Updated: Nov 20, 2022
My expectations for Tokyo
More modern than the other places in Japan I have visited so far. Which to date are Naha, Uruma, Ginowan, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Iwakuni. I expect most buildings to be new. Crowded! I think it will be extremely crowded. Tokyo is the most famous place in Japan; for that reason, crowds are probably to be expected. Plenty of choices for food and activity. I'd expect more unique street styles, fashion, and art, with more diversity than the rest of Japan. Busy people, I anticipated people would be too busy to be friendly.
Lastly, I anticipate a good nightlife scene.
Kinda like Vegas in Japan; that's my best point of reference...
But I guess we'll see when I get there...
Reality... What I actually experienced
The first thing I noticed about Tokyo was the lights everywhere. We arrived at night before the plane even touched down, I could see thousands of them; on boats passing in the ocean, windows of skyscrapers, cars on the highway, and more! And that was just the start!
We took the JR line to get to our hotel. There were so many connections in the terminals that we had to pay close attention to find the right train. Thankfully there were lots of signs advising which way to go.
Our hotel was just a short walk from our train stop. We got a room on the 9th floor, which had a great view of the city, and our room came with curtesy pajamas to use during our stay. I was not sure what to expect asthetic wise, because I saw so many different photos with different city structures. Within walking distance of the hotel, there was a combination of humble shops, skyscrapers, apartments, and more. It's like the city has adapted to support nightime clubs, bars, and lounges, while still feeling wholesome, livable, and shockingly safe. Which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful at night, closely followed by sunrise!
After the lights, my first impression of Tokyo is it's alive. The city really has a feeling of it different than any other place I have been. Before visiting Tokyo, I predicted it would be similar to Las Vegas... There are a few similarities, but the cities have very different feels.
The city of Vegas has the famous strip where shows, nightlife, casinos, shopping, etc. are located. But the residential, more wholesome part of the city feels separated.
Back to Tokyo. Firstly, Tokyo is not really just a city. Tokyo is a web of connected cities that are together called Tokyo. During our visit, we spent most of our time in Shinjuku, but we also visited Shibuya and Roppongi.
The food culture was well above my already high expectations. In fact, the food was so good that I will write a separate post dedicated exclusively to that topic. But if you don't read that, it would be worth the trip just for the food!
I'd like to include a few downsides for the sake of objectivity. Tokyo is one of the few places in Japan where I have seen litter on the streets. Some places are very crowded. But if you don't mind the sights and smells of a busy city, you will probably not notice these elements.
Shibuya is considerably diverse; I saw people from China, Malaysia, The Philippines, Nigeria, The UK, and more. The variety of people made the city more colorful and lively.
I was surprised at the warm, kind, and open-minded people I met.
Nightlife felt like a lifestyle. This is not to say everyone lives this way but to really express how awake the city was even after dark.
I also felt pretty safe despite being out late at night and before sunrise.
We spent a lot of time in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (you can see photos of this in our photo gallery); the atmosphere was peaceful despite being fairly busy. It is hard to believe you are in the center of a busy city while strolling through the park, just a few minutes walks from there is a mall.
Shibuya is famous for the Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross the street at once. It is known as the world's busiest stress crossing. Walking across the street is a unique experience as many people record themselves crossing the world-famous street, managed by multiple police officers on foot. Kinda like conducting a symphony; officers seamlessly orchestrate the largest pedestrian crossing in the world.
Not far from the crossing are some great restaurants and shopping outlets. There is even an Ikea!
Roppongi is a great place to experience some of the nightlife aspects of Tokyo, as it is home to many different bars and clubs and has lots of diversity. It has a blend of residential and business properties. The city felt like a rich blend between traditional and modern, yet both existed beautifully together.