Tokyo, here I come! Any tips/advice?

I’m way the heck Out West in Yamaguchi, and have never been to Tokyo before. Okay, I’ve been to the airport, but that doesn’t count. Anyway, I’ve got a vacation coming up next month and I’m planning to spend a week in Tokyo. Yes, I know O-bon’s a horrible time to travel anywhere and it’s going to be really hot, but I didn’t get to choose when I’d get my vacation.

When travelling I usually stay in youth hostels, but I went to see a travel agent today and it looks like I’ll actually do better to get a package deal that includes domestic airfare and a hotel room. I can pick the hotel from their brochure. Right now I’m inclined to go for a business hotel in Asakusa. I know it’s not really central, but it’s reasonably priced and seems handy to local transportation.

I’ve got a friend in Tokyo who’s offered to take me around for a day, but only a day – she’s got work and family commitments. I’ve been looking through my collection of guidebooks and have a few things in mind that I want to do, but since I know a lot of Dopers have been to/lived in Tokyo I figured this would be a good place for advice and tips…especially since I won’t be staying in a hostel and thus won’t easily be able to pick the brains of other travellers.

So, is there anything I definitely shouldn’t miss in Tokyo and the surrounding area? I don’t drink, so bar recommendations aren’t needed. I also don’t need to do much in the way of shopping, except for souveniers. I’m interested in all kinds of sightseeing (new and old, urban and rural), but I don’t like to spend a lot of money. Yeah, I know I’m going to the wrong place for it, but I like to at least be able to tell myself I’m getting a good deal on things.

I’m not adverse to day trips out from the city. All the guidebooks suggest visiting Nikko…is it really that great? I’m not up for climbing Mt. Fuji, but am very much in favor of taking photos of from somewhere less elevated. Is it better to gaze upon Fuji-san from the Five Lakes region, or Hakone?

Any other useful Tokyo-area tips, tricks, and suggestions are more than welcome!

Come on guys, TellMeI’mNotCrazy’s London thread is on two pages now, surely there’s someone here who knows something about Tokyo!

Actually, that sounds like probably the best spot. You’ve got two subway lines running right through there, so all the other parts of downtown Tokyo are within 20 minutes. Plus, Asakusa’s one of the more traditional-looking neighborhoods (my wife calls it ‘Showa-poi’), with a lot of small shops you won’t find in other parts of the city. Lots of interesting temples, and hundreds or souvenir shops. It’s a nice area, and with luck, my wife and I are going to be moving near there next year.

As a plus, there’s also the Asakusa Samba Festival, which might be going on during Obon. Some of the websites say Aug. 15-17, some are saying Aug. 28, so I don’t know what will be happening when your’re in town. If you can catch it, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

Some other stuff I’d recommend inside the city:

  • The Ameyoko street markets in Ueno (near Asakusa)
  • Ueno zoo (not really that impressive, but it’s there if you’re in the area. There are also a ton of museums in Ueno).
  • Ryogoku Sumo stadium, which is pretty close to Asakusa. There aren’t any tournaments in August, but the museum should be open.
  • Tokyo Tower (like the zoo, it’s past it’s prime, but still not that bad. Warning: your ticket at the front gate only takes you to the first deck. To go to the top, you have to buy a second pass)
  • Roppongi Hills (a new shopping center/50-story tower. Interesting, but expensive. Good restaurants, and the view from the observation deck is probably better than from Tokyo Tower).
  • Shibuya is good for people-watching and seeing what new insanity is passing for teen fashion. Again, lots of good restaurants.
  • The MOMAT modern art museum on the east side of the Imperial Palace
  • Jimbocho (not too far from MOMAT) is good if you’re into books - dozens of new, used and antique book shops.
  • The Tsukiji fish market. Go early (like 4-5am) to see the auctions. Other than that, the area doesn’t have too much to offer besides sushi restaurants and the main Kabuki theater, but it’s only a fifteen-minute walk from Ginza.
  • The Omotesando-Harajuku strip is filled with shops and restaurants ranging from reasonable to comepltely insane. Good for people watching, though, and Harajuku park usually has lots of performers on the weekends.
    If you hop on the Keihin-tohoku line from Ueno or Tokyo, you can get to Yokohama in less than half an hour, which can also be a lot of fun. Chinatown and the Marine Park are good places to see.

Personally, I’m into the oddball stuff like the Parasite Museum in Meguro, the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Shibuya, the Eyeglass, Fire, Shoe, and Torture museums scattered all around the city. There’s also the Curry Museum in Yokohama if you’re in the neighborhood.

Btw, get a Passnet subway card. They’re good on all the non-JR lines, and more convenient than trying to figure out all the transfers and charges when your’e going from place to place.

I went to Tokyo and Kyoto for about 11 days the year before last. I don’t know how useful my experience will be, since it was basically my first time out of the country (US) and everything was new to me. I was in Big Hairy White Guy Gawking Tourist mode for the whole thing. And I don’t speak Japanese, so I didn’t do any socializing.

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Ikebukuro, and if I ever go back I’ll stay there again. Ikebukuro seemed like a nice “wading pool” for the city as a whole – plenty of conveniences, and all the people and the neon signs and such, but not so much as to be overwhelming. Plus, the train station there is a hub so it was easy to get anywhere else in the city.

Tokyo Tower is very cool, if you can appreciate it as a cheesy tourist trap. They’ve got a store in the basement called The Ninja Factory. How cool is that?

Odaiba and Palette Town were also very cool – it’s like a real live working Logan’s Run city. That’s where the huge ferris wheel is, which is definitely worth the ride.

If you’re into electronics and videogames, Akihabara has everything. But it got to be a little too much sensory overload for me. Just too much stuff all in one place – I kept seeing things that I would’ve flipped over had I seen them out here, but having it all together in one place just seemed like overkill.

Shibuya is definitely a must-see. Insanely crowded, and filled with more consumerist stuff than you can imagine, but that’s what I always think of when I think of Tokyo.

I didn’t go, but I wish I’d gone to Fuji TV to watch the taping of a TV show. I also wish I’d gone to the Studio Ghibli museum.

And I don’t know how you feel about the whole Disney thing, but Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are an easy train ride away from anywhere in the city. Tokyo Disneyland isn’t really worth seeing unless you’re absolutely curious – it’s basically just a slavish reproduction of the American Disney parks, but freakishly clean and well-maintained.

But Tokyo DisneySea is just phenomenal. Beautifully detailed, great food, neat rides, live entertainment all over the place, and with a working volcano in the center. If you like Disney at all, TDS is an absolute must-see. The neat thing about the Disney parks in Tokyo is that I’d always imagined that they were basically there for the sake of American and European tourists. Nothing could be further from the truth – they’re huge for the locals, and it was interesting to see just how fanatic the people were about Disney.