Friday, March 9, 2012

10 reasons to call Tokyo the greatest city to visit

Tokyo is a hard city to describe, but Steve Trautlein, Matt Alt, Hiroko Yoda, Melinda Joe, Andrew Szymanski and W. David Marx gave it a shot....  We liked their picks...

1. The world's most sophisticated railways

With 13 subway lines and more than 100 surface routes run by Japan Railways and other private companies, Tokyo's railway system seems like it was designed to win world records. It's rare to find a location in the metropolitan area that can’t be reached with a train ride and a short walk.

2. Sky-high one-upmanship

When officials in Tokyo learned that the new Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower in China would be 610 meters tall -- the same height that was planned for Tokyo Sky Tree, then under construction -- they did what any rational person would do: They added 24 meters to the top of Sky Tree to preserve its claim as the world’s tallest tower. Now complete and scheduled to open in May, the Guinness-certified structure features shops, restaurants and an observation deck that lets you see almost all the way to Guangzhou.

3. Street crossings are like a battle scene from "Braveheart"

The scramble street crossing outside of Shibuya Station is easily the world's busiest, with a thousand people running into the middle of the street, weaving together in a huge organic mass. The scramble perfectly summarizes the essence of Tokyo's true tourist landmarks: not old buildings, but lots and lots of people coming together in celebration of culture.

4. The Emperor will see you now

Visit the Imperial Palace on December 23 or January 2, and you’ll see something impressive: Its owner. Emperor Akihito and family make a twice-yearly public appearance at the Inner Palace grounds for the monarch’s birthday and a New Year’s greeting. If you’re tall enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the man-god himself amid a sea of Rising Sun flag-wavers.

5. Youth fashion stores by the hundreds

Even with the arrival of Forever 21 and H&M, there are countless independent fashion boutiques in the Harajuku area -- all dedicated to generally insane forms of youth fashion. If you count adjacent Shibuya, Omotesando and Aoyama into the region, you have the world's largest fashion district: featuring basically every single major designer brand in the world.

 6. The electronics stores are like theme parks

The Japanese have taken their love of the latest electronic gadgets and modern appliances to a new level with Yodobashi Akiba, the largest electronics store in a section of Tokyo known for being the center of gadget, video game and anime culture in the city. Going into any electronics store in Akihabara is like stepping into a wonderland of flashing lights and monstrous screens, but Yodobashi ups the ante by offering six massive floors of televisions, stereos, appliances and game consoles, with three more floors dedicated to restaurants, juice bars, bookstores and music shops.

7. You can commute to the mountains

When the concrete Tokyo gets to be too much, just head out to the wonderful Mount Takao in West Tokyo. Accessible by a single train from Shinjuku, the mountain is particularly famous for its easy hike to the top, stunning autumn foliage and special soba-noodle culture.

8. Even the serious museums are weird

Edo-Tokyo Museum is the best place to relive the old traditional style of life in Tokyo, when it was called Edo in the 15th to 19th centuries. The building exterior, however, looks like a giant space cruiser on a "Buck Rogers" backlot, propped up on stilts. This is perhaps an attempt to fuse past, present and future Tokyo into one space.

9. Highway rest stops are destinations

Rest areas like Umi-hotaru almost make up for the ridiculous tolls and endless traffic jams of Japan's highways. Umi-hotaru (the "sea firefly") is a giant, island-like concrete construct floating smack in the middle of Tokyo Bay at the crossover point between the Aqua-Line bridge and tunnel. It offers a number of restaurants and shops for those who need to relax before braving the remaining drive.

10. The most absurdly priced retail establishments on one block

Chanel, Louis VuittonGinza is where to go to see and be seen and to spend more money than most salarymen ever dream of on fashion, handbags, and jewelry. Ginza used to be pithily described as Tokyo's 5th Avenue, but nowadays it's more accurate to call 5th Avenue New York's Ginza.


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