Favorite experiences in Tokyo

The precinct of the Sensoji Buddhist Temple is filled up by worshippers paying their New Year's respects Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006 in Tokyo's Asakusa District. 060613_Sensoji_hmed_6p.jpg / AP file
/ Source: Frommers.com

Strolling Through Asakusa. No place better conveys the atmosphere of old Tokyo than Asakusa. Sensoji Temple is the city's oldest and most popular temple, and Nakamise Dori, the pedestrian lane leading to the temple, is lined with shops selling souvenirs and traditional Japanese goods. As in days of yore, arrive by boat via the Sumida River.

Catching the Action at Tsukiji Fish Market. Get up early your first morning in Japan (you'll probably be wide awake with jet lag, anyway) and head straight for the country's largest fish market, where you can watch the tuna auctions, browse through stalls of seafood, and sample the freshest sushi you'll ever have.

Viewing Treasures at the Tokyo National Museum. It's a feast for the eyes at the largest museum of Japanese art in the world, where you can see everything from samurai armor and lacquerware to kimono and woodblock prints. If you visit only one museum in Tokyo, this should be it.

Sitting Pretty in Shinjuku. On the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (TMG), designed by well-known architect Kenzo Tange, an observatory offers a bird's-eye view of Shinjuku's cluster of skyscrapers, the never-ending metropolis and, on fine winter days, Mount Fuji. Best of all, it's free.

Time Traveling in the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Housed in a high-tech modern building, this ambitious museum chronicles the fascinating and somewhat tumultuous history of Tokyo (known as Edo during the Feudal Period), with models, replicas, artifacts, and dioramas. Guided tours in English are available for free.

Hanging Out in Harajuku. Nothing beats Sunday in Harajuku, where you can begin the day leisurely with brunch, stroll the promenade of Omotesando Dori, shop the area's many boutiques, take in a museum or two and perhaps a flea market, visit Meiji Shrine, and then relax over drinks at a sidewalk cafe watching the hordes of teenyboppers parading past.

Escaping Big-City Life in the Temple Town of Yanaka. With its many temples, offbeat attractions, sloping hills, and peaceful narrow streets, the neighborhood of Yanaka makes for a wonderful half-day escape from the crowds of Tokyo.

Walking the Imperial Moat. It's an easy, 4.8km (3-mile) walk around the Imperial Palace moat, especially beautiful in spring when the many cherry blossoms are aflame. Don't miss the attached (and free) East Garden.

Taking Part in a Festival. Tokyo offers a myriad of annual festivals, ranging from processions of portable shrines to ladder-top acrobatics. Be ready to battle good-natured crowds, as festivals can be unbelievably packed.

Strolling a Japanese Landscaped Garden. There's no better escape from Tokyo's urban jungle than a stroll through one of its landscaped gardens, especially in spring, when irises, wisteria, peonies, azaleas, and other flowers are in bloom. Top picks are Hama Rikyu Garden, Koishikawa Korakuen, Shinjuku Gyoen and -- in nearby Yokohama -- Sankei-en Garden.

Viewing Cherry Blossoms at Ueno Park. Ueno Park is famous throughout Japan for its 1,000 cherry trees, attracting multitudes of company employees and organizations. It's not, however, the communing with nature you might think, as everyone drinks, eats, dances, and sings karaoke, seemingly oblivious to the shimmering blossoms above. Observing Tokyoites at play here is a cultural experience you won't forget.

Watching the Fat Guys Wrestle. Nothing beats watching huge, almost-nude sumo wrestlers, most weighing well over 300 pounds, throw each other around. Matches are held in Tokyo in January, May, and September; catch one on TV if you can't make it in person. Great fun and not to be missed.

Getting a Massage. After a hard day of work or sightseeing, nothing beats a relaxing massage. Shiatsu, or pressure-point massage, is available in the privacy of your room at virtually all first-class and most medium-range Tokyo hotels, as well as at a number of clinics in the city, many of which offer acupuncture as well.

Soaking Away your Cares. Tokyo now has its own hot-spring spas, thanks to drilling that released therapeutic waters from deep below the surface. Top on my list is Oedo-Onsen Monogatari, a theme-based spa that emulates bathing houses of yore with its Feudal Period replica architecture, shops, restaurants, indoor and outdoor baths, massage rooms, and more.

Appreciating the Beauty of Ikebana. After seeing how flowers, branches, and vases can be combined into works of art, you'll never be able to simply throw flowers into a vase again. You can learn the basics of ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, at several schools in Tokyo. Exhibitions of ikebana are held regularly at Yasukuni Shrine and department stores.

Experiencing the Serenity of the Tea Ceremony. Developed in the 16th century as a means to achieve inner harmony with nature, the tea ceremony is a highly ritualized process that takes years to learn. You can experience a shortened version at several Tokyo hotels.

Browsing the Electronics Shops of Akihabara Electric Town. Even if you don't buy anything, it's great fun -- and very educational -- to see the latest in electronic gadgets in Japan's largest electronics district, which offers many products unknown in Western markets.

Hunting for Bargains at Flea Markets. You never know what treasure you might find at one of Tokyo's monthly outdoor flea markets, where vendors sell everything from used kimono to antiques and curios. Go early, and be sure to bargain.

Getting the Royal Treatment at Department Stores. Tokyo's department stores are huge, spotless, and filled with merchandise you never knew existed; many also have first-rate art galleries. Shibuya and Ginza boast the greatest concentration of department stores. Tobu, in Ikebukuro, is the city's largest -- a virtual city in itself. Service in a Japanese department store is an unparalleled experience: Be there when it opens, and you'll see employees lined up at the front door, bowing to incoming customers.

Shopping for Japanese Designer Clothes. Japanese designer clothing is often outrageous, occasionally practical, but always fun. Department stores, designer boutiques in Aoyama, and secondhand shops in Ebisu are the places to try on the digs -- assuming you've got both the money and the figure.

Feasting on a Kaiseki Meal. Although expensive, a kaiseki feast, consisting of dish after dish of artfully displayed delectables, may well be the most beautiful and memorable meal you'll ever have. Splurge at least once on the most expensive kaiseki meal you can afford, and you'll feel like royalty.

Rubbing Elbows in a Yakitori-ya. There's no better place to observe Tokyo's army of office workers at play than at a yakitori-ya, a drinking man's pub that also sells skewered grilled chicken and bar snacks. It's fun, noisy, and boisterous.

Attending a Kabuki Play at the Kabukiza Theater. Kabuki has served as the most popular form of entertainment for the masses since the Edo Period. Watch the audience as they yell their approval; watch the stage for its gorgeous costumes, stunning settings, and easy-to-understand dramas of love, duty, and revenge.

Taking a Spin Through Kabuki-cho. Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho has the craziest nightlife in all of Tokyo, with countless strip joints, porn shops, restaurants, bars, and the greatest concentration of neon (and drunks) you're likely to see anywhere. It's a fascinating place for an evening stroll.

Clubbing in . You can dance the night away in the madness that is Roppongi; most revelers party till dawn.

For a complete listing of what to see and do in Tokyo, visit theat Frommers.com.

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