Tokyo's popularity as a travel destination is indisputable and, of course, understandable. What short-time visitors don't know, however, is that after you've visited Asakusa, followed the sea of pedestrians at the Shibuya crossing and paid your respects at the Meiji Shrine, you might start to think the Japanese capital has nothing more to offer. This is, indeed, the advice I've given my visiting friends time and again: 3-5 days, that's all the time you need to explore Tokyo. The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I become that I was wrong.
Tokyo may not have myriads of ancient shrines like Kyoto or rolling landscapes and turquoise water beaches but it can offer visitors things no other place can offer. Take, for instance, the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) tour. Japan is one of the biggest financial hubs in the world and its stock exchange is where much of the economic history of the country is written. The English-speaking guided tour through the stock TSE facilities is free; all you have to do is pick up the phone and make a reservation.
The first thing I see when I enter the building is the TSE museum. Bonds dating back to the post-war era, hand-written financial records and other interesting specimens are exhibited here. After checking in at the counter and meeting the English-speaking guide, we start by watching a short video about the history of the TSE as well as some basic information about how a stock exchange works. I suspect the MBA students that make up the bulk of the group find this part pretty boring but for a dummy like me this is actually pretty interesting (and easy to understand).
Next we approach the ceremonial bell, situated above the trading floor. In the past it was used to mark the beginning of the trading day but nowadays it is only rung during special ceremonies. It so happens that one such ceremony is taking place during our visit: a company called Smart Value has just been listed on the TSE with its shares being traded since the market opened this morning. The company's executives ring the bell five times to mark the occasion, we clap and Smart Value enters a new era. I find myself thinking fondly of this company, as if I had a stake in its financial well-being. And the TSE is no longer a place one only sees footage of in the news; its trading floor no longer an abstract, two-dimensional image of no consequence. Even though I remain firmly uninterested in financial news, the visit has shed some flattering light onto them.
At the end of the tour the MBA students try their hand at trading through a simulation game. I walk around a little bit more, looking at the countless screens full of information I don't understand. Some of it is in Japanese, some of it in English, some of it makes so little sense I can't even tell. I thank the guide and leave the building, promising myself I'll at least keep up with Smart Value's progress.
For information and reservations call 050-3377-7254 (English, Japanese)