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Tokyo: A Tale Of Two Cities

Mar 1, 2006
2006 / March 2006

Still the largest city in Asia, Tokyo also was for many years the most Western face of the East, with its tall, modern buildings — but next to which you’d find centuries-old architectural surprises in quiet classical Japanese gardens behind discreet walls. The yin and yang of contrasts is what makes Tokyo so fascinating. Even if you have only a few days here, you can experience everything from the mystique of the ancient Eastern world to the up-front, techno-crazed life of the 21st century.

Tokyo is a relatively new city, as “Old Tokyo” was wiped out both by a huge earthquake that virtually razed it on Sept. 1, 1923, and by U.S. firebombing over several months in 1945. Dreadful as these events were for city residents, a modern metropolis rose from the ashes. The dynamics of Japan’s post-war success are now legendary — and ongoing.

Though in many ways the national government, under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is traditional and conservative, it is also reformist. After a period of semi-stagnation, Japanese companies are again forging ahead — and if you want to do business in Japan, Tokyo is “where it’s at” for most corporate headquarters. Whether you’re in search of computers, cars, machinery, fashion or technology, here is where you’ll find it.

Tokyo is a treasure-trove of things to see and do, depending on your time, your energy and your interests. The hotel concierge will be a great help in pointing you to the best places. An insider’s tip: Ask him to write down the name of your destination so you can show it to your cab driver or a helpful pedestrian. Carrying the hotel business card is also a good idea, since the hotel name will sound quite different in Japanese (for example, the Imperial Hotel becomes Teikoku Hoteru), and the taxi driver may not know or understand the English name.

When it comes to leisure destinations, the gardens adjoining the Imperial Palace are a favorite, especially in April, when the cherry blossoms are at their best. The Imperial Palace East Garden is open daily, except Monday and Friday; admission is free. This is actually part of the official residence of the emperor and empress of Japan, and is a huge draw for tourists. Take your time admiring the displays of azaleas, magnolias and irises as you stroll through the gardens on your way to the Museum of the Imperial Collections, home to Japanese monarchs’ stunning cache of art. Walk a bit farther and you’ll find a simple timber ceremonial structure. This was used in 1990 by the emperor to perform a daijosai ceremony, one of the Shinto rituals required for ascending to the throne. The ruins of Edo Castle, once the stronghold of the Tokugawa shoguns, or feudal lords, can also be seen in the gardens. The Tokugawa shoguns ruled for 200 years before the present emperor’s family was restored to the throne in 1868.

After you have communed with nature and deepened your appreciation of Japanese history, a visit to a no theater performance is in order. This masked drama, which has been performed for around 1,500 years, features stylized movements and gentle chanting. The uninitiated should just sit back and relax: It becomes a mesmerizing experience, though its nuances will be hard to grasp. (Perhaps you will be more comfortable knowing that most Japanese don’t completely understand them either.)

As a contrast to no, visit the Kabuki-za Theatre on Harumi-dori Avenue, where audio guides explain in English the meaning of the dance and music that make up the melodrama, usually stories from the time of the samurai. If ancient Japanese theater is not to your taste, try the Takarazuka Grand Theatre, where an all-female cast performs brilliantly staged modern Japanese musicals.



Set on the top 14 floors of a 52-story skyscraper, and offering views right across Tokyo to Mount Fuji, the Park Hyatt was the locale for the movie Lost in Translation. The 177-room hotel offers the ultimate in luxury and style, with everything from a 24-hour business center to a spa, to a state-of-the-art fitness center. The Zagat Survey has ranked the hotel’s New York Grill as No. 1 for the past five years. $$$$
3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku
tel 81 3 5322 1234, fax 81 3 5322 1288


The newest luxury hotel in Tokyo, the 38-floor Mandarin Oriental is located on Chuo-dori Avenue in the historic Nihonbashi district near the Bank of Japan and Tokyo Stock Exchange. It offers panoramic views of the city, and its 157 guestrooms are some of the largest in Japan. The hotel has an award-winning spa with steam room, sauna, massage treatments and gymnasium. Its gourmet restaurants offer Chinese, French, Japanese, Asian and Italian cuisines. Located 12 minutes from Tokyo Station, the Mandarin Oriental is an ideal place for entertaining important business guests. $$$$
2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku
tel 81 3 3270 8800, fax 81 3 3270 8828


Superbly located between the Imperial Palace and the Ginza shopping area, this is the latest version of the first Western hotel in Tokyo. The first Imperial was built in 1890, and replaced in 1923 with one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Today’s Imperial, erected in 1970, has 1,057 rooms, including 64 luxurious suites, and the 13 top-notch restaurants offer everything from French to Chinese to Italian. Don’t forget to visit the Old Imperial Bar, which contains relics of the 1923 Frank Lloyd Wright hotel. $$$-$$$$
1-1 Uchisaiwai-cho 1-chrome, Chiyoda-ku
tel 81 3 3504 1111, fax 81 3 3581 9146



Located in the Ginza district, this restaurant is a member of the prestigious Relais Gourmands group and features classic French cuisine, accompanied by French and Italian wines. Chef Toshikazu-Tsuji trained in France and insists on maintaining the highest French standards. Japanese colleagues invited to this restaurant will appreciate your good taste. $$$$
8-20 Ginza 5-chrome, Chuo-Ku
tel 81 3 3289 8081, fax 81 3 3289 8019


With its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and open kitchen, this restaurant is the place to see and be seen. Guests flock here to enjoy the fine steaks and other grilled specialties. The wine list is unusual: It features only American wines, but lots of them. Not only will you find the food outstanding, but you’ll be mesmerized by the breathtaking panoramic views from this 52nd-floor location. The grill is always filled with corporate CEOs, international movers and shakers, politicians and leaders in the arts. $$$$
Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
tel 81 3 5322 1234, fax 81 3 5322 1288


This is arguably the most exclusive low-cost restaurant in Japan, but if you manage to get in, a night here can be great fun (though it’s hardly the place for business entertaining). At Sushi-ko there are only 11 seats, so you have to book early. It’s where you’ll find the very best sushi without being smothered by crowds. Bring cash — they don’t accept credit cards. $$
6-3-8 Ginza, Ginza
tel 81 3 3571 1968


Start in the Ginza district in front of the Sony building, and you will have before you a full array of the sights and sounds of Tokyo, a never-ending supply of intriguing shops selling everything from kimonos to ancient texts, and the very latest in technological wizardry. Some of the world’s best shopping is found here, but don’t expect bargains: That Sony camera or Seiko watch you check out may be considerably cheaper in New York or Hong Kong. Japanese demand the latest technology and the best quality, and are prepared to pay for it. Still, just soaking in the atmosphere of this quintessential symbol of modern Japanese commerce is a treat.

If you are a technophile with a passion for owning the latest gadgets, head for the electronics shops in Akihabara — but, again, don’t expect low prices. Also, be careful that what you buy is suitable for an English-speaking operator, or else you may open the product at home only to discover that not only the instruction book but the whole operating system is in Japanese. Always be sure to purchase models made for export to your home country. But even if you see only products made for the Japanese market, Akihabara is still well worth a visit. Here you will find products so new that export models are still one to three years away. From flat-screen picture-frame television sets to pocket-size computers, this is a wonderland of technology, with 200 shops all trying to outshine one another.


Ginza, Akasaka, Shibuya and Shinjuku are the city’s liveliest areas, home to the most interesting restaurants, clubs and bars. Often the distinction among these types of venues is blurred, with many establishments offering a range of entertainment. Some bars resort to gimmickry, such as copying the interior of an English pub or a “Wild West” saloon, and there’s even a Spanish-style salsa bar. But alongside them are Japanese bars that serve a good range of drinks and snacks. Drinks cost a little more if there is live music, or there may be a cover charge. In the Ginza, Harajuku and Shinjuku districts, you will find bar/restaurants known as izakaya that are run by the major breweries. It’s wise to check prices before buying a drink. There’s always another bar nearby.

Modern hotel bars with great views are always popular. The InterContinental, Nikko, New Otani, Park Hyatt Tokyo, Tokyo Hilton and Akasaka Prince are just a few of the excellent ones you will find in Tokyo. However, you’ll need to dress appropriately to mix comfortably with the well-educated, elegant crowds usually found in these places.

You might like to try your luck at the national obsession: a game of pachinko at one of the city’s many pinball parlors. The game involves maneuvering the machine’s fast-moving steel balls into a scoring position to win token prizes. Within a few minutes, you’ll feel like a local.


The best way into the city from Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT) is by Narita Express JR train to Tokyo Station (one hour, about $25) or Shinjuku Station (1½ hours, about $27). Limousine buses also offer service to various areas in Tokyo and most major hotels. Cab fare from the airport to central Tokyo runs about $100.

Tokyo boasts one of the world’s most efficient public transportation systems, comprising an extensive train network, a dozen subway lines, bus service and several monorails. Most signs are written in English, and a color-coded map makes navigation fairly straightforward. Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed easily on the street.

Most taxi drivers do not speak English, so it is a good idea to carry the name of your destination written in Japanese. Be forewarned: Japanese taxis feature rear doors that are operated automatically by the driver, so stand clear. It’s best to avoid driving if at all possible, as streets are not clearly marked and parking is expensive.

Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT +9
Phone Code: 81 (Japan), 03 (Tokyo)
Entry/Exit Requirements: Passports must be valid for six months after the date of your expected departure. U.S. visitors can stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
Currency: Japanese yen
Official Language: Japanese, but English is widely spoken in business and in hotels.
Key Industries: Electronics, including cameras and watches; automotive; machinery; high technology; tools; steel; shipbuilding; aerospace.

Worth Noting

Throughout Tokyo you’ll find many plain, no-nonsense eateries offering grilled fish and other specialties, always with a choice of sakes. One of the great things about Japan is that food stalls are spotlessly clean, and every hole-in-the-wall noodle bar has the potential of being quite delightful.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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