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by Philip Greenspun, 2000


Imperial Palace. Tokyo Tokyo is more a collection of villages than a city of 30 million. It sprawls but each neighborhood has a distinct character. Distances are vast and you should not try to visit more than two places per day.

Gardens in Tokyo are not as refined as those in Kyoto but they provide welcome oases of tranquility.


Tokyo is home to the world's great shopping districts and department stores. Akihabara, the electronics district, has shops that sell nothing but mobile phone antennae. They also have multi-story home electronics stores broad enough to include $50 boom boxes and MP3 players along with $70,000 pairs of loudspeakers and $20,000 tube amplifiers (see http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/stereo for an explanation of the high-end audio culture in the US). A department store will carry all types of food in the basement, clothing on the first few floors, books, pet food, hardware, lumber, and other items as you keep going up.

Getting Around

During the middle of the day, the subway and JR trains are the best only sure way of arriving on time. Traffic in Tokyo is heavy and unpredictable. The trains are frequent and punctual. Use the travel planner at www.businessinsightjapan.com to compute itineraries and fares for day trips.

Subway. Tokyo Subway. Tokyo Subway. Tokyo

Subway token collectors often maintain small Zen gardens or aquariums to beautify their stations...

Zen garden in Tokyo subway station

Where to Stay

Edo stroll garden at New Otani Hotel. Tokyo Quite a few hotels in Tokyo have in-room Ethernet access to the Internet. Expensive, isolated amidst the concrete towers of West Shinjuku, and free of character, the executive floors at the Tokyo Hilton nonetheless have a no-excuses T1 line out the back. Check hilton.com for more info. The most lively part of the city is Shibuya, which has a bunch of hotels, some with in-room Internet. The New Otani Hotel is a dreadful 60s concrete tower built around a lovely 400-year-old stroll garden with waterfalls and beautiful koi. Prices and service standards are high. Photo.net readers report that the rooms include 10base-T jacks for high-speed Internet connectivity.

Readers' Comments

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david potter , March 01, 2001; 01:41 P.M.

Other ideas regarding where to stay in and around Tokyo:

Odaiba is a futuristic business park & shopping area directly across the bay from Tokyo. Not only does it feature spectacular modern architecture and a wide variety of family activities, but a magnificent view of the bay, Tokyo skyline, Rainbow bridge and (on a clear day) Mt. Fuji. It lacks the charm of Tokyo, but amply replaces it with excitement and modern beauty on a grand scale. It sports many places to stay, including the hotel Nikko and the Pacific Grand Meridian (among others). Hotels in this area will be pricy. A short (15 minute) train ride or ferry ride to east Tokyo.

I love Southwest Tokyo, (Shibuya, Gotanda, Naka-meguro, Ebisu, Daikanyama). Arguably more western than some of the eastern neighborhoods, they are alive with excitement and energy and offer some of the finest Tokyo has to offer. The Westin in Ebisu is wonderful. Any of the fine hotels in Shinjuku are just 10 minutes away by train.

Shinagawa and Takanawa have a wide selection of fine hotels just a block from the Yamanote line, making it a good spot to stay if you want sample a lot of Tokyo. With good train and subway access, you'll be just a short ride from SW Tokyo or downtown. Tanakawa and Shirokanedai - quiet little residential neighborhoods - are nearby. Look for the Takanawa Prince, New Takanawa Prince or Pacific Meridian.

No list of Tokyo hotels would be complete without mentioning the "grand three" hotels: The Imperial, the Okura and the New Otani. These are landmark Tokyo hotels, famous for their service and history.

David Huang , March 01, 2001; 04:11 P.M.

I visited Tokyo a few time in the past and I have to said that the United Airline Narita Terminal is boring and ugly in design, but the Tokyo subway system is great for moving around in Tokyo.

I recommend visiting Japan for the Cherry Blossom season. The flowers fly in the air like "rain" when the wind blow. You will see many other Japanese photographers in the parks too.

Eugene Martinez , March 14, 2001; 03:44 P.M.

For visitors to Tokyo during the spring Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season: THE place to stay is the Fairmont Hotel in Kudanshita. It's a smallish, not-very-expensive older hotel with nice roomy rooms that (if you ask for a room on the park side) have views of the cherry trees along the mote of the Imperial Palace outer gardens.

My favorite Tokyo hotel, though, is the Hilton in West Shinjuku. Unlike Mr. Greenespun, I find it neither expensive nor isolated. Last week I had a comfy executive room (free breakfast in the 37th floor lounge as well as coffee and snacks all day and cocktails in the evening), free fast internet access in my room, all sorts of nice extra goodies... all for about $220 a day. The Hilton's a 5 minute shuttle bus ride (or a pleasant 10 minute walk) to Shinjuku Station, which is across the street from two of Tokyo's best photo stores, Yodobashi and Sakuraya. AND... (I'll hate myself for giving away this secret)... situated behind the hotel is a terrific neighborhood, Kashiwa! Quiet and residential in the shadow of West Shinjuku's futuristic skyscrapers, it's one of the most photgraphically fertile areas I know!

One last thing: any photographer visiting Tokyo owes it to himself to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Ebisu!

Eugene Martinez , October 03, 2002; 05:54 A.M.

Bad news for cherry blossom viewers: the Fairmont Hotel has been turned into condominiums. Pictures of cherry blossoms may be trite, but hanami is one thing everyone should enjoy at least once!

I write this from my room on the 30th floor of the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku, which I'm paying only $180US. With my FREE HiltonHonors membership, my room includes free breakfast buffet in the Lobby Lounge. Not the usual skimpy assortment of spongey muffins, this buffet is delicious and expansive: waffles and omelettes custom made to order, endless dishes of fresh and stewed fruits, 4 or 5 different kinds of fruit juices, cereals, freshly baked breads and pastries, trays of meats and fish... and a section of Japanese breakfast specialties! Breakfast is so good at this hotel, I don't bother with lunch.

You could think I work for Hilton, the way I rave about this hotel. I don't. I do travel alot and find this not only to be one of the best values out there, but a truly comfortable place to hang your hat. Photographers based here have access to one of Tokyo's most visually stimulating neighborhoods... and a comfy place to call home.

A note regarding Yodobashi and Sakuraya: the times, they are a-changing. Digital photography is in, gelatin based photography is out. As a vegetarian, I should be happy - film is the only non-vegetarian product I use. I'm not happy. Anyway, both stores have seriously shrunk their floor space devoted to old fashioned cameras. For all you digital nuts out there, this should be good news.

Lulu Yu , September 22, 2009; 09:38 A.M.

Martinez-san, I was looking for Fairmont Hotel in Tokyo where I once stayed many years ago. When I saw your comment that it had turned into condominiums, I felt really sad. Since you liked the hotel, do you happen to have taken some photos of it? I'd love to see some just to sooth my nostalgia.

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