Stepping Out: Tokyo

Fisheye view of crowds of people at the famous Shibuya Crossing.

By Erika Mailman

Tokyo’s charm is both in its ancient magic and in its cosmopolitan modernity. It began in the late 12th century as a fishing village called Edo; today the capital is home to 9.2 million people and, by some counts, is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Throughout this eye-popping city of many innovations, you can find touches of its history, such as remnants of the Edo Castle, built in 1457, now incorporated into the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

On a visit to Tokyo, you’ll want to enjoy the spectacular views from one of the world’s tallest towers. The Tokyo Skytree is 634 meters (2,080 feet) high. It contains shops, restaurants, a round movie theater, and more.

Tokyo’s oldest temple dates to 628 CE, when a structure was founded to house a golden statue found by two brothers in their fishing nets. The temple became a popular pilgrimage site. Inside the temple gates you will see, among other things, a 10th-century five-story pagoda. Direct incense smoke from the ablution fountain onto any part of your body that hurts. According to legend, you’ll be healed.

Akihabara Electronic Town
Pre-Internet, this was the motherlode of cheap electronics. Today it is still a treasure trove for gadget seekers. The district initially rose out of Japan’s need to sell off surplus radio equipment after World War II. Visit the eight-story Yodobashi Camera Store, perhaps the largest electronics store in the world, or just walk around and enjoy the skyscrapers covered in ads. The Tokyo Anime Center, located on the fourth floor of the UDX Building, is a must-see for anime fans.

Lunch at a Department Store
Yep, department store basements are the place to go for a delicious lunch—and simply ogling the mindboggling selection of foodstuffs. This is also where the locals go. They even have a name: depachika. You can find a wide range of offerings: high-end teas, exquisite French pastries, and a beautifully boxed single mango that sells for around $150.

Here are two stores to try. Mitsukoshi, the oldest of Tokyo’s department stores, has several locations. The Ginza branch is said to be best. Isetan contains an upscale depachika with plenty of free samples—and a good selection of single-malt whiskies, for that lunch that extends into happy hour.

Adventurous Accommodations
Grab your sweetheart and stay in a love hotel. It’s just what it sounds like—a place to check in and get groovy. The love hotel is a response to Japan’s extended-family living situation and the need of couples for a private afternoon. You’ll have to be brave. Very few of these places have English-speaking staff, but all you do is point at the room you want from a display in the lobby. The Hotel Grand Chariot had impressive mood lighting and even a “holding pillow” to suppress those groans of pleasure. Prices depend on the time of day and how long the stay. They start at around $45 for two hours in the afternoon.

Consider staying in a ryokan. This traditional inn includes communal bathing facilities (think hot tub and spa; your room will have its own bathroom), to which you will wear the provided traditional yukata robe and mingle (sans robe) with the locals. The cost can range from basic to luxury and usually includes a bountiful breakfast and dinner. DW

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