The Land of the Rising Sun has fascinated travellers for centuries, who come to discover the beauties of the mountainous islands; the delicate tastes of its most famous dishes in their native setting; the exquisite artistry of the nation’s respected artists, and the dazzlingly futuristic toys and gadgets available in the most forward looking city in the world, grand, madcap Tokyo.
The Tokyo Experience Sans The Tokyo Price
So, you’re in Tokyo. You’ve settled the other ‘cheap place to stay/figured out the subway/handy mangled-Japanese phrases’ issues (each of which deserve an article in themselves). You’ve also discovered a depressingly small number in your bank account and an entire mega-city worth of attractions to spend it on. How do you get to see some of the Tokyo sights without going broke and being deported back home? Here are a few things to see without breaking the bank:
Shibuya – Definitely the most fashion conscious area of Japan and quite possibly in the world, these three nearby shopping districts represent the ‘young and trendy’ side of Tokyo. Centred more or less on the JR Shibuya railway station, Shibuya is the most shopping-friendly area of the city, with a dozen big shopping malls and most international fashion houses within easy walking distance of the station.
Just outside the JR Shibuya station is the world-famous ‘5 way scramble crossing’, immortalized in countless music videos and movies, and the place in Japan that most often inspires people to say, ‘Hey, this looks like a scene from Blade Runner!’.
Shibuya surrounds the JR Shibuya Station, which is reachable by almost all railway and subway lines in the city.
Shinjuku – Located a short distance south of Shibuya is its older, slightly seedier neighbour, Shinjuku. Centered around the JR Shinjuku station, this is one of the biggest commercial districts of Tokyo, best known for its polar-opposite attractions – the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens, an oasis of greenery surrounded by skyscrapers and Kabukicho, Tokyo’s riotous nightlife and red-light district located to the northeast of Shinjuku station. The area is also home to a large number of colleges and universities, so there are plenty of bars, anime shops, clubs, one-yen stores and other such necessities of varsity life. Shinjuku surrounds the JR Shinjuku Station, which is reachable by almost all railway and subway lines in the city. The Shinjuku Imperial Garden is open from 9am to 6:30pm (closed Mondays except during cherry blossom and chrysanthemum viewing seasons), admission is 200 yen for adults.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office – Stop by this skyscraper in the heart of Shinjuku (cant’ miss it, look for the tallest building around) and take the express elevator to the 45th storey for a panoramic view of Tokyo’s urban sprawl from the North and South observatories. Also stop by the Tokyo Catering cafeteria for some of the cheapest food you’ll find in Tokyo; it’s a government cafeteria open to the public, which explains the price. Check in the Tokyo Tourist Information Center on the first floor on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 10:30am or 1:30pm to take part in one of their walking tours; absolutely free is a tour of the nearby Ueno Park, while those that go a little further afield (Imperial Palace, Harajuku) cost less than USD10.
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Conveniently located about 20 minutes walk from Shinjuku station (south exit). The Observatories are open from 9:30am to 11pm (5:30pm for the South Observatory; confirm times at tel: 03 5320-7890) and entrance is free. The Tokyo Tourist Information Center is open from 9:30am to 6:30pm (confirm tours at tel: 03 5321-3077)
Harajuku – With easy walking distance of Harajuku station is the famous district is where Gwen Stefani’s ‘Harajuku Girls’ possibly got their inspiration and where fashion trends of the next 5 years are first paraded. Centering on Takeshida Street as well as the many smaller side streets, a stroll along the sidewalks here is an instant education in fashion, to say the least. Best time for people-watching is Sunday. The area is filled with small independent boutiques, midsized department stores and the usual food outlets. Nearby Omotesando is the more grown-up version of Harajuku, with less outrageous fashions, but higher prices in the numerous boutiques.A surprisingly historical note just next to Harajuku station is the Meiji Shrine, built in the early 21st century to venerate the emperor of the same name. The shrine is surrounded by a quiet forest (incongruous in metropolitan Tokyo!) made up of trees which were donated as saplings by citizens from around the country when the shrine was first built. If you’re proceeding here from Shibuya, it’s about a 15 minute walk away, or you can stop at the Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line. Strolling around is absolutely free; but if you want to shop then the sky is the limit. Meiji Shrine is located on the west side of Harajuku station. Entrance is free, but donations are welcome.
Sensoji Temple – An even more historic temple located in Asakusa, this Buddhist temple houses a legend-shrouded statue of the Bodhisatva Kannon, which is extremely popular with Japanese and foreigners alike. The temple has a quiet contemplative garden which is a stark contrast to the plethora of stalls jamming the streets around the temple grounds, selling everything from Buddhist scrolls to Godzilla windup toys. Sensoji Temple is located only a few minutes away from Asakusa station, which is accessible via the Ginza, Asakusa and Tobu railway lines. Entrance to the temple is free, though donations are welcome.
Tsukiji Fish Market – Best reserved for sushi lovers, a trip to this colossal fish market is a must for those curious about Japanese cuisine from the preparation side. To see the actual process of fish selling, wake up at the ungodly hour of 5 am; for those who value their sleep, wake up a little later to wander around the very busy aisles of the market. Finish the visit with a stop in one of the numerous unpretentious little sushi shops for some of the freshest sushi in the world. To get to the Tsukiji Fish Market, take the Tsukijishijo Station on the Oedo Line or Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Line. The Market is open from (closed Sundays and alternate Wednesdays) and entrance is free.
Akihabara – Back to the futuristic side of Tokyo, this is the electronics heart of the country and is located about 5 minutes from Tokyo station. Whether its cameras, computers, anime, manga, new, old, used or prototype, it’s all here. Stop in Tokyo Animation Centre to catch up and try out all the latest offerings in the anime and gaming world; or pop into one of the countless arcade parlors for some nostalgic gaming. Akihabara surrounds the Tokyo railway station, which can be reached from all railway lines in the city. Almost all stores open at 10am so don’t come too early. The Tokyo Animation Centre is open from 11 to 7pm and admission is free.
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Ginza – A more upscale version of Shibuya, this is where the more well-heeled locals go to parade, dine and shop, with correspondingly classier outlets. On weekends, the main Chuo-dori road is closed to traffic and turns into a pedestrian zone, complete with street performances and hawkers. Wander around posh mega-department stores such as the Wako, Matsuya or Mitsuoki, where everything seems to be priced for celebrities and royalty. Thankfully, just looking is still free and most stores have free galleries with exhibitions of everything from ikebana to vintage clothing. The basement supermarkets in these stores offer surprisingly cheap set meals and snack bars, if you don’t mind a distinct lack of tables where you could actually eat your meals. The biggest single free attraction here is the Sony Building, where you can try out their latest gadgets from said company. Ginza surrounds the Ginza JR railway station, which is reachable from the Marunouchi, Ginza and Hibiya railway lines. Almost all stores open at 10am so don’t come too early. The Tokyo Animation Centre is open from 11 to 7pm and admission is free.
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The Wild Wild Fashions of Harajuku
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