A trip to Asia would not be complete without a visit to the continent’s most populated city, Tokyo. Home to almost 38 million people, Tokyo is one of the most vibrant and culturally rich cities on the planet. Here, one can find delicious food, breathtaking architecture, world-renowned shopping, inspiring works of art, and a culture influenced by both the past and the future.
Tokyo has a lot to offer for both the casual traveler, and the cultural conqueror. My experience started off at Tokyo’s international airport, Narita. My first experience came immediately after stepping off the airplane. On my way to the subway system, I stopped off at the restrooms, where I encountered the toilet from the future! Being American, and traveling primarily in the Western world, I was not accustomed to technologically advanced toilets. The toilets at the airport not only cleaned you (via a remote containing a bevy of cleansing and drying options) but it also cleaned itself! This would seem insignificant, but it really set the stage for what was to be an immersion in a technological wonderland.
I finally arrived to my destination, the Asakusa district. Asakusa is a beautiful district, located near the banks of the Sumida River, which has the unique distinction of housing Tokyo’s shitamachi, otherwise known as the “low town.” This district is one of the oldest in Tokyo, and the architecture takes you back hundreds of years in time. With its ancient temples, narrow streets and alley ways, and old world charm, Asakusa whisks you away from the glass and steel mammoths that dominate Tokyo’s skyline, and allows you to experience life before technology. One of my favorite experiences in Asakusa was roaming the Nakamise Shopping Street. Stretching from the Kaminarimon to the Sensoji Temple, the Nakamise Shopping Street is lined with food and gift vendors selling a variety of merchandise. From kimonos and samurai swords to sushi and tea, you can find all of your take-home souvenirs here.
A short train ride from Asakusa brought me to the shopping mecca known as the Harajuku. Harajuku is a shopping destination unlike no other! Catering mostly to the trendy youth of Tokyo, Harajuku contains a treasure trove of edgy and contemporary fashion stores with unique clothing not found anywhere else in the world. When emerging from the subway station, one might mistake oneself for being on the Champs-Élysées. Luxury boutiques like Chanel, Dior, and Burberry line the streets, and trendy shoppers fill the sidewalks. But luxury shopping is not the only draw to this shopping district. Finding unique “counter-culture” fashion pieces is also a major reason to come here. One of my favorite shopping finds was a boutique named Dog. They specialize in repurposing vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories into Harajuku pop-fashion. You can find things like sleek Y-3 harem pants that have been embroidered with Disney characters and Jordan sneakers that have had a 6-inch platform and spikes added to them. The innovations you come across are absolutely mind-blowing! But then again, Tokyo is a master at mixing the old with the new.
In many ways, visiting Tokyo is like visiting two places: the past and the future…and sometimes, a little bit of both at the same time. It has temples and skyscrapers, rickshaws and subways, kimonos and Karl Lagerfeld. There is literally something here for everyone. Don’t miss out!