Japan has a justly bad reputation for over-engineering its rivers - but sometimes the results are spectacular, like this underground concrete cathedral used for storing floodwater. It's a spectacular photo opportunity but you would never know was there, under rice paddies in the outskirts of Tokyo.
Bring good shoes and a Japanese-speaker for the tour.
720 Kamikanasaki, Kasukabe city, Saitama 344-0111
Google map: tinyurl.com/3263c35
Often referred to as Tokyo City Hall, this skyscraper offers amazing views of the city. The building is located in the Shinjuku area of the city and the panoramic observatories that take up the top two floors are almost 240 meters high, offering an unrivalled view of the Tokyo cityscape. The observatories are open to the public and are free to enter, making this a fantastic way to observe this Japanese metropolis.
2-8-1, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 163-8001 Japan
The 2003 film, directed by Sofia Coppola, was shot entirely in Tokyo, mostly in the Shinjuku and Shibuya areas. Two of the most iconic locations from the film: The Park Hyatt Hotel, where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson both stay, can be found right in the heart of Shinjuku and is regarded as one of the city’s best hotels; and the skyscraper with the large video screen can be found at the Hachiko exit of the Shibuya station.
When visiting this area of Tokyo many people are taken aback at how bright and colorful the city becomes at night. The Japanese capital is famous for its neon cityscape and the main road in Shinjuku, around the corner from the Kabukicho district, is the perfect place to take photos of the wall of lights that line the streets.
For stunning free views of Shinjuku's ultra modern business district, and most of Tokyo, head to the high speed lifts that whisk you up either of the two 240m towers of this cathedral like government building by architect Kenzo Tange (Olympic gymnasium, Fuji TV centre, catholic cathedral,and further afield, Hiroshima peace park museum) Best place to see the sun set, and marvel at the extravagance of this 157 billion yen City Hall. While in the area explore Shinjuku metro, the worlds busiest station, and the teeming bar district. For a little solitude visit Hanazono shrine or the beautiful central park, imperial gardens or nearby iris filled Meiji Jingu gardens and shrine.
Just west of JR Shinkuku, follow a subway if you can but when lost surface and head into the skyscrapers.
There is so much going on and it’s all free. See the old forty-something rockabillies dancing to rock’n’roll and the young kids dancing to northern soul. People practising their tap-dancing or tai chi, not to mention the new bands hoping to be spotted by a record company giving it their all. Take a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere, that seems to be what most of the rest of Tokyo does!
See some of the coolest new technology at Honda’s flagship store. Ride the motorcycle simulator or see the demonstrations of ASIMO, the humanoid robot (daily at 10.30am, 11.50am and 3pm). Best of all, it’s free!
2-1-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
Visit the Ginza district on a Sunday.The streets are closed to traffic and it's a great time to stroll around the area with it's many shops. Perfect for people watching!
Ginza is well connected to both underground and overland train services. The nearest station is, not suprisingly, called Ginza.
The existentialists had a special word for walking around randomly in order to escape the routine and see things from a different angle. I can't remember what the word is, something long and French probably, but I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, especially in Tokyo.
Tokyo is basically an unplanned city - it has developed in a chaotic, messy way which means, sadly, that Tokyo is a very ugly city when seen from the macro level. But this also means, thankfully, that it is a joy to explore on the micro level.
Set off in any direction and you will come across tiny temples and shrines, strange shops which never seem to have any customers, ugly houses, more ugly houses and then a beautiful decaying old Japanese style residence.
You don't have to travel far for this experience - that is another wonderful thing about Tokyo's chaos - you can walk 10 minutes from the busiest train station, take a few turns and find yourself in a lovely, quiet, ancient residential area.
And the best thing about all this is the order behind the chaos - wherever you go and however far you walk, you will always be only a few minutes from a train station or bus stop. In Tokyo you can comfortably get lost, and Tokyo is a great place to get lost in.
I'm thinking here of Isetan in Shinjuku and Tobu and Seibu department stores in Ikebukuro, although all the major dept stores at Shibuya and Tokyo stations should have similar food basements.
Always busy and noisy with the calls of the sales staff touting their wares, they give an insight into the astonishing variety and sophistication of Japanese cuisine. Also, they also frequently offer tantalising titbits to passers-by.
On an upper-floor, there is usually also a selection of reasonably-priced restaurants offering a variety of different styles of Japanese cuisine.
If you get off the JR Yamanote line at Shinjuku, you'll find Odakyu, leave by the East Exit, and turn right, Isetan is on your left about 200 metres.
Get off the JR Yamanote line at Ikebukuro and it will be hard not to find yourself in either Tobu or Seibu department store basement 1. Both have two whole basement floors of food.
One of the highest buildings in the skyscraper district of Shinjuku, where you can see views of Tokyo and the area around it, including Mount Fuji (only on clear days in late winter/early spring). The plus point is that this is one of the only things you can do in Tokyo for free. The viewing area opens about 10am and closes about 10pm.
The nearest train station is Tocho mae.
This market, the biggest in the world, is a must-see for any visitor to Tokyo. Huge interest in the early-morning tuna auctions has led to restrictions on the number of observers, but the stalls that surround the market are heaving with sea creatures of every imaginable description. The later you go, the slower your progress as the number of shoppers builds up. But, in any case, this is a place to be savoured. And, amazingly, it doesn’t smell of fish.
Metro: Tsukiji (on the Hibiya line)
If you can make yourself understood in Japanese, and you ask nicely in advance, you can go and watch asa geiko (morning practice) at a sumo 'beya' for free.
The stables themselves are fascinating, and worth the trip alone. Outside: normal-looking suburban houses, Inside: dirt floor, padded walls and a sumo ring. In exchange for getting there for about 8am you'll get to see the wrestlers run through their techniques and warm ups (when we went this included beating each other in the belly with a lightly-padded baseball bat) and you'll see plenty of short matches between rikishi of all levels without having to pay to see a whole basho and at far closer proximity than anywhere else.
Most of the stables (beya) are in the Ryogoku area, and lists and phone numbers can be found on the internet.
Sawai is out in the rural west of Metropolitan Tokyo and offers a perfect contrast from the wonders of downtown life. The sake brewery with its restaurants overlooking the River Tama is a great spot to take a breather from what thrills Tokyo has to offer. Tours are in Japanese only but the English pamphlet is well handy and doesn't get in the way of sampling the liquid on offer. There are 4 tours a day.
Sawai is about 90 minutes from Shinjuku Station. Take the Chuo Line to Tachikawa and change to the Ome Line. The Brewery is 5 minutes down the hill from the station. Reservations for a tour can be made on 0428 78 8215.
A park in the centre of Tokyo, the former site of Edo Castle and next to the Imperial Palace. It includes a wonderful Japanese garden, is rarely crowded (almost deserted when I went on a glorious Saturday afternoon), and, best of all, admission is free. Note that it is closed on Mondays and national holidays.
1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda-ku Metro: Otemachi, Takebashi, or Nijubashi-mae. Within walking distance of JR Tokyo Station.
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