Tokyo is Japan’s capital and the world’s most populous metropolis. It is also one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, consisting of 23 central city wards and multiple cities, towns and villages west of the city center. The Izu and Ogasawara Islands are also part of Tokyo.
Prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo. A small castle town in the 16th century, Edo became Japan’s political center in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government there. A few decades later, Edo had grown into one of the world’s most populous cities. With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the emperor and capital moved from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo (“Eastern Capital”). Large parts of Tokyo were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the air raids of 1945.
Today, Tokyo offers a seemingly unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, culture and dining to its visitors. The city’s history can be appreciated in districts such as Asakusa, and in many excellent museums, historic temples and gardens. Contrary to common perception, Tokyo also offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center and within relatively short train rides at its outskirts.
Food Must Try
You will find Ramen basically all over Japan, on almost every street corner. It is a wheat noodle soup dish that was originally imported from China. It is one of the most popular and inexpensive dishes in Japan. Ramen restaurants, or ramen-ya, can be found everywhere in Japan, and they serve countless regional variations of this common noodle dish.
Okonomiyaki is a real must when it comes to what Japanese food to try, as it is delicious! It is pan fried and consists of batter and cabbage. Different toppings and ingredients are added, anything from sliced meat and seafood to wasabi and cheese. This variability is what gave it it`s name “Okonomi”, which means “to one’s liking”.
You will find Okonomiyaki all over Japan in restaurants that specialize in the dish, but it is most popular in the west, particularly the cities of Hiroshima and Osaka which have their own variations. We had Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and Kyoto, and they were very different. The Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki includes a layer of fried Soba noodles.
Udon are thick white noodles made of wheat flour. They are thicker than Soba and Ramen noodles, whiter and chewier. Udon is very popular and available at specialty Udon restaurants (Udon-Ya) all over Japan, which usually also serve Soba noodles. Udon are served both hot and cold, with or without soup, and sometimes with vegetables, egg and meat.
The same goes for Udon as for Ramen and Soba – making a slurping sound when eating Udon is mandatory.
If your kids are fascinated by Japan’s illustrious past of lordly samurai and black-clad ninjas, a visit to Matsumoto’s “Black Crow” castle is an excellent way to bring history to life. This is one of Japan’s best-preserved original castles, and gives a great insight into the elaborate systems of defence devised by Japan’s feudal warlords.
Known as the “black crow” thanks to its dark wood, Matsumoto Castle is six storeys high and unusual for having a secondary donjon and turret attached to the main keep. It is possible to climb up inside the castle building via a series of very steep staircases. Do watch your head; as the samurai coats of armour inside the castle attest, people were a lot smaller when the castle was built in the late 16th century!
The castle is a hirajiro which means it was built on a plain rather than on top of a mountain and today the castle sits in the centre of Matsumoto City. There is a pretty vermillion bridge in the castle grounds, and in spring it is a popular cherry blossom spot.
For a uniquely Japanese take on the kids’ theme park, head to Sanrio Puroland – a fabulously kitsch celebration of all things Hello Kitty. This entirely indoor theme park is located on the outskirts of Tokyo and offers gentle rides, choreographed spectacles, and meetings with the Sanrio characters. We recommend the park for kids aged six and under – although adults, too, benefit from an interesting insight into the bizarre world of Japanese kawaii culture!
Hello Kitty is perhaps one of Japan’s most recognisable exports. The face of this ultra-cute mouth-less cat is known all around the world with Kitty merchandise covering everything from straps for your mobile phone to exclusive suitcases and designer jackets. You can even buy your Kitty goods with your Hello Kitty credit card! She really is a phenomenon. What few people know is that Kitty is actually lives in London (at least this is what her official biography says) and her current favourite boy is Tippy, one of classmates at school. There is a whole Kitty World out there to discover.
For all Kitty fans there is one place in Japan simply not to be missed: Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo. This theme park is dedicated to all things Kitty. There are Kitty rides, Kitty restaurants, a chance to explore Kitty’s house, and the Dinner Show where Kitty and her old boyfriend, Dear Daniel (sadly he had to move to Africa with his family) entertain the crowd! Feel free to sing along. A trip to this unique theme park is really is a must for Hello Kitty fans.
Tokyo’s two Disney parks need no introduction! Providing a fun contrast to Tokyo’s more edifying attractions, a trip to Disneyland or Disneysea is sure to keep your kids happy and help strike a balance between cultural education and plain old fun. For those with younger children, Disneyland has gentler rides and more child-friendly attractions; Disneysea is home to bigger, scarier fare and will be more popular with older children.
Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disneyland to be built outside of America and celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2013. At the opening ceremony it was said, “May Tokyo Disneyland be an eternal source of joy, laughter, inspiration, and imagination to the people of the world” and this has certainly been the case.
Following the huge success of Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea opened in 2001 and is the only one of its kind in the world. As the name suggests, it is based on a nautical theme and has gone on to become one of Disney’s most popular parks, featuring rides not seen anywhere else on earth. With faster and scarier rides such as the Indiana Jones Adventure and themed zones replicating world destinations such as the canals of Venice, the park is aimed more at adults. However, rides such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin will keep all ages happy! And don’t worry, all your favourite Disney characters are there to meet in DisneySea as well.