Neon lights, big screens, a bewildering array of shops and a huge choice of restaurants and street-side food vending machines; this is the futuristic Tokyo you’ve seen on screen and is a real assault on the senses. Similar in its contemporary appeal is Ginza district, popular with the city’s younger population and the place where you’ll find all the high-end designer stores. The Tsukiji Market is a huge traditional market, famous for the vast amounts of fish which can be purchased there. Perfect for seafood lovers, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy some of the local catch at one of the many restaurants. A hustle-bustle of hectic auctions and deliveries, it’s so popular that visitors can book a guided tour, but be aware that numbers are restricted.
Tokyo offers a number of tranquil spaces in which to retreat from the fast-paced hubbub of the city. Shinjuku National Garden is one of the city’s most popular attractions, hidden away in the heart of the busy Shinjuki district. There are some beautiful gardens to explore, and the Japanese Tea House is the perfect place for a laid-back cuppa. Located by Tokyo Bay, Hama Rikyu Gardens are an ideal escape for greenery-loving cruise visitors. With the modern city as its contrasting backdrop, it’s a great example of when old meets young in Tokyo. Yoyogi Park is a must visit during the cherry blossom season, when the trees help to evoke the romantic imagery of Japan’s distant past. It’s also where you’ll find the beautiful Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the city’s most popular sites.
By Simon Brotherton