Tokyo, Japan - A First-Timer's View

How can one describe a place that dazzles the senses in so many ways. Tokyo is reserved, chaotic, expansive, expensive, proper, and audacious all at the same time. The options here are endless and truly open a new world to its visitors.

Tokyo, Japan - A First-Timer's View

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 14, 2005

Being a Tokyo first-timer, I, of course, had researched what to do and where to go. Everything exceeded my expectations of what this busy locale has to offer. The sites and sounds were remarkable, but the absolute highlight of my trip was the people of Japan. At first, I was a bit put off by the stares and snickers, but I soon learned people just wanted to approach me to practice their English skills.

I fell upon a group of teenagers in the Harajuku area who were dressed in a way befitting "Brittany Spears on acid," and they started talking to me. Normally, I may have not entertained these youngsters, but they were so genuine and totally enthralled with all things Westerner that I ended up spending about 2 hours just having general conversations with a total group of tricked-out strangers. They ended up inviting me and one of my friends to come to their high school and be a guest in their English class. What a treat and so totally unexpected!

The people are what make a trip come alive. Memories of experiences and interactions are truly a gift better than any souvenir or photo! ${QuickSuggestions} I do not consider myself to be cheap in any way, but have been described as thrifty on occasion. My tip concerns bringing back souvenirs for all of those friends, acquaintances, cousins, and coworkers who will never make it to Japan but will keep your gift forever.

Tokyo is a shopper’s dream, but you could go broke buying for all of these people! That's where the handy-dandy ¥100 stores come in!! Just like our dollar stores, they pack in lots of cute souvenir items that won't set your pocketbook back tons of yen. Fans, chopsticks, dated Hello Kitty merchandise, toys, sake cups… all for just ¥100. It's a good thing!! ${BestWay} I am always a fan of walking a city, and in some districts, it can be done. Roppongi, Harajuku, and Ginza are a couple that, if you are good at following maps, can be walked easily. However, the rail system of JR trains and subway lines is so convenient that it must be tried. You can navigate the entire metropolitan area and get off just a few blocks away from your destination. Usually an English map is located somewhere in the station, and if not, some kind Japanese person will assist you to practice their English skills.

Keio Plaza Inter-Continental Tokyo

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 14, 2005

The Keio Plaza was my home away from home in Tokyo! This is a super structure of a hotel in the middle of what seems like hundreds of other super structures. Shinjuku is a bustling location that is the epicenter for several rail stations and JR lines, thus millions (I really think it’s millions) of people are on the streets heading about.

The Keio has well-appointed rooms that I would place on the small end of room sizes. The bed was very firm and the pillows were quite fluffy! This being my first stop after getting off of my nonstop Chicago-to-Tokyo flight, I quickly tried both the pillow and bed out!

The bathroom was very modern, and all of the proper amenities were available. Great water pressure and just the right temperature make for an excellent bath or shower experience. And don't forget the Toto toilets in the room with a seat warmer and other interesting options (go ahead and take your photo of the toilet - you know you want to!).

There are several very nice restaurants in the hotel, but I preferred to head out into the neighborhood and try some of the other places nearby.

I would definitely suggest asking at the front desk for an English map of Tokyo to help you get around, and remember that within just a 5- to 10-minute walk from the hotel are numerous convenience stores, camera shops, massive department stores, and a post office to ship all of your goodies back home!

Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo
2-2-1 Nishi-Shin juku
Tokyo, Japan, 160-8330
+81 (3) 3344-0111

Kimono Shopping without Breaking the Bank

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 14, 2005

Harajuku is a great place to visit to see the counter-culture of Tokyo's young people. Chicago is smack-dab in the center of the sights and sounds of Harajuku. Chicago is a thrift store that sells both traditional Japanese kimonos and obis, and Western clothes as well. When you walk down the stairs to enter the store, you quickly learn that the bread and butter of this store are the Western clothes. I found a beautifully tattered Shell gas-attendant shirt with the embroidered name of Billy for $120!!! Talk about sticker shock... Luckily, the kimonos and obis (a sash worn around the waist) are not so expensive.

To find the Kimono section, head to the very back of the store and turn to the right to find the greatest selection of moderately prices kimonos you will ever see. Beautiful textiles in a plethora of patterns will be afforded to you. Stacks of yukata and obis will be on shelves directly in front of the kimono racks. The two that I purchased to take back home to my classroom totaled $85, an incredible bargain considering that the price for a new kimono in a retail location starts in the hundreds.

Try Chicago out for a great deal in a great location, and don't forget to talk to some of the kids in the neighborhood!!

Chicago Kimono Shopping
6-31-21 Jingumae
Tokyo, Japan
+81 03-3409-5017

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 14, 2005

If you are in the Shinjuku area and need to get an overview (literally) of Tokyo, this is the place to be. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government complex is a series of buildings with striking architecture that have an observation deck on the top floor for public viewing, FREE public viewing I might add! Anything, within reason, that is free in Tokyo, jump at the chance!

Ride the public elevators with 20 of your newest, closest friends (please realize personal space in Japan isn't what it is in most other places) to the top of the Tokyo skyline. You will be afforded far-reaching views across all of Tokyo, and if lucky (and it's very clear), Mt. Fuji will be in the distance. Spend some time getting your bearings straight in this massive city. Break out your guidebook and try and decipher where the sites you want to see are. I spent about an hour here and really took in the surroundings. It gave me a better understanding of the distinct districts that make up Tokyo proper.

While up top, I also spied a small park that was having a "flea market." Always on the lookout for a good buy, I made my way down and made a few inexpensive purchases. Keep on the lookout for unique adventures. They are always out there to be had.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings
2-8-1, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Japan, 163-8001

Harajuku's Oriental Bazaar

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 14, 2005

The Oriental Bazaar is set in a quieter section of bustling Harajuku, located in what appears to be a traditional Japanese temple building.

The bazaar has several different focuses, and the store is laid out accordingly. Furniture and ceramics/porcelains are mostly on the first floor, with more touristy items there as well. Also, a very fine selection of tea and sake services is found downstairs. I purchased one of each and was very pleased with the quality and price.

Upstairs are prints (standard and woodblock), more touristy items, and textiles for purchase. Each section of the store is operated by a separate owner, so don't walk away with goods from one section to browse in another! Make you purchase and move on or compare and come back to buy.

Overall, the Oriental Bazaar is a handy place to do some comparative shopping in one central location. The craftsmanship probably is not as good as in some high-end shops, but it is quite nice and the price justifies the purchases.

Additionally, for some last-minute purchases, the Oriental Bazaar has a shop in the Narita airport in terminal 1 on the fourth floor.

Oriental Bazaar
5-9-13 Jingu-mae
Tokyo, Japan
+81 (0)3 3400 3933

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Open Air Museum)

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by neworleanstraveler on May 16, 2005

I really wasn't totally sure what to expect from this open-air museum located on the outskirts of Tokyo, but I am a fan of exotic architecture, so I thought that I would give it a try. What an unexpected treat this museum is!

Located about 20 minutes by train and bus from Shinjuku station, this museum/park is a real treasure hidden away in Metropolitan Koganei Park. For a mere ¥400, you are allowed to wander about among more than 20 reconstructed homes, businesses, gates, and arbors of many different periods in Tokyo's (Edo's) past. Many of the buildings are open for walkthroughs, and all are of historical significance.

In addition, interspersed throughout the different buildings were various craftsmen plying their trades. We saw toymakers, paper-umbrella makers, textile workers, and printers working away and offering samples of products. What a treat to see delicate and masterful workers steadily doing a task that is so often lost in today's busy world.

Additionally, a great noodle shop is located in one of the reconstructed buildings, where you can try your luck at the automated ordering machine!! Best of luck!

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday and can be reached via Koganei Koen Nishi Guchi Bus and then by walking through Metro Park.

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
Koganei Park
Tokyo, Japan

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