Tokyo

tokyo

Tokyo is a city of constant stimuli. Complex, big, and always on the move, it’s a place where opposites attract, and new trends come and go like the tide. The like harmony, which is reflected in a city that is both ancient and modern. It’s a place where youth culture affects world trends; yet age-old traditions are deeply rooted. Tokyoites aren’t phased by complexity and change, which is why this city is in constant flux.

Tokyo Sights

Greater Tokyo incorporates 23 wards, 26 smaller cities, 7 towns, and 8 villages—altogether sprawling 88 km (55 mi) from east to west and 24 km (15 mi) from north to south with a population of 35 million people. The wards alone enclose an area of 590 square km (228 square mi), which comprise the city center and house 8 million residents. Chiyoda-ku, Chuo-ku, Shinju-ku, and Minato-ku are the four central business districts. Because of the easy access to the public transportation system, 48% of residents are transit commuters; only 32% drive to work. Most people live in the suburbs and average a 56-minute commute. During rush hour, an immense tidal wave of people floods all major transportation hubs, through which approximately 3 million people pass each day.

Tokyo Reviews

Though Tokyo is still stubbornly provincial in many ways, whatever the rest of the world has pronounced good in the realm of dining eventually makes its way here: French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Latin American. And at last count, there were more than 200,000 bars and restaurants in the city.

Restaurants in Japan naturally expect most of their clients to be Japanese, and the Japanese are the world’s champion modifiers. Only the most serious restaurateurs refrain from editing some of the authenticity out of foreign cuisines; in areas like Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku, all too many of the foreign restaurants cater to students and young office workers who come mainly for the fun’iki (atmosphere). Choose a French bistro or Italian trattoria in these areas carefully, and expect to pay dearly for the real thing. That said, you can count on the fact that the city’s best foreign cuisine is world-class. Several of France’s two- and three-star restaurants, for example, have established branches and joint ventures in Tokyo, and they regularly send their chefs over to supervise. The style almost everywhere is nouvelle cuisine: small portions, with picture-perfect garnishes and light sauces. More and more, you find interesting fusions of French and Japanese culinary traditions served in poetically beautiful presentations. Recipes make imaginative use of fresh Japanese ingredients, like shimeji mushrooms and local wild vegetables.

Tokyo has also embraced the range and virtuosity of Italian cuisine; chances are good that the finer trattorias here will measure up to even Tuscan standards. Indian food is also consistently good—and relatively inexpensive. Chinese food is the most consistently modified; it can be very good, but it pales in comparison to fare in Hong Kong or Beijing.

A few pointers are in order on the geography of food and drink. The farther “downtown” you go—into Shitamachi—the less likely you are to find the real thing in foreign (that is, non-Japanese) cuisine. There’s superb Japanese food all over the city, but aficionados of sushi swear (with excellent reason) by Tsukiji, where the fish market supplies the neighborhood’s restaurants with the freshest ingredients; the restaurants in turn serve the biggest portions and charge the most reasonable prices. Asakusa takes pride in its tempura restaurants, but tempura is reliable almost everywhere, especially at branches of the well-established, citywide chains like Tenya and Tsunahachi.

Tokyoites love to wine and dine at first-rate establishments, some of which are grotesquely expensive. But have no fear: the city has a fair number of bargains too—good cooking of all sorts that you can enjoy on even a modest budget. Every department store and skyscraper office building devotes at least one floor to restaurants; none of them stand out, but all are inexpensive and quite passable places to lunch. Food and drink, even at street stalls, are safe wherever you go. When in doubt, note that Tokyo’s top-rated international hotels also have some of the city’s best places to eat and drink.

Tokyo Reviews

There are three things you can take for granted almost anywhere you set down your bags in Tokyo: cleanliness, safety, and good service. Unless otherwise specified, all rooms at the hotels we list have private baths and are Western-style. In listings, we always name the facilities that are available, but we don’t specify whether they cost extra. When pricing accommodations, try to find out what’s included and what entails an additional charge.

Deluxe hotels charge a premium for good-size rooms, lots of perks, great service, and central locations. More-affordable hotels that cost less—though not that much less—aren’t always in the most convenient places, and have disproportionately small rooms as well as fewer amenities. That said, a less-than-ideal location should be the least of your concerns. Many moderately priced accommodations are still within the central wards; some have an old-fashioned charm and personal touch the upscale places can’t offer. And, wherever you’re staying, Tokyo’s subway and train system—comfortable (except in rush hours), efficient, inexpensive, and safe—will get you back and forth.

Tokyo

As Tokyo’s rich cultural history entwines itself with an influx of foreign influences, Tokyoites get the best of both worlds. An evening out can be as civilized as a night of Kabuki or as rowdy as a Roppongi nightclub. In between there are dance clubs, a swingin’ jazz scene, theater, cinema, live venues, and more than enough bars to keep the social lubricant flowing past millions of tonsils nightly.

Most bars and clubs in the main entertainment districts have printed price lists, often in English. Drinks generally cost ¥600-¥1,200 ($5-$10), although some small exclusive bars and clubs will set you back a lot more. Be wary of establishments without visible price lists. Hostess clubs and small backstreet bars known as “snacks” or “pubs” can be particularly treacherous territory for the unprepared. That drink you’ve just ordered could set you back a reasonable ¥1,000 ($8); you might, on the other hand, have wandered unknowingly into a place that charges you ¥15,000 ($124) up front for a whole bottle—and slaps a ¥20,000($165) cover charge on top. If the bar has hostesses, it’s often unclear what the companionship of one will cost you, or whether she is there just for conversation. Ignore the persuasive shills on the streets of Roppongi and Kabuki-cho, who will try to hook you into their establishment. There is, of course, a certain amount of safe ground: hotel lounges, jazz clubs, and the rapidly expanding Irish pub scene are pretty much the way they are anywhere else. But elsewhere it’s best to follow the old adage: if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it.

There are five major districts in Tokyo that have extensive nightlife, and each has a unique atmosphere, clientele, and price level:

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