Last updated on November 9th, 2023 at 10:57 pm
Ah, Japan. The “Land of the Rising Sun” is one of those destinations on many people’s bucket lists. It’s not hard to see why. This beautiful country never ceases to amaze.
A place where tradition meets modernity, Japan’s is unique in its ability to combine the old and the new. And nowhere is this duality more pronounced than in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Tokyo Vs Kyoto – The Best and Worst of Japan’s New and Old Capitals
These two historic cities have both served as the nation’s capital, with Tokyo still holding that honor. Kyoto was the imperial capital for around eleven centuries until the last 1800s, and is still considered the cultural capital of Japan.
Of course, with the ease of Japanese public transport — the famous Shinkansen bullet trains connecting most major cities — many visitors to Japan take the time to see both Tokyo and Kyoto.
But if you only have time to see one of these cities, which should you go for? Here’s a run-down of the best and worst of Japan’s new and old capitals.
Tokyo – The Neon-Splashed Metropolis
The Japanese capital is well-known for being an ultra-modern city. A tech hub bathed in the glow of neon lights, Tokyo is always pushing forward into the future.
This is where it’s all happening. Whether you’re after entertainment, good food, famous landmarks, sports, museums, or art, Tokyo has it all.
The Best of Tokyo
Tokyo is a city that looks straight out of a sci-fi movie. From the needle-like Tokyo Skytree piercing the sky, to the twisting ribbons of steel and glass at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Tokyo’s architecture embodies the futuristic philosophy of the city.
You’ll never want for entertainment while staying in Tokyo! The nightlife here is electric, particularly in the Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku districts. If bars and clubs aren’t your scene, don’t worry. There are late-night art galleries, a plethora of theaters, and lively music venues, making Tokyo the complete package.
For entertainment that truly feels Japanese, be sure to check out a J-pop concert — these gigs are usually a high-energy and unique experience.
Tokyo holds the record for the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world — it actually has around twice as many stars as second-placed Paris!
But you don’t have to splash cash to get an amazing Tokyo food experience. You’ll find delicious street food in Yakitori Alley, mouthwatering noodle dishes in unassuming eateries, and sushi that melts in your mouth in the bustling Tsukiji Market.
Breakfast is also a big deal in Japan, and Tokyo is the perfect place to experience a traditional Japanese breakfast.
The Worst of Tokyo
If there’s one major downside to Tokyo, it’s that there are just too many people! With over 37 million residents, Tokyo can sometimes feel a bit crowded.
The rush hour trains are infamous for a reason. Even the shoulder-to-shoulder shuffle through the iconic Shibuya crossing can be claustrophobic. If you don’t deal well with crowds, Tokyo might not be for you.
The Cost of Enjoying Tokyo
Tokyo, being one of the most expensive cities in the world, might hurt your pocket. The cost of food, accommodation, and activities can add up quickly, especially if you’re traveling on a budget.
Kyoto – A Historic City of Traditions
Kyoto is nothing if not atmospheric. Traditional Japanese architecture abounds in many of the buildings and houses you’ll find here, not to mention the various shrines, palaces, and gardens found in and around the city.
It may be far smaller than Tokyo (although with a population of over 1.4 million, it is still one Japan’s ten largest cities), but there is a reason that Kyoto is still referred to as the country’s cultural capital.
The Best of Kyoto
History and Culture
If you’re looking to understand Japan’s rich history, Kyoto is the city to visit. You’ll find traditional tea ceremonies, serene Zen gardens, the majesty of the Golden Pavilion, and geisha scurrying down narrow alleys in the historic Gion district.
Beautiful Temples and Shrines
Kyoto boasts over 1,600 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Many are located on the hills surrounding the city, so be prepared to either catch public transport or make the hike up to them, but either way, it is well worth the trip.
The immense Kiyomizu-dera temple is a particular highlight, offering incredible views over Kyoto.
The famous twin temples of Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji, located on the west and east sides of the city, respectively, offer fascinating insights into Kyoto’s history, as well as scenic gardens.
Then there’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, with its famous Torii gate pathway. Walking down this trail really drives home that these shrines are spiritual hubs as well as architectural marvels.
Kyoto’s charm lies in its seasons. Whether it’s cherry blossoms carpeting the city in spring or fiery red leaves in the fall, Kyoto’s natural beauty is an exquisite sight to behold.
The Worst of Kyoto
Kyoto’s popularity as a travel destination means it’s often crowded with tourists. Some of the more famous sites can get so packed that it’s hard to get the peace and tranquility you might be seeking.
While Kyoto has a few bars and restaurants, it lacks the vibrant nightlife of Tokyo. If you’re a night owl looking for after-dark adventures, Kyoto might seem a little too quiet.
On the flip side, if you’re not a fan of bars and clubs and have come here for history and culture, this may actually be a plus. Kyoto is definitely the place for you.
So, Which Should I Visit?
In conclusion, both Tokyo and Kyoto offer unique experiences that can cater to different kinds of travelers. Whether you seek the fast-paced, technicolor dream of the capital or wish to travel back in time to experience the history and culture of Japan in Kyoto, both cities are well worth a visit.