Jennifer Geacone-Cruz, editor of Time Out Tokyo, on the real city that never sleeps
Tokyo is a city that never stops. Any time of day or night there is something happening in this expansive metropolis. Made up of neighbourhoods centered around train stations, it’s a contrasting jumble of cutting-edge architecture and historic structures that have something to offer 24 hours a day. And while Tokyo
is consistently recognised as ‘the most expensive city in the world’, it doesn’t have to be. Avoid overpriced taxis and get yourself a Suica or Pasmo IC card. You make a 500JPY deposit on the card and it can be used across trains, the subway and buses. It makes travelling quick and easy, and once you’ve finished exploring you can return the card and get your deposit back – or keep it as a souvenir.
Head over to Nakano Station (JR Chuo Line) to check out Japanese contemporary art enfant terrible Takashi Murakami’s newest venture, a small gallery and shop called Hidari Zingaro (Nakano Broadway, Third Floor, 5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano; 03 5345 7825). In the same shopping arcade is one of Tokyo’s most important destinations for manga enthusiasts: an outpost of anime and manga specialists Mandarake (5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano; 03 3228 0007), who stock some of the rarest of the rare alongside plenty of more affordable items.
Hop on the JR Sobu Line and make your way to Akihabara, where the Gundam Café (1-1 Kanda- Hanaokacho, Chiyoda; 03 3251 0078) awaits. This newly opened theme café is the place to go if you want your lunch to come with a side of robots. Afterwards, take a breather at the highly underrated Arisugawanomiya Memorial Park (5-7-29 Minami-Azabu, Minato; 03 3441 9642), which features landscaping dating back to the Edo era and once belonged to the imperial family. From here you can take the Tokyo Cruise Ship (Sumida River Line; 720JPY for 35 min) to Asakusa and check out the Tokyo Sky Tree (1-1-13 Oshiage, Sumida) – only partially constructed but already the tallest structure in Japan. Later, travel on a train to the future on the Yurikamome monorail, which departs from Shimbashi Station (JR Yamanote Line), loops through the Rainbow Bridge and over to man-made island (and shopping centre) Odaiba – you’ll recognise it by its replica Statue of Liberty. Ride the whole loop (40 mins) and you’ll take a safari through some futuristic city planning while enjoying fine views of the bay. Alternatively, have a wander around Ameyoko Market, just off Ueno Station (JR Yamanote Line). This teeming market of 500 stalls sells pretty much anything from fresh food to clothing and novelties at rock-bottom prices.
For dinner, hit the izakaya (Japanese style pub). If you’re on a budget, try Bucchigiri Sakaba Shibuya Miyamasuzaka (Kaleid Shibuya Miyamasuzaka, Sixth Floor, 1-12-1 Shibuya; 03 5464 8060), where everything is 399JPY or less, with drinks less than 300JPY. Or try putting two activities together and catch a kibuki (Japanese dance-drama) show too. Roppongi Kaguwa (5-4-2 Roppongi, Minato; 03 5414 8818) does a super-kabuki (think kabuki done Vegas-style) dinner-show that isn’t traditional but is definitely Japanese. Tokyo’s clubs are some of the best in the world, and many are only just starting up at 11pm. The trains mostly stop running at 1am, at the latest, so if you’re going club-hopping it’s best to really commit and stay out until the first train. For the superclub experience, go to AgeHa (2-2-10 Shinkiba, Koto; 03 5534 2525) or Womb (2-16 Maruyamacho, Shibuya; 03 5459 0039), with crowds ranging from hipsters to students. For something a bit newer, hit up Warehouse 702 (1-4-5 Azabujuban, Minato; 03 6230 0343) for a wild atmosphere and a sound system that will melt your brain. If you’re not still partying, and want a change of pace, try getting a bit of after-hours relaxation at some of the 24-hour onsen (hot springs) that the city’s hectic lifestyle has spawned. LaQua (1-3-61 Koraku, Bunkyo; 03 5800 9999) combines modern saunas with slightly more traditional open-air onsen, as well as speciality baths and waters purported to help maintain your health. All this comes with massage therapy and an aesthetic salon, if you are willing to cough up a bit extra.
Flights China Eastern runs flights to Tokyo from 1,975RMB with Delta Air (www.flychinaeastern.com).
Where to stay Juraku (2-9 Kanda Awajicho, Chiyoda; 03 3251 7222). Located in Ochanomizu, it combines a central location with stylish rooms starting at 7,000JPY (545RMB) a night. Sakura Hotels & Hostels (www.sakura-hostel.co.jp). With locations all over the city and English-speaking staff, options start for as little as 3,200JPY (250RMB) a night.