Tokyo

Short history

Tokyo, originally known as Edo, was a small fishing village when it first appeared in historical records in the early 1600s. Its transformation began when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, established his government there in 1603. This period, known as the Edo period, saw Edo flourish into one of the world’s largest cities with a thriving culture, despite the country’s isolationist policies.

The city’s history took a dramatic turn in 1868 during the Meiji Restoration. Edo was renamed Tokyo, meaning “Eastern Capital,” as the imperial capital was moved from Kyoto. This marked the beginning of rapid modernization and industrialization, propelling Tokyo into the forefront of political, economic, and cultural life in Japan.

Tokyo faced significant challenges in the 20th century, including the devastating 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and severe destruction during World War II. However, it emerged from these tragedies stronger, hosting the 1964 Summer Olympics and becoming a symbol of Japan’s post-war economic miracle

Geography

Tokyo, Japan’s sprawling capital, sits on the southeastern side of the main island, Honshu. It’s positioned in the Kanto region, within the Tokyo Bay. The city’s relief is a mix of lowland areas and scattered hills. One of its most iconic geographical features is the Sumida River, which flows through Tokyo and into the bay, playing a vital role in the urban layout and history.

The climate in Tokyo is classified as humid subtropical, characterized by hot, humid summers and mild winters, with occasional cold spells. This climate influences various aspects of life in Tokyo, from architecture designed to cope with the heat to the timing of numerous traditional events.

Tokyo’s urban layout is notably marked by its mix of ultra-modern skyscrapers and traditional wooden homes. The city is divided into 23 special wards, each acting as an individual municipality, yet collectively forming the heart of Tokyo. This structure facilitates efficient urban planning and management, accommodating the city’s vast population and complex infrastructure needs.

Population

Tokyo, as of the latest data, is most populous Japanese metropolis, with a population that exceeds 13 million inhabitants. This dense conglomerate of people makes Tokyo one of the most heavily populated cities globally. The population is predominantly Japanese: its homogeneous ethnic composition is reflective of the country at large. 

Cultural diversity in Tokyo, though less pronounced than in other global cities, is gradually increasing due to a growing number of expatriates and immigrants. Consequently, this has introduced a wider spectrum of languages, religions, and cultural practices. The primary language is Japanese, and Shintoism and Buddhism are the predominant religions, deeply embedded in the city’s culture and day-to-day life. 

Main sights

  • The Imperial Palace: The residence of Japan’s Imperial Family, situated in the heart of Tokyo, is surrounded by parks and moats. It’s a symbol of Japan’s history and monarchy.
  • Tokyo Tower: Modeled after the Eiffel Tower, this red and white lattice tower provides panoramic views of the sprawling Tokyo metropolis from its observation decks.
  • Senso-ji Temple: Tokyo’s oldest and most significant temple, located in Asakusa, is known for its Thunder Gate and traditional Nakamise shopping street.
  • Shibuya Crossing: Famous for being one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world, Shibuya Crossing embodies the urban life of Tokyo.
  • Meiji Shrine: Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this Shinto shrine is a peaceful respite from the city, featuring a forested area that covers about 175 acres.
  • Tokyo Skytree: The tallest structure in Japan, and the second tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion. It includes observation decks offering breathtaking views over Tokyo.
  • Ginza District: Tokyo’s premier shopping, dining, and entertainment district, where luxury brands, cutting-edge fashion, and gourmet dining experiences converge.

Food

  • Sushi: A quintessential Japanese dish, sushi in Tokyo ranges from simple nigiri to elaborate, artistically prepared selections. Freshness is paramount.
  • Ramen: This beloved noodle soup boasts a variety of flavors and styles in Tokyo, from the rich, pork-based broth of Tonkotsu to the soy sauce-enhanced Shoyu ramen. 
  • Tempura: Lightly battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables served with a tentsuyu dipping sauce. Tokyo’s tempura spots range from street-side vendors to high-end restaurants.
  • Yakitori: Grilled chicken skewers seasoned with either salt or a variety of sauces. This simple and flavorful dish is a staple in Tokyo’s izakayas (Japanese pubs), perfectly paired with a cold beer.
  • Monjayaki: Tokyo’s lesser-known cousin to the more famous Okonomiyaki, Monjayaki is a savory pancake with a runnier batter, mixed with various ingredients like cabbage, meat, and seafood, cooked on a hot griddle right at your table.

Fun facts

  • Tokyo was once known as Edo, a name that persisted until the city became the official capital of Japan in 1868.
  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has two observation decks that are free to the public, providing panoramic views of the city and, on clear days, Mount Fuji.
  • Tokyo holds the record for the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, a proof of its exceptional culinary prowess and diversity.
  • The district of Shibuya is home to the world-famous Shibuya Crossing, often referred to as “The Scramble,” which is considered one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world.
  • Despite its ultra-modern image, Tokyo has numerous hidden waterways. The city was once crisscrossed with canals, and while many have been filled or covered for roads and railways, some, like the Nihonbashi River, are still visible.