Out In Tokyo
Raj Ahluwalia stops over at Japan’s ‘Big Apple’ to find a
city replete with man, machine, ambition and tradition
view from Seiroka Tower, Akaishi-Cho, in Chuo Ward
"It isn't that sort of city. And don't be hasty. Try
to ease yourself in and you'll blend in better and feel the
rhythm. And forget about comparisons. They don't exist."
Ever the local girl, Ria Hiraoka allowed herself the luxury
of a smile. But in fact, I wasn't prejudging. Simply because
I didn't get the chance, having been hurled head first into
the urban circus that is the city. Yet at first look it was
a gray blob of glass, steel, and concrete, which left me wondering
about all the fuss. And to top things off, my first day was
But Tokyo sweeps pre-judgments off! All the enigma and charm
of Marco Polo's supposed 'golden palaces' comes through in
Japan's political, commercial and cultural hub. And though
it may appear staggering to first-timers, it's actually an
easy city to discover.
towards Shinjuku from Tomigaya, Shibuya Ward
a 45-kilometre radius of the Imperial Palace live some 30
million people - the same as in California. The dreamers and
achievers, they all converged here to Japan's 'Big Apple',
making it journey's end for over-achievers in a country where
over-achieving is a mania. The result is throbbing commercial
activity and a globally unmatched lifestyle that gets Tokyo
the attention it deserves.
Once, Tokyo was a mere fishing hamlet. That is till Ieyesu
Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, moved here with
his retainers and their families to establish the new centre
of Japan in 1590. Then called Edo, the city developed fast.
Though featuring a history that goes back several centuries,
little remains from the days of the Shoguns, because of fire
and earthquakes that took their toll. Twice in the 20th Century,
first by the 1923 'Great Tokyo Earthquake', and then by a
blazing fire during the 1945 raids, Tokyo saw near complete
destruction. What one sees today has been rebuilt from the
it is attending a tea ceremony, watching Sumo wrestling or
a Kabuki performance, riding the world's fastest lift up 70
floors, travelling the world's second fastest trains, or gambling
at astronomically high stakes, the city features hoopla amidst
opulence and class.
In spite of the ruthless urban grind that's seen historic
sites and ancient buildings crowded out by modern structures,
exploring a city that reflects the traditions and aspirations
of an ancient race of people is sheer fascination.
Look for the little things! Like a narrow path lined by bobbing
paper lanterns, or a finely pruned pine tree gracefully draped
over a stone wall. Or a Sumo Wrestler in a kimono and topknot,
at a phone booth
Filing silently in, passing under a gateway formed by 1,700
year-old cypress trees, one enters the very heart of Japanese
tradition. The Imperial Palace - the Emperor's official residence
- is an interesting complex of guard towers and gateways and
popular spots like East Garden, Plaza, and the Nijubashi Bridge.
Like the Meiji shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and Empress
Shoken, the palace is open to the public on the Emperor's
the palace's serenity, it's hard to believe that just across
the street lies the hustle of fashionable Harajuku. A short
walk to the huge open space of the Plaza, a favourite lunchtime
rendezvous for office goers of the Marunouchi business district,
provided further contrast.
For a taste of fashionable, downtown Tokyo, drop in at Harajuku
and Shibuya, true designer-label territory. A wide boulevard
fringed by restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques, Harajuku
swings. And so does Shibuya with its elegant outlets. Life
moves fast here, even on Sundays, when hundreds of dancing
teenagers dressed in '50s styles, jam the streets in a festive
mood. Featuring unlimited entertainment and shopping in the
shadow of the huge Olympic stadium and the Meiji shrine, Shibuya
takes off from where Harajuku ends. If you're looking for
some real action, Koen-Dorji street is the place for you.
With its remnants of Old Tokyo, the Ueno area, though traditional,
is also lively enough, and Ueno Zoo is worth visiting. What
started out as an innocuous stroll past the station, became
much more as I found myself surrounded by surging crowds.
Southern Terrace, Shinjuku Station, South Entrance
the climb to the viewing centre of the Tokyo Tower. The view
is one not easily forgotten. On three sides, glass and concrete
structures reach for the sky. On the fourth, there's a green
break, with a patch of blue water, making it hard to believe
they're part of the same city.
National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology
brings another face of Tokyo. This is the city's best hour,
and there's nowhere better to enjoy it than in The Ginza,
which contrary to popular perception, is a whole district
rather than a street. Famous stores edge side-streets fringed
by restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs, and specialty shops.
Distinguished by day as Japan's luxury goods and high fashion
hub, with the greatest concentration of art galleries, and
by night for the world's most expensive nightlife, The Ginza
is as upscale as they come. For the city's rich, The Ginza
is simply 'it'. Though class-consciousness is discreet in
Japan, aristocrats and tycoons are still on the scene and
The Ginza is their hangout.
It's great to take in the Tokyo National Museum of Modern
Art, which has a superb collection of national art through
the last two centuries. But don't spend all your time at museums.
my vantage point in the shadow of the Sony Building, the view
of the district is as good as it gets. Early evening bears
a fashion-parade look as regally attired hostesses, many in
kimonos, make their way daintily to work. Millions of office-goers
pour out of buildings, into the streets, and into thousands
of bars. And the famous neon lights flash their commercial
To say that the Japanese love gardening is to make an understatement.
The Hibiya Park is a famous nature study centre and a paradise
for birds and butterflies, the Rikygien Garden features traditional
Japanese landscapes of stone, water, plants and ferns, and
the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden spills over with chrysanthemums
and cherry blossoms.
the area of Heiwajima, Ota Ward
eternal question! How does one tackle Japanese food? Don't
fret. There's more to Japanese cuisine than sukiyaki, tempuras,
and shushi. Rice (gohan) usually boiled till sticky, is the
staple ingredient. Numerous vegetables ranging from carrots,
cucumbers and peas, to wild mountain roots and grasses, are
served either fresh, pickled, deep-fried or boiled. Meats
are normally chopped into bite-sized pieces, rarely overcooked,
and often served raw. A bowl of soup accompanies all meals.
From little kiosks the size of closets to star establishments,
there's a staggering variety of eateries. There are exclusive
restaurants with subdued décor and music, impeccable
service and sobering rates, but there are also more modest
establishments serving wholesome cuisine at affordable rates,
at least by Tokyo standards. Tipping is taboo.
Make bold! Walk the streets without fear. You'll always stumble
upon a 'koban' (police box) and an obliging 'omawari-san'
will help out. Huge, bustling, almost awesome, Tokyo defies
comparisons. Yet alongside bustling thoroughfares lie quiet
neighbourhoods where the traditional pattern of Japanese life
still ebbs and flows.
Tokyo International Airport, Narita, Japan's main aerial
gateway, has direct flights to India. From the airport
one can take trains, taxis, and limousines (coaches).
The airport's elaborate infrastructure includes hotels,
car-rentals, and tourist information.
Tourist Information Centres
B1, Tokyo International Forum, 3-5-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku,
Tokyo 100-0005. Tel. 03-3201-3331.
New Tokyo International Airport, Narita, Terminal 2
(Main). Tel. 0476-34-6251.
Japan Travel-Phone is a nationwide telephone service
that provides information and assistance to foreign
visitors. Once in the country, call one of the following
numbers directly: 3201-3331 (Except for Saturday pm,
Sundays and national holidays). Public telephones are
found everywhere in the city and accept 10 and 100 Yen
coins and a magnetic prepaid card.
General Business Hours
Banks - 9am-3pm.
Stores - 10 am-7.30 pm.
Museums -10 am-5 pm.
Offices- 9 am-5 pm.
City accommodation comes in a wide range, from deluxe
hotels down to budget establishments and 'ryokans'
(Japanese inns). Tariffs range from USD 50-600.
Travellers Cheques and select international credit
cards like American Express, VISA, Diners Club, MasterCard
and JCB are accepted banks, hotels, ryokan, and stores.
Take a sightseeing city tour. Or pick up a map and
set off on your own. Most people in the service industry
speak English, but don't forget that map.
Individual tipping isn't common in Japan, since a
10-15 percent service charge is added to the bill
at leading hotels, ryokan and bigger restaurants.
Isehiro (Yakitori) . Has several branches in the downtown
Minazuki (Japanese seafood)
Tony Roma's (American barbecue)
La Brasserie, Imperial Hotel (French)
Chiang Mai (Thai)
Soba, udom and thin chilled wheat
Nikko Narita Hotel
Fairmont Hotel, 2-1-17 Kudan Minam/Chijoda-Ku
Hotel Okura Tokyo, 2-10-4 Toranomon/Minato-Ku
Miyako Tokyo Hotel, 1-1-50 Shiroganouch 1 -Chome
Tokyo Bay Hilton, 1-8, Maihama, Urayasu-Shi, Chiba
nationals require a visa to enter Japan.
Though more Japanese businessmen have started adopting
- at least in their dealings with Westerners- Western
habits and manners, certain standards of behaviour remain
For instance, when you're introduced to someone, you
are expected to present your visiting card (both hands
please, and your card should ideally have your name
and designation in both English and Japanese). The gesture
will be reciprocated and you are expected to keep the
card in front of you while at the meeting. The Japanese
are sticklers for punctuality - whether its for
a business meeting or a social occasion - so make it
a point to be on time. And never ask any personal questions
- or probe into the personal lives - of Japanese business
associates; its considered bad manners to do so.
Currency and Costs
The currency used is the yen (¥). If youre
hoping to travel in Japan on a shoestring budget, you're
going to be in for a shock - its probably one
of the most expensive countries in the world to travel
in. Despite staying in the cheapest of establishments
and eating at the lowest priced of food stalls, youll
still end up spending around US$50 a day, and if you
allow yourself to splurge- then theres really
no limit to how high you can go. Amongst the highest
priced items are travel tickets - going long distance
can really cost a packet (the solution is to buy a rail
pass - much more economical)
& Money Changers
Japan's is a sound economy, and it's reflected in the
country's banks- sound, stable establishments you can
trust your money with (on the whole). For most tourists,
banking transactions are limited to foreign currency
exchange, and this is a service handled by nearly all
banks in the cities. Banks, in fact, will be able to
give you the best rates for exchanging foreign currency
into yen. Among the better known and more reliable establishments
are the Bank of Japan and the Bank of Tokyo.
Banking hours: Most banks in Japan work six days
a week, from 9 to 3. However, work hours are shorter
on the first and last Saturdays of the month- banks
close by 12 on these days. All banks close on Sundays
and public holidays.