Eccentric, bizarre, at once deeply conventional and completely unconventional, Tokyo is a brainblast of culture shock and delightful discovery. Add a grand-slam dining and design scene and you’ll soon find yourself having the most fascinating and fun adventures possible – with your clothes on. Kimono-ver here and sake to me.
This is one helluva big town, but it’s blessed with few traffic jams, a great rail service and is fab for walking. All the main sites and shopping areas are fairly close to one another. Taking Imperial Palace as centre, financial and label land Marunouchi and Ginza are SE, party land Roppongi and swank Roppongi Hills SW, hip and retail Aoyama, Harajuku, Shibuya and Daikanyama radiate west/SW, and neon-lit Shinjuku is NW.
Need to Know
Weather: There are four distinct seasons: Jun-Sep is hot and wet, autumn is clement, spring is blossom-ravishing, and winter more bone-chilling than Donatella’s face
Transport:The subway seems like a terrifying warren at first, but it’s cheap, clean, efficient, goes everywhere and is well signed in English. Taxis cost no more than in London and stop anywhere, but drivers often don’t speak English
Getting Around: The address system is basically meaningless, so use landmarks or get your concierge to call ahead to your destination and arrange maps if need be
Cash Up: Most local bank ATMs do not accept int’l cards (duh, hello?), Citibank and 7-11 accept all cards 24/7 (bless) + post offices take int’l cards 24/7 Mon-Sat, till 9pm Sun. Cash is still king in many smaller establishments
Tipping:Don’t do it, a smile will do very nicely, thank you
“Non-smoking”: Uh, what’s that? No wonder everyone wears surgical masks
Events:There’s always something seasonal on. Spring is cherry blossom viewing parties, summer has fireworks fests, autumn is prime time for foliage peeping, and winter has special light-bright illuminations of major landmarks. Plus sumo in January, May and September
Talk of the Town: Grungy youth mecca Shibuya may finally be growing up. High-end shopping and dining destination Hikarie is a new hot spot, the venerable Marui department store has been transformed into a Modi flagship, and development plans for the east side of the station include a whopping mod skyscraper
Local Showdown: Reserved Tokyoites don’t get feisty over much, but they do love their ramen and endlessly debate the best varieties and shops. Disparage the noodles and you could get a ladle of hot soup to your lap
Getting High: Unless you are an engineering-otaku, take a pass on Skytree. 3000 yen for a crowded observation deck? No, thank you. Same goes for Tokyo Tower. Get a picture perfect view from Roppongi Hills instead
Alcohol Etiquette: Nothing screams Tina Tourist like toasting a round with “chin chin”, slang for a gent’s, er… little gentleman in Japanese. Local lingo is kanpai!
Do: Make a vending machine purchase. Situated on just about every corner, these convenient units are stocked with everything from sweets, canned coffee and green tea to books and video games. Just remember: eating and drinking on the go is a no-no
Don’t: Check into any random capsule hotel. Most are seedy in style as well as size. If you must, try a ‘deluxe’ pod experience at Haneda Airport’s First Cabin
Nab a copy of the TOKYO Guide…