With 38 million people, Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world. The city proper has a population of less than 10 million, ranking Tokyo #18 in the world. From Osaka Station, I took a high-speed train ($117) that covered 429 kilometers in only 137 minutes, even with a couple of stops! Like Swiss trains, Japanese are famous for their punctuality. The train I took was scheduled to be at the platform at 9:53, not 9:52, not 9:54. Sure enough, it was there on the dot.
I stayed in Tokyo for five days in two hotels, the Park Hyatt and the Conrad. These hotels were located in Shinjuku and Minato, respectively. Still, I observed surprisingly lengthy stretches of sparse crowds. Having just spent weeks in Seoul, I was expecting Tokyo to be a never-ending, sprawling cosmopolitan maelstrom of shopping and nightlife. Seoul is a much denser city, with throngs of people in every corner. In Tokyo, even the widest avenue of Ginza was empty at night, although still safe.
Tokyo requires more than a week to explore at even a minimum level. Due to arguably the most expensive taxicabs in the world, I never took one. Over my five nights, I spent US$17 on Tokyo’s confusing train system. The train stations are quite huge, although they do not have the commercial activity of those in Seoul. There are several different systems running through each station, so it can be bewildering to figure out what is going where and how much everything costs. Also, not everything is written in English. In Seoul and Hong Kong, everyone uses contact-less cards that seamlessly calculate the fares. In Tokyo, it took me several minutes to untangle the colorful spaghetti mess of a map in my mind. Once, I overpaid for a fare and frustratingly, the one-time ticket disposed of the overage credit! Each one-time ticket has to match the given train system line and the appropriate fare. For example, even a ¥240 ticket for one line will not be accepted for another line that also requires ¥240. The tickets also look identical.
Tokyo has many parks and gardens, although I visited only Yoyogi Park, which contains Meiji Shrine. Inexcusably, I missed the Hamarikyu Gardens that were located right next to the Conrad hotel I was staying at. I made one attempt, but I was too early, as the gardens opened at 9:00.
My first day, I wandered through the Ginza district, spending time but not money in opulent stores, such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Matsuya, Apple, and Uniqlo. Sometimes, one enters a store of a globally recognized retailer, only to be disappointed by the breadth of the offerings. Such is not the case with Tokyo. The Uniqlo store is the largest in the world. The Apple Store offered jaw-dropping minimalist design. The Chanel store was gargantuan, even having a jump rope in a leather case! I was mildly surprised that it dod not have the rare men’s collection. The Louis Vuitton store was full of Chinese shoppers.
One night, I went to Roppongi, which has nightlife for everyone. There was plenty of adult entertainment, with Nigerians and effete Japanese gangsters attempting to charm potential patrons into their cabarets, nightclubs, strip clubs, brothels, and hostess clubs. Unfortunately as is the case with too many cities, Tokyo’s public transportation shuts down at midnight, so I walked an hour back to the Conrad. Better advice would be to stay up partying at a club until the trains restart at 5:00.
The most exhausting day was a trip up to colorful Asakusa, a district which is most famous for Sensō-ji. I went on a Sunday that happened to be the last day of a festival, which brought in suffocating crowds in hot weather. The crowds that day were the heaviest I had seen during my entire time in Asia. Another day, I briefly walked through the neighborhood of Kagurazaka, which has a significant French presence that I did not detect.