July 12, 2012
It’s the largest metropolitan area on earth, with the highest population density. There are more than 32 million people in the greater Tokyo area – equal to the entire population of Morocco – so it’s not hard to see why it’s one of our favourite places in the world for just hanging out and watching the crowds…
Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s most colourful shopping, entertainment and dining districts and a major youth culture and fashion hub. Outside the station is probably the most famous pedestrian crossing in the world and when the traffic lights go red, thousands of students, commuters, tourists and shoppers spill into the intersection like a swarm of bees escaping their hive. The best-known and most accessible place to view the masses is from the second floor of the Starbucks opposite the station – said to be the busiest in the world. For a more elevated view, try the Shibuya Excel Hotel in the Mark City building opposite, also home to an enormous shopping mall.
Get the JR Yamanote line to Shibuya station and take the Hachiko exit.
Omotesando-dori is an upmarket shopping avenue running between Omotesando and Harajuku stations and the major approach to Tokyo’s most visited shrine, Meiji Jingu in Yoyogi Park. The entire road is lined with squat-trunked Zelkova trees – the full-sized version of the popular ornamental tree used in bonsai – which gives it an open, airy feel not often found in this crowded metropolis. Big-name international designer boutiques and pavement cafes form the backdrop either side, which attract a compelling mix of moneyed, immaculately turned-out style hounds and the younger, more outrageous fashions of the cosplay crowd at the Harajuku end. Park yourself at an outdoor table and take in the whole strutting scene.
You’ll pass through Ueno Park if you’re heading to the zoo, the excellent Tokyo National Museum or the Museum of Nature and Science. The park is enormous and it’s definitely worth spending an hour or so just soaking up the atmosphere and watching low-key vignettes of domestic Tokyo culture play out. Among the cherry trees, rental boats and shrines are groups of young picnicking friends, elderly couples strolling hand-in-hand, families with kids learning to ride bikes and fly kites, and street performers making balloon animals and playing tricks on unsuspecting toddlers. Granted, this may not be considered the most beautiful or serene of Tokyo parks, but for an authentic fly-on-the-wall slice of Tokyo life, it’s hard to beat.
Ginza is probably Tokyo’s best-known shopping area, famous for its neon lights, luxury stores and distinctive architecture. Every Sunday afternoon from midday to sunset, the central section of main street Chuo-dori is closed to traffic and throngs with the well-dressed and upwardly mobile enjoying their day off. In the summer, expect to find spontaneous pavement cafes appearing in the middle of the road; the perfect place to spy the occasional parasol-wielding, kimono-clad Tokyoite rushing past, dozens of shopping bags in tow.
Virgin Atlantic operate daily direct flights to Tokyo from London Heathrow.
Thanks to Ari Helminen for the header shot.