Tokyo
City Focus
From the head-spinning ultramodern to the reverentially traditional and everything in between, Matthew Knott reports on the sensory overload of the city he used to call home.

As Tokyo and neighbouring Yokohama represent the world's largest metropolitan area, it goes without saying that there is plenty to entertain, intrigue, thrill and feast upon.

 

Truly a nocturnal city, the trademark neon ushers a whirlwind of activities: the obligatory 24-hour karaoke boxes; the deafening bleeps of pachinko game parlours; multi-storey entertainment complexes; cool jazz bars; tiny pubs that seat only a handful of patrons; and the enticing smells of more late-night eateries than anyone could possibly need to choose from.

 

 

That is not to say that the next Olympic city is without its daytime charms. Museums and top-end art galleries abound, with several in Ueno and Roppongi. And Sakura House www.sakura-house.com, a student accommodation provider, operates the biennial Design Festa event and year-round Design Festa Gallery space in trendy Harajuku. 

 

 

It is actually easier to imagine Tokyo as a chain of cities - each with their own character and style - located around its circular Yamanote Line, with the welcome greenery of Yoyogi Park acting as the lungs of the metropolis in the middle.  

 

Tokyo's constant rebuilding matches the breathless pace of life in the city, but also makes its more contemplative areas both surprising and welcome.

 

 

The Yanaka district, for example, feels like time travelling. The area contains an array of shrines and temples left unscathed by earthquakes and war-time firebombing, a sleepy shopping street far removed from the glossy boutiques, and a cherry blossom-lined cemetery. The conversion of an old sento bathhouse here into a stylish contemporary art gallery (SCAI The Bathhouse) is typical of Tokyo's harmonisation of tradition and modernity.

 


 

Must-visit areas

 

Shinjuku

"Shinjuku station is famous for being the busiest in the world, it is used by an average of 3.64 million people per day," says Elena Stefan at JCLI www.jclischool.com. "I recommend Shinjuku since it has everything: shops, restaurants, entertainment, from reasonable to very luxury ones, within walking distance," enthuses Munezai Yo at Kai Japanese Language School www.kaij.jp.

 

Shibuya

For people-watching, the famous Shibuya Crossing alone is a must.

 

 

Akihabara

Straddling Japan's pre-eminence for electronic goods and manga/anime culture, Akihabara is high on visit lists. It even has its own pop group, riffing on the area's maid cafés.

 

Asakusa

Evan Kirby at Genki Japanese and Culture School (JACS) www.genkijacs.com says, "It has a full range of things to see, from the ancient and beautiful Sensoji Temple all the way to Tokyo Sky Tree [the tallest tower in the world]."

 


 

A taste of Tokyo

 

With 304 Michelin stars, Tokyo is by far the world's fine dining capital, but eating well can be surprisingly affordable. "Students must enjoy 'all you can eat' sushi. Sushi restaurants all over the world are often very expensive and different. So I want them to enjoy good sushi at a reasonable price until they get so full!" says Munezai.

 

 

Elena adds, "There is a narrow street Omoide Yokocho where there are many yakitori (skewered chicken) places."
Other reasonably priced dishes include okonomiyaki savoury pancakes and takoyaki (octopus in balls of batter).

 

There is also a bewildering range of themed restaurants. "The crazy show at Robot Restaurant is just around the corner from GenkiJACS Tokyo. Terrible food, but incredible entertainment," advises Evan.

 

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