Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Tokyo

TOKYO Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:05am EST

Pedestrians walk past on a pedestrian crossing at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Pedestrians walk past on a pedestrian crossing at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district July 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - 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.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors to the Japanese capital get the most out of a short stay.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. - 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. (03-3214-8021).

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

8 p.m. - 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."

SATURDAY

4:30 a.m. - 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. (here)

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 bandsaws.

8 a.m. - 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.

9 a.m. - Take the Hibiya subway line up 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 p.m. - Head to Asakusa, an old downtown area centered around the Buddhist temple of Senso-ji, which has stood on the same spot for over a thousand years. The Nakamise-dori street to the temple is marked by a huge lantern hung from a gate and lined with souvenir stores, most selling junk but some making sembei rice crackers that can be sampled before buying.

Wander through streets near the temple. Some feature shops selling used kimonos and other souvenir goods. Several streets over, the air is filled with the smell of grilling meat. Stop for a meal or a snack of nikomi (stewed tripe with vegetables in miso sauce) or bits of meat grilled on bamboo skewers, eaten at outdoor tables. The mood is raucous and casual.

3 p.m. - Head east, toward the Sumida River, and take a boat ride to Hinode Pier. The boat passes landmarks along the way, including the Kokugikan, where sumo wrestling matches are held, and undercuts numerous bridges. A must for a sunny day.

6 p.m. - Feel daring? Then eat at Torafugu Tei Monzen Naka-cho (r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/b267803/), 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 a.m. - 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 p.m. - 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. (here)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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