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krisek Tokyo - A travel report by Krys
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Tokyo,  Japan - flag Japan -  Tðkyð
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krisek's travel reports

World's most populous city. Conformist Tokyo.

  9 votes
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Tokyo scared me a little with its size and conformity. Fortunately, it had a few interesting features to make me leave a hotel room and face the most populous city on this planet. It was very colourful but less Japanese than I expected.


Tokyo travelogue picture
Hmm… I am still not exactly sure what to think about Tokyo, other than big.

I came to Tokyo only to change planes on my route from Singapore to Los Angeles, without realising that it was at time already possible to fly directly on the new Airbus A345 (A340-500). I arrived in Tokyo, although no entirely, but rather terribly unprepared. To prepare myself, I printed the two fascinating descriptions of places to visit in Tokyo from lonelyplanet.com. So, I only stayed for a weekend. Greater Tokyo is the most populous metropolitan area on the planet, and there is so much to do that for a weekend visitor, a careful selection has to be made. And of course the city has absolutely everything to satisfy the most demanding of travellers. The trick is to know what one wants to and see in this fascinating capital of Japan.

The thing about Japan is that first time visitors should perhaps give Tokyo a miss. There are allegedly other places on the Japanese islands, which are more appealing, like Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, Yakushima or Shirakawa-go and Gokoyama. Unfortunately, there are not in a direct vicinity of Tokyo. At the other hand, Japan is really famous for their hyper-speed bullet trains, so getting anywhere should not be too hard or taking too much time. Yet, comes at a price! Transport is not cheap in Japan. Well, maybe next time I venture outside Tokyo, if there is going to be one.

There I was in Tokyo, world's largest city with an approximate population of thirty-five million. It is like putting four Moscows or Londons together. That is a seriously respectable size. I was staying at the governmental district, at the quite tall Hilton Tokyo, and from its top I could not see the end of the city. That was intimidating, and as I had no map, I felt a little ill-at-ease trying to navigate my way to the places I thought I could see. Then when I adjusted my senses (zoomed out), I really liked the city. It was impressed that a metropolis of this size could be make to work just fine.

Favourite spots:
Tokyo travelogue picture
I liked the Imperial Park the most I think, because somehow it did not feel like it was located in a gigantic city. It was calm and away from heavy traffic and super-high skyscrapers. The area was clean, and the vegetation very well maintained. I guess they all ought to be, since the palace remains the Emperor’s home until this day. No tourists are therefore allowed in the palace and the Emperor opens his doors only for very special occasions. The royal complex is surrounded by a moat. Every few hundred yards, there is a small, traditional house, white with dark roof - almost like they were observation towers.

The buildings around the park were square like many blocks in Chicago, the USA. I would not be able to tell that this was Tokyo if someone showed me a picture of this part of the city only. Well, never mind! There was so much space around the imperial enclosure and although the palace itself was off limits, a few interesting gates leading to it kept compensating...

What's really great:
Tokyo travelogue picture
On Saturday morning, I had to travel from one part of the city to another, and I had absolutely no idea where I was. I picked up a small map from the hotel, but it was not very helpful as far as finding a metro station was concerned. There I was standing on the street trying to decipher a map on a bus stop. A man on a bicycle stopped and asked me if he could help. I explained what I needed and he said he would show me the way. A few seconds later he started speaking something in Japanese to an elderly woman passing by, who then took my hand and led me to the metro station I wanted to go to. She travelled with me for a few stops, then bowed and disappeared in the crowd leaving the train. Now, that was super-great! It made me feel a little less helpless, and more comfortable to keep asking people for directions, even if my Japanese was limited to just 'thank you', 'mine name's', and 'cheers!'.

Sights:
Ginza
Ginza
After looking through a few recommendations on the net, I selected few of Tokyo sights to fill my weekend. Out of the temples of Asakusa; the park surrounding the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda district; the Meiji shrine in Harajuku; museum in Ueno; the famous Tokyo Tower; Odaiba's futuristic architecture; and party frenzy Roppongi, I selected Asakusa and Chiyoda. And in the evening, I chose Ginza over Roppongi and Shinjuku.

I started with a small walk in Tokyo's tallest buildings area admiring the City Town Hall, city's tallest building and then I moved to Chiyoda to see the park near the Palace and take a picture of Japan's most famous bridge.

But most of my time I spent in Asakusa, browsing through the temples and small shops along Namamisi Dori Street selling souvenirs and traditional pottery. Asakusa boasted Sensoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple; Kaminari-mon Gate leading to the complex with its huge lantern; and five-storey pagoda.

Accommodations:
View from my Hilton Hotel room
View from my Hilton Hotel room
I stayed at the Hilton hotel in the Shinjuku district with governmental offices. Interestingly, the district also contained countless bars, restaurants, shops but also nightclubs, brothels and places of very doubtful reputation. All just north of the Shinjuku train station, the busiest rail station in the world.

The hotel is a 5-minute drive from Shinjuku station, where one can get connections to Narita International Airport by the Narita Express train. Haneda Airport is 16 miles away. Shinjuku’s shops are a 10-minute walk.

Anyway, the hotel was superb. The personnel was attentive, hyper-polite, very helpful and dressed immaculately. There were a few nice restaurants and bars, fitness centre, health club, and all other 'expensive hotel amenities' one would expect. And that includes rooftop tennis courts.

Nightlife:
Ginza at night
Ginza at night
Ginza was the place to go out. I do not think anyone knows how many bars there are. Plus of course there was the national treasure - the Kabukiza Theatre.

Also, Ginza was said to be the best place to acquire, or at least see, the newest Japanese technological, usually electronic, gizmos. I was contemplating an idea of maybe buying another camera. I had a look around, and concluded that there was no point of buying a Japanese camera in Japan since it was almost 100% more expensive than in the US or 500% more than in the UK. Put off by this fact, I even stopped looking at shops of any sort apart from this one particular music store and a few souvenir booths.

Ginza was an interesting part of Tokyo. It boasted an incredible number of shops, department stores, theatres, and… neons. I spotted this little Eros statue hunting for someone there.

Now, for clubbing Nakano and Shibuya were the best districts. Roppongi area was for expats but a little tricky. Shinjuku had red light district.

Hangouts:
Tokyo travelogue picture
I was thinking about trying to pin point a centre of Tokyo and I simply could not do it. I am not even sure there was an official centre. There was the Emperor’s Palace and park; there is a high-rise district of the government buildings and institutions; and of course there was Ginza, the shopping district; or the Tokyo Tower. Any of those could be the centre, or in fact they all were in the centre? They were not terribly apart one from another, a few kilometres.

So, which place would be the best to hang out and kill time? Hmm... That depends on one's preferences. The few traditional districts in Tokyo (like Asakusa) provided for great atmosphere of 'Japanism' that contrasted the rest of this cosmopolitan city. The bars in the several 'party and drinking' districts were useful for meeting the people, best were the izakayas, which were traditional and good value. On Sunday it rained, so this was what I did in Shinjuku and Nakano. Many places were closed on Sunday, though.

Restaurants:
This part of Tokyo looked like Chicago
This part of Tokyo looked like Chicago
Japanese cuisine provides plenty of opportunities to practice slurping, which is almost obligatory, for example, udon soups. Dining was very expensive and one had to know where to go for a good value meal. Eateries were not terribly obvious for a foreigner to spot and sometimes it was hard to find them. Furthermore, they did not open all day, and on Saturday afternoon I spent hours (and kilometres) on finding a place to sit down and have a drink with a snack. I eventually found the Germania, a German kneipe tucked away in one of the side streets by the railway in Ginza.

But I wanted a Japanese cuisine, like sushi, of course. Yet again I struggled to find a sushi restaurant that was letting diners pick their sushi rather than having to order a pre-selected set. Well, that was Ginza. I eventually found one, but it set me back by $100!

On the other day, I also found a small inconspicuous place in the basement, which served noodles. I later found basement eateries were typical for Tokyo.

Other recommendations:
Tokyo travelogue picture
Tokyo Metro, by the way, was really easy to use. Directions were well placed and in both Japanese and Latin letters, and on every train I was, there was a plan of the line and little red diodes indicating where exactly the train was at that moment.

Life could not be so easy, though and there was a complication to this sophisticated and large metro system. The complication was a nasty one because it was regarding the tickets. Many lines had their own ticketing systems, and just because you had already bought your ticket from A to B, it did not automatically mean that it would remain valid if you changed the line you were travelling on to the point of your destination. Certain lines used the same ticketing but there were some, for which an additional ticket was needed.

For a thirty-five million people city, metro was not particularly overcrowded, but I must admit I was there on a weekend, and that might have been the difference.

Published on Sunday November 2th, 2008


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Sat, Nov 08 2008 - 03:41 PM rating by rangutan

An impressive report. well done!

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 11:52 PM rating by mistybleu

Cool report - I really liked Tokyo, however I didn't really have good weather while I was there. You had the experience of basement restaurants, I went to tower blocks that each floor had a separate restaurant. It shouldn't be strange but it was new to me.

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 08:43 PM rating by robynallen

You did well to get all those things done seeing you were new to Tokyo. I found most people when asked to help with directions very obliging too. But then there were the people who totally freaked when you spoke to them and scuttled off! Good informative report. Thanks for your perspective.

Mon, Nov 03 2008 - 04:23 PM rating by bootlegga

An intertesting view of Tokyo. To the unprepared, Tokyo can be pretty tough for the firt-timers. I think your biggest problem was spending time in Ginza. Ginza is arguably Tokyo's most expensive and upscale part of town. For electronics, Akihabara is much better, and for food, Shinjuku, Harajuku, or even Shibubya is better. Still, your report was fascinating as it was the opposite of my own report (and experience).

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