Tokyo's Chiyoda (千代田) ward is the center of the city and in many ways the center of all Japan. A mere 12 km² houses the Imperial Palace, the Diet, the ministries of Kasumigaseki, the corporate headquarters of Marunouchi, the controversial Yasukuni Shrine... and still has room left over for the shopping districts of Akihabara, Jimbocho and Kanda.
Tokyo Station, the hub for all Shinkansen trains, lies to the east side of Chiyoda. Note that the Shinkansen will drop you off on the Yaesu side, which exits onto Chuo; to get to Chiyoda, you want to cross over to the Marunouchi side, which is something of a sight in itself as it reflects the station's original World War I-era architecture.
It is unclear as to whether you'll be able to see this architecture, as the entire station is presently undergoing a multi-year renovation and facelift (scheduled to be completed around 2011).
The JR Yamanote line (light green) passes through Tokyo station in a loop around the center of the city, and the JR Chuo line (orange) and Sobu line (yellow) bisect the loop horizontally. Yurakucho, Akihabara, Kanda (on the Yamanote) and Ochanomizu, Yotsuya (on the Chuo) are among the train stations located within the ward. Narita Express trains from Narita Airport stop at Tokyo (¥2940, 53 min.) on the Sobu platforms.
Many subway lines crisscross the district, of primary importance being the Metro Marunouchi (red) line (to Shinjuku), the Metro Hanzomon (purple) line (to Shibuya), the Metro Hibiya (grey) line (to Roppongi) and the Metro Chiyoda (green) line (to Harajuku). The nearby Toei Asakusa (coral) line stops slightly to the east at Kyobashi and Nihombashi, on which Keikyu Line trains run through to Haneda Airport (¥650, about 35 minutes).
Otemachi station, shared by five subway lines, is by far the largest subway station in Tokyo, sprawled out in a labyrinthine way underneath the Marunouchi district between Tokyo station and the Imperial garden. Many of the main lines experienced the Sarin gas attack in 1995, which explains the lack of waste bins in the subway stations (or within the whole city for that matter), which you will have to cope with. Major train stations usually have trash bins in the middle of each platform.
Airport Limousine buses run from Narita to Tokyo Station every 10 to 20 minutes via the Tokyo City Air Terminal (1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on traffic, ¥3000), and less frequently to area hotels. From Haneda, buses run every 30 to 40 minutes (about 45 minutes in duration, depending on traffic, ¥900).
Worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine
The Imperial Palace (皇居 Kōkyō), surrounded by a moat and a high wall, is the official residence of the Japanese imperial family. This is the most expensive square kilometer in the world, which during the height of Japan's bubble was estimated to be worth slightly more than California. Unfortunately, the inner palace gardens and buildings are closed to the general public except on January 2 and December 23, when the imperial family makes a public appearance. However, foreigners can also apply online to join a guided tour (daily at 10 AM and 2 PM). If you're feeling lucky, you can also try showing just up at the Imperial Household Agency office located in the northwest corner of the Imperial Palace Park, which is open 9 AM-noon, 1-2 PM; if there's space, you can join a tour on the same day.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens, however, are open to the public daily except Mondays and Fridays. Kept in impeccable shape, the gardens are particularly beautiful during the March and April plum and cherry blossom seasons. Entrance is free through a number of gates; you will be given a plastic entrance card at the gate, which you are obliged to return upon leaving; most visitors use the Ote-mon (大手門) gate near the Otemachi subway station (exit C10). Also an easy walking distance from Tokyo station.
Connected to the East Gardens on the North side is Kitanomaru Park. Offering much of the same, it is a convenient way to get to Yasukuni Shrine. The park also houses the Nihon Budokan, which regularly stages martial arts competitions and live concerts, as well as the Kagaku Gijyutsukan (Science museum).
Chidoriga-fuchi Moat (千鳥ヶ淵), on the Northwest side of the Imperial gardens grounds, is one of, if not "the" most prominent cherry blossom site in Tokyo, and attracts throngs of people in its March-to-April peak season. It is located just across the street from Yasukuni-shrine. Rowboats are also available for one to row along a limited portion of the moat at 500 yen for 30 minutes, 1000 yen for an hour and at a slightly more expensive rate during cherry blossom periods.
Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社 yasukuni-jinja), . A controversial shrine to Japan's war dead, housing the souls of some 2.5 million people killed in Japan's wars — including convicted war criminals executed by the Allies. A favorite haunt of right-wing groups in black loudspeaker-equipped trucks. Open daily and free entrance adjacent to Metro Hanzomon line Kudanshita station, or cross the bridge north from Kitanomaru Park. Festivals take place most notably in mid-July and mid-October, which can attract as many people and vendors as it does on New Year's Day when the Japanese come to pray for a prosperous year. It can also get quite crowded during cherry blossom season.
The Yushukan War Memorial Museum (遊就館), adjacent to the shrine, is an odd collection of military paraphernalia (including human torpedoes and letters from kamikaze pilots) and one-sided descriptions of the war. Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, entry a rather steep ¥800.
Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral (ニコライ堂 Nikorai-do). A beautifully-restored 1800s-vintage Russian Orthodox cathedral located near Ochanomizu Station on the Chuo Line. Use the Hijiribashi exit. The Hijiribashi bridge by the exit is one of the better looking bridges in Tokyo and looks moderately attractive when lit-up at night.
Kanda Myojin, a block north across the river from Ochanomizu station. This shrine has a history dating back to the 8th century and had been highly regarded under the Edo shogunate. The current red-pillared structure has been rebuilt after being completely destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. The Kanda Matsuri festival, which takes place in mid-May every other year is one of the largest in Tokyo and is a sight to behold. Arrive before noon or the shrine gets packed with spectators.
Hie Jinja, located on the opposite side of the Imperial garden. Another prominent shrine in Tokyo and the Sanno Matsuri festival it hosts in June is counted among the 3 Great festival of Tokyo. Located a five minute walk from Kokkai-gijido-mae station on the Metro Chiyoda line.
Japan's government center, located around Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho in the southwestern corner of Chiyoda, is full of very un-picturesque buildings. One exception is the Ministry of Justice (exit 5 from Sakuradamon, Yurakucho Line), a beautiful 1800s-vintage building that would make any European capital proud. The National Diet Building (Kokkai-gijido-mae, Marunouchi Line) may also be worth a photo, although its architecture is rather uninspiring compared to other national assemblies' (even the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has cooler-looking accommodations in Shinjuku).
National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), 3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, +81 3-5777-8600 . Closest to Takebashi station on the Tozai subway line, the museum is open from 10.30AM to 5PM daily, 8PM Fri and closed Mon. With a modest permanent collection on display and regularly changing exhibitions, MOMAT is a nice place to kill a couple of hours after you've seen the Imperial Palace across the road. Entry to the nearby Crafts Gallery is included in the price: ¥420 for adults, ¥130 for students and children under 15 free. Admission is also free on May 18, November 3 and the first Sunday of every month. Special exhibits extra.
Idemitsu Art Museum, on the 9th floor of the Imperial Theatre building (on the East side of the Imperial gardens) has a noteworthy collection centering on Japanese traditional arts. Open 10 to 5 (or until 7 on Fridays) with a 1000 yen fee for adults.
Yamatane Museum of Art, a short walk from Hanzomon station on the Metro Hanzomon line specializes in modern Japanese-style paintings and has a notable collection though only a handful are on display at one time due to preservation issues. 600 yen for adults, open 10 to 5.
The New Otani Art Gallery, is on the 6th floor of the luxurious New Otani hotel (closest from Nagata-cho station on the Metro Hanzomon line, or Yotsuya station if using the JR). It showcases a small collection of French and Japanese arts.
For those interested in theatre arts, the Kokuritsu Gekijyo (National Theatre) is a walking distance from either Hanzomon or Nagatacho stations of the Metro Hanzomon lines et. al. There are performances in traditional arts ranging from Kabuki, Noh drama, Bunraku puppet theatre etc. You may want to check the schedule and make a reservation beforehand .
The Tokyo International Forum located in front of Yurakucho station - labelled by many as a waste of taxpayers' money - is a huge modern architecture mainly used for concerts, exhibitions and the like. There may not be much of interest to the casual tourist except perhaps the outer design of it. (The Tokyo Tourist Info Center, which used to be here, has been relocated to Shinjuku.)
Visit one of the three major shrines (Kanda Myojin, Hie Jinjya or Yasukuni shrine) on the New Year's if you happen to be visiting at such time, or immerse yourself in one of the major festivals which takes place during the year. Your religious beliefs or background should not be a factor at all.
As stated in the See section, cherry blossoms can be viewed in various places around the Imperial gardens. Also, many people take advantage of the fact that no public roads enter the palace grounds (and thus, no red lights for pedestrians) for a little jogging around the garden's outer ring (which may take roughly an hour to walk around). Albeit, since most of central Chiyoda ward is offices buildings, it is virtually lifeless after sundown and completely dead past midnight as most of the population clears out.
Central Chiyoda doesn't offer much in the way of shopping, but the eastern side has three specialist areas:
Akihabara for electronics of all kinds, covered in a separate article.
Jimbocho (Metro Hanzomon/Toei Shinjuku/Toei Mita Jimbocho station), for books — mostly but not entirely in Japanese though. Scores of used book or antique book shops align the main street and back alleys, some of them with specialities such as "arts" or "religion" or "screenplays" for example.
Kanda and Ochanomizu (JR Yamanote Kanda station, Chuo Ochanomizu station), for musical instruments and sports equipment.
A recent revamping of the Marunouchi business district has resulted in some high-end boutiques such as Tiffany's, Gaultier, Sergio Rossi etc. lining the street from the Marunouchi building to Yurakucho, but there is a feeling that it's not quite "there" yet, compared to the repertoires of the Ginza or Omotesando shopping districts.
There is a huge six floor "Bic Camera" electronics store selling everything from household appliances to contact lenses with a small movie theatre on the 7th floor showing mainly so-called art films, right in front of Yurakucho station. Perhaps a good place for a one-stop shop if you are not willing to spend your time exploring the streets of Akihabara.
The Maruzen bookshop in the Oazo building right in front of Tokyo station may be your best bet to look for English books in Tokyo including a "Books on Japan" section. If you don't find what you are looking for here, you probably won't have much luck looking elsewhere either.
Eat & Drink
Among the expensive clubs and restaurants spilling over from the Ginza, an offbeat dining option is the yakitori stalls under the train tracks near JR Yurakucho station. A throwback to old Tokyo, this is where businessmen unwind with grilled yakitori chicken on a stick and a couple of cold Asahi beers after a hard day. More expensive than you might expect though, expect to pay at least ¥2000 for a few beers and a half dozen skewers.
As the Jimbocho and Ochanomizu areas house dozens of major colleges and universities, the area is filled with cheap eat-ins, fast food joints and cafes of all kinds. There is also a high density of curry restaurants.
The Marunouchi Building in front of Tokyo station is your best bet for a decent meal in the Marunouchi area, especially on the weekend when most other buildings are closed. Various restaurants from Italian to Hawaiian to Sushi are situated inside, but the bill may be a bit pricy for a casual lunch.
Restaurant Peter, 24th Floor, Hotel Peninsula (Private lift from hotel lobby), ☎ (81-3) 6270 2763, . Dress Code: Elegant casual Amazing views of Imperial Palace. Excellent service. Lunch seems the best value. from ¥4900 lunch.
Green Ochanomizu Hotel, Kanda-Awajicho 2-6, tel. 3255-4161, . Situated 5 minutes from JR Ochanomizu Station and almost in the direct center of the Yamanote Line, Green Hotel Ochanomizu is an extremely accommodating hotel, perfect for the traveler who prefers a quiet sanctuary in the hustle and bustle that is the Tokyo metropolitan area. Ochanomizu station itself is but two stops from both Tokyo and Shinjuku, via the Rapid Chuo Line service, both of which are on Yamanote. Broadband access is free in most rooms, with singles at around ¥8400 and doubles at ¥9500. Check it out - it may be everything you need to make your stay a comfortable one.
Imperial Hotel Tokyo. Uchisaiwaicho 1-1-1, tel. 3504-1111, . Never mind upstarts like the Park Hyatt, this is the grand old dame of Tokyo's hotels with 116 years of history behind it and legendary service fit for an Emperor. The hotel overlooks Hibiya Park and is only a short walk from the Imperial Palace and the Ginza. Room rates are unsurprisingly steep at ¥35,700 and up, with few discounts on offer.
The New Otani. Kioicho 4-1, tel. 3265-1111, . The flagship of the international New Otani chain, and one of the largest hotels in Tokyo, with a variety of shops and restaurants under its roof. Convenient for business travellers, as it is located within an easy walk of Akasaka, Nagatacho, and other international business districts; less convenient for tourists, although somewhat close to Roppongi, Shinjuku, and other play areas. Standard rooms start around ¥36,000.
As of October 2002, the Tokyo Tourist Information Center has moved from Yurakucho's International Forum to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.
On occasion, menacing black vans with fluttering "Rising Sun" flags and Imperial chrysanthemum logos may screech militaristic propaganda around the Yasukuni Shrine and the government areas. With xenophobic right-wing attitudes financed by the yakuza (Japan's mafia) and tacit police cooperation, foreigners may get baleful looks from the young sunglassed toughs running the show, but they are not a real danger unless actively provoked.
Smoking on the major streets and sidewalks are prohibited by law in Chiyoda Ward. Although not altogether strictly enforced, if you get unlucky be aware that the fines may go up to 20,000 yen.
The glitzy stores of the Ginza and the business district of Akasaka (not a bad choice for lunch) are within easy walking distance from southern Chiyoda.
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