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Tokyo - Japan

Tokyo is known for its booming economy and its always original, ever-changing culture. Those who come to visit this vast, bewildering metropolis of 12 million people will likely be overwhelmed. There is so much to see and do, that planning ahead of time is essential.

Nihonbashi

You could say all roads lead to Nihonbashi since all distances to and from Tokyo are measured from here. Nihonbashi, "Japan Bridge," is centuries old, though the present Western-style structure only dates back to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Once a prominent landmark, it is today dwarfed by buildings and an overhead expressway. Mitsukoshi, Japan's oldest department store, still on its original site, and Takashimaya, another venerable shopping institution, are worth visiting here.

Marunouchi-Otemachi

This is Tokyo's main business hub, and is great for skyscraper watching and picture-taking. Its located between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, two stunning examples of ancient Japanese architecture. You can also renew your visa at the Immigration centre, or check out the Tokyo Stock Exchange building.

Ginza

Here you will find department stores, boutiques, bookstores and eating and drinking places that fit every taste and budget. The Ginza is the nation's showcase. It is what Fifth Avenue is to New York and Oxford Street is to London. Store prices are uniform throughout Japan, so there is no need to bargain. Just make sure not to wander into some classy restaurant where you might get a shock from the high prices!

Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku

Young people congregate in these three places. Both Shibuya and Shinjuku are major centres, with the usual mix of department stores, shops, cafes and restaurants. The unique monument Hachiko, by Shibuya Station, commemorates a dog's loyalty to its master, and is known by practically every Tokyoite as a universal meeting place. Shibuya also encompasses Aoyama, a fashionable area dotted with designer boutiques and chic Parisian-style cafes. Shinjuku Station handles some 4 million commuters daily, but don't be alarmed by the jostling crowds. You likely won't have your wallet stolen as crime is virtually non-existent here. In fact, all of Tokyo is very safe and people are generally helpful and honest.

By day or night, Shinjuku is a lively neon-lit place with a bit of the atmosphere of New York's Greenwich Village. Looking for a smoke-filled jazz joint? You can find it here, along with ramen noodles shops, pachinko (gambling) parlours, and such global brand stores as Virgin Records, Tiffany and Gucci. There is even a Barneys, an entire department store transplanted from New York. There are also two major landmarks here: the Tokyo Tocho (Metropolitan Government Office), with its futuristic twin 48-story towers, and the huge Takashimaya Times Square.

Harajuku comes alive on weekends when the young and trendy come to see and be seen. This is where Tokyo's fashion-forward attitude becomes manifested. There's no shortage of off-the-wall outfits and hairstyles to be found strutting up and down the streets. And most are perfectly willing to pose for your camera. If you tire of the fashion, just around the corner from the train station are the National Gymnasium, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park.

Yurakucho-Hibiya

This district is close to Ginza, and many airlines have offices here. Check out the quaint yakitori barbecue chicken stalls under the raised train tracks. Or enjoy a quiet moment among the flower beds in Hibiya Park. The Imperial Hotel, erected along the park by imperial edict, once featured a building designed by the eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. You could join the joggers on the five-kilometre periphery of the Imperial Palace grounds,what is otherwise called the Imperial Palace Jogging Course, or stick to a leisurely stroll around the Palace East Garden.

Roppongi

A quick subway ride from Ginza will take you here, a place world famous for its raucous nightlife. Once a sleepy village, Roppongi is crowded with discos, clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants, including such trendy places as the Hard Rock Café. Tokyo Tower, modeled on the Eiffel Tower, but taller, is visible and easily accessible from here. Take the elevator to the observatory; you might catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from up there.

Asakusa and Ueno

Already bustling centres in Edo times, these two districts belong to what Tokyoites call shitamachi, or "downtown." A must-see in Asakusa is Sensoji, Tokyo's oldest temple, the approach to which is lined by stores featuring colourful displays of traditional crafts.

At Ameyoko market street in Ueno, you can pick up unusual bargains ranging from dried squid to fake designer shirts. Culture buffs should head for the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park.

Azabu and Hiroo

This neighbourhood is where many expatriots reside in expensive high-rise buildings. It is here that some of the most sought-after properties in Tokyo can be found. There are many small, independently-owned, shops, cafes and restaurants in the area as well.

Akasaka-mitsuke

Sometimes called "Little Seoul", this district has a small section of nightlife, but it caters mostly to local yen-loaded patrons. The Kotohiragu Shrine is a good place to stop by and get good luck charms, or browse the wares for sale at the flea markets at Nogi Jinja Shrine, where you're sure to find a good deal.

Akihabara This is the major hub of Otaku, or "geek," culture. People looking to buy electronic gadgets, computer accessories and anime/manga videos, books, toys and games know to come here, where they can not only get good prices; they can also meet people who share their special interests. Due to a recent boom in popularity, the cramped stores of Akihabara are always a-buzz with hip techno-ites.

Ikebukuro This district is most often visited for the sweeping view from the top of Sunshine City's centre skyscraper Sunshine 60. It's 60 stories high, and one of the first skyscrapers built in earthquake-prone Tokyo. Sunshine City itself is definitely worthy of its name; you can get lost in this huge clustre of buildings for days. Within its many walls are an indoor amusement park, movie theatre, shopping mall, museum and planetarium. There's clearly something to keep everyone happy here.

Korakuen This is the site of Tokyo Dome, which is a modern sports arena. Baseball games are most popular here; the Dome can accommodate up to 56,000 spectators. There are also concerts and festivals in the off-season. The Koishikawa-Korakuen Garden is attached to the Dome, and it offers a tranquil escape for those looking to have some peace and quiet. The Korakuen Amusement Park is right next to the Dome, and has a roller coaster and a huge arcade. For something different, visit Muryozan Jukyoji Temple, where you can learn about the Shogunate Period.

Odaiba This is an ongoing oceanfront development and artificial island, served by monorail. It's been called “Tokyo Teleport Town” in an effort to further cement it as a symbol of Tokyo's futuristic urban living plan. The Fuji TV Building is located here, along with a giant ferris wheel, several shopping malls, museums and even a replication of the Statue of Liberty.
 
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