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Middletown Transcript
  • Travel and Adventure: Tokyo is heart of constantly intriguing Japan

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  • Tokyo’s 13.2 million population makes it not only Japan’s largest city but one of the largest cities in the world. It is also a very new city. Virtually nothing still stands that was erected prior to a devastating 1923 earthquake and the bombings of World War II.
    Nevertheless there is a lot to see here, and the amazingly clean, moderately priced subway system that blankets the huge area lets visitors get around affordably and with ease. At its heart are 13 lines with 290 stations. Signage is in English as well as Japanese, restrooms are meticulously clean and shops in the stations selling everything from produce to luxury goods are beautifully maintained.
    Fares are calculated by distance. A series of passes allows for unlimited use for a day or several days, and there is also the option of the Pasmo card, which acts as a debit card and makes using the metro much easier. Value is initially loaded onto the card and the price of a ride is subtracted at its conclusion.
    On the platform be sure to check the final destination for the route on which your stop is located and board the train bound for the final stop. Also, know in advance precisely which exit you want at your exit station. Tokyo subway stations are generally much larger than their North American or European counterparts, so you can end up quite far from where you wanted to be.
    Taxis can be affordable for moderate rides within Tokyo as well as other Japanese cities. A 30-block taxi ride can cost virtually the same as in New York City. And since tipping is not practiced in Japan, a 1,000-yen taxi trip will cost precisely that.
    Ginza is a good place to start a Tokyo visit. Though dominated by elegant department stores selling the world’s most famous brands, little nearby streets filled with moderately priced restaurants and craft shops are also worth a look. Ginza is home to the recently reopened Kabuki theater, which performs traditional plays daily. Inexpensive tickets for single acts are also usually available.
    From Ginza you can walk to and wend through the gardens of the Imperial Palace (which is not open to the public) and also Tokyo Station, gorgeously restored to resemble its 1914 origins.
    An early morning visit to the Tsukiji fish market is a must. Fishing vessels from all over the world dock here in Tokyo Bay to sell their catch to wholesalers. Then buyers from Tokyo and area restaurants shop while some 37,000 viewers maneuver around the 15,000 workers who often have to wrestle with thousand-pound slabs of tuna and other fish. It’s up to the visitors to watch but not impede those doing the hoisting or the forklift trucks that position the catch for sale.
    Viewing the daily wholesalers’ tuna auction is a challenge since non-participant viewing spots are auctioned off prior to the 6 a.m. start. Later in the morning it is possible to see the buyers and sellers making deals and purchases. Definitely wear wet-weather footgear and expect to spend at least an hour being amazed by the diversity of species for sale. After your visit, drop into one of the dozens of nearby restaurants that serve the freshest possible sushi.
    Page 2 of 3 - You’ll also want to see Asakusa, famous for its imposing gate and Golden Dragon temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. Largely reconstructed after World War II, it is believed to contain some of Buddha’s ashes.
    With plenty of shops and boisterous crowds, the area also is home to an important Shinto temple. Shinto is the religion that predated the fifth-century arrival of Buddhism in Japan.
    Another favorite Tokyo gathering place is Harajuku, which is filled with trendy shops and restaurants along Omotesando Street. Particularly on weekends, nearby Takeshika Street is packed with teenagers to a density that rivals metro rush-hour crowds.
    At its end and across the street is the entryway to an extraordinary change of pace, the Meiji Shrine. Sited in a serene pine forest, it is the resting place of the Meiji leaders who, starting in 1868, permanently turned Japan away from isolation and toward the West. The 15-minute walk to reach the shrine is peace personified, and once there you might see wedding ceremonies and receptions taking advantage of the bucolic setting.
    Electronics fans will want to explore Akihabara, which is filled with shops selling computer gear along with acoustically challenging pachinko parlors and other electronic game-playing sites.
    Also worth an evening look is West Shinjuku. Filled with screaming neon, bars and cheap restaurants, it is patronized by platoons of Japanese “salary men” — suited workers intent on delaying their return commute home.
    For a complete change of pace, take some time to wander through Yanaka. Full of low-rise dwellings, it looks like a small village that’s surrounded by soaring towers. Nearby is a French-influenced area with excellent eateries and cafes, seemingly a bit of transplanted Montmartre that landed in the heart of Tokyo.
    Definitely seek out Odaiba, a rapidly expanding uber-modern district on Tokyo Bay that includes restaurants, stark modern architecture and a replica of New York City’s Statue of Liberty.
    Among the city’s many art scenes, the Tokyo National Museum — Japan’s oldest and largest — is a definite must-see. Highlights include extraordinary screens, calligraphy, scrolls, sculpture and Samurai armor as well as an extensive collection of paintings and prints by Hiroshige.
    Beyond the visual arts, Tokyo is filled with diversions. You might want to attend a sumo wrestling match. Or take in a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the enclosed Tokyo Dome. The Giants are the most popular of Japan’s 16 major-league teams.
    Or pick from a wide variety of classical music performances, many of which occur at the elegant and comfortable Suntory Hall, home to the Japan Philharmonic. Other prominent orchestras include the Tokyo Philharmonic and the New Japan Philharmonic.
    If you’ve got time for day trips, Yokohama — the massive seaport city that adjoins Tokyo — has a pleasant waterfront and museums dedicated to the story of Japan’s 19th-century opening to the West. Also consider visiting Kamakura, home to one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues, and the nation’s capital between the 12th and 14th centuries.
    Page 3 of 3 - WHEN YOU GO
    For general information about visiting Tokyo, itinerary planning and guidance, visit www.gotokyo.org/en
    For information about Japan: www.jnto.go.jp/en
    The Shangri-La Hotel is a luxurious property that’s part of Tokyo Station. It features fine views, food and concierge assistance that includes personal greetings at the Narita train arrival platform and guidance to the hotel: www.shangri-la.com/tokyo
    The Dai-Ichi Hotel Tokyo is a very comfortable, superbly located affiliate with Worldhotels: www.worldhotels.com. Being within walking distance of major subway lines as well as dozens of neighborhood restaurants makes the Dai-Ichi a fine choice: www.jnto.go.jp/eng/
    For information on Japan Philharmonic and many other performances: www.suntory.com/culture-sports/suntoryhall
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