Taking in Tokyo

Last updated 05:00 31/10/2011
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TOKYO: A city of contrasts.

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Futuristic, frustrating and fascinating sum up Tokyo, a city of contrasts where narrow alleys packed with dark, smoky restaurants lie within view of extravagant buildings that would fit into a "Batman" film.

Though shaken by the March 11 quake, Tokyo sustained little in the way of damage and life is back to normal, with international events such as Tokyo Fashion Week and the Tokyo International Film Festival going on as scheduled.

FRIDAY

6 pm - Head to the Yurakucho area, just off the posh Ginza shopping district, for dinner under the raised train tracks of the Yamanote Line, which circles the city.

The area under the tracks is packed with restaurants, anything from Italian to Thai to California cuisine. But try Andy's Shin Hinomoto, across from the Yurakucho Denki Building. Run by the genial Andy, a Brit, Shin Hinomoto features sashimi, stir fries, tempura and daily specials in a long room with arched ceilings and a jovial, casual atmosphere.

If Andy's is full, opt for some of the tables on sidewalks under the tracks and sample the beer and some sticks of grilled meat.

8 pm - Stroll the Ginza area, where brand-name stores like Cartier line up with department stores on broad, neon-lit streets. Or take a cab to Shinjuku for a drink at the bar of the Park Hyatt Hotel (tokyo.park.hyatt.com), where Bill Murray met Scarlett Johansson in the movie "Lost in Translation."

For a slightly different cinematic take on Tokyo, head to the Shibuya area to "Womb," a multi-floored club known for its laser system and featured in the 2006 film "Babel," directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. (www.womb.co.jp)

SATURDAY

4:30 am - If you can pry yourself out of bed, or never went, head for the tuna auctions at Tsukiji Fish Market. Long a tourist staple, entrance has been limited to 140 people a day since May 2010. People who wish to see the auctions must apply on a first-come, first-served basis from 4:30 a.m. at the Fish Information Center at the Kachidoki entrance to the market. One group of 70 will be let in between 5:00-5:40, and another from 5:40-6:15.

Though the tuna auction is the highlight, wandering the aisles between stalls in the rest of the market is fun too. Take in the boxes of flopping eels, heaps of clams, or huge chunks of tuna being sliced apart with band saws.

8 am - Breakfast on sushi in any one of the restaurants within the market. Though the thought of fish this early may be daunting, persevere - the freshness is more than worth it.

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9 am - Take the Hibiya subway line to Ueno and Ueno Park, a spacious public park that houses three museums between its paths and cherry trees: the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art.

Stroll through the park, around to Shinobazu Pond, packed with water lilies in the summer. In spring, the park is one of Tokyo's prime cherry blossom viewing sites. Come to watch the normally staid Japanese eat, drink and make merry, often with portable karaoke machines.

1 pm - Head to Shibamata, a slightly touristy version of an old-style Japanese neighborhood, or "shitamachi," by taking the Keisei Line from Keisei Ueno station to Takasago and changing to the Kanamachi Line.

Shibamata is known as the "home" of Tora-san, the beloved hero of a series of 48 popular movies about a traveling salesman. A statue of Tora-san graces the street, and there is a museum devoted to him that recreates a set from one of the movies and shows famous scenes from the films.

Wander the streets, trying bites of traditional sweets and crackers, and explore some of the temples that dot the area.

3 pm - Take a boat ride along the Sumida River, heading south to the Hinode pier. The boat passes landmarks along the way, including the Kokugikan, where sumo wrestling matches are held, and undercuts numerous bridges. It is a must for a sunny day.

6 pm - Feel daring? Then eat at Torafugu Tei Monzen Naka-cho, which features fugu, the blowfish that can be fatal if improperly prepared. Torafugu Tei features reasonably priced courses that start with delicate slices of raw fugu fanned across a plate and ends with a thick rice porridge in fugu-flavoured soup. To drink, try hot sake with a lightly grilled fugu fin in it for flavor.

SUNDAY

10 am - Brunch at Roti's, a California-style restaurant in Roppongi. The menu features Eggs Benedict and blueberry pancakes for reasonable prices with good quantity for Tokyo. (www.roti.jp)

Noon - The futuristic Roppongi Hills complex is a short walk away. Check out the Mori Art Museum at the top of the 54-story Mori Building. (www.mori.art.museum/eng/)

2 pm - Take the Hibiya subway line up to Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics mecca. Off the main streets are a number of smaller shops catering to otaku, geeks whose lives revolve around comic books and computers.

There are also splashes of the unusual, like cafes where women dress up as characters from manga comics such as maids.

- Reuters

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