05 August 2007

gilda's guide to tokyo

about a month ago, i sent out an email to my mailing list saying,

"so i've decided. i don't know if i can go back to japan before heading to new york next month, but if not, i'm saving up. and i will head back to tokyo next summer. i will i will!! anyone interested in joining me? i'm a very good tour guide and an even better shopping and food guide. +wink+"
dear gala replied,
"I would love for you to show me around Japan!!! But I don't know when I will get there :> When I go, I'll get you to write me a biiiig list of places I must visit. Maybe that could be a good blog post for you?! I dunno. Anyway!"
so i half-wrote something and kept putting it off because it took me ages to find links and photos. then, i was surfing the web and just happened to come across junglejamie.com, where jamie said she was going travelling, and somehow i just had to email her after leaving a comment that said "when i go travelling i like to go for at least 2 to 3 weeks and try to discover the place and go where the locals would go. i'd say go to japan japan japan!! (ok i'm biased because i've lived there for 4 years and it's second home) but really, it's a wonderful place!!"

turns out, jamie decided to head to tokyo for 6 days, so i had 2 days to write her a massive email telling her places to check out. everything just came spilling out, and there were so many more places i wanted to tell her to explore but heck, how do you explore a city as wonderful as tokyo, in just 6 days!! tokyo is like new york. it's a city that never sleeps, and no matter where you are and what kind of budget you're on, there's always something to do.

i have tons of photos of japan, but with my removable disc unusable now (don't you hate it when you're in the middle of moving continents, and you're stuck with electrical appliances of different voltages? ugh.), these were all the photos i could find on my sister's old computer...

how to use this guide
this is a rough guide put together by yours truely, because i love japan. i've traveled all over it (almost) and i'm always glad to help someone out, in hope that they'll love it too. when i didn't understand japanese and first travelled japan, i was there for almost a month and i loved it. before i started staying in tokyo (i was there just short of 4 years), my sister and i had been on holidays to japan 7 times, usually for more than 2 weeks each time, so you can imagine how much i've travelled. some people say they hate traveling in japan without a tour guide, because they can't speak japanese and yada yada, i think that's all nonsense.

i hate tours. especially because you never have enough time to explore little back lanes. some people think the metro (train) system is a mess, but it isn't. if you do some homework before you set off and find out how to get there, it's a breeze. if you're only going to tokyo, it has english maps too, so it shouldn't be a problem. one guide i used when i first went to japan was lonely planet. it was a godsend and i think it has a great japan guide. there is another guide just for tokyo itself, but if you intend to travel out of tokyo, my advise is to get the japan guide. do your homework!!! if you can't speak japanese, just finding out how to get to places before you set off, will help save you a lot of stress and will ensure you have a pleasant holiday.

this guide will be separated by area, and is filled with places i love. i like taking my time and really looking at things, instead of rushing through and just scraping the surface. i prefer really exploring a place, even if it means going to less places. if you'd rather go to more places, join 2 or 3 areas together. also, mix them up to suit the weather and your own schedule! pick out the places you wanna go to and plan your trip! as always, you can email me with any questions you might have!

the weather
first of all, it's the middle of summer there at the moment, and summers in japan are no fun. it can get pretty hot AND humid. very very humid, so make sure you bring proper attire. and perhaps a small towelette or hanky to wipe perspiration. tissues do not work in summers. they disintegrate on your face if you happen to be really sweating.

it seems, that people like my sister just do not perspire, no matter how hot it is. i, on the other hand, sweat like a pig. i usually carry a small portable fan around. sometimes, as a form of advertisements, there are people giving away uchiwas on the streets. they are plastic and light, so if you see those babies, grab them!! trust me on this! you'll need it!

with summer also comes the rain. the rainy season is called tsuyu, which literally means 'plum rain', because it coincides with the plum season. there are also occasional typhoons which kills all umbrellas and you're better off staying indoors. nevertheless, it's also sale season. it's my favorite four-letter word and the sales are goooooood.

if you head there in winter, which is around december to february, you'll meet some nice cold weather. tokyo isn't that cold (to me), and certainly isn't as cold as new york, but temperatures do usually dip down to about 0 to 5 degree celcius. although rare, it snows sometimes, but because it's a city with too many people, it usually turns to slosh and is pretty disgusting.

my favorite seasons are spring and autumn, when the weather is perfect and everywhere is beautiful. in spring and autumn, it really pays to leave the city for a while and explore the countryside which is too gorgeous. if you have a chance to ever go to japan in these 2 seasons, try going to both kyoto and tokyo. although i love tokyo, kyoto is my favorite city in japan. as the former capital of japan, it's old, very old. kyoto is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, especially in spring, when the streets are lined with cherry blossoms.

getting around
first of all, if you happen to land during the day and the weather's good, don't be an ass and sleep all the way till the plane touches down. look out the windows and you might spot mount fuji from on top! super cool!!

when you get to the airport, take the limousine bus or the train downtown. (about 3000 yen) they'll ask you where you are heading to. the train only goes to the bigger stations like tokyo (there's a tokyo station within tokyo itself), shinjuku, ikebukuro, shibuya, etc. by the bus, they sometimes drop passengers off at the bigger hotels, or you can alight at the train station as well. take the train if you want to reach on time. take the bus if you have too many things to carry and don't want to go through any hassle.

although cabs are expensive and i don't recommend you take them very often, take a cab from the train station to the hotel the first time, because japanese addresses are hard to find for a first-timer. just copy down the name, address and phone number of the hotel and give it to the cab driver. most cabs come with a gps system where they can locate it if they don't already know.

if you'll be in japan for a little longer and plan on taking trips to other parts of japan, consider getting the japan rail pass. it's a "ride-all-you-want" pass for all JR trains and bullet trains (not for the metro). this pass can NOT be bought in japan, so if you plan well and calculate your costs, this ticket can save you tons and i mean tons of money. more on that later. if you're only gonna be in tokyo, then don't bother with it. but, plan wisely - the metro for example, has day passes
where you pay about 700 yen for a whole day pass.

more about the trains
there are the JR (japan rail, government owned) trains, and there are the metro (private) trains. the JR trains are the main ones and are usually cheaper than the metro. the main line is the yamanote (light green) train which runs in a circle around the main cities of tokyo. then there is the sobu (yellow) or chuo (orange) train that cuts across the yamanote. the chuo line is the same as the sobu except that it is much longer, and is an express train and doesn't stop at some stations.

as for the metro, they crisscross like mad, but it's easy to go from place to place. get a map. locate where you are, then locate where you want to go to. all train lines have a different color on the map. if there isn't a straight train that goes there, find an intersection or crossing where the different train lines meet. get off at that station, change trains, and you'll be on your way.

at huge stations like shinjuku, tokyo, and ueno etc, there are up to 16 platforms. stations like shinjuku see more than a million people passing through its gates each day. if you get a little confused, simply ask the station master at the ticket machines when you enter, which platform to go. tell him your destination and ask "home number?" (which is actually a shortform for platform but in japanese, the 'form' sounds like 'home' in english) or ask "nan ban? 何番" which means what number. or, if you just look up at the signboards, they are of the same color as the trains so just match. each train has 2 directions, so locate your color, then check which direction you want to go. they have english on their signs, but only the major stations are on it, so if you're looking for a small station, find a major station in the same direction and go.

on some trains during rush hour in the mornings, there are some "women only" carriages. if you're a guy and you happen to be lucky enough to board one of these, you might find yourself with about 1000 sets of eyes all staring at you, and a nosey old woman who will loudly inform you that you're not allowed on that carriage. if the doors have already shut, act sheepish and apologetic and change carriages at the next station. if not, hop off and dash into the next appropriate door!

if you get lost, you can ask anyone and they would be more than happy to help, especially since you're caucasion. (yes they love caucasian foreigners.) just remember to speak slowly, get rid of whatever accents you might have, and keep your sentences short. i've come across japanese people who know what you want, but unable to tell you how to get there, actually walk you there themselves. they're polite and sweet. so say your proper thank yous - arigatou gozaimashita!

where to stay
for cheap hotels, i usually book this place called toyoko inn. it's incredibly small! don't get a shock when you see the bathroom. it's called a unit bath and the whole thing looks like it comes in one piece, which i found hilarious when i first went there. but the place is clean and that's all that mattered to me. they also have free onigiri (japanese rice balls), pickles (which is yummy and i love) and miso soup in the mornings till about 9 am i think.

they have a few branches in tokyo (to search, click on the "kanto" option), but perhaps the one in shinjuku is probably the most central. (alternatively, go for the ikebukuro one.) you can call up in english and err, speak slowly!! it's a little far away from the main JR shinjuku station, but it's a safe walk, even though you have to past through kabuki-cho! :) look around and you'll see night clubs where hostesses with amazing hair parade around. yeah some sex shops here and there but they won't bother you for anything. toyoko inn also has internet in the lobby, but you have to stand and use it, no chairs. it's free and if you use it at night when there's no one around, you can use it as long as you want. they also have a phone in the lobby where you can make free local calls, so do as much of your calling there as possible.

if you are looking for a more traditional place, tokyo, being a huge city, unfortunately has very few of those so you don't have many choices. i haven't stayed in a ryokan in tokyo before, so i can't really guarantee that they are all that good, but they should be clean, at least. i went to search online and came up with the following that were in the main central tokyo area:

1. in ueno 上野. 10 minutes away from the station, or there is a free shuttle bus at specific time slots. click for price plans (for western or japanese rooms).

2. in meguro 目黒. a little upper-class. nearer to shopping mecca of shibuya and harajuku. click for access map.

3. in asakusa 浅草. 10 mins walk from the station and by far perhaps the most inconvenient, but also the oldest and most traditional looking. it also has "courses" where you can enjoy traditional japanese entertainment. click for price plans.

i guess you have to consider what you want but perhaps the one in ueno is the best choice between the old and new, and in terms of location. you might want to stay in a ryokan for perhaps one day. ryokans usually have beautifully made dinners. it's an art and it's bloody expensive and should not be missed. the one in meguro doesn't seem very authentic, so try ueno or asakusa, which looks the oldest.

tsukiji fish market
one place i bring all my visiting friends to is to the tsukiji fish market 築地. you'll have to wake up extremely early and catch the very first train to tsukiji. it's a brilliant place with huge markets and you'd probably see the biggest tuna ever (like the size of a person). go as early as you can to catch the highlight - the morning auctions. things would have mellowed down by 8 or 9 am. don't wear your best shoes there and watch out for the carts that run everywhere. if you like sushi, you can buy some back to eat. or, line up at the sushi shops there. the shops are puny and the queue goes on forever, but the sushi's super fresh. however, i must say it's a little over-priced.

you might end up smelling awful after tsukiji, so i usually go back home and take a shower before heading out again. you might also be sleepy after getting up early, so go back and take a nap!

have you ever seen anything like it? (if you have, shut up!:) )

it usually takes more than 2 people to cut the tuna up.

queueing to get in the sushi shops can be hell.

so once you get in, make sure to stuff your cheeks full of sushi,
like i did!!

and when you get too full, buy some home to eat more later.
uni (sea urchin). yummy!
i later found out that this is the ovaries of the urchin?
not sure if it's true, but how disgusting is that!!

watch out for these buggers. they are bloody dangerous!

shinjuku has great shopping all over. go to takashimaya for just about everything, 0101 or my lord for the latest fashion aimed at the young adult crowd, studio alta for a glance at japanese gyaru (gal) fashion. for labels, head to mitsukoshi or isetan. i especially love both the women's and men's isetan, where you can find the best of japanese designers.

don't forget to go to the tokyo metropolitan building for a free birds-eye view of tokyo. super nice during sunset.

for fans of the movie 'lost in translation', take a cab to the shinjuku park hyatt hotel and go all the way up to the bar. don't bother walking from the station; it's quite far and you'll only get lost. be treated to some great jazz and breath-taking views of tokyo. drinks are bloody expensive though, so order something you won't get elsewhere. they even have a lost in translation drink!!

i used to live just 5 minutes away from shinjuku, so i know it like the back of my hand. i love love love shinjuku. it's dirty, but the place is always bustling. check out shinjuku's so-called red light district, kabuki-cho 歌舞伎町, at night. the name originates from the kabuki (traditional japanese play/dance/act) and there still is a famous kabuki center smack in the middle. people say it's dangerous but that's nonsense. the gangsters are there but they are generally nice people and don't really come out to bug you unless you owe them money. the dressed-up men in suits with amazing hair that you might find wandering the streets are hosts. ignore them and don't follow them to their clubs unless you're willing to spend a few thousand dollars on wine and champagne. kabuki-cho is a great place to go and explore. there are thousands of restaurants to dine at and you'll never go hungry.

grab a copy of this book called hot pepper. it's a coupon book and each area of tokyo has its own.
you can search for good deals for food, especially in "izakaya"s 居酒屋, which is basically a japanese drinking hole. try asking or looking around for a "nomihoudai" 飲み放題 which means all-you-can-drink. (or "tabehoudai" 食べ放題 which is all-you-can-eat.) most places usually charge about 1000 to 2000 yen for all-you-can-drink, for about 2 hours. you can bargain and there are people all around the streets who would come up to you and ask if you want to go to one.

for typical izakayas, try watami (和民 or 坐・和民) , located just about everywhere, isn't too expensive and pretty yummy too. for the best tabehoudai deal i know, go to mo-para, short for momo paradise. they have sukiyaki, shabu shabu or kimchi nabe (hot pot). all you can eat meat (beef or pork) and veges!! if you go for lunch on a weekday, it's just 980yen. a total steal. otherwise, it's about 1600yen, which is still pretty cheap!

one of my other favorite place to go to is this restaurant called wan わん. they have english menus as well so no worries. it's a really nice place with small private rooms (press the button on the table to order!). they've got many outlets all over tokyo. the one that i find is usually ok to go to without a reservation is on shinjuku dori 新宿通り on the top floor. if you locate that hot pepper coupon book i told you about, they have coupons inside too, which have quite a good deal. if not, print out this one online. but the hot pepper deals are usually better.

my favorite drink there is yuzu calpis ゆずカルピス (pronounced yuzu carupisu) and cassis orange カシスオレンジ (pronounced cashisu orenji). yuzu calpis is a citrus (yuzu) added to calpis, with a tinge of alcohol. if you can't take alcohol, tell them to take it out (arukouru nashi de アルコール無しで). my favorite food is the cheese tsukune チーズつくね (minced chicken with cheese. dip in the egg yolk!) and also the salmon carpaccio サーモンカルパッチョ. i get hungry just thinking about it.

in wan, press the button when you want to pay as payment is done at the counter. you can say "o kai keh" お会計 which means bill please. or in japan, the hand signal for "check please" is using your 2 index fingers and crossing it. (in the western word, some people "sign" in the air)

in japan, people often order a few items then place it in the middle and share, especially in izakayas (the drinking holes). wan is a more upperty class izakaya.

all over tokyo, most ramen ラーメン is also delicious and you can find them everywhere. many shops use a ticket machine. use the pictures, locate the number of the ramen type you want, slot in your money and press button. choose your seat, hand the fella behind the counter your ticket and just wait. if there aren't any machines, just sit down and tell the guy your order. the usual ramen comes in 3 different soups. shoyu しょうゆう (soy sauce), miso 味噌orみそ, and tonkotsu とんこつ(pork based). my favorite is miso. if you are lucky enough to find a butter-corn-miso ramen バターコーン(famous in hokkaido), it's my favorite. i've never been able to finish a bowl of ramen (it's huge) but many of my friends do. i love the soup, which is usually boiled for many hours to get the stock, hence the price tag for just noodles. some ramen shops also sell gyoza 餃子 (japanese dumplings. very yummy).

you can also find shops selling set lunches called teishoku 定食 all over. these are usually not more than 1000yen, and usually come with a main, rice, and soup.

i also love meat and i love yakiniku (barbequed meat). i go for yakiniku about once a week with friends. it's a little expensive. but oh the price i pay for satisfying my tummy.

for a cheaper yakiniku alternative, look out for negishi ねぎし. i love their umakara and their pork roast teishokus. i'm not joking when i say i can eat this everyday. the set comes with the meat, rice, some pickles, and sticky yam which you pour over the rice to eat (just try it!). i love sprinkling the chilli powder over the rice and yam. i've converted just about all my friends from school and we are all negishi fanatics, so try it if you see it. negishi is also great for the guys, because the rice is free-flow. you can have as many bowls as you want. just tell the waiter "gohan kudasai" (rice please). if you're a little hungry and you want more meat, you can also order double portions of meat, of the same or different kinds.

also, look out for a restaurant fronted by a huge mechanical crab with moving legs. it's called kani douraku. it's a famous chain with delicious crab. i treat myself to it whenever i have friends coming from overseas.

when you're finished with any meal and you're happy with it, i usually tell the cook (if he's there) that i loved it. "oishikatta" is the past tense for oishii (yummy). to tell them that you're gonna leave, stand up and say "gochisousama" which means that you're done and thank you for the meal. they'll know then, that you're leaving. i usually say it again after i've paid (sometimes you pay at the door) and when i'm leaving the shop.

if you like anime, make sure to go to akihabara 秋葉原. it's tokyo's electric town, but is now extremely popular as home of all manga, anime and cosplay lovers. it is serious otaku heaven, and extremely interesting -almost hilarious sometimes- even if you have zero interest. stop by the information centre again for a map, and ask for good places to go. on a weekend and on some weekdays if you're lucky, there are scores of girls and boys dressed up in their favorite anime characters. there are even events and concerts in some halls, and you can see real anime fans in their prime. make sure to go to one of the cosplay cafes, preferably a "maid cafe" メイドカフェ where the girls are dressed up in maid uniforms and do all kinds of maid services, like pouring sugar into your drink, "topping it with extra love (holy shit!)", and even ear-digging services. eeks!! the most famous one is called "at home cafe". they're so popular, they appear on television, and have their own cds!! it's crazy!!

for shopping, don't miss out on shibuya 渋谷. you can spend a whole day there and more. for more up-class shopping and trendy little shops, very chic, go to daikanyama 代官山 or ebisu 恵比寿.

personally i love harajuku 原宿 and ura (back streets) harajuku. i do most of my shopping there, and at my lord in shinjuku, but nothing, NOTHING beats harajuku. stop at harajuku station get out of the takeshita dori 竹下通り exit and take a walk down takeshita dori.

there are many cool shops on either side and that's where tokyo teenagers shop. midway, stop by and have a snack at the crepe shops. my favorite is the peanut butter and chocolate crepe from marion crepe shop. (tell them pee-nut-to choco).

walk all the way down and you'd come to a traffic crossing at the end, cross it and enter ura harajuku where i love, eat, breathe and live fashion. there are thousands of trendy shops there. go to your left and explore the entire area behind the birkenstock store. or go straight up front and find
popular cult street brands, bathing ape, neighbourhood, supreme, porter, etc. if you've heard of the magazines, zipper and cutie, many of the brands they feature, like no11 and candy stripper, can be found here. their models (who are readers who became their magazine models), work in shops like flower. all these shops are pretty famous; just ask anyone on the streets and they could probably point you in the correct direction.

keep a look out for little trucks selling sweet potatoes. they usually appear when the weather's cool (not in summer). it's kinda pricey paying 300 to 500 yen for just half a sweet potato, but it's melt-in-your-mouth goodness. almost like warm ice-cream.

if you walk out to the main streets again, you'd be at omotesando 表参道 street. the big boutiques like chanel, dior and all that line the streets. check out kiddyland, one-stop toy shop, for the child in all of us. it's like a japanese version of toys 'r' us. there is the hip omotesando hills shopping center as well. if you can, walk all the little streets behind chanel, dior and kiddyland. it's called cat street and is filled with hidden gems and gorgeous shops. (if you walk all the way through cat street, you'll end up in shibuya!)

at the huge harajuku crossing, which is at the end of harajuku and just before omotesando, there is a big gap store at the corner. it'll be great to just stand there and people-watch for a while. the most gorgeous and creative people walk by gap. some stand around hoping to get noticed. if you happen to keep up with online blogs and websites on tokyo street style, this is where 70% of all those photos are taken. if the most creative minds in fashion (i'm talking about the designers from the paris runways, hello!) can find a cafe to people-watch to get inspiration, so can you!!

across the street from gap is a building called laforet, which is, perhaps, where a lot of hip harajuku fashion comes from.

if you walk all the way up omotesando, go past the small little police post and you'd reach aoyama 青山, high street trendy shopping. walk all the way up and you'd see a shop in a corner on your right, with blue prints on the glass outside. it's comme des garcons, one of my favorite brands if you are interested. walk to the right of that and around the streets behind, for japanese runway brands like dresscamp. down the road from comme des garcons, you'd see prada. if you like comme des garcons, you might also be interested to know that undercover is also just around the corner from prada. they are my two favorite brands, super interesting, and worth just a look!! the prada building itself is a real sight. it's got really interesting architecture, and if you like prada and plan on buying something, head to the changing rooms. i don't know if they are all built the same way, but if you get the one that i went into, it's bloody amazing.

if you go back to the aoyama crossing, find mizuho bank (blue in color), opposite the police post. walk further down past the bank and into all those little side streets for more shopping heaven! woohoo! brands like mercibeaucoup, vivienne westwood, wr, and much more, are all hidden in there.

in ura harajuku, you will also find tori yoshi
鳥良, another favorite izakaya of mine. like wan, it has really traditional settings, which i always enjoy. their tofu, chicken wings, and chicken skin are to die for!! the chicken skin is cooked in a way that it's extra crispy and has like zero fat! click on the link for the map and a coupon to print out, which gives you a free drink.

also, if you happen to be in tokyo on a sunday, go to harajuku station and exit at where the snoopy shop is (aoyama exit). harajuku is PACKED (think sardines) on weekends, especially sundays. that's when the cosplay people come out to play in numbers. walk to the right of the station until you come to a stone bridge with some kind of open space. you can see quite a number of people all dressed up and more than willing to pose for photos. if you're lucky, they are the REALLY good cosplay people with full blown make up. if you're unlucky then they are the wannabes.

i sat next to martin on the plane from new york back to tokyo when i went there in march, and showed him around a bit. it was his first time in tokyo and he had been wanting to go there for years. it was pretty cool bringing him around and hearing say "oh my god!" nonstop. especially when we saw the cosplay chicks and took pictures with them.

the main thing about shibuya must be the shibuya crossing. is there anywhere else like it in the world? i think not. you might have seen it featured in the movie, fast and furious. for a short introduction to shibuya, read this article i wrote some time back. you have to get someone to take your photo in the middle of the crossing, with like a million people walking all around you.

i do recommend exploring the streets of shibuya, starting from center-gai. exit the station through the hachiko exit. anywhere else and you'd be too far away from the bulk of the fun. there are too many hidden treasures, unique only to japan, to mention. for the best of shopping, go to the many parco shopping centers. also stop by uniqlo, for cheap and good quality basics, loft and tokyu hands for all sorts of things, and not to be missed would be 109, located to your left as stand at the shibuya crossing, facing center-gai. 109 is the mecca for japanese gyaru (gal) fashion. it's noisy and packed.

don't forget to take a purikura (photo booth stickers) here in shibuya, where there are many shops just filled with machines after machines of different booths. choose your machine by looking at what each machine can do (there are examples of its print on the sides of the machines).

even better? grab some japanese girls and ask them to take the purikura with you!! say,"isshoni?" which means 'together' (easiest way of asking for a favor!!). hopefully they'll be nice enough to show you how to add cute words and backgrounds to the purikura after it's taken!! there's a time limit on this and you'd be stumped if you don't know how to use it.

another interesting walk would be from harajuku to shibuya. get to the harajuku crossing with the gap store (as mentioned above). there is a fast-food chain called lotteria across the road, with a family restaurant called jonathan's, and a huge tv screen up above. walk in that direction, away from laforet. the road is called meiji-dori. there are two sides of the road, with heaps and heaps of uber cool shops to look at. one of my favorite buildings is the rather new b6. if you walk all the way, you'll soon see a tower records in the distance and that's when you know you've reached shibuya. alternatively, you can go to cat street (see harajuku) and walk to shibuya via that.

shibuya is also home to a pretty interesting theme restaurant called christon cafe. they have another one in shinjuku but this one in shibuya's better. to go there, walk towards 109 from the station. 109's at the tip of a fork in the road. go to the left side, and walk all the way up for about 5 minutes or so. it'll be on your left. i heard they brought in all these gothic furniture and an entire altar (!!) from old churches in europe.

how cute are those cookies??

right next to christon cafe, across the road, and behind 109, is the notorious dogenzaka, a little hill filled with love hotels, adult shops and other sorts of porn stuff. kinda interesting, and perhaps worth a visit with your darling if you're travelling together.

i also have a favourite and very very cheap and super good sushi restaurant that i love and frequent often, that is in shibuya. it's called midori sushi 美登利. midori doesn't open in the afternoons, so go during lunch or dinner. on the weekends it's open all day, but try to go during the in-between hours. don't attempt a friday night. it's useless to give you the number because they don't accept reservations. there is usually a queue to go in, and during peak hours it can take like... an hour. but otherwise, it's usually about 30 minutes. they'll ask you if you want a counter or table seat. request for an english menu (eigo menu). my must-try is the anago 穴子 (which is eel from the sea, different from unagi), and also aburi-chuutoro 炙り中トロ (flamed tuna belly. the best thing ever). they provide green tea and a free bowl of miso soup too. the pieces are fresh, and the fish sizes are generous. best yet, it's actually pretty cheap. hence the line outside. i've never spent more than 3000 yen per person and trust me i eat a lot. i feel midori serves sushi that's just as fresh as what you get in tsukiji, so for the price, this is way better. i drew a map to get you to midori, but it was done in under 2 minutes and it looks terrible. trust me on this one: just go!!!

i don't go to roppongi that often because it's filled with foreigners who don't know how to behave. however, it's worth travelling there just to see tokyo tower. it's nothing much and definitely not worth paying money to go up its elevators, but admire it from a distance, especially when it's pretty at night. tokyo tower trivia: the year (2007 etc) is shown in the middle. i've seen it green on st patrick's day, and red and green on christmas.

there is also roppongi hills and midtown, two great shopping complexes. check out restir in midtown for the best of designer ready-to-wear and haute couture selections. there is also the mori art musuem in roppongi hills that usually has amazing stuff, and also musuems at the back of midtown which has amazing architecture. if you like japanese tv, also remember to check out the asahi tv building next to roppongi hills.

further down, at the corner of the nishi-azabu crossing, is gonpachi. upmarket japanese restaurant with brilliant food. 'kill bill' was apparently filmed here. the setting alone is pretty retro and definitely worth a visit.

disneyland + disneysea
i've never been to other disneylands before, only to the one in tokyo, so i don't know how it compares to the ones like in america, but tokyo disneyland is still pretty awesome. i think most of us grew up with disney, and you can't help but just feel like you've been transported into a magical kingdom once you step in. my favorite ride is the winnie the pooh one. it's so freaking cute!! go early and get your fast passes. remember to stay till the fireworks at around 8, and watch at least one parade. if you only have time to go for a few hours, you can try going in the evenings. i think the evening pass is like half the normal price. if you want a photo with mickey mouse and don't wanna queue up forever, remember where it is (in toontown) and rush over once the evening parade is over!! i tried that once and got in after just 15 minutes! (compare that to waiting two hours. huh!)

also keep in mind that you can get away with wearing all sorts of cute things in disneyland!! in fact, you can get away with wearing just about anything in tokyo, but more so in disneyland. go ahead and try out that alice in wonderland costume!! or whatever lolita wear. buy minnie mouse hairbands! clip on some marie the aristocat ears (you can buy them as hair clips!) onto your hair! buy leopard-print minnie mouse ear muffs in winter! if you go there on a festive date like christmas, dress the part! on halloween, dress up as any disney character! remember to say 'trick or treat' to all the nice people giving out candies! heh heh.

go to the man-made island of odaiba if you've got an extra day to spare. i'd say the main draw is the rainbow bridge, fuji tv and venus fort for shopping. there are two ways to get to odaiba. one is on the yurikamome, and the other is by the jr rinkai line. i suggest going by the yurikamome by day, and coming back by the jr at night, when it's dark and there's nothing to see. check out the oedo onsen monogatari (meaning oedo hotspring story), tokyo's largest artificial hotspring. it might be fake, but it's also done up in retro edo-style, especially if you can't afford the time to go out of tokyo to a real hotspring.

try to hurry on and get seats near the front of the yurikamome.

snap any pictures you want of rainbow bridge, before you enter it!!
once you enter and then leave it, it's hard to get a good picture.

in front of fuji tv

car fanatics will appreciate the huge toyota showroom,
as well as the vintage cars at venus fort.

rainbow bridge at night. with tokyo tower in the background!

studio ghibli
have you heard of studio ghibli スタジオジブリ? its directer, miyazaki hayao, has been recognised with tons of awards both in japan and worldwide, for his animation. no computer graphics, just pure drawings. it's an art. i've got two words to describe studio ghibli, and it's "fucking amazing". miyazaki is a genius. even if you are not that interested in animation but perhaps a little interested in movie making, go visit the ghibli musuem. it's something that shouldn't be missed.

it's an AMAZING adventure and i've been there a few times but never fail to come away more inspired than ever. unfortunately, everything's written in japanese, so if you can find someone to read and translate things to you, pay for their ticket and bring them along! i think just being there is amazing itself. as a japanese it's hard to get tickets, but ghibli sets tickets aside for foreigners. tickets are not sold at the musuem itself, so you can check this site out for how to get tickets. don't forget to catch a screening of a 15 minute movie (it changes every once in a while) with a ticket that you will receive at the door. i hate it that you can't take pictures inside the building, but i can understand because it's just too freaking incredible and miyazaki has the right to preserve his art and not let it get copied!!

if you even in the slightest bit like ghibli at all, you should not miss this!! in fact, borrow/rent/buy/steal whatever ghibli movies you can find before even heading to japan, just so you can go to the ghibli musuem and gawk in awe.

heck, even the signs while walking to the musuem were cute!

totoro in the window

i nearly died when i climbed to the roof and saw this.

i don't know if we got lucky, but check out the color of the sky in the evening!
the place is just magical and every bit as wonderful as disney!

if you're heading to asakusa 浅草, which has perhaps one of tokyo's most famous temples (sensoji 浅草寺), make sure you get to an information centre, get a map of the area, and explore all the little streets behind and around the temple. there are very old shops around asakusa, which was once the hot spot in tokyo, with plays, stand up comedy etc., in the old days. there are many shops where you can find 'okonomiyaki' お好み焼き. ask anyone and they can probably point you to a shop. it's a type of "japanese pancake" cooked in a hot plate and things like cabbage and sauce which is very very japanese. (check out my previous okonomiyaki party!) people usually cook it themselves but you can ask the shop staff to do it for you and show you how.

make sure you also try 'monja' もんじゃ which is sticky and chewy. i LOVE it. my favorite flavor is monja with 'mentaiko' 明太子 and cheese. mentaiko is a kind of fish roe which can be eaten raw, but don't worry, with monja, it's cooked. most of these places would have an english menu because there are many tourists. ask for an 'eigo (english) menu'.

entrance to the temple

too many things to see on the stretch leading up to the temple

colorful shops selling trinkets

colorful yukatas for sale!

on your last day in tokyo, you should probably go to ueno park 上野公園. well i'm not big on parks, but the place is a little serene and somehow calms my nerves. it's gorgeous in spring with cherry blossom trees, but just green in summer. but walk around ueno anyway and go to ameyokocho あめよこ町, 2 long streets of cheap cheap shops. i say go on the last day because of ameyokocho, if you want some souvenirs to bring home. of course you can go ueno (it's near asakusa), and then go again to ameyokocho before you're leaving tokyo. buy all your favourite japanese titbits and various goodies, at MUCH MUCH cheaper prices than you would elsewhere, cos it's mostly wholesale.

for more shopping
check out places like shimokitazawa, koenji, kichijouji. they're very different from the "salaryman" crowd, and extremely popular with teens and young adults.

am i loading you with too much info? heh heh.

also, right after i wrote this, i checked out iCing and woohoo, found that gala had linked me to her post, japan makes me happy!

anyway, i hate that i can't get better photos out of my removable disk, so once i can access those photos, i'll update this again. if you've been to tokyo and have more tips, please leave a comment and i'll update my guide too! this is all i can think of at the moment, so i'll put up more when it comes to mind. also, i'll be writing more guides to tokyo or other parts of japan once i can spare the time. again,
email me with any questions regarding your trip, and i'll try to answer. some of my friends even mail their itineraries to me to ask what i think?!?! if you're lucky, i'll be planning a trip to japan around the same time, or my english-japanese speaking friends might be free to bring you around. good luck, and have fun!!