Welcome to the Japanese New York only Tokyo is busier, more densely populated, and pricier than its Western counterpart. As immortalized on movies and in music, Tokyo is crazy-hectic and full of personality, from the bright lights of Shinjuku to the Ginza district. Shinjuku also is known for its active nightlife. Just a bit north, the Harajuku district was made famous in the U.S. by Gwen Stefani, who was wowed by the über-stylized, beyond-cutting-edge teen fashion on display. Outside the city center but easily accessible by bullet train are many famous areas, including the Emperor's Palace a stunning sight, especially when cherry blossoms are in bloom.If you're going to indulge in Japan's signature cuisine sushi, of course be aware that there's nary a California roll to be found in 99 percent of the restaurants. This is authentic sushi from the source, and sometimes it's so fresh it's still alive when it comes to your plate. If you're a real foodie, pilgrimage to famous Tsukiji Market in the early morning to see that great seafood coming off the boats.
It’s hard to imagine now, but it was a humble fishing village called Edo that has become the world’s largest metropolis and one of the most densely populated and developed places on the planet. A city that never sleeps, Tokyo's forests of blinking neon, ceaseless traffic din and skyscrapers disguise the city's traditional past of time-honored tea ceremonies, cherry blossom festivals and incense-filled temples. Whether you prefer the urban or the contemplative, Tokyo offers a menu of pleasures that can’t be matched: shopping in the high-end Ginza, club-hopping in the Roppongi, shopping for ultramodern gadgets at the Akihabara, or quietly meditating at the Meiji Jingū shrine, Tokyo can undoubtedly satisfy your desires.
You don't have to speak Japanese to get around Tokyo. Most important information is available in English, or at least "Romaji" (Japanese words rendered in Western letters). And if you're resourceful, you'll always be able to dig up someone who speaks English. Japan, after all, is the world's most educated country and Tokyo its most cosmopolitan city.
You will, however, find yourself confronted with one of the stranger hybrid tongues on the face of the planet, a dialect that foreigners living in Tokyo refer to as "Japanglish." This language, such as it is, turns up mostly in advertising, and because Tokyo may be one of the world's most advertising-saturated city, you can't avoid it.
This is the city where all cab drivers wear white gloves and where buildings under construction -- no matter how tall -- are hidden behind massive drapes, to avoid offending passers-by.
Three-story-high neon billboards are as common as street signs. More common, in fact, because most streets don't even have names, much less signs. Even most Tokyoites have little idea where anything is in Tokyo. Directions are usually given with hastily sketched maps.
Even more common than giant electric advertisements are vending machines. In the still of the night, in the darkest alley, the soothing glow of a soft drink machine -- dispensing such elixers as "Aquarius Neo," "Calpis Water" and "Pocari Sweat" -- lights the way. Cigarette machines are a close second (it's estimated that 60 percent of the population smokes; 80 percent of men).
For all its charm and sprawling yet serpentine complexity, Tokyo is deceptively livable. Tokyoites are polite to a fault, and are accustomed to helping out foreigners. The streets are clean and the trains are flawlessly punctual. Street crime is virtually unknown. And if the endless array of Japanese hole-in-the-wall restaurants with their sometimes alarming fare strikes you as off-putting, a McDonald's is never far away.