Not technically Japanese food (it originates from Korea), but yaki-niku ("grilled meat") is so popular in Japan it would be rude not to mention it. You'll find each table has a miniature barbeque, upon which you place a variety of meats and vegetables to grill (or incinerate, depending on how many beers you've had). The choice of meats is huge (from beef tongue, every conceivable part of a chicken, to... well, you'll find out), and it's damn good fun too.
You'll find yaki-niku restaurants all over Tokyo. Gyukaku (www.gyukaku.ne.jp) has various locations throughout the city, with English menus available.
Once you get past the gothic beau peep schoolgirl horror-show that is Harajuku station on Sundays, you'll find many fantastic shops hidden away in the side-streets between Takeshita Dori (the one with three million kids walking down, you can't miss it) and Omotesando (Tokyo's 5th Ave.). You'll find something to buy no matter what your budget.
Nearest station: Harajuku (JR Yamanote Line).
The world's biggest Tower Records is just a few minutes walk from Shibuya station. If they don't have the CD you're looking for, chances are it doesn't exist. The top floor is dedicated soley to English books and magazines, especially useful if you want to quickly browse through a few Tokyo city guides without having to buy one.
1-22-14 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku.
Nearest Station: Shibuya.
Roppongi Hills is one of the largest new developents in Tokyo, with the massive Mori Building at the centre. JPY1,500 buys you entry to the Tokyo City View, offering spectacular views from all directions (depending on the air pollution. You'll get the best views in February). On the same floor you'll also find the Mori Urban Institute for The Future, which has incredible fully-detailed scale models of both Manhattan and central Tokyo, and is likely to bring out the Godzilla "must destroy this thing!" instinct in you.
Directly connected to Roppongi subway station (Hibiya and Oedo lines).
What else combines the privacy of a Swiss bank, the convenience of a public toilet and the gaudiness of Hollywood?
Love hotels offer beds (sometimes of the revolving or water variety) at about 4,000 yen for a couple of hours' "rest" or around 8,000 yen for the whole night. At the most basic, the automated mini-bars offer condoms and vibrators along with pep drinks and beer.
The more outlandish hotels offer steamy jungle rooms, S&M dungeons and even a full-scale replica of Queen Elizabeth's coronation couch.
Usually found close to entertainment districts or by the side of motorways and are easily spotted by their outlandish exteriors, which include such features as fairy castle ramparts, replicas of the statue of liberty and mock Spanish galleons.
Dedicated to the work of animator Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, the museum is a 15-minute train ride from both Shinjuku and Shibuya. Even if you've never heard of Studio Ghibli before it's worth a visit, and the nearby neighbourhood of Kichijoji has a slightly bohemian feel that is unusual to come by in Tokyo.
Ghibli Museum, 1-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181-0013.
The nearest station is Mitaka (Chuo Line), but I would recommend walking there from Kichijoji station (Chuo and Inokashira Lines).
Ryogoku district sumo stables. What is left of the floating world of old Japan can be glimpsed in the north-east of Tokyo, home to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, the magnificent Asukusa Kannon temple and the sumo stables of the Ryogoku district. Some of the latter allow visitors to watch the practice sessions for free. You will have to set your alarm clock, though, as training can start as early as 4am, but it is worth the effort to get an insight into the traditional and hierarchical world of sumo. Seeing these giants limber up by slapping huge wooden pillars - or each other - is an impressive enough spectacle; watching them humbly sweep the floor is even more memorable. For those who want to probe a little deeper, there is a sumo museum in the area.
This essential Japanese icon is just a short (2 or 3 hour) bus or train ride from the centre of Tokyo. In the climbing season, which runs from the 1st of July to the 27th of August,the buses from Shinjuku even run all the way to the fifth station called Go Gome for 2,600 Yen (13.00GBP)
Well over 200,000 people climb to the summit each season and when you do reach the top (about 7 hours after leaving Go Gome) the hardest part may be finding somewhere to stand and watch the sunrise, if your hands are cold there are vending machines selling hot coffee and soup!
For a more "wild" experience I would suggest climbing the mountain in October. Usually the typhoons have abated by then and the snow not yet arrived making the climb safe and easy and above all colourful. Most of the refuges that dot the path to the top are closed so you should be prepared for a little more of a mountain experience; but the Fuji San Hotel at the 8th station stays open to the 15th and can provide bunk accommodation and a meal for around 6,000 Yen (30.00GBP). Out of season the lodges are relaxed and friendly places unlike during the climbing season. Splitting the climb here and doing the short, 2 hour, climb to the summit the next morning is a more enjoyble way climb this amazing peak.
Fuji san Hotel (th satation on Mount Fuji +81 0555 220237
Snow Japan is an awesome website that makes leaving Tokyo for a day or more to go out and enjoy skiing and snowboarding easy for everyone. The site itself has as much info as you could want about resorts and things, but it's the popular forums and growing community - and the things that people submit to the site (reviews of resorts, photos, online diaries) - that really make it extra special. A fantastic resource for anyone living in Tokyo (or anywhere else for that matter!).
Look for the starship that appears to have landed next to the sumo stadium, and ascend the umbilical escalator into the belly. The next thing you know you're crossing a wooden bridge and a couple of centuries back to old Edo within this fascinating museum that brings the history of Tokyo to life. The displays range from entire city districts with thousands of miniature city-dwellers that you can examine through bincoluars, to a life-size kabuki theatre to be explored. Witness the changes in the life of the city brought on by increased contact with the world outside Japan, and finally by war.
Ryogoku on the Oedo or Sobu lines.
Gues-T House is a backpackers hostel in Azubujuban, SW Tokyo. I recommend it because it gives excellent value for money, and is in a fantastic location for seeing Tokyo.
One night - Y2,900 (c.£15)
Azubujuban Station - exit 4. Head up the road to the left of 'Wendy's' to a cross road (c. 200m). Turn left, and go down the road 'til you get to a park on your left. Look for a coffee bean shop, take a right and the hostel will be on your right, the same side as the coffee bean shop.
I've just returned from Tokyo and it's something of a shopper's paradise (or nightmare! Depends how much you enjoy parting with cash). My advice is to go to the Superfuture website and explore their Tokyo shopping maps. Not only did the site point out some great shops, the maps proved very helpful in navigating my way around certain districts (as Tokyo has very few street names).
There are hundreds of happening districts to explore after you've wandered around Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku and the like in your guidebook. You can take a subway a few stops out from Shibuya to Shimokitazawa - an alternative studenty type area with lots of music shops and live venues but well away from the tourist trail. Or else try Daikanyama with a more refined tree-lined kind of neighborhood feel, plenty of cafes and boutiques. Take the subway to Ebisu to get there.
Shimokitazawa - private subway from Shibuya
Daikanyama - Ebisu subway
This branch of Starbucks is located at the busy Shinjuku intersection on the first floor. Get in there and grab a window seat and sit and watch Tokyo go by outside.
Shinjyuku Green Tower Bldg., 6-14-1, Nishi-shinjyuku Shinjuku-ku TOKYO
A theme park dedicated to Hello Kitty and a host of other supporting Sanrio cartoon characters. Young children will enjoy the (basic) rides and attractions; visitors with an appreciation for Kitty kitsch will be in seventh heaven.
Mother is a grimy basement bar in Kabuchicho which has space for at most 12 svelte people. It has a CD menu (that's right menu!!) that anyone with a love of alternative music or metal would crawl over glass to look at and request from. Which figuratively you may have to, to find it. It's a great place to chat to Tokyoites (between songs obviously) about shared musical loves.
Exit JR Shinjuku Station's East Exit and pass Alta then cross Yasukuni Dori, go down the narrow street which has a Scottish Pub on the right about a third of the way down. At the end of the block on the right is a great bar, Shuffle Beat (also worth a visit), Mother is on the street to the left and almost right in front of you, look out for a small sign and plunge down those darkened stairs.
Take yourself along to the Ajinomoto Stadium, affectionately known as the Soup Bowl (Ajinomoto is the Japanese Knorr/Oxo) and watch either FC Tokyo or Tokyo Verdy play at home. Tickets for FC Tokyo's home matches are around Y1500-Y1800 and can be bought in advance from ticket counters in department stores like Marui. Or simply turn up on the day. Match details can be found at the Rising Sun News site www.wldcup.com/Asia/ Get there early to ensure a seat as fans camp out for lunch before 3pm games. Put your feet up, order a beer (Y500) from a young woman with a keg of beer on her back and enjoy.
Take the Keio Hachioji line from the Keio Shinjuku Station (at the West Exit of the JR Shinjuku Station) and get off at Tobitakyu. Follow the crowds and you're there!
The tourist information office by Sarusawa-ike pond in the centre of town offers free walking tours of Nara from university students who want to practise their English. The girls who showed me around were really knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I was told that to avoid disappointment, it's best to call and book a tour in advance.
Sarusawa Information Center, (0742) 26-4753
It's erm... either a back massager or a vibrator. Nothing really epitomises kitsch and the whole cult of kawaii (cute) better than the bubble-headed cat Hello Kitty. What could be a more appropriate souvenir of subverting this wholesome image? Just pray you don't get stopped at customs!
Kabukicho in Shinjuku and Shibuya have many ...ahem... shops for adult entertainment which are almost all staffed by sweet old ladies or young students making a yen or two. Hello Kitty products are easy enough to spot.
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