Difference between revisions of "Tokyo"
Revision as of 04:50, 6 March 2006
Tōkyō (東京) is the capital of Japan. At over 12 million people in the official metropolitan area alone, Tokyo is the centre of the most populated urban area in the world. It is also huge and varied in its geography, with over 2,000 square kilometers to explore.
While Bill Murray received all the critical acclaim for his performance in the 2003 hit film "Lost in Translation," many have argued that it was in fact the city of Tokyo that was the real star. Alas, as most of the film is set in an hotel, it's probably the customs and manners of an aspect of Japanese life that are the true stars. Tokyo brings the most modern wonders of technology, commerce and architecture side by side with the old, and has something for everyone.
The Tokyo Metropolitan District (東京都 Tōkyō-to) includes 23 central wards (区 ku) near the bay and several outlying cities and towns (市 shi) to the west. There are even a couple of Pacific islands that are officially part of Tokyo. You will find the biggest crowded high-rise districts, but also shambling old wooden low-rise neighborhoods, and even mountainous parks.
The geography of Tokyo is defined by the JR Yamanote Line (see Get around). The center of Tokyo — the former area reserved for the Shogun and his samurai — lies within the loop, while the Edo-era downtown (下町 shitamachi) is to the north and east. Sprawling around in all directions and blending seamlessly into Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba are Tokyo's suburbs.
Outside the 23 wards, some cities of (relatively minor) interest include
Over 400 years old, the city of Tokyo grew from the modest fishing village of Edo (江戸). The former seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Imperial family moved to the city after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The metropolitan center of the country, Tokyo is the destination for business, education, modern culture, and government. (That's not to say that rivals such as Osaka won't dispute those claims.)
Language. It's easier than ever for English speakers to navigate their way around Tokyo without speaking any Japanese. Signs at subway and train stations include the station names in romaji (Romanized characters). There are also many districts of Tokyo (such as Roppongi) with establishments that cater specifically to gaijin (foreigners). Once you've decided to venture beyond the gaijin scene, however, the language barrier is more likely to become a problem, so it can be helpful to know some tips for ordering in restaurants, shopping in stores, and asking for directions. Learning katakana is not difficult and most words written with it can be understood by english speakers so it can be useful even for people with no japanese vocabulary. If you plan on asking for directions to Tokyo destinations, it especially helps to carry the name of the destination written in Japanese characters.
Expenses. The cost of living in Tokyo is not as astronomical as it once was. Deflation and market pressures have helped to make costs in Tokyo comparable to most other large cities. Visitors from San Francisco, New York or London will not be at all surprised. Travelers should budget a similar amount of money for their stay in Tokyo as they would for any other great city in Europe or North America. Locals will know the bargains, but experienced cheapskates from anywhere in the world can get by with a little ingenuity.
Tokyo has two large airports: Narita for international flights, and Haneda for (mostly) domestic flights.
Transportation to and from Narita Airport is largely done by the Narita Express train (stops at Tokyo, Shinagawa, Yokohama, Shinjuku and several other locations), the Keisei Skyliner train (stops at Nippori and Ueno), and the Airport Limousine bus service, which stops at a variety of hotels in Tokyo.
Most domestic services, as well as the shuttle service to Seoul, fly into Haneda Airport (羽田空港 HND). The easiest way from Haneda to the city is the Tokyo Monorail  to Hamamatsucho, from where you can connect to almost anywhere in Tokyo on the JR Yamanote line. The other, slightly cheaper alternative is the private Keikyu (京急) line to Shinagawa and Yokohama; Keikyu also runs trains to Haneda from the Toei Asakusa subway line.
On December 1st 2004, ANA and Air Do moved to the new Terminal 2, while JAL, Skymark and Skynet stay in Terminal 1. The Keikyu station is between the two, while the monorail has now has separate stops at both terminals. Services to Seoul use the small separate International Terminal, which is connected to the main domestic terminals by a free shuttle bus that runs every 5 minutes.
There is a frequent intercity Shinkansen service to and from Tokyo Station (東京駅 Tōkyō-eki) in Chiyoda, from where you can easily connect pretty much anywhere in the city on the JR Yamanote or Metro Marunouchi lines. For all northbound trains, you can also hop on at Ueno, while most (but not all) westbound trains stop at Shinagawa.
By car or thumb
While you can drive into the city, it's really not recommended as the city can be congested, signs may be confusing and parking fees are astronomical. Tokyo is essentially a gigantic (and fascinating) warren of narrow streets with no names which is best explored using a mixture of the excellent mass transit system and your feet.
Hitchhiking into Tokyo is pretty easy, but hitchhiking out is considerably more difficult. It's definitely possible for determined cheapskates though, see Hitchhiking in Japan for a detailed list of tested escape routes from the city.
Highway bus services link Tokyo to other cities, resort areas and the surrounding prefectures. There are JR and private bus companies. Bus service may be cheaper, but the train is probably more convenient. If you have a JR pass, then stick with the trains.
Long-distance buses use a number of terminals scattered throughout the city, but the main JR depot is at Tokyo Station's Yaesu-minamiguchi (八重洲南口) exit, while Keio and some other private companies use the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (新宿高速バスターミナル), opposite Yodobashi Camera near the West Exit.
One of the great ports of the world, Tokyo also has domestic ferry services to other points in Japan. International ferries run at varying frequencies to Korea, Russia, and mainland China.
The main domestic terminal is Tokyo Ferry Terminal, located on an artificial island off Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. The nearest station is Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon on the Yurikamome line, but it's still a bit of a hike. You can also take a direct bus from Shin-Kiba station on the Metro Yurakucho line.
Ferries to the Izu and Ogasawara Islands leave from Takeshiba Terminal (竹芝客船ターミナル), adjacent to Takeshiba station on the Yurikamome line. Cruise liners tend to use the Harumi Terminal (晴海客船ターミナル), best accessible on bus 都05 from Tokyo stn Marunouchi South Exit or 東12 from Tokyo stn Yaesu exit. International ferries and cargo ferries that also take passengers can leave from other terminals too, enquire with your shipping company.
By train and subway
Railway service within Tokyo is provided by JR East, the two subway networks, and various private lines.
If you are planning to do train travel in Tokyo, familiarize yourself with the JR Yamanote Line (山手線), which runs in a loop around central Tokyo; being inside the Yamanote loop is synonymous with being in the core of Tokyo. Almost all inter-regional JR lines and private lines start at a station on the Yamanote. JR's lines are color-coded, and the Yamanote is green. The JR Chuo (中央線, orange) and Sobu (総武線, yellow) lines run side-by-side, bisecting the Yamanote loop from Shinjuku on the west to Tokyo on the east. JR's other commuter lines, the Saikyo and Keihin-Tohoku, run off the rim of the Yamanote loop to the north and south. JR East has a good English information line, 050-2016-1603 or 03-3423-0111.
Tokyo has an extensive subway network with frequent trains. Many stations are served by both JR and the subway, however some places, for example Roppongi, are served only by the subway. Two companies operate the subway service. The Tokyo Metro runs nine lines: Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Yurakucho New Line, Hanzomon and Namboku lines. Toei operates the Asakusa, Mita, Shinjuku, and Oedo lines. If you are using a prepaid Passnet card (see below) the subways are effectively a single network. However, if you are purchasing individual tickets, a change between Metro and Toei lines requires a special transfer ticket.
A number of private commuter lines radiate from the Yamanote loop far out into the outlying wards and suburbs, and almost all connect through to subway lines within the loop. The private lines are useful for day trips outside the city, and are slightly cheaper than JR.
Fares and hours
All train stations are equipped with automated vending machines. Fares are based on distance, and the minimum fare (1-3 stations) ranges from ¥110-¥170 depending on the line. If you can't figure out how much it is to the destination, you can buy the cheapest ticket and pay the difference at the end. Most vending machines will let you buy a single ticket that covers a transfer between JR, subway and private lines, all the way to your destination.
Prepaid fare cards are convenient, and highly recommendable because they allow you to ride trains without having to read the sometimes Japanese-only fare maps. The JR fare card system Suica can only be used on JR; Passnet cards, on the other hand, can be used on every subway and train line except JR. Suica is a rechargeable contact-less smart card. The card itself requires a ¥500 deposit, which can be refunded at JR ticket offices. Any unused balance will be refunded for a ¥210 fee. (JR's IO-Card system has been discontinued.) Passnet cards come in denominations of ¥1,000, ¥3,000, and ¥5,000, and are inserted into the ticket gate when you enter and leave the station. These cards are disposable and non-refundable. Passnet cards sold by the Tokyo Metro company are also called SF Card and by the Toei Subway company are also called T-card. Prepaid fare cards do not give a discount.
Subway fares range from ¥160 to ¥300. Many of the private lines interoperate with the subways, which can occasionally make a single ride seem unreasonably expensive as you are in essence transferring to another line and fare system, even though you're still on the same train. It pays to check your route beforehand.
When you have multiple ways to get to your destination, as a general rule of thumb, Tokyo Metro lines are cheapest, Toei lines are most expensive, and JR lines fall somewhere in the middle (but are usually cheaper than Metro for short trips, i.e. no more than 4 stations).
Most train lines in Tokyo run from around 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. During peak hours they run about once every three minutes; even during off-peak hours it's less than ten minutes between trains. The only night when regular passenger services run overnight is for the New Year's Holiday on select lines.
Taxis are pricey, but may be a value for groups of three compared to the subway. Fares generally start at about ¥660 for the first two kilometers and can add up rapidly. Do not count on your taxi driver knowing more than the best-known locations, though many taxis now have GPS "car navi" systems installed. If possible, get a business card, or print out the address in Japanese of any specific places you wish to go. Also, note that taxis can get caught in traffic jams.
The few areas within Tokyo that aren't easily accessible by train are served by various bus companies. Buses have a fixed fare regardless of distance (typically ¥200), and fares are not transferrable. Compared to the trains, the buses run much less frequently, carry fewer passengers, and are much slower. This makes them amenable to the elderly residents of Tokyo, but rather inconvenient for travelers, who will also have to deal with complicated routes and lack of information in English.
If you're looking for a viewing platform, the Tokyo Tower is the best known but a rather poor and expensive choice. It A much better choice is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building (in effect, Tokyo's City Hall) in Shinjuku. Its twin towers have viewing platforms that are absolutely free, and still offer a great view over Tokyo. Probably the best view would be from the World Trade Center next to JR Hamamatsucho station which, although not quite as high, is near Tokyo Tower and the waterfront making the view more interesting. A recent addition to the viewing platforms around Tokyo is Tokyo City View in Roppongi Hills, Roppongi -- admission is a steep ¥1500, but includes admission to the Mori Art Museum. Another good option especially at night is the Rainbow Bridge at Odaiba, whose pedestrian walkways are free.
The city is dotted with museums, large and small, which center on every possible interest from pens to antique clocks to traditional and modern arts. At ¥500 to ¥1,000 or more, entrance fees can add up quickly. Many of the largest museums are clustered around Ueno.
The curious can study traditional culture such as tea ceremony, calligraphy, or martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Aikido and Kendo. There are also many language schools to help you work on your Japanese. Several universities in Tokyo cater to international students at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Teaching English (or to a lesser extent, other foreign languages) is perhaps the easiest way to work in Japan. Tokyo also offers more work options than other areas: everything from restaurant work to IT. Work permits can be hard to come by and will take time. Consult your local Japanese consulate/embassy as far in advance as possible.
If it is for sale anywhere in the world, you can probably also buy it in Tokyo — at a price. Items to look for include electronics, funky fashions, antique furniture and kimono, and specialty items like Hello Kitty goods, anime and comics, and their associated paraphernalia.
Remember that, as usual in Japan, credit cards are only accepted in large stores, so carry plenty of cash.
Cameras and electronics
Ever since Sony and Nikon became synonymous with high-tech quality, Tokyo has been a favored place for buying electronics and cameras. Though the lines have blurred since the PC revolution, each has its own territory and stores: Akihabara has the electronics stores and Shinjuku has the camera stores, and both now sell mostly computers. There are branches in other major areas, but each side stays out of the other's traditional territory and products.
Battery-powered small electronics and still cameras made for sale in Japan will work anywhere in the world, (though you might have to deal with a Japanese owner's manual). However, if you are buying other electronics to take home, it's best to shop at the stores in Akihabara that specialize in "overseas" configurations. You can get PAL/NTSC, region-free DVD players, for example. Also, keep in mind that Japanese AC runs at 100 volts, so using "native" Japanese electronics outside Japan without a step-down transformer can be dangerous. Even the US standard 110V current is too much for many devices.
The discount chains have better prices than small local retailers, but prices basically don't vary from one to the other. So if you know what you want, don't waste your time comparison shopping. Selection can vary, though, and one brand might be cheaper than a similar item at a different store. Bargaining for major items is expected, but the salespeople probably have prepared scripts for a week's worth of "this is normally as low as we can go, but hey, just for you..."
With the advent of the large-format electronics retailers (Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Sofmap, Yamada Denki) there is less and less reason to fight the crowds and haggle in Akihabara. In fact the culture of Akihabara has been morphing from consumer electronics towards anime (often of a sexual nature.)
Department stores and exclusive boutiques stock every fashion label imaginable, but for global labels prices in Tokyo are typically higher than anywhere else in the world. The famous Ginza and Ikebukuro's giant Seibu and Tobu department stores (the largest in the world) are good hunting grounds. Recently, Roppongi Hills has emerged as a popular area for high-end shopping, with many major global brands.
Handicrafts and souvenirs
The easiest places to find Japanese-themed handicrafts and souvenirs are Harajuku's venerable Oriental Bazaar and the Nakamise arcade in Asakusa. Both also have wide selections of clothing in foreigner-friendly sizes, which can be very difficult to find elsewhere. Quality can be dubious though, especially in Nakamise, so for high-end items like kimonos, swords and antiques it is better to consult reputable specialist dealers.
Bustling open-air bazaars in the Asian style are rare in Tokyo, except for Ueno's Ameyoko, a legacy of the postwar occupation. Yanaka Ginza in the Shitamachi Taito district, a very nice example of a neighborhood shopping street, makes for an interesting afternoon browse.
Tokyo has more restaurants than you can possibly imagine, so see the main Japan guide for the types of food you will encounter and some popular chains. Menus are often posted outside, so you can check the prices. Some shops have the famous plastic food in their front windows. Don't hesitate to drag the waiting staff out to the front to point at what you want. Always carry cash. Many restaurants will not accept plastic.
In a city with literally tens of thousands of restaurants representing more or less every cuisine in the world, there aren't all that many uniquely Tokyo specialities, but the nigirizushi (fish pressed onto rice) known the world around simply as "sushi" in fact originates from Tokyo. Another is monja-yaki (もんじゃ焼き), a runny but tasty version of the Hiroshiman half-pancake, half-pizza dish okonomiyaki, which is originally from the Tsukishima area of Chuo.
Go to the convenience store, there is one every second corner. Really, the options may surprise you. You can get rice balls, bread-rolls and drinks (both hot and cold) for ¥100-150, bentos for around ¥500 and sandwiches for ¥250-350. Supermarkets are usually some cheaper and of wider choice, but more difficult to find.
Also, look for bentō shops. These sell take-out lunch boxes. They range in quality and cost, but most offer good, basic food at a reasonable price. This is what students and office workers often eat.
Noodle shops and curry shops are often the best option for people eating on the cheap. They are everywhere. The noodle bars on every corner are great for filling up and very cheap at ¥200-1000. You buy your meal ticket from a vending machine at the door with pictures of the dishes and hand it to the serving staff.
Fast food is available just about everywhere, including many American chains like McDonald's, Wendy's, and KFC. But if you are visiting Japan from overseas, and wish to sample Japanese fast food, why not try MOS Burger or Freshness Burger. If you're looking for something more Japanese (not to mention more cost-effective and probably tastier), try one of the local fast food giants, Matsuya or Yoshinoya. For under ¥500, you can get a giant bowl of meat, rice, and vegetables, sometimes with egg thrown in for good measure.
Raw fish enthusiasts are urged to try kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, where the prices are very reasonable.
By tradition the basement of almost any department store, including Mitsukoshi, Matsuzakaya, or Isetan, is devoted to the depachika (デパ地下), a huge array of small shops selling all kinds of prepared take-out food. You can assemble a delicious if slighty pricy picnic here — or, if you're feeling really cheap, just go around eating free samples! The very largest department stores are Tobu and Seibu in Ikebukuro, but Shibuya, Ginza and in fact any major Tokyo district will have their fair share. Shinjuku Station is home to several famous department stores, such as the Keio and Odakyu department stores. Many stores begin discounting their selections at about 7pm each night. Look for signs and stickers indicating specific yen value or percentage discounts.
There are countless very expensive restaurants in Tokyo, but one splurge is worthwhile for fans of sushi. The best sushi in town, if not the world, can be found in Tsukiji, fresh from the famous fish market. Figure on ¥3000 for a set meal. A sushi breakfast in Tsukiji, after exploring the fish market, is a great option for the jet-lagged traveler's first morning in Tokyo.
For upmarket Japanese eats, Ginza is guaranteed to burn a hole in your wallet, with Akasaka and Roppongi Hills close behind. You can limit the damage considerably by eating fixed lunch sets instead of dinner, as this is when restaurants cater to people paying their own meals instead of using the company expense account.
Hit Roppongi for establishments which specialize in serving foreigners, although things can get a little rowdy in some American bars. Visit Shibuya for cool nightclubs, dancing, and live music. Shimokitawaza is full of good bars and restaurants and is popular with students and 20/30-somethings. The Kabukicho red light/gay district in Shinjuku is worth a visit and has some good music in "live houses".
You will find good little bars and restaurants everywhere. You will also find that you are never far from a beer vending machine in Tokyo.
Most drinking is done in restaurants. Cheaper bar and grill type places are called izakaya (居酒屋). You can get all kinds of food and drink. The cheaper chain izakaya usually have picture menus, so ordering is simple. Some popular izakaya chains include Tsubohachi and Shirakiya.
If you want a Western-style bar that serves drinks but is not a restaurant, try any of the higher end hotels. This will cost you, though, and you may want to dress up a bit.
There are thousands of hotels in the Tokyo area, ranging from cheap to very expensive. They are distributed throughout the city, with some of the high end and the low end almost everywhere.
Capsule hotels are generally the cheapest option. They may be reluctant to play host to foreigners as there are quite a few rules of behavior which may be difficult to explain. Many capsule hotels are men-only.
24-hour comic book library/internet cafes have become common around Tokyo. This is one of the cheapest ways to crash if you miss your last train and need to wait for the early morning transit service to get started. No bed, but you have a comfy chair and a PC and/or DVDs if you can't sleep. Later in the evening, karaoke boxes often offer discounted prices for the whole night, they usually have a couch you can sleep on.
Keep an eye out for what is called a business hotel. The rooms are usually tiny, but they are conveniently located near stations and rates start from around ¥6000. Staff may speak minimal English, but it's not too hard to figure out. These are the best options for solo travelers. Affordable chains found throughout Tokyo include Tokyu Stay , which offers free internet access and breakfast, and Sunroute .
Tokyo has some self-proclaimed ryokan (Japanese inns) that cater largely to foreign tourists, mostly concentrated around Ueno and Asakusa. While not as opulent as the real thing, they offer a sample of Japanese home life at affordable rates.
If you are traveling solo, you are out of luck, but Japan's infamous love hotels can be a reasonable (and interesting) option for couples in Tokyo. Shibuya's Love Hotel Hill offers the widest selection in the city. If you're really going to spend the night, be sure to check in for a "stay" rather than a "rest".
If you plan to stay more than one week, you can try weekly-mansion . These are flats you can rent for short periods of time for reasonable prices. Rates are around 5000¥ per day for one or two people. However everything is done in Japanese and it helps greatly to know someone in Japan who can speak your language. Gaijin houses (guest houses for foreigners) can also offer good prices.
You can spend a fortune on accommodation in Tokyo. Most of the high-end international chains are well represented. Particular concentrations of luxury hotels can be found in western Shinjuku (including the Park Hyatt Tokyo, featured in Lost in Translation) and in Akasaka.
Good connections are available at Internet cafes everywhere. Expect to pay ¥400-¥500 per hour. "Gera Gera" is a popular chain. Paid WiFi service is also taking off in Tokyo with reasonable coverage - at a price. WiFi services are probably not convenient for those just visiting.
If you bring your own computer with a WLAN card, you might as well just try to find an open unprotected WLAN net and connect to it, chances are very good that you will find one.
Tokyo is probably one of the safest cities you will ever visit. Violent crime is rare - even late at night. The police are a resource you can turn to for help. You will rarely find yourself far from a a local police substation (koban). These are typically staffed by one or two police officers. Don't hesitate to go to the koban if you are lost, they have great local maps (in Japanese). Some police officers will also speak basic English. Give them a try. Also, if you carry travel insurance, report any thefts or lost items at the koban. They may have forms in English as well as Japanese.
Still in a jam? Call Tokyo English Life Line, tel. 03-5774-0992, daily 9 a.m.-11 p.m.
Dial 110 for police, 119 for fire and ambulance service.
From Tokyo, the entire surrounding Kanto region is your oyster. Particularly popular destinations nearby include:
The Tokyo area also has some less-famous destinations that are easy day trips from central Tokyo:
These destinations are more crowded on weekends and holidays.