TOKYO, Japan.. last time (2004) I spent about 2 weeks wandering in Tokyo after work each evening. It’s a fantastic place, easily top 5 coolest cities in the world. Downtown, make sure you visit Ginza (the designer district), Akihabra (the electronics district) and the sony shop (which I didn’t manage to find because I don’t know where it is…:() . Slightly further out of town, there’s a place called Daiba, which has a really interesting building with a sphere in the middle of it, I think it was designed by Renzo Piano or someone similarly famous. That’s ok, they also have a 1/3rd size model of the statue of liberty, a sega electronic theme park (which I didn’t go in..) an fairly interesting sony store, a coca cola store that sells all kinds of weird and wacky cocacola branded merchandise (I so nearly bought a bento lunch box.. it would have been completely useless here!). The principal attractions at Daiba are Venus Fort, the tag line for which is an ‘ammusement park for ladies’, basically a shopping mall, in the style of italy, they have a sky which changes day-night etc. I was more interested in the Toyota Center just opposite, where they must have >100 toyota cars on display, some of which you can sit in and enjoy, as well as a test track (if you have an international drivers license, be sure to bring it with you.. then you can have a go!) and a design museum, which has some interesting things in it (and is free). The best way (most fun) to get to daiba is on the monorail.. When i went we walked back along the rainbow bridge (the big bridge across tokyo harbour), it was a little stormy and windy, so that was quite entertaining.. Also a little spooky so I wouldn’t recomend walking back on it if you’re alone.
Another little gem is the shinjuku tower, I think it’s called the Shinjuku municipal tower, bascially a government building which has a viewing platform on the top floor. I went in the evening, it was amazing to see the lights of tokyo all spread out.. unfortunately it’s a little too well lit for my pictures to have come out. I also went up the infinitely more commercial Tokyo Tower, which again was OK, but it’s quite expensive for what you get.
Foodwise, I think I ate most meals in a pub/bar chain called presto, or pronto or soething like that.. there were loads all over the place, and beer was about average price (still quite expensive), food was comparitively cheap (but still far more expensive than eating from corner shops such as 7/11) and pleasant. Make sure you try tempura (in a tempura bar if you can) and also soba (don’t worry, they’re supposed to be cold noodles.. I was quite concerned the first time I tried them!) Other things to do.. A ride on the bullet train if you can.. Will be very expensive if you buy tickets in the country, if you’re not there yet, I can recomend buying a JR rail pass for a few days and travelling round on it.. that’s what I did when I was there (they also forgot to stamp it as used.. so I cashed it in for 90% of the face value after I’d finished with it as I was flat broke 😉 ) If you do go on the bullet train, there’s a nice castle at shimeji (however that’s spelt..) which I don’t think is too far from Tokyo.
Sendai is a little grotty, only spent a few hours walking into it.. the center of town is cool though, with a kind of multi-layered street walkway.. We also went to Tendo in Yamagata prefecture on our explorer belt expedition, a very nice, quaint little japanese town, not sure if it even qualifies as a one horse kind of place, but reasonably good country for some walking if you don’t have the time/money to make it up to hokkaido. back to tokyo.. Shinjuku is also one of the big night-spots to go to, there’s an irish, or maybe it’s marketed as an english pub, can’t quite remember.. I spent a couple of evenings in there. They serve the strangest tasting guiness I’ve ever drunk (1/2 pint fortunately!), more like liquorice than the black stuff I’m used too. I think they also serve a decent fish & chips if you can find it, it’s down some steps by a McDonalds.. Shinjuku is quite a dodgy area, in as far as anywhere in Japan is, our group ran into quite a few pimps, but didn’t have any trouble. It has some interesting features, LOADS of neon lights and a ‘cute pet shop’ selling all kinds of weird animals.. I got lost in akasaka with my friend Rachel one evening, we were headed to Roppongi. Some the bars in Akasaka weren’t very welcoming (we got told to leave as we entered one.. which was full of japanese people), but this was the only hostile or negative experience I had in a whole month.. Didn’t actually make it into anywhere in Roppongi either, other than a coffee shop for some food! Also again we were harassed a little by pimps as we walked down the street, but as I said, I think thats about as far as it goes in Japan. Otherwise, I’d recommend you don’t go and watch baseball at tokyo dome, some friends of mine went and said it was boring and very confusing (lots of singing in japanese..), but maybe that sounds appealing to you?