Not even a nuclear disaster could stop the Japanese from securing the 2020 Olympic Games bid. Their successful campaign was based on an array of assets – a passion for sport, ability to host major sporting events and a record as a safe and welcoming city, ripe with innovation and digital technology and flush with a reserve fund for infrastructure projects.
Tokyo last hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964. Since then of course many things have changed, but a lot of things have also stayed the same. If you’re keen to get to the 2020 action then here are some of the old and new things you can see when you’re not catching the sports action.
For a taste of old world Japan you should visit the Imperial Palace or one of the many Shinto shrines in the city. The Imperial Palace is still the residence of the Japanese emperor and family. It’s possible to wander the outskirts and visit its gardens, but it’s only open to the public on 2 January and 23 December. Tokyo has many shrines, Meiji-jingū is the largest.
Swanky shopping malls, skyscrapers, bullet trains and high tech gadgets make up much of the modern scene of 2013 Japan. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the Akihabara Electric Town where all sorts of gadgetry is available. A ride on a bullet train is almost a must when you’re in Japan. Fast, efficient and punctual they are an enduring symbol of the way the country is run.
The world’s busiest, and possibly smelliest, fish market, Tsukiji, is high on most people’s itineraries in Tokyo. If you can handle an early start for the live tuna auctions, lots of trucks and trolleys and a very fishy smell get there by 4.30am to register and enjoy the madness, then cap it off with a sushi breakfast afterwards.
There will probably be enough sports action during the Olympics to keep you busy, but this is one traditional event you should try to catch for all the posturing, flesh grabbing and rippling of muscles that you can take. There will probably not be any of the grand tournaments on during the Olympics but you may be able to watch a training session at a beya, or sumo stable. Ask at your hotel for details and have someone call to make sure are allowed to watch.
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For such a frenetic and busy city, Tokyo also has some places to unwind and relax. Yoyogi Park in Shibuya-ku is a good place to go for music sessions on Sunday, club meetings, play rehearsals, exercise, cycling or snacks. Ueno Park is another spacious public park popular at cherry blossom time in particular. It has temples, shrines, museums, a library and marshland with many bird species. Another wonderful garden is the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden with its French, English and Japanese sections.
Tokyo from above
For views of the glittering lights and neat urban sprawl of Tokyo, there are a number of options. The Tokyo Tower has observation decks at 145m, the Mori Tower has a 52nd floor observation deck or a 54th floor Sky Deck, and the TMGO Towers are open for a free view over Tokyo. The best of the lot is the observation deck of the Tokyo Sky Tree 450 meters above the ground.
Tokyo food: from noodle shops to tofu bars
One of the best ways to experience Tokyo is to eat. There are so many good places to try local delicacies but a good place to start is Tokyu Food Show near the Shibuya Station for its excellent aisles of treats. Trendy nearby Ebisu has a lot of great bar food with local places selling grilled meat and vegetables. If you don’t speak Japanese you may need to be adventurous or learn a phrase like “osusume” (whatever you recommend), but of course you could still come out with chicken gizzards on a skewer. The Golden Gai is a great bar area hangout.
The weird and wacky
While Kyoto might be home to the geisha scene, Tokyo has plenty of red-light action for both men and women, and those that just want to gawk at it all. Kabukichō is a district abounding in cabarets, strip shows and peep shows, however not all places permit foreigners. If that all seems a bit raucous then the other place to head for a guaranteed great night is karaoke. While karaoke in Japan is normally for private parties, there are public places to have a bash at it and enjoy the show. Smash Hits is a popular place and even has some English songs. Jan Ken Pon and Gigabar are also popular. And where better to rest your head after a night on the tiles than a capsule hotel.
The Daimaru department store near the Tokyo Station is a good place to stock up on accessories you need and gifts. Here you’ll find all the hair combs, fans and kimonos you might possibly want or can fit in your suitcase. For something more touristy visit the Oriental Bazaar on Omotesando Street. It’s cheaper but very popular. Isetan is another popular department store for men’s and women’s fashions and has a great food court. Tokyo Midtown is also another good area of the city to go for shopping.
Museum and attraction haven
If you love a good museum and fun park you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven in Tokyo, which probably rivals any other major city in the world for for most museums and amusement parks per square mile. There’s just about everything you could possibly wish to see. There’s the Tokyo Dome attractions, Tokyo Disney Resort, Kiddyland, the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Stock Exchange, National Science Museum … the list goes on and on.
This article first appeared on TravelWireAsia.com