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bootlegga Tokyo - A travel report by James
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Tokyo,  Japan - flag Japan -  Tðkyð
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bootlegga's travel reports

Still the biggest, craziest city in the world

  27 votes
Page: 1 2
Tokyo is so vast that you could probably spend your entire life exploring and finding new things to occupy oneself. As the most expensive city in the world, it can cost a lot to do all those things too.

Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, is the capital of Japan and a unique vision of Japan’s international business success and what the future holds for the rest of us. It is monolithic, grey, and thoroughly modern, but somewhere, it still has a heart that most visitors come to love. There are so many major sites to see, you’ll need at least a month to see just the major ones. A city of about 25 million (at night the population shrinks to 10 million as everyone heads to homes in the suburbs), it is extremely crowded everyday of the week and until very late at night. On the trains between Tokyo and Saitama or Tokyo and Yokohama, you can expect there to be standing room only until midnight. Because most of the city was destroyed during World War 2, the city is almost entirely modern. On the outskirts are blocks and blocks of ugly gray apartment buildings that look more suited to an Eastern Bloc country from the 1960s. But the heart of Tokyo appears almost entirely brand new. The easiest and cheapest way to travel in Tokyo is by train. For example, the Yamanote line hits all the major areas and runs about once every 3 minutes during the day. Sitting on the same latitude as Los Angeles, the climate is mild in winter and hot and humid in summer.

Favourite spots:
The main street in Harajuku district
The main street in Harajuku district
Harajuku and nearby Meiji-jingu shrine. Harajuku is where Tokyo’s younger crowd hangs out. Here there are surf shops, clothing stores like LaForet and the Gap, and tons of small pubs and places to hang out in. One great souvenir shop is Oriental Bazaar about 2 blocks from Harajuku station. It is full of Japanese souvenirs to give to family and friends back home, from business card holders emblazoned with Mt. Fuji to full sized shoji screens for your house back home. The best part about Harajuku is that it is next to Meiji-jingu shrine. While the original shrine was destroyed by bombing raids in WW2, it was rebuilt in 1958 and offers a serene heart to the bustling centre that is Tokyo. Inside, the massive Japanese cypress trees tower over you and block out most of Tokyo’s skyscrapers and street noise. For nature lovers head to Meiji shrine and take a stroll in the garden.

What's really great:
The ferris wheel at Odaiba
The ferris wheel at Odaiba
The best thing about Tokyo is that you could live here for a decade and find something new to see or do everyday. Odds are, I won’t even be able to put everything I know about Tokyo in this report…

Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku
Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku
Shinjuku is the heart of Tokyo. The train station here is one of the busiest in the world, with over 2 million passengers using it daily. The west side of Shinjuku is similar to Wall Street, gleaming, towering skyscrapers devoted to the city government, business, and other enterprises centered around maintaining Japan’s economic clout. Tokyo’s premier department store has the colossal Takashimaya Times Square building, in which it maintains one of the world’s most impressive stores with over a dozen floors of goods and services, an amusement park, an Imax theatre, and three floors comprised solely of restaurants.

While in Tokyo, you also have the opportunity to witness some of Japan’s traditional sports and theatre. In Ginza, you can see a Kabuki play, or if you visit in May or September, you can watch a sumo basho (tournament).

The Shinkansen (bullet train)
The Shinkansen (bullet train)
Hotels in Tokyo can be brutally expensive, especially the big western hotels. Some nights the rates in the big Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku start at $450 US/night! Even a regular run of the mill hotel room can cost $150 - 200 US/night.

You have 2 options for affordable stay in Tokyo. The first one is to stay in a love hotel. Japan is full of short-term stay hotels designed for couples and overnight rates can be as cheap as $75 / night. The only trick here is that they generally won’t let a single person check in, and if you leave the room, you will be charged a second time.

Another is to stay in a small, Japanese-style inn, known as a ryokan. The Hotel Sansuiso about a block from Gotanda train station is one of the cheapest I ever found. For two people, the rate increases to about $90 US. Affordable, but ryokans are generally run by families and actually lock the doors at a certain time, so this can put a cramp on partying. The Sansuiso lock their doors at midnight.

Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji
The really happening parts of Tokyo for clubbing are Aoyama and Roppongi. Aoyama tends to be more of a Japanese crowd and Roppongi is more oriented to foreigners and those looking to meet them. Businessmen tend to frequent Kabuki-cho and Ginza, so if you are planning on an evening in those areas, bring an extra thick wallet.

Clubs and Bars change so much in Tokyo, I recommend picking up a copy of Metropolis magazine. Inside are lists of hot new clubs, bars, and restaurants, all in English and it’s even free, if you can believe it.

Asakusa temple is one of Tokyo's most popular sights
Asakusa temple is one of Tokyo's most popular sights
Sights II

One must see is the Tsukuji fish market one stop away from Tokyo station on the Yamanote train line. Here, fishmongers buy and sell fish from the crack of dawn until about 10 am. Make sure you get up early, because if you sleep in and show up after 9am, you’ll find most of the activity gone and some vendors closed for the day already.

If you happen to awake in Roppongi after a hard night of partying, stop in and check out Tokyo’s copy of the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower. Sure, it’s a tourist trap that charges more and more to get high above the smog, but it’s still worth it in the early evening, when the city lights up.

Those of you looking for high tech will need to stop in Akihabara, just a couple of stops away from Tokyo station. Here in Electric Town, you can find electronics we in North America and Europe probably won’t see for another 6 months to a year. The Laox chain of electronics stores are dependable and usually have a section for export items.

Many restaurants have replicas of the food on their menu
Many restaurants have replicas of the food on their menu
Once again, check out Metropolis magazine and you can find a good restaurant in just about any part of the city.

As an ex-pat myself, I tended to eat in Western restaurants whenever I visited Tokyo, as there weren’t any in my little corner of Japan. I particularily enjoyed El Torito in Shinjuku (beside the Eddie Bauer near the west entrance), the Sizzler in Harajuku (on the main street just before Meiji-dori), and the TGI Friday’s in Shibuya.

Another favourite was Maharaja in Shinjuku. Maharaja has some of the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. Another fantastic chain that is all over Japan is Capricciosa, a great Italian restaurant. Japanese people love Italian food, and this chain is probably one of the biggest reasons. Here, the servings are generous and the prices reasonable.

If you are looking for authentic Japanese restaurants, they are everywhere and in Tokyo, most have either English menus and/or displays of what they serve, so getting what you want is easy.

Other recommendations:
Daibutsu in Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura
There are tons of places close to Tokyo where one can go for a day trip and have a lot of fun and/or see a lot of cool sights.

One of the most obvious is Tokyo Disneyland, a short ride from Tokyo Station. It is almost identical in lay-out to the one in California. The prices alas, are higher, but it is very popular with the Japanese.

Another popular day trip from Tokyo is to Kamakura. There you can tour dozens of temples and shrines, as well as stopping in to see Daibutsu, one of the biggest Buddha statures in the world. If temples are not your cup of tea, try visiting Hakone and stay overnight in a Japanese inn, then maybe even climb Mt. Fuji if you think you have what it takes. Upon your return, soak in an onsen (hot spring) to work out the kinks.

If you are looking for something a little longer, head northeast to Nikko. Here you can tour the last shogun’s home and the shrines and temples around town. Nikko itself is a UNESCO site with dozens of fantastic places to check out.

Published on Tuesday February 1th, 2005

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Fri, Feb 03 2006 - 05:04 AM rating by downundergal

Hey James,
It sounds like you really know this city. Great reading!

Thu, Jun 09 2005 - 02:43 PM rating by braidedsoul

very informative and helpful.

Wed, Feb 02 2005 - 03:27 PM rating by mistybleu

This is a great detailed report, plus nice pictures

Wed, Feb 02 2005 - 06:49 AM rating by magsalex

Great report. Love the pic of Mt. Fuji!

Wed, Feb 02 2005 - 12:49 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

excellent report james.

Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 04:46 PM rating by bear495

What a great picture of Fujiyama!


Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 03:27 PM rating by hieronyma

I liked to read it. Maybe one day ... Hieronyma

Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 05:36 AM rating by davidx

Personally, I am not sure Tokyo is my scene - possibly an age thing. However this is a great report and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 04:38 AM rating by britman

Very interesting, well written and illustrated article that captures an insiders view of this vibrant, fascinating but expensive city.

Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 04:19 AM rating by marianne

I really enjoyed reading this. Perfect information.

Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 03:58 AM rating by gloriajames

very informative and well written!

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