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el2995 Tokyo - A travel report by USC
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Tokyo,  Japan - flag Japan -  Tðkyð
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el2995's travel reports

Bright Lights, Big City

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A view of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower.
A view of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower.
Tokyo is a decidedly sprawling and bustling city which, though interesting, to me seems to lack the charm and feeling of tradition that Kyoto, Hakone and Kamakura conveyed. Despite its expanse and at times heavy traffic, Tokyo is fairly easy to negotiate given its efficient subway system. I rather played Tokyo by ear and perhaps didn’t get all that I could have gotten out of the experience. To make the most of your visit, do some homework and pay a visit to the Tourist Information Center (TIC) near Yurakucho Station to help plan your itinerary. [Update 17 November 2011 - I was able to find some old negatives from my Japan trip in the garage and scan some to finally add to this report.]

Favourite spots:
Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower
A good way to really appreciate the shear size of Tokyo is to view it from the upper observation deck of the Tokyo Tower in the Akasaka district, where the city reveals itself as a sea of concrete that seems to stretch nearly to the horizon which is sporadically punctuated with the green foliage of scattered gardens. At the base of the tower are about three or four levels of shops and restaurants plus a basement level that had the best deal on tekka-maki (maguro tuna roll sushi). There was also an interesting exhibit of holograms, with most of the holograms merely static but some actually animated by imposing multiple sequenced images on a clear tube of plastic and rotating it to create the illusion of 3-D motion. Also in the same area are the World Trade Center and the Imperial Palace, which I didn’t enter but was able to enjoy a walk around the perimeter. The Tokyo National Museum is quite impressive. At night, Tokyo rivals Las Vegas with its neon lights and hi-tech signs.

What's really great:
The area around Ikebukuro Station.
The area around Ikebukuro Station.
I had an interesting experience near my hotel near Ikebukuro Station. I was walking back from a hibachi dinner and was stopping at a beer vending machine for a nightcap. An old retired Japanese Merchant Marine sees me at the machine and asks if I speak English. I say yes, to which he says that so does he and, hey, lets go drinking and speak some English. We end up in this neighborhood tavern that features a large caldron of stewed pork, onions and potatoes. We proceed to eat and drink sake and Kirin beer and are soon joined by two drunken Japanese businessmen, who proceed to buy me a large shoju (kind of like Korean vodka); it’s all downhill from there. One businessman leaves as the tavern closes and the three of us go across to a bar across the way, where I put my head down on the table for a second midway through my drink and wake up two hours later to find the Marine and the bar tab gone, the businessman passed out across the table, and a waitress yelling at me to leave.


Sights:
The Ginza District
The Ginza District
The Ginza district was interesting to browse through. The Tokyo Tower should be on the list on things to see; if you fly into Haneda International and have a 5-hour layover, you can actually make a quick trip into Tokyo via the airport monorail to Hamamatsucho Station, then walk due west to reach the tower (I suggested it to my brother-in-law and his wife during their trip to SE Asia earlier in the year, and they thoroughly enjoyed their brief visit to Tokyo.)

Accommodations:
I stayed at the Arden Hotel Tokyo near Ikebukuro Station. It was a businessmans' style hotel with not a lot of frills but it did the trick for my five days in the city.

Nightlife:
(Sorry; no nightime photos of Tokyo...)
(Sorry; no nightime photos of Tokyo...)
The Roppongi district has the Hard Rock Café, which was filled with US Marines (which I didn’t drink with) and the young, attractive, trendily dressed Japanese girls who love them. You’ll be surprised at the number of businessmen and clients you’ll see out partying even during the week (it’s an acceptable and well-established part of Japanese business etiquette), and more so to see some asleep in the gutter in designer business suites and vomiting in subway stations. I couldn’t afford the hostess clubs.


Other recommendations:
The Great Buddha (Dai-Butsu) of Kamakura
The Great Buddha (Dai-Butsu) of Kamakura
Make a day trip to Kamakura to see the famous and often photographed bronze Dai-Butsu (Great Buddha), though it’s not nearly as big as the Nara Dai-Butsu, which is the largest in the world. Take a ride on the quaint narrow-gauge Enoden train line through Kamakura's quiet backstreets. Also go down to the beach and check out Enoshima Island with its carnival-like resort and the nearby aquarium that features dolphin shows. The bridge to Enoshima features a variety of food stalls and gives you a view of Mount Fuji across Sagami Bay on a clear day.

Restaurants:
Plastic food displayed in a Tokyo restaurant window.
Plastic food displayed in a Tokyo restaurant window.
There were a variety of restaurants in the Ikebukuro Station area. I tended to go with the smaller 'family-style' places because they were fairly affordable.

Published on Thursday September 5th, 2002


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