Japan is a beautiful and complex country filled with amazing contrasts. There is so much to see and do there, making it difficult for the first-time visitor to even know where to begin. As such, guided tours are a great way to absorb the atmosphere and culture and at the same time, introduce the visitor to its many timeless facets. However, no matter the means employed to see this wondrous land, there are some sights which no visitor should miss out on visiting.
Tokyo is on just about every visitor’s itinerary – and quite rightly too, given the capital city’s size, importance and the dazzling array of sights, sounds and experiences it has to offer. The city proper has a population of around 8 million people, but this shoots up to 13 million if the immediate surrounding area is included. When judged in terms of it’s metropolitan area, that is, areas which provide much of the day-to-day workforce for the city, the population jumps even higher, to a staggering 32 million. This makes Tokyo the largest metropolitan area in terms of population in the world, well ahead of Seoul, South Korea, in second place, which has some 12 million fewer people. To put it in context, London comes eighteenth in the list.
Recent studies have calculated the annual gross domestic output of the metropolitan area in the trillions of dollars. And something like 1 in 10 of the Fortune Global 500 corporations in the world have their headquarters in the city, twice as many as anywhere else. It is also regarded as one of the major financial centres of the world, housing the Tokyo Stock Exchange and major investment banks and insurance companies. But the downside to all the commercial activity and wealth creation is the cost of living. For many years, the city enjoyed the unenviable reputation of being the costliest place in the world to live.
The recovery and transformation of the city is nothing short of a miracle given the destruction wrought not only during the Second World War, but by the devastating earthquake of 1923. The earthquake struck on September 1 and lasted up to 10 minutes, killing more than 100,000 people. The most devastating bombing raid on Tokyo, carried out by the United States Army Air Forces, occurred on 9-10 March 1945 and killed an estimated 100,000 people. Some historians claim the death toll may have even been higher. Whatever the true figure, which will probably never be known, the raid is regarded as the deadliest in history, and is greater in terms of casualties than the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
And talking of the atomic bomb, no holiday to Japan should be considered complete without a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where the flame of peace continually burns. Within the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, well worth visiting just to see some of the artefacts which survived the dropping of the first atomic bomb in history.
After falling for something like 40 seconds or so, the bomb exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima at 8.15 on the morning of August 6, 1945. Within seconds, more than 70,000 people were dead. The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays the belongings left by the victims, photos and other materials to help convey the horror of that fateful day.