City Rumble – Shanghai versus Tokyo

shanghai tokyo banner

Yes, back again with two Asian heavyweights in the ring is this week’s CITY RUMBLE. We have the centre of commerce for China, Shanghai, and Japan’s mega-capital, Tokyo lining up against each other. Both are amazing cities in their own right, both attract a lot of tourists, both boast a host of attractions and things to see and do.

Population? Shanghai  24 million (can I trust wiki? That is more than Australia!) Tokyo 13 million.

Akihabara Maid Cafe.
Akihabara Maid Cafe.
French Concession in Shanghai.
French Concession in Shanghai.

Both cities really can set you back when you first arrive. They are somewhat overwhelming in size, featuring many distinct areas and parts of the city. From Tokyo’s Akihabara full of Maid Café’s and tech, to the charming leafy French Quarter in Shanghai, both cities offer a little something for everyone.

It's Tokyo Disneyland!
It’s Tokyo Disneyland!

Tokyo has more tourist attractions. That’s for sure – there’s Tokyo Disneyland for one. Shanghai has an amusement park called ‘Happy Valley’ which I didn’t choose to visit and in all fairness doesn’t appear to remotely stack up to Tokyo Disneyland. However, there is now a Disneyland in Shanghai 0 which I can’t claim to have visited. But that WOULD make an interesting comparison!

Colonial Building, Shanghai.
Colonial Building, Shanghai.

I think Tokyo also has Shanghai covered in terms of parks, Shanghai just can’t compete with the likes of Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park and the like. Where it does have an edge is in historical buildings, and most would know why – Tokyo’s history of earthquakes leaves the older buildings more vulnerable to collapse!

shanghai oriental pearl tower
Shanghai Skyscrapers including the Oriental Pearl Tower.
tokyo tower
Tokyo Tower

As for tall buildings, well, modern Tokyo has found a way to earthquake proof their buildings, and you’ll find there are enough skyscrapers to rival most cities outside New York. Having said that, Shanghai has plenty of its own. The Tokyo tower is possibly the best place for aerial views of the Japanese capital. Shanghai has some wonderfully unique tall towers too, such as the Oriental Pearl Tower.

Temple in Shanghai
Temple in Shanghai
Shanghai old and new.
Shanghai old and new.

Both cities have pretty good subway transportation, and although Tokyo’s is older, it is more comprehensive. On the flip side, it can be tricky to navigate because different lines are run by different companies so you need different tickets and crossing from one line to another at a station can be a nightmare! In Shanghai you often have your bag searched before entering the subway system, which is annoying but I guess makes you feel safe. And then you have the ride under the Huangpu River – in the Bund Tourist Tunnel. That’s a special, if not surreal and weird experience. Okay, let’s be honest – it’s freaking weird! Lights and music mystify the visitor as they go from one side of the river to the other.

Food is amazing in both cities, they have so much to offer the visitor in local and foreign food. Perhaps Shanghai has a slight edge. It’s still a cheaper place to visitor than Tokyo, I had a room for around $20 there or even slightly less at a hostel with air conditioning and bathroom.

Internet is an issue always in China, with many sites being blocked and the government really watching everyone’s use, speeds are pretty poor and Tokyo is better that way. Both have some excellent museums. The propaganda museum in Shanghai really should have made it on my ‘Quirk Museums’ list the other week, full of images from the days of ‘Red China’.

Tokyo is hard to find a cheap bed or a cheap drink, I’ll be honest, and taxis also are more expensive there. But, you get what you pay for. The visitor still needs to keep their eye out for the occasional ‘tea ceremony’ scam in Shanghai, so be warned! You’re unlikely to come up against that in Tokyo.

Tokyo street.
Tokyo street.
Shopping strip in Shanghai.
Shopping strip in Shanghai.

Finally, shopping. I think both cities have an awesome range of stuff, but Tokyo probably has a wider range of fashion and electronics just slightly over Shanghai, and all the things you buy should be genuine. You can find fake products easily in Shanghai from Dvds to Ipads. Of course, they will be cheaper if not the real thing!

The weather is not too dissimilar. Overall Shanghai is slightly warmer, but both have stifling summers and are best visited in autumn or spring. Tokyo’s winter is a bit colder.

So there you go. I try to keep my posts short but somehow it never quite works out! But there’s as quick a comparison as I could make, and clearly you’ll see that I’ve come out in favour of Tokyo. I think…

What do you think? What do you like or dislike about these two cities? Please do comment below, and vote in the poll! May the Journey Never End!

14 thoughts on “City Rumble – Shanghai versus Tokyo

  1. Haven’t been to either but no comparison. Tokyo hands down. The crazy Japanese and all their gadgets and cultural particularities, lots of drinking, weird costumes, saki and sushi, No spitting, more polite, less pollution. Yeah, Tokyo. It’s on our list of places.
    Frank (bbqboy)

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    1. The way we arrive some where and how we feel going into a place can definitely alter our perceptions dramatically. As can the weather! I’ve been to Tokyo many times but Shanghai just the once so I also know Tokyo a lot better. Nevertheless I still prefer it and dont think that would change. Did love the Old/French quarter of Shanghai.

  3. I’ve never been to both cities and Japan has always been on top of my travel wish list. Also, I’ve been seeing lots of poor reviews about Shanghai. The smog there is quite bothering too.

  4. I see I am not the first to think of the smog… just looking at your photos here – beautiful blue skies in Tokyo, grey smog in Shanghai. I’ve yet to visit the latter so I can’t compare, but the smog is the reason I haven’t bother with Shanghai yet. Two of my kids have asthma, if I go, I will have to go sans kids!

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