I’ll be going to Tokyo next month for 3 nights. I have never been to Asia before and don’t speak one lick of Japanese. I also will be going alone. Any dopers have any suggestions as to what to do or see while I’m there? Also, are there any clubs or bars that are frequented by the English-speaking crowd? Any tips or other advice?
Put on a Godzilla suit and stomp around a playground for awhile. I understand it’s great fun and the Japanese think it’s hilarious.
Always glad to help…
Get me a shot glass.
Karioke! (Did I spell that right?)
Follow these links:
Tokyo Past & Present … lots of info on things to do in Tokyo.
Japan Information Network … lots of links.
Hard Rock Cafe, Roppongi … there are English speakers there who can guide you to other clubs… and you can buy a T-shirt.
Pick up a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan or Tokyo before you go.
If you want to get up really early (4:00AM) you can check out the largest wholesale fish market in the world … Tsukiji… see frozen tuna that are bigger than you being auctioned, and have the freshest sushi you’ll ever eat – for breakfast!
Go down to any subway station platform at rush-hour… don’t get on the train, just watch the commuters pack themselves in!
If you have time, just walk around the city… if it’s your first time in Japan, just observe all of the things that are the same as, yet different than what you can see back home.
If you want a Japanese person to understand you, say ka-ra-OH-kay.
Have a good trip!
See the Ginza at night, visit the Akasuka district, see the Imperial Palace. Take a ride south on the JNR train line and visit the temples and the shrine with the giant Buddha between Tokyo and Yokosuka. Visit the wedding temple in Tokyo.
Visit the huge Kaminarimon Temple at Asakusa (not be confused with Akasaka, which Chefguy mentioned). The place looks straight out of a samurai movie in some parts, plus its packed with shops selling the kind of cheesy-looking souvenirs that everyone back home will love.
In Tokyo, and at most of the tourist sites outside Tokyo, it’s not that difficult to get around without knowing the language. Almost all the train stations have signs and maps in English, and if you look really lost someone will usually try to help you. You can also usually snag one of the resident foreigners walking around who can point you in the right direction.
Buses can be convenient, but they’re harder if you don’t know Japanese.
The trains stop running a little after midnight, so keep a business card or flyer from your hotel with you at all times so you can show the taxi drivers where to take you home.
The residents can give the best advice, natch, but here’s what I’d say:
The city is surprisingly English-friendly, so don’t get nervous about that. Every train station in the city has English signage and repats announcements in Japanese & English. But definitely buy your own train/subway map before you go: just about every tour book will have a copy of the map. The reason for having your own is because you’ll often find a station that only has a Kanji map.
The Ginza district, and to a lesser degree Ikebukuro, are really cool at night – it’s the image I always got when someone said “Tokyo.” Shibuya is extremely cool, but crowded as hell, even for Tokyo. Odaiba and Palette Town are pretty neat; it’s kind of like a Logan’s Run city. And Tokyo Tower is the definition of a tourist trap, but it’s so cheesy that it’s interesting, and it gives some impressive views of the city.
I’m not going to be much help with food, because I kept ordering the same thing: katsu curry. (Which I recommend unless you’re a vegetarian or are on a diet.) The only “nice” restaurant I went to was called Ninja, and it was an extremely tourist-oriented restaurant designed to look like a ninja village. Another of those so-wacky-it’s-cool things, and the food was pretty good.
Little things that wouldn’t have occurred to me: be aware that few if any of the train stations have elevators or escalators, so don’t count on taking a lot of heavy baggage on the trains. In most restaurants (at least the lower-scale ones that I went to), you take your check to the register to pay instead of paying at the table. And in shops, you exchange money in a tray on the counter instead of handing it to/receiving it from the clerk directly. I rarely had to muddle through Japanese, though, since everything I needed (Coke and cigarettes) could be bought from the vending machines that are on every other block.
SolGrundy’s mention of Tokyo Tower reminded me: yes, it’s a tourist trap, and although it’s amusingly cheesy (the interior looks like it’s been remodeled since the 60’s), it’s not the only place to go anymore for an impressive view of the city.
Roppongi Hills, just completed earlier this year, is an 800-foot tower that was designed almost to be a contained city. It’s filled with hundreds of shops and restaurants, and has a nice view of the city at its skydeck, which also features an art museum. I’m not sure getting to the top is cheaper than Tokyo Tower (at TT, the ticket you buy at the ground floor only gets you to the first deck, where you then have to buy another ticket to go to the top), but tere’s a lot more to do and see, plus you’re right in the Roppongi neighborhood if you want to hit the bars and clubs afterwards.
Isn’t Tokyo mega-expensive? I’ve always been a lover of all things Japanese, but I heard that it costs about five US dollars for an apple or something similar. How much should I expect to pay for a decent (though not extravangant) day out?
It can be expensive, but doesn’t have to be. To use your example of apples, the same stores that sell painstakingly manicured, individually-wrapped apples for 5 each also sell bags of ordinary apples for .60 each. A decent lunch can usually be had for between 600 and 1000yen (US$5-$9), with dinners running about twice that. A large mug of beer will cost you about $5 or $6 in a cheap restaurant, but up to $10 in a fancy bar.
From what I’ve observed, quality and price aren’t linked very closely, if at all, especially for food. The little mom&pop restaurants and back-alley grills (Shinjuku’s Piss Alley in particular) often have great food at really low prices (and let you experience “real Japan”), while the upscale places often have equally good food, but at 20x the price.
The subways generally start at 160yen and increase with distance traveled, buses are usually a set 200yen charge, and taxis are usually 600yen for the first two kilometers, with a 30% surcharge after 11pm. I live about 12km from my office, and when I need to taxi home after working late, it costs about 5000yen.
Hotels vary from about 5000yen ($45) per night for the low-end business hotels, up to 50,000yen per night for the four-star downtown places. There are also the famous capsule hotels, where you get a coffin-shaped tube for the night for about 3000yen.
One thing to remember when looking for hotels or restaurants is that there is a concern in Japan with cleanliness and quality that borders on obsession. This means that even the cheapest places will usually be much better than their relative prices would lead you to expect.