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Welcome to Tokyo


As a modern city Tokyo, the capital of Japan, could be described as too good to be true. People dress in the latest gear, excellent restaurants serve up delicious food of all varieties, and the trendiest nightclubs keep things hopping. The public transport system is punctual and one of the most efficient in the world; and shops and vending machines provide necessities and luxuries both day and night. All this is achieved in a city that is home to 12 million people, amid the confusion of bumper-to-bumper traffic, flickering neon signs and a crush of humanity packing subways and sidewalks. In the crush and rush Tokyo remains, remarkably, one of the world's safest cities with a low crime rate and local people who are only too willing to spare the time and effort to assist a stranger.

With such a dense population, Tokyo is an urban maze of buildings that jostle for space in an unplanned jumble of grey concrete, which makes parts of it ugly and drab. The city fills a huge area that seems to go on forever, with no specific city centre, but rather a succession of districts grouped together. In the back streets, where timber houses line narrow lanes, there are reminders that this is exotic Japan: kimono-clad women prune bonsai trees and colourful neighbourhood festivals take place.

The city is an exuberant experience for visitors. It also hosts many museums and is the largest repository of Japanese art in the world. Then, of course, it would take forever to exhaust the shopping possibilities in this megalopolis. The more one explores Tokyo the more it becomes obvious that one cannot judge a book by its cover. Inside the modern buildings the cultural life of Japan is very much alive and well. Interiors reflect the tranquil minimalist Asian style and taste of Japan.

Information & Facts


Tokyo has four distinct seasons, similar to New York. The summer months (June, July and August) are hot and sticky while winter can be freezing. Tokyo is best visited in spring or autumn.

Eating Out

Tokyo is one of the world's great cities for diners. Not only is there a fabulous variety of premium eateries (collectively with more Michelin stars than Paris) but the wonderfully diverse and exciting world of Japanese cuisine reaches its highest peaks here. From kaiseki, the elaborate and expensive Japanese cuisine themed around the four seasons, to down-market roadside classics like sukiyakinoodle dishes, deep-fried tempura, mouth-watering tonkatsupork, and yakitorichicken grilled on skewers, Tokyo has it all in abundance.

Then there is the perennial western favourite, sushi - impeccably served in a thousand different varieties around the city. Note that when eating sushi it is usual to eat with your fingers, and go easy on the soy sauce and wasabi. For a light meal on the move, you can also grab a lunchtime bentobox from any convenience store and find a seat in the many quiet enclaves amidst the city bustle. For an unforgettable experience, treat yourself to a pricey but incredibly fresh sushi breakfast at one of the restaurants near the Tsukiji Fish Market in Chuo.

You can also visit the basement level of nearly any department store, which will contain a number of shops selling prepared foods. Piece together your own meal, or just browse the free samples. Note that these stores will begin discounting their food around 7pm.

Chopsticks are used in most restaurants, except those serving western cuisine. You can ask for western utensils, but you are better off getting into the spirit and practicing with chopsticks before your visit! When eating noodles it is quite normal to pick up the bowl and drink from it, using the chopsticks to eat the solid bits. Slurping is also normal; in fact, it improves the flavour of the food.

In most restaurants you will be given a wet towel known as oshiboribefore eating. Use this to freshen up by wiping your face and hands. While ordering in a restaurant without an English menu can be intimidating, many restaurants have plastic food models on display, and most offer set menus with popular combinations.

Tipping is not customary in Japan, and attempts to provide gratuity are likely to be met with confusion. At more up-scale restaurants a 10-15% service charge may be added to your bill. Smaller restaurants and roadside stalls will not accept credit cards.

Getting Around

Tokyo's public transport system is one of the most efficient in the world and is clean and safe, combining an extensive train network, 13 underground subway lines and a bus system. Visitors usually find the trains (JR) and subways the best way to get around although the complexity of the underground network can be intimidating; rush hour from 7:30am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm should be avoided. Most stations have English signs. Because lines are owned by different companies, transfers between trains or subways usually require a transfer between different train systems, with different ticketing systems that can be confusing. The Tokyo Combination Ticket (Tokyo Free Kippu) is a day travel pass that allows unlimited use of the trains, subway and bus lines within the city. Subway tickets are bought at vending machines; buy the cheapest ticket if unsure how much to pay and the difference, if any, can be paid at the end of the journey. The bus system is more complicated for visitors as most destinations are written in Japanese only and bus drivers don't speak English. Taxis are convenient but never cheap, particularly in rush hour. Taxis can be hailed on the street, except in some central areas, where they only pick up from taxi ranks. Drivers speak little English so it is a good idea to have the destination written out in Japanese. Driving a car in the city is not advised. JR trains are free with a Japan Rail Pass.

Kids Attractions

Not everyone's ideal holiday destination with children, Tokyo is surprisingly well geared towards kids on holiday in this bustling city. With a dazzling array of technological attractions, scientific museums and a rich and colourful history, children should find there is plenty to explore round Tokyo.

The Baji Equestrian park is a great place to take kids to watch horse shows and even have a pony ride, or for a more exhilarating day out, head to the Tokyo Dome City where children can enjoy countless rides and games at the amusement park and parents relax and pamper themselves in the spa. The Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall is also a great attraction for kids to enjoy with its indoor gyms, computers, crafts areas, mini-theatre and rooftop playground, it's Tokyo's largest public facility for children.

On a sunny day, why not pack a picnic and the Frisbee and head off to Shinjuku Park, or Hama-Rikyu Sunken Garden for a stroll or just to admire the cherry trees and blossoms. Or for those days when the weather turns bad and outdoor activities for kids are no longer an option, visit the Panasonic Center, or soak up a bit of culture at one of Tokyo's many museums, such as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Museum of Maritime Science or the National Science Museum. You'll find a number of skating rinks, sports clubs, and swimming pools dotted around the city as well.

Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or understand what is said to them.

The currency is the Japanese Yen (JPY), which is equal to 100 sen. Major credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, but most Japanese operate with cash. Cash and travellers cheques can be exchanged in banks, post offices and currency exchange bureaux. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm. Travellers cheques offer the best exchange rate and are best taken in US dollars. ATMs do not accept all credit and debit cards; only the international ATMs in post offices, airports and some major stores.


Nightlife in Tokyo is huge. They have everything from geisha bars to jazz or 'hostess' clubs, dive bars referred to as 'shot bars' and zany themed dance clubs. It is legal to drink out in the streets and vending machines even stock cans of beer!

A good way to enjoy Tokyo's nightlife is in an izakaya, a pub-style watering hole serving food and drink. Western-style bars are much more expensive than those with local flavour, though chains like The Hub have happy-hour prices that are more reasonable.

Roppongi is the top nightlife district in Tokyo, where the locals are very friendly to gaijin(Westerners). Be wary of hostesses and 'patrons' who try to lure you into one of the districts many gentlemen's clubs, where drinks are prohibitively expensive. Shibuya also has a number of nightclubs, and Shinjuku is home to both Tokyo's red-light district and its primary gay bars. While Shinjuku is famous for its crazy atmosphere, women are advised not to walk around alone. For less expensive bars that cater to students and backbackers, go a little further to the Shimokitazawa, Koenji and Nakano districts.

Many bars and lounges impose a 'table charge', which includes snacks like nuts or chips. Not all venues charge and policies vary, so ask before you order anything. Note that the legal age for both drinking and smoking in Japan is 20.

Those looking for a more cultured evening can catch a traditional Kabukiperformance at the Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza. Tickets range from ¥3,000 to ¥22,000, or you can catch a single act for as little as ¥800. Other popular forms of theatre include the restrained and refined Noh, and Bunrakupuppet theatre. You can also see traditional Western music performances by the Tokyo and NHK Symphony Orchestras at various theatres around Tokyo. Check the Japan Times for concert information.

For detailed nightlife listings, grab a copy of the free Metropolis publication.


Tokyo has refined shopping into an urban art form and essential cultural experience. The result is quite possibly the most futuristic shopping environment in the world where you can purchase everything from underwear to watermelons from vending machines while never interacting with a human. Tokyo is also at the cutting edge of fashion and design, as a wide-eyed stroll through Ginza and Shibuya districts will confirm. Tokyo is also famous for its electronics stores, the biggest concentration of which can be found in Akihabara, Tokyo's 'Electric Town'. Despite the wide range you will struggle to find genuine bargains and don't expect to negotiate too much on price.

Shopping malls have also been taken to another level here - in some cases, up to 20 levels. Shinjuku Station is surrounded by multi-level shopping stores selling everything under the sun. Big name chains such as Keio and Isetan can be accessed directly from the station. They both offer tax-free shopping and European language assistance. For a more upmarket department store experience, visit Mitsukoshi which has several branches throughout the city.

Tokyo isn't known for flea markets, but two that are worth a visit for artisan-style gifts are Togo Shrine in Harajuku on the first and fourth Sundays of each month, and Nogi Shrine on the second Sunday of each month. There are many small markets around the various temples and shrines. Essential purchases include traditional items like Duruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and chop-sticks. Kimonos are another good purchase although those made from pure silk, as true kimonos are, will be expensive. On a more modern note, the very latest gadgetry and electronics gear will also be perfectly emblematic of your visit to Tokyo. A good place to browse for souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar and Omotesando, both of which offer good value and plenty of interesting human scenery.

A popular sight is the otakuarea of Akihabara. There you'll find colourful manga and anime stores, and you may catch some fans and promoters wandering around in fantastical costumes.

One of the surprising aspects of shopping in Tokyo is that despite the vast buildings and slick modernity surrounding everyone, there are still traditional neighbourhoods and quiet districts to be found. Here you can find specialist stores selling unique and frequently hand made items such as micro-brewed sakeor beautiful lacquerware.


Sightseeing in Tokyo can bring about sensory overload if you're not careful. Animated billboards, the buzz of a densely packed and highly energetic population, and glittering, gleaming architecture all compete for your attention. One thing is certain though, you'll never be bored.

The transport system is excellent, good value, and easy to figure out, even for westerners. However, the best way to view the city remains the oldest way: on foot, walking the streets, taking in the multitude of sights and sounds on your way. You'll be sure to find plenty of unexpected treasures, from little temples on a side streets, to the warm smile welcome of a local shop keeper.

Tokyo really does have something for everyone. Westerners honeymooners come to cultivate romance amidst the cherry blossoms, shoppers will find exactly what they're looking for and plenty on top of that, and even backpackers can find a way take in the culture without breaking the bank. The temples and museums listed below are well worth your time, or you can lose yourself in the neon lights of Shibuya, check out the hip Harajuku girls in Takeshita Street or cosplayers in Akihabara, and take the elevated train from Shimbashi station to the bayside Odaiba district, and ride on the giant ferris wheel.

If you're curious, you can also take a class in any number of traditional Japanese art forms, including calligraphy, tea ceremony, martial arts, massage, flower arranging or meditation. Tokyo also has a number of neon-lit pachinko parlours with men, women and childrentrying their hand at the popular game. Japanese sports such as baseball and sumo wrestling are also fun ways to get a taste of Tokyo culture.

Local time is GMT +9.

Tokyo's electronic wonderland has become world-renowned. In a small area near Chuo-dori Avenue, west of Akihabara Station, are clustered more than 250 electrical appliance and electronics shops, many of them now dealing in computer hardware and software, where expert staff can answer queries and visitors can browse through the showrooms of major manufacturers. There are duty-free shops and various events to draw attention. The suburb has been specialising in electrical equipment since the 1940s and is now regarded as the world's biggest and best electrical equipment enclave.

Tokyo's museum dedicated to detailing the city's history, art, culture and architecture through the medium of visual displays is an impressive, not to be missed attraction. Edo was the old name for Tokyo from its foundation in 1590 when it became the seat of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun. Exhibits include a replica of an ancient Kabuki theatre, maps, photographs and portrayals of the lives of the city's merchants, craftsmen and townspeople in days gone by.

Inokashira Park is a tranquil oasis amidst the bustle of Japan's capitol city. The park contains a temple dedicated to the goddess of love, a petting zoo and aquarium, and is lively with musicians, artists and street performers. One of the more popular attractions in Inokashira Park is the Ghibli Museum, featuring displays on popular animated films from the studio of the same name, including Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Inokashira Park is very crowded in the spring when the cherry blossoms are flowering.

A little boy's dream come true, Joypolis Sega will thrill and entertain children of all ages. Offering rides, games and much more, kids will be kept busy for hours on end in one of the world's most famous theme parks and enjoy rides such as Spin Bullet and games such as Halfpipe Canyon, Sky Cruising and Dinosaur King.

The city of Kamakura, about 30 miles (50km) southwest of Tokyo at the base of the Miura Peninsula, was the political powerhouse of Japan in the middle ages and the seat of government for most of the 13th century. Because of its historic importance Kamakura boasts numerous monuments, temples and shrines of interest to tourists. As an added bonus the city sports some sandy beaches and good hiking trails in the nearby wooded hills. Kamakura's many sights are too numerous to detail individually, but most important of them all is the Great Buddha. This bronze statue of the seated Amida Buddha is located in the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple, and standing at almost 44ft (13,35m) high, it is the second largest Buddha statue in Japan after that found in the Todaiji Temple in Nara. The Kamakura Great Buddha was cast in 1252 and was originally contained in the temple hall. A tidal wave (tsunami) washed away the temple in the late 15th century, but the Buddha prevailed and since then has stood in the open.

This fascinating museum is an absolute must for any child who loves kites, or any adult who has ever flown a kite. The Kite Museum exhibits mainly traditional style Japanese kites, 'Edo Nishiki-E Dako' as well as other kites from around Asia. Kites are made from bamboo and a Japanese handmade paper called 'washi' which is surprisingly strong. Featuring over 3,000 kites, this museum is a must for all kite enthusiasts.

A hop, skip and jump away from the Harajuku Station, the Meiji Jingu is an easily accessible shrine and worthwhile stop in Tokyo. Built as homage to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken, this monument is located in a 175 acre (70ha) evergreen forest and consists of two main areas. In the inner Naien, a garden featuring shrine buildings and a treasure museum holding articles from the Emperor and Empress. In the outer cloister, the Gaien, the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery presents murals depicting significant events over the Meiji rule. It also consists of a sports arena, the National Stadium, and the Meiji Memorial Hall, which was an important political meeting place during the Meiji era. Today traditional Shinto weddings are held in the Hall and newcomers to Japan are always intrigued when witnessing the unique Shinto wedding procession.

Children visiting Monkey Park will be able to enjoy learning about monkeys while watching them run around freely. Their individual movements and characteristics also give away a lot about them and their personalities. Some smaller children might be scared of the freely roaming monkeys.

The dormant volcano of Mount Fuji, 62 miles (100km) southwest of Tokyo, has been revered since ancient times and no exploration of Japan is complete without visiting the mountain that is known fondly as 'Fuji-san' by the locals. Its symmetrical 12,388-foot (3,776m) cone towers and snow-crowned summit have become as symbolic of Japan as the country's own flag.

The closest town to the volcano is Fuji Yoshida, from which buses leave frequently for Fuji's 'fifth stage' (the usual jumping-off point for hikes up the mountain) from outside the train station. There are six trails to the summit, of which the Kawaguchiko Trail is the easiest, being quite manageable even by children and the elderly as long as they have stamina and good shoes. Overnight huts are available. Official climbing season is from 1 July to end of August - in winter snow makes the ascent too dangerous.

The Children's Castle is geared towards children of all ages and features a variety of activity rooms for kids to keep themselves entertained. With gymnasiums, playgrounds, climbing walls, artistic activities and much more to stimulate and educate children's minds.

The Asakusa neighbourhood of Tokyo draws visitors to admire the city's oldest temple, Senso-ji, founded in AD628 with a quaint legend attached to it. The story goes that two young brothers fishing in the nearby river netted a golden image of Kan'non, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, and were inspired to enshrine it in the temple. The statuette is still inside, but never shown to the public, though pilgrims flock here every day seeking the favour of the goddess. There are also numerous festivals associated with the shrine, and a hugely popular firework display is held on the Sumida River every summer. Tourists enjoy the visit to the temple mainly because the approach is a colourful pedestrian lane, Nakamise Dori, lined with shops and souvenir stalls. Nearby, the Demboin Garden is a good spot to grab a break from the city crowds.

Plenty of fun is to be had for the young and young at heart at Tokyo's Disney Resort, virtually a carbon copy of the theme park found in California in the United States. The resort consists of Disneyland Park and DisneySea Park, along with several hotels. Visitors can expect attractions like the Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain and Toontown, which are all included on this huge site.

Japan's Imperial Palace is regarded as the heart and soul of Tokyo, standing on a huge site that still bears the remains of Edo Castle, stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate. The present palace was completed in 1888 and is still home to the emperor of Japan. The palace is off-limits but its grounds and surrounds provide a much-needed green open space for the city with Higashi Gyoen (East Garden), site of the Edo Castle keep, open to the public. On January 2nd and December 23rd each year visitors are able to enter the inner grounds and see the Imperial family make public appearances from the balcony. Guided tours of the palace are offered, but are only in Japanese, although an English pamphlet and audio guide are provided; these must be reserved in advance through the Imperial Household Agency. In spring the gardens are awash with colour when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, particularly along the castle moat.

Close to Ueno Station, enclosed in the Tokyo Metropolitan Imperial Gift Park, the National Museum boasts the largest collection of Japanese art in the world. Exhibits range from antique kimonos and delicate pottery to woodblock prints and archaeological finds. The vast collection is displayed on a rotating basis with at least 4,000 artefacts visible at any time, so the museum always has something new to offer. The museum consists of five different buildings containing numerous galleries, so one needs sufficient time to do it justice. The Imperial Gift Park also contains some other cultural institutions, including a zoo, the Metropolitan Art Museum, Bunka Kaikan Cultural Hall, the Western Art Museum and the National Science Museum.

This tower is modelled in the vein of the Eiffel Tower in France, only in true Japanese style, it is more colourful and serves a technological purpose. Tokyo Tower functions chiefly as a television and radio antenna. At 1,091 feet (332m), it is the tallest structure in Tokyo, in Japan in fact, and a great vantage point from which to take in the city. At the base of the tower, tucked snugly under its 'legs', is the four-storey Foot Town. Inside Foot Town visitors will find shops, restaurants, a wax museum, the Guinness Book of World Record Museum, an aquarium and the Mysterious Walking Zone, which is not as spooky as it sounds. It's a display of holographic technology and imagery. The top floor of Foot Town is an interactive art gallery, featuring optical illusions which can be manipulated by visitors.

The oldest zoological garden in Japan, Ueno Zoo is one of Tokyo's most popular attractions for children and adults alike. Boasting exotic animals such as giant pandas, polar bears, Indian lions, Sumatran tigers, wolverines and gorillas, children of al ages will love this zoo. It also features a Small Mammal House, Reptile House and even a petting zoo where children can meet Okapis and aye-ayes, two very rare species. Zoo guides offer 45-minute tours twice a day.

To the north of the Imperial Palace lies the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, built to commemorate the Japanese war dead and now regarded as home to the souls of about two and a half million who perished in conflict, mostly in the Pacific War of World War II. Soldiers fought in the knowledge that their spirits would find rest and honour at Yasukuni in the after-life. The shrine has caused controversy for various political reasons over the years since it was built in 1869 in honour of supporters of the emperor, killed in the run up to the Meiji Restoration. More recently, with regard to the country's constitution that requires the separation of State and religion, cabinet ministers have been criticised for attending anniversaries of Japan's defeat in World War II held at the shrine. The shrine is confined behind a huge steel torii gate, opening onto a long avenue lined with gingko and cherry trees. The Worship Hall itself is a simple Shinto style building. North of the shrine is the Yushukan Museum, containing war memorabilia, some of which is disturbing and thought-provoking such as the human torpedo and kamikaze suicide attack plane.

While visiting Japan's largest city, Tokyo, it is quick and easy to pay a visit to the country's second largest metropolis as well: Yokohama can be reached in less than 30 minutes by train from Tokyo, lying south of the capital. The main reason for visiting Yokohama is to marvel at its futuristic new city centre, and perhaps take a stroll through Japan's largest Chinatown. Yokohama's Chinatown, entered through four colourful gates and teeming with restaurants and shops, was developed after the city became one of the first Japanese ports to be opened to foreign trade after generations of isolation ended in 1859. Chinese traders flocked to the city, establishing a cultural neighbourhood. Minato Mirai is the new central city area around the harbour, characterised by the Landmark Tower, rising to 971ft (296m). Visitors can ride to the tower's observation deck in the world's second fastest elevator, travelling at 41ft (13m) a second, for a view that on a clear day stretches as far as Mount Fuji.

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