48 Hours In: Tokyo
Slurp noodles with salarymen, shop till you drop, get lost in translation and party with punks in Japan's capital
Saturday 03 June 2006
WHY GO NOW?
The 21st century arrived early in the Japanese capital, a parade of spectacular architecture where working life is long and frenetic. Yet Tokyo has a wealth of culture, cuisine and calm, and is also remarkably safe.
From Heathrow, All Nippon Airways (0870 837 8866; www.anaskyweb.com), Japan Airlines (08457 747 700; www.jal.com), British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (08705 747747; www.virgin-atlantic.com) fly to Tokyo.
The best way into the city from Narita airport is by the Narita Express train (00 81 3 3423 0111; www.jreast.co.jp). It takes just over an hour to reach Tokyo Station (1), price Y2,940 (£15) one way.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
The old, traditional Tokyo is on the east side of the city, while the west boasts newer shopping complexes and buildings, and the enormous Metropolitan Expressway. The gardens of the Imperial Palace (2) could be considered the "centre" in a touristic and shopping sense: chi-chi stores and restaurants cluster around the edge of the park. The Tokyo Tourist Information Centre (3) (00 81 3 5321 3077; www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp) is at Metropolitan Government No 1 Building, 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku; open daily 9.30am-6.30pm.
The Four Seasons Marunouchi (4) at Pacific Century Place, Marunouchi (00 81 3 5222 7222; www.fourseasons.com) is a luxurious choice, and handy for the stylish shopping on offer in Ginza, too. Doubles start at Y63,525 (£280), including breakfast. Movie buffs might want to pay a visit to the Grand Hyatt (5) at 6-10-3 Roppongi (00 81 3 4333 1234; www.hyatt.com), the setting for Lost in Translation. Doubles start at Y41,000 (£205), room only. Such is the success of Sofia Coppola's film that you now have to book in advance even to have a drink in the bar.
There are plenty of budget alternatives, of which the cheapest is probably Sumidagawa Youth Hostel (6) at 2-21-4 Yanaigibashi Taito-ku (00 81 3 3851 1121; www.jyh.or.jp), where a bed in a dorm should cost under Y3,000 (£15), excluding breakfast.
TAKE A VIEW
The first floor of Starbucks has possession of arguably the most fascinating view of the city: Shibuya crossing (7). This is a crossroads that resembles the human version of migrating wildebeest - and you will have the perfect view, provided there is space at the window. Expect to queue for a window seat.
TAKE A RIDE
Once you get the hang of the maps, the metro ( www.tokyometro.jp) is actually very easy to use. Each line has a different name (like the London Underground), and on each line the stations are numbered, so that you know how many stops you've travelled. A one-day ticket for unlimited travel is Y710 (£3.55), with a single journey costing from Y160 (80p). The Toei subway system operates four lines and you will have to pay extra to travel on those (Y1,000/£5 for a day ticket for combined Metro and Toei travel). English-language assistance is offered at Ginza, Shinjuku and Harajuku stations.
TAKE A HIKE
Start at Tokyo Station (1), and marvel at the clash between modern salarymen and century-old European architecture; the station is a replica of Amsterdam Centraal. From there, head east until you reach the Imperial Palace East Gardens, which are open 9am-4.30pm March to October, 9am-4pm November to February. Entrance is free, but you must collect a ticket when you enter and hand it in when you leave. Enter through the Otemon Gate (8), turn around and look back at what you have just walked through: it's a formidable gatepost. Highlights include the Honmaru Lawn, where the locals flock to for picnics and pictures during the cherry blossom season, and Ninomaru Garden, to see the traditional garden and carp. This is the closest you can get to the Imperial Palace (2) itself (bar the two days of the year that it is open to the public, or by booking a heavily restricted tour; call 10 days in advance, 00 81 3 3213 1111).
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Take the Metro to Shimbasi Station and leave via the Karasumori exit. You will see diagonally to your left a road called Shinbashi Nishiguchi Street, which is just to the left of a building full of big, pink slot-machines. Go down this road and you will soon see the locals flocking into small, living-room-sized restaurants. These are all great places for cheap, quality food.
If you're after handbags and gladrags, head to Ginza, where you'll find the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Hermès and so on. However, if you're after something a bit more interesting, head to Takeshita Street (9), where you'll fight for space with the super-trendy teenage goths and punks. While you're enjoying your cheesecake crêpe from one of the many stands, you might want to pick up some phone jewellery or perhaps a Japanese football outfit - for your dog. Most shops are open 11am-8pm.
Karaoke is an essential part of the Japanese experience. Big Echo (Chuo Dori) (10), near Heiwa Dori, is open noon to 6am and is well worth a go. You can order food and drinks and have a room all to yourself - complete with giant plasma-screen TV and phone-book-sized songbook - and sing to your heart's content. A room costs Y2,250 (£11) for half an hour.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Yakitori Alley (11) in Yurakucho is perhaps the most interesting experience you will have in Tokyo - provided you're willing to be adventurous. As you enter the alleyway, you'll see lots of businessmen getting thoroughly drunk, perched on stools and squeezed together on tiny tables. Jostle in alongside them. Get there early (6.30pm), as they are only open as long as they have food - once they're sold out they close.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO A SHRIN
You'll be in awe of the giant gateways that welcome you into the Meiji Jingu Shrine (12) near Harajuku Station (13). The shrine itself is very calming, and you might be lucky enough to be there when a Japanese wedding takes place. You should spend some time looking at the prayer tablets, which you can pay to write on and hang around a tree. Entry is free, and it's open from sunrise to sunset, every day (00 81 3 3379 5511; www.meijijingu.or.jp).
A WALK IN THE PARK
Roppongi Hills is full of life and colour at weekends. It's got the Mori Tower and Art Museum, as well as around 200 shops, restaurants and cafés. It also features regular displays in the central Mohri Garden.
OUT TO BRUNCH
If you have timed your constitutional right, the restaurants just to the east of the garden should be opening (most open 11am-11pm daily). Good locations for a leisurely brunch include Katsukobowako (00 81 3 5770 6550) and Pintokona (00 81 3 5771 1133), which both offer seasonal menus.
Bunkamura, which is attached to Tokyo Department Main Store (14) at 2-24-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya (00 81 3 3477 9999), is a multi-cultural space that features exhibitions, shows and films. Exhibition entry costs from Y1,300 (£6.20), and it's open 10am-7.30pm every day.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Tsukiji Market (15) (00 81 3 3541 9466; www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp) is Japan's largest fish market, and a marvellous piece of theatre - although not for the faint-hearted. Whole tuna, which need three men to lift them, are cut up with electric saws; live lobster, eel and crabs are packed in bags for cooking; stallholders use what look like samurai swords to fillet fish; and blood is hosed off table-sized chopping boards. You can visit any time from 5am, and things start to wind down by late morning. Wear sensible, old clothes, and walk there from Tsukiji-Shijo station (16).
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