With 42 million inhabitants concentrated on 32,377 square km (122,518 sq mi), the flat Kantō plain is one of the most densely populated region on Earth (1,220 people/sq km, or 3.5 times Japan's average population density). The Kantō has a comparable land area to Belgium or the US State of Maryland, but is 4 times more populous than the former and 7 times more than the latter.
Kantō literally means "east of the barriers", as opposed to Kansai ("west of the barriers"), referring to the control barriers in place between the two regions during the Edo period.
The Kantō administrative region is made up of the Tōkyō metropolis (Tokyo-to) and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma.
Historically, the Kantō was a backwater until shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu established its government in Edo in 1603. Edo boomed and flourished as Japan's new political and economical centre, and the city grew to become the largest in the world by the end of the 18th century.
Nowadays, the Greater Tōkyō is still the largest metropolis in the world, with some 33,750,000 people living within 50 km of Nihombashi (Tōkyō's official centre). Other major cities included in this Metropolitan area are Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba. However, that does not include areas as far as the New Tōkyō International Airport in Narita (Chiba prefecture), some 80km from Tōkyō station.
Things to see
Tōkyō is the obvious first destination for most visitors. Be it for restaurants, electronic shops, skyscrapers, huge department stores, or Buddhist temples and traditional festivals, you will find it all there. The areas most frequented by tourists are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, Marunouchi, Ginza, Ueno, Asakusa and Odaiba.
The two most popular day trips from Tokyo are Yokohama, Nikkō, Kawagoe, and Kamakura. Yokohama is not just an extension of Tōkyō; it was Japan's main connection with the West in the 2nd half of the 19th century, whence innovations and new trends entered the country. Sheltered in the mountains, Nikkō is one of Japan's most important shrines, the flamboyant and colourful Tōshōgu, where the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is inhumed. Kawagoe is a well-preserved historic town dubbed "Little Edo", and famous for its kurazukuri (fire-proof storehouses). Kamakura is an 800 year-old jewel of ancient architecture and home to one of Japan's two Great Buddha statues (the other one being in Nara).
The iconic Mount Fuji lies 100 km west of Tōkyō. The nearby Hakone and Izu Peninsula are good places to view Mt Fuji by fair weather, but also to dip in one of the local onsen (hot springs).
Some less famous attractions can be well worth visiting too. The Japan Folk Village in Kawasaki is an open air museum featuring traditional country houses from all over Japan. It gives a preview of the World Heritage villages of Shirakawa-gō & Gokayama, which are too far away from Tōkyō for most visitors. All long-distance international flights arrive at Narita Airport, and yet few foreigners bother to visit the city of Narita and its enormous Narita-san temple, one of Japan's most influential.
Attractions are listed by order of interest (although those with the same rating could be interchangeable).