City Rumble – Tokyo Versus Tallinn

Get ready folks. In one corner today, we have a heavyweight champion of North Asia, the Japanese capital – destination Tokyo! In the other corner, weighing far less but yet packing quite a punch, a medieval city in the Baltics, capital of Estonia, the charming Tallinn. Yep – today’s City Rumble match up is between two very different places, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk over. So folks, let’s get ready. Ready to RUMBLE! Tokyo versus Tallinn.

Bustling Tokyo

As has become tradition in these matches, we begin with a look back to see how these cities got here to the second round.  Tokyo faced off against one of China’s biggest and busiest cities, Shanghai and a North Asian face-off to end all face offs – see City Rumble – Shanghai versus Tokyo. On the other hand, Tallinn won through to the second round in what I think was the only three-city City Rumble I’ve done against the other Baltic capitals in Vilnius and Riga. See – City Rumble – Vilnius versus Riga versus Tallinn.

Old City Gates in Tallinn.

Lets start with Tokyo. Tokyo is perhaps the ultimate ‘megatropolis’. The city itself has a population of around 9.2 million, however greater Tokyo boasts a population of more than 38 million. Not many cities on Earth come close to that. And the thing with Tokyo, although it is undoubtably an overcrowded place where sometimes they need to push people into the suburban trains so they can everyone on – with poles – it works pretty efficiently all told. And for the visitor this is quite impressive. The Shibuya Crossing, for example, is I think the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and is an attraction in its own right!

The city is so well connected, you can understand why not everyone, not nearly everyone, has or needs a car. Public transport in the Tokyo region is frequent and comprehensive. A Metro system which rivals any in the world complemented by a great bus system too. Taxis are frequent too. And regardless of the number of people, they are clean and so frequent. And of course, almost always on time! No graffiti, and people are so polite! They are quiet and there is an etiquette where you won’t see people making phone calls or being loud or disruptive on trains not only in Tokyo, but all over Japan.

Tokyo is a place where you can find the future operating here and now. If robots interest you, Tokyo is the place to go. Asimo is a robot that walks and talks and is pretty gosh darned cool. The Miraikan is also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It’s an advanced museum which is great for adults and kids alike and has many interactive exhibits. And it has Asimo who pops out for a show every hour or so and walks and talks to the crowd. If you need more of a robot fix, well, why not head to the ‘Robot Restaurant’ where robots put on a show for diners?

Akihabara is the technology centre and a great place to by electronic goods. Not saying the prices are very cheap, but they are not over the top either. The place is lit at night with loads of electronic signs, and there’s a bit of a sub culture there too, punctuated by the ‘Maid Cafes’ which feature girls dressed up as maids. You can head to the cafes and play games with them (as in board games). I haven’t tried one.

Harajuku is another place to catch Japanese sub-culture in the form of cosplayers. It’s a cool little neighbourhood for shopping, but at the right time of the week cosplayers gather often so that visitors can take photos. Tokyo also is great for high views with the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Sky Tree boasting high spots to views the skyscrapers and more of Tokyo.

Tokyo is not just modernism and tall buildings. There are so many parks and temples to check out. Check out Yoyogi Park near Shibuya, and inside there’s the amazing Meiji Temple. Sensoji is another brilliant temple.

Ueno is a brilliant district with a beautiful lake and loads of museums. And of course, if Disneyland is your thing, there are no less than TWO Disneylands – Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

I guess it would only be fair that I do chat a bit about Tallinn two, as this isn’t a one-horse race! Tallinn doesn’t not have a Disneyland or a population in the millions. The 2017 population was around 450,000. The thing though that makes Tallinn so special is that it is one of the  best preserved medieval towns in all of Europe.

Why is that? Well, it was never bombed in WWII, that’s the primary reason. The result today is one of the nicest and oldest old towns you can visit in Europe. Outstanding amazing sights? Well it’s not packed with them. There are plenty of nice churches and buildings and plenty of lovely cobblestone laneways to get lost in. And it’s quite the magical place.

Just walking and spending time there is the highlight. There are catacombs under the old town which you can tour, which is the one thing I remember most from Tallinn. And the nightlife is a lot of fun. Not that there isn’t awesome nightlife in Tokyo, of course there. But Tallinn won’t set you back like Tokyo will. In fact, it’s cheap enough that people spend a night or weekend in Tallinn coming from Stockholm just because it’s so much cheaper. A night in Tokyo will possibly be more adventurous but it will set you back a lot of money. Bar life in Tallinn is laid back and a lot of fun.

And then you can also head out of the old town and explore the newer parts of the city, which can be interesting too. And there are museums of course, and one of the most interesting I have found in most of Europe is the Museum of Occupations and Freedom. Not only does it highlight the years under occupation by the Soviet Union, but also Nazi occupation in the Second World War. It’s full of retro gear from Soviet times which personally I find fascinating.

Prices over all are going to land in Tallinn’s favour. Especially food, drink and accommodation which are key. Tallinn is smaller which means it’s a far easier place to walk as well, if you like to explore cities by foot which I personally do. And it has land connections to Latvia, ferries to Finland and Sweden, and you can also bus or possibly train to St Petersburg. Harder in Tokyo to connect to other countries obviously because Japan is an island.

Foodwise, well, Tallinn’s not bad I guess with plenty of European options, but you’d have to give the nod to Tokyo in that department. Having said that, I have never been convinced on the Japanese take on food from other countries. But Japanese food in itself is pretty awesome, so there’s no doubting you’ll do well with your taste buds there.

View across Ueno.

All in all, as much as I love Tallinn, it has to be Tokyo this week. It’s just too bloody impressive with too much to see and do. You really have no reason to be bored in Tokyo, it’s as simple as that. Don’t discount Tallinn though, it’s a charming place!

So, we now have Tokyo through to the next round. Who will it be next week? Well it’s an interesting match up that sees Quito, capital of Ecuador facing Russia’s St Petersburg. Take care and May the Journey Never End!


20 thoughts on “City Rumble – Tokyo Versus Tallinn

  1. I visited both cities, even spending several weeks in Tokyo, despite the charms of the beautiful architecture of Tallinn, I would also choose Tokyo, which is a city of global dimension.

  2. I’ve never visited either of these cities but it seems unfair to compare these two;) they are quite opposite, aren’t they? old vs new? but it’s interesting to see which cities win your matches

  3. Terrific post, Andy. Your opening paragraph made me smile. Enjoyed your comparison of the two cities and your images of Tokyo brought me back to happier days of travel.

  4. I’ve never been to Tallin but it sure sounds amazing! 😊 I love how you compared the two cities even though they are so different! Can’t wait to read your thoughts on St Petersburg!

  5. Finally, two cities I’ve actually been to! While I found Tallinn charming and quaint, Tokyo definitely takes the cake on size, culture, and things to see and do while visiting. I’d return to Tokyo just for food alone, with its ample collection of earthy matcha ice cream, comforting ramen, and everything in between! Thanks for sharing this “City Rumble,” Andy. 🙂

  6. BBQboy

    Andy, I’d like you to compare and rate Mike Tyson vs Heidi Klum. Can you do that? 🙂

    I haven’t been to Tallinn although it’s on our list. Always enjoy the nightlife in ex-Soviet countries, always exciting with a touch of grittiness. Compare that with Tokyo where we found Westerners are not particularly welcome in local establishments. There’s a nightlife for locals and definitely another for Western visitors.

    Enjoyed Tokyo (spent a week as part of 5 weeks in Japan). Exciting place but I’ve seen it once which is enough. I actually prefer Central/ Eastern European cities generally…so since everyone is picking Tokyo I’ll go on the side of Tallinn.

    1. i vaguely know who heidi Klum is. A model right? Yes well I’ve been writing some rumbles for the third round and they are even more unlikely match ups! nice that u went with Tallinn, it’s underappreciated!

  7. Haha, I knew you were picking Tokyo. I could tell from your writing that this city just has a place in your heart and it does in mine as well. I love Tokyo. I have been a few years ago, but would like to go back to Japan and explore inland some more. And I would like to go to a maid cafe!!! I could not convince my partner last time, he was too embarrassed 😉

  8. Pingback: City Rumble – Tokyo versus Addis Ababa – Andy's World Journeys

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