The first thing that hit me when I arrived in Tokyo was the humidity. The cool, cloudy weather that I have grown so accustomed to was replaced by a hot and muggy atmosphere. Next was the city sprawl. The view from Haneda Airport’s viewing deck gave me a glimpse of the unending line of skyscrapers in Tokyo bay and the sheer size of the metropolis.
After getting adjusted to a much larger, extensive, and convenient public transportation system, I was able to start exploring Tokyo and see what the city had to offer. Tokyo may be a crowded mega city, but there is a lot of beautiful scenery to find. Parks, temples, and shrines all had their own unique character and beauty. An outing to Asakusa and the famous Sensoji temple had a completely different vibe than the local temple my host mother showed me by our home. Other temples outside of Tokyo also had their own distinctions that made each visit unlike the last.
Another interesting aspect of Tokyo was how quiet it can be. After settling into my routine, I noticed just how quiet my neighborhood was. Aside from the music that would occasionally come from the nearby temple or the school across from my house, it is quite calm. The moment I reach the station, it feels like I cross an imaginary line from a quiet side of Tokyo into the busy part. Places like this exist all over Tokyo and they offer a nice break from the usual crowds.
Outside of Tokyo, the scenery changes. Even nearby cities have a completely different vibe than Tokyo. During an outing to Kamakura just south of Tokyo, the city felt more like what I was used to back home. The city sprawled, but it lacked the skyscrapers that dominated Tokyo. A quick climb up a nearby hill offers a nice view of Japan’s south coast and the continuous development that lines it. Local shops are much easier to navigate since they generally are under 3 stories tall and offer anything a tourist could ask for without needing to wander.
If you head further out from Tokyo (especially north), the scenery really changes. Nikko, a famous hill town 2 hours from Tokyo, enjoys tree-covered hills and cool, fresh air. Here, the humidity of the coast disappears in favor of a forested backdrop. The upper town’s key features include a main street from the station leading to the famous Toshogu Shrine. Despite the attention the shrine and local waterfalls attract, the city itself is quiet. Japanese treats including the local specialty, Yuba, present themselves from the stands and restaurants that line the road and offer sweet rewards to tourists who return from the trek up to the shrine. Nikko definitely has its own small town feel unique from anywhere else I have been.
My first impression of Tokyo, the world’s largest city, was that it was a crowded and almost exhausting place to navigate. As I grow more and more accustomed to it, I am beginning to discover the little things that make different parts of Tokyo special. I plan to spend the coming year taking as much of it in as I can.