Lay of the Land
“The overriding sense of Tokyo...is that it is a city devoted to the new, sped up in a subtle but profound way: a postmodern science-fiction story set ten minutes in the future.”~David Rakoff
Tokyo ranks among the world’s most fascinating cities, for its endless juxtapositions of ancient Shinto shrines in the shadow of glass clad mega-towers, Hello Kitty alongside Issey Miyake, bowing businessmen and teens with dyed pink hair just to name a few. However, to those on the ground, Tokyo can feel impossible to map out mentally, or navigate practically. A little patience and an adventurous spirit, however, are well rewarded, because exploring the Japanese capital is extremely safe and always full of smile-inducing surprises.
Most visitors will do well to orient themselves around Tokyo Station, as it is also a main hub on maps for the highly efficient subway. Surrounding Tokyo Station are the business districts of Marunouchi and Nihonbashi, which is also home to the Imperial Palace and its surrounding gardens, open to the public.
Next to where Japan makes its money is where they spend it, among the most highly recognizable international luxury brand boutiques of Ginza. To the west of Tokyo Station, Roppongi balances the shops, dining and cultural sites of Roppongi Hills with a collection of office towers. Just to the north lie the chic boutiques of Aoyama’s Omotosando Avenue and the area’s iconic Harajuku, a non-stop array of fashion do’s and don’ts. This teen-centric vibe spills over into neighboring Shibuya, home to the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection and another of Tokyo’s main train stations. Just above this area, you’ll recognize the neon lights of Shinjuku from Lost in Translation which years later still epitomizes the whirlwind that is the Japanese capital.
Good to Know
- Don’t shut the door when you exit a taxi. It shuts automatically, and you’re likely to be reprimanded if you try to close it yourself.
- The Japanese don’t tip. It may seem strange not to leave something for a waiter or the bellboy in your hotel, but it is absolutely not done. (In some hotels, a 10%-15% service charge will be added to your bill.)
- Always travel with your hotel’s business card and a map of where you are going. An address means next to nothing, even to a lifelong Tokyo resident, so arm yourself with good directions, including which exit from the metro to take if you are using public transportation. If you’re taking a cab, have your hotel print out contact information for your taxi driver in case he also gets lost.
- Carry cash. Although the city is changing rapidly, credit cards are still not accepted in some places, especially smaller restaurants and bars. Also, your foreign ATM card may not work at all Japanese banks, so when you find one you can use, withdraw $500 to $1,000 (muggings are extremely rare).
- Take a bus, not a cab, from the airport into the city. Express buses run to all the major hotels and are exceptionably comfortable and a fraction of the cost of a private car.
Staff Quotable: “In one day in Tokyo, I witnessed sumo wrestlers training in their sumo stable; I had the best sushi of my life at Tsukiji market; I attended an origami demonstration by the country’s top origami artist; I saw ASIMO, a robot, run and perform human tasks at the Honda Center; and I went to a nightclub in Shibuya where a famous DJ from Berlin was spinning. The breadth of experiences, from traditional to modern, is extraordinary.” ~Janine Yu, Senior Travel Specialist