If you like books, you're going to love the neighborhood of Jimbocho. Hundreds of new and used bookshops line the streets of this district, dedicated to everything from manga to art, architecture, fashion and travel. The majority of the books are in Japanese, but there are plenty of foreign titles, especially in English and German. Even if you're not in the mood to buy, just browsing can make for an entertaining afternoon. But there's almost no way that you're going to walk out of Jimbocho empty-handed.
It surely won't keep the title for long but the tallest habitable building in Tokyo is currently the Midtown Tower, part of the Tokyo Midtown complex in Akasaka. We spent a day checking out the sights around Midtown, including the National Art Center and the tranquil Nogi Shrine.
The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world's first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn't like Akihabara all that much.
Almost everyone knows a little about origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. But for a deeper understanding, we visited Tokyo's Origami Kaikan (Origami Center) in Bunkyo, where we had the opportunity to learn at the feet of an ancient sensei.
Along with Shinjuku and Shibuya, Ikebukuro is the third and northernmost of Western Tokyo's great centers. Built around an enormous train station, this is yet another mind-blowing conglomeration of people, buildings, entertainment, shopping and chaos that could easily be its own city. And a large one, at that.
We knew it was going to be crazy. We'd seen pictures! We had read online accounts and talked to people who'd been there. Sure, Harajuku was going to be nuts, especially on the shopping street of Takeshita-dori, but we were ready. I mean, this is still Earth, people are people, and a crowd is a crowd. Am I right? It can't be anything we haven't seen a million times before.
The street of Omotesando-dori, leading westward to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, has earned a reputation as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. With haute couture brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton occupying architecturally ambitious buildings, and Tokyo's most stylish citizenry stalking the sidewalks, a stroll along Omotesando-dori is both impressive and humbling.
Perched atop the Niimi Building, the giant head of an Italian chef welcomes visitors to Kappabashi-dōri, where Tokyo's restaurants come to buy the things they need to run their business: chopsticks, cups, bowls, knives, takeaway containers, and naturally, an infinite variety of plastic foods.
When Tokyo Station opened in 1914, it served four trains. But just like the city itself, the station has grown a little. Today, the sprawling station in the middle of the city serves an almost incomprehensible 3000 trains, every single day.
Ever since springing to life in the seventeenth century as home to the city's silver-coin mint, the central district of Ginza has been among Tokyo's most popular places to shop, see and be seen. We spent our first Saturday in the city walking along the joyfully car-free street of Chuo-Dori, watching people, and popping into some world-famous stores.