Tokyo : the amazing city, part 1

Tokyo ni ikimashoooooo! Let's go to Tokyo!

Tokyo is an amaaaaaaazing city…and it’s HUGE! This, coming from someone born and raised in Los Angeles, the urban sprawl capital of the US. Tokyo is by all means the definition of urban sprawl. A concrete jungle that makes Los Angeles look like a small town. A Manhattan on steroids, without the honking horns.

The ironic twist is that as much as I hate LA for being a concrete jungle, I love Tokyo for the very same reason! Perhaps it’s the newness of it all. There is so much to do and see that I would need months to explore the whole city. Perhaps it’s the cleanliness. I have yet to see a dirty bathroom. There are no unflushed, pee-sprinkled toilets. Sorry about the graphic description, but I think all the men know what I’m talking about.

Perhaps it’s the politeness everyone seems to possess. Even during rush hour when the subways are packed like sardines, everyone is still polite. Even when it seems there is no more room on a packed train, somehow the mass of people shuffle their feet to make room for one more and you can get on just as the doors close behind you. If they are sick, they wear a doctor’s mask to keep from spreading their germs to other people. One elderly lady even apologized to me before I sat down next to her because she was sick.

I know one thing for sure, I love the subway system and perhaps that is the best reason of them all. I don’t have to drive! All the other drivers and pedestrians can be thankful for that. I don’t want to drive on the wrong side of the road while trying to read street signs in a language I can’t read to save my life, when I can go to just about anywhere in the city in 30 - 40 minutes on the train, regardless of the time of day. The trains are GREAT! Unless you’re a female, then maybe not so much. They have female only cars because of the widespread groping that occurs when the trains are crowded.

To make riding the trains even easier, they have prepaid electronic pass cards Suica and Pasmo to make the subway even more convenient and takes the guess work out of which ticket to buy (fares are based on distance).

So what to do in Tokyo? Well, more like, what isn’t there to do in Tokyo? Tokyo is so big it has everything. You can spend months there and not do the same thing or eat at the same restaurant twice. Which is part of the charm of this vast mega-metropolis. I’m not a creature of habit, so I like to try different things.

So what are some of the ‘must see' things? I’ve been to Tokyo three times and spent a total of three weeks so I’m still a newbie, but so far my favorite place is the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market or what is commonly known as the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is the largest fish and seafood market in the entire world and covers more area than 40 football fields.

Tsukiji Fish Market is an unbelievable sight to see when it is running at full steam at 6 in the morning. Motorized carts zipping around, tuna auctioneers barking out prices and warehouses full of every seafood imaginable make for great pictures. But please be respectful to those that are working. They recently closed the tuna auctions to tourists because they were being too disruptive. They have since re-opened the auctions from 5:00 am to 6:15 am only. They now have security personnel and no flash photography is allowed.

The key is to go early in the morning. If you’re visiting from the US, getting up early shouldn’t be a problem your first couple of days in Japan as your body clock will probably wake you up before the sun rises.

Second, Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It is the largest temple in Tokyo where locals and visitors alike flock to pray and make offerings. There are many rituals performed here at the temple that may appear odd to the unknowing. I thought they were odd until I found out why. Standing around an incense urn and waving the smoke into your hair is not my idea of pleasant. If I have clothes that smell like incense, the first thing I do is throw them in the washing machine. But in Japan, the smoke is looked upon as the breath of the Gods and will bring you good fortune. Someone please give the Gods some mints.

As you arrive from the south, you'll come across the Kaminari-mon (Thunder Gate), which marks the beginning of a string of souvenir shops along Nakamise-dori. If you need to buy omiyage (souvenirs) to take back home, this is a good place to look. They have a myriad of little trinkets that aren't too expensive and won't take up too much space in your suitcase. You'll also find pottery, kimonos, fabrics, fans, dolls and all things Japanese.

I have a lot more recommendations, but I’ll leave that for the next blog entry. After all, I need a part 2 if this is part 1.

Whatever you do, make sure you pack a good pair of walking shoes and a good map with train station locations. The public transportation system is great and will get you within walking distance to most of your destinations. If you don’t feel like walking, taxis, with doors that open automatically, are prevalent throughout Tokyo.

There are a few other great things about traveling in Japan. One is they have single rates for hotels. Double occupancy is not required. Woo hoo! While the rooms are smaller than a standard room, your wallet will be fatter. Another nice thing is there is no tipping. This is partly due to the spirit of the Japanese people and their commitment to impeccable service. It is their honor to serve you and it is understood that excellent service will be provided at all times and should not be rewarded. Keep in mind also when you are in a restaurant, they will not constantly come to your table to ask how everything is. If you need something, just say “sumimasen” and someone will come to your table. When you are ready to leave and pay for your bill, you have to call them to your table and ask. You are their guest and they will not rush you.

Until part 2, have fun! Tanoshinde!