Why Tokyo? Well in 2001, on March 5th to be exact, I left a cold and grey England behind and set off on a 12 hour journey to Tokyo. This was a new beginning for me. A new culture, new language, new life
I chose Tokyo because I wanted to live somewhere completely different to the UK. I guess I wanted to know if I could make it or not without all my usual safety cushions around me This was the best ever decision.
When I arrived I was taken to my tiny apartment (20 square meters) before going to my company for the first time. I hadn't slept for 24 hours at this stage but I was buzzing. That buzz is still here 7 years later - even though I know so much more now this city is always changing and I'm always seeing new things. My apartment is now twice the size - 44 square meters - woohoo! Rent is the expensive thing here but then, when I compare it to the UK equivalent, London, I think it's actually cheaper.
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There have been some events reported that might make you wonder how safe Tokyo is. Well compared to the UK, it's mega safe. As a single female I can walk alone at night without feeling myself jump out of my skin whenever someone is behind me and if I lose something, even my wallet, there is a pretty fair chance it will be returned to me. However, you still have to use your head. Don't forget the safety rules that you usually play by at home. I know people who have come here and it's almost as though, because they are in another country, the rules go out of the window. Tokyo is safe in comparison to many other countries - but even the safest place will have the odd bad egg in it. Make sure you bring your common sense with you and if you're unsure - get yourself into a position where you feel safe.
One of the things I love here is all the festivals. It's funny because Japanese are often viewed as being very serious types - well you should see them at a festival. It's a real let your hair down, don't let inhibitions get in your way, affair. There are many major events such as hanami, hanabi, boy's day, girl's day, setsubun, and many more. If you get the opportunity to experience one of these they come highly recommended.
Japan has 4 very distinct seasons so bring what you will need with you - I can always give you a hand there if you need Be careful of some of the bigger holidays because prices double and even triple for both transport and hotels. Not a laughing matter with oil prices as they are right now!
Tokyo is full of some great places to see. Whether you like old or new there's something for you. The city itself used to be a mass of small villages. As the area was developed the villages grew until eventually their borders touched and they all joined to form the Tokyo we know now. After that the only way was up and resulted in the development of the modern skyscarpers that dot the landscape.
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One of my favourite places to go in Tokyo for a bit a peace and calm and to get away from it all is a temple or shrine. There are some famous ones like Meiji Jingu or Yasukuni - both of which are well worth a visit - or just find a local one. They are everywhere. I work in the middle of Tokyo in the middle of an office district, but just across the road from me there is a small shrine. Just go find a quiet spot, sit down, and think your own thoughts for a while away from the madding crowd!
There's also the Imperial Palace. Lots of people seem to think that Tokyo is just a concrete jungle, but there are pockets of greenery everywhere. The Imperial Palace sits in the middle of some Japanese gardens that can't be beaten for beauty and tradition. There's also the remains of the original castle that used to stand on the same land. If you're lucky enough to be visiting on Dec 23rd or Jan 2nd then you are able to go into the inner palace grounds and have the chance to see the Emperor. Be ready to queue though!
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One of my favourite areas for restaurants is Ebisu. Inside Ebisu Garden Place Tower (take the East exit from the Yamanote Line and follow the Skywalk) you can grab a great window view from the 38th and 39th floor. You can choose from Japanese, Chinese, Korean as well as some European menus - prices vary but there are some reasonable options. If you fancy something a little more local in nature then take the West exit and find a local izekaya near the station. Excellent atmosphere, food and drink are all on tap
I love going here. This is one of the funkiest areas in Tokyo. There's shops, restaurants, a future science museum (not your typical museum - check out Honda's first human style robot for starters) and some very cool buildings all in the same place. On top of that grab a night time view of Rainbow Bridge with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I know it sounds strange - I thought I was seeing things the first time I went there - but there is an exact copy of the first lady in front of the Decks shopping centre. Make your way to Venus Fort - another shopping mall - and check out the inside outside decoration. The mall looks like a street in Europe and the lighting changes according to the time of day.
Tokyo is designed to get you from A to B by a multitude of means. The simplest, cheapest and most reliable method is the train system. You can buy tickets each time you travel or you can buy a prepaid card that you load up with as much cash as you want to. There are 2 cards available - one is the Pasmo card run by Tokyo Metro and the other is the Suica card run by JR. There is basically little difference between the two except that one is sponsored by the subway and one by the overground lines. You can use either card on all lines so it doesn't matter which one you choose.
Japan Rail Pass
If you are planning on traveling outside Tokyo then it is worth considering buying yourself a rail pass. These are for 1, 2 or 3 week periods and will get you onto any JR line train and also the shinkansen to anywhere in Japan. The only shinkansen you cannot use is the fastest one - the Nozomi. Any of the others is ok. You must buy this pass before you arrive in Japan - you cannot get it once you have landed here. Make this part of your travel plan so that you don't miss out - it can save you a lot of money if you plan on visiting places other than Tokyo. If you are just staying in Tokyo, however, I would say don't bother.
Getting your cash is not the same as in many Western countries. Bring enough with you so that you can see yourself through the first 24 hours without needing to change travelers cheques or visit a cash machine. ATMs are not as regular here as in other countries and some of the Japanese banks, even though they show a visa sign outside, don't accept international visa - only domestic. Citibank has several branches around Tokyo and also the convenience store 7/11 provides ATMs for international card access. As for travelers cheques - there aren't really any money changing kiosks to be found here so you will need to find a bank that accepts your paper. Check it out before you get here so you don't find yourself short of cash.
And this is why you need to get your hands on your cash! Tokyo has just about everything you could want. There are designer shops in Ginza, trendy styles in Shibuya, traditional goods in Asakusa, a street market in Ueno and don't forget the fantastic 100 yen stores - the equivalent of a dollar store in the US. The 100 yen stores are also a great place to buy pressies to take back home without spending a fortune. You can get nice chopsticks, Japanese bowls and more and save the rest of your cash to spend on your stay.
If you are fancying a trip over and want any info I'll happily share anything I can with you. More than anything else I want to say this is such a fab city If you get the chance - visit!