Japan

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Japan

tokyo-japan

Discovering Tokyo – Japan

The capital of Japan is a happy, exciting place, with tonnes of cheap and free things to do. Start with a free guided tour led by volunteers and become familiar with the layout of the city.

Stroll through the vast green spaces and foliage of Meiji Jingu and neighbouring Yoyogi Park; the latter featuring cosplay at times, which makes for a great evening. Tsukiji fish market is a must-see, and the best time is early morning. A session at the relatively cheap Jakotsuvu Onsen will help you get to sleep early.

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Meiji Jingu Shrine – Tokyo

During the day, you can take a free guided tour of the Imperial Palace grounds, conducted by the Imperial Household Agency. Plan to go on a Sunday, when you can rent a cycle for the picturesque moat-and-pine-tree-view 3km course around the grounds. Do also visit Sensoji Temple, then wander its nearby winding lanes that offer bargain shopping, and head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building sky tower for stunning and importantly, free, views of the city at night.

Imperial Palace - Tokyo

Imperial Palace – Tokyo

If it’s your thing, lose yourself in yourself in anime at the Tokyo Anime Centre, and trawl the streets of Akihabara for the latest in gadgets and toys. Or pick up arty skills at Origami Kaikan and watch sumo wrestling practice sessions at Arashio Beya. But, most importantly, download a translation app at Narita Airport, so you can take a screenshot of the Japanese translation for “Is it free of charge?” and travel smart.

arashio-beya

Arashio Beya

LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights start at 557 USD from Mumbai and New Delhi VISA: 7USD

GET AROUND: Tokyo’s metro system is sugoi (wonderful). Taxis will burn through your entire budget. Get a SUICA Pass, which also works at convenience stores. For train travel outside of Tokyo, get a Japan Rail Pass and plan your dates carefully.

STAY: Tokyo’s hostels are some of the nicest you could find. Look in the central Ikebukuro area, which is cheaper than overpriced Shinjuku. Options include Book and Bed Tokyo, Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro, Bunka Hostel Tokyo and The Ryokan Tokyo Yugawara.

EAT AND DRINK: When in Japan, eat ramen – it’s cheap and delicious. Grab breakfast at a 7-Eleven, where you will also find bento boxes for days on the go, or beer at half the rate when compared to bars. Fast food chain MOS Burgers has cheap, delicious burgers made to order, with a vegetarian option. Oh, and don’t forget to treat yourself to sake at an izakaya (local pub).

WHEN TO GO: Not during sakura (cherry blossom) season for sure. Despite rain and typhoons, June to July and September to December respectively are better.

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Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Kawasaki

EARLY APRIL.

THIS PRETTY MUCH TAKES THE CAKE.

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If you thought Finland was out there with its wife-carrying and air guitar obsessions, then here comes the weirdness to outdo all weirdness.

IS THAT A…?

Yes ma’am, it sure is. The English translation of this festival’s name is the Festival of the Iron Phallus. We’re betting you haven’t seen quite so many penises out in the open, in one place, at one time. The penis parade that happens in the afternoon on the day of the festival is a sight to behold; in particular, the phalluses put up on the pedestals are impressive in their anatomical correctness.

SEEMS A TOUCH GRATUITOUS.

For Westerners, the sight of so many model penises on display, some of which are the size of a standing human being, for example, can be confronting or amusing, depending on your point of view. However, the meaning behind the festival isn’t so token or gratuitous – the point of the festival for many normally reserved Japanese is to celebrate fertility, marriage, birth and healthy sex.

Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri

Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri – Okayama, Japan

THIRD SATURDAY IN FEBRUARY.

WE HAVEN’T SEEN ANYTHING QUITE LIKE THIS BEFORE.

It’s fair to say that it’s not every day you see close to 10,000 semi-naked Japanese men sprinting to a Shinto Temple to claim one of three small sticks believed to have sacred powers.

WE’RE SURE THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON.

Well, there’s a reason. According to legend, the ritual began hundreds of years ago when, as a way of expelling disease and misfortune from the land, the people believed getting a naked man to walk through an afflicted village would absorb the people’s bad luck and evil. The unfortunate ‘chosen one’ or ShinOtoko was then banished from society taking all the disease, bad luck, evil and misery with him. Over time the role of the Shin-Otoko has come to be seen as a fortunate one.

HOW DO THEY FIGURE THAT?

SAIDAI-JI EYO HADAKA MATSURI – OKAYAMA, JAPAN
Who knows, but the festival now draws huge crowds of loin-clothed men vying for the title of ‘lucky man’. To win the crown, a competitor must run through a pool of freezing water before frantically jostling to retrieve the shingi (sacred stick) after it has been tossed from the platform of a temple. We recommend standing to the side to see it all go down.

Sports in Tokyo

Martial Arts in Tokyo

Martial arts are practiced in many places throughout Tokyo, but different establishments vary in their openness to non-Japanese as observers and participants. Contact Tokyo TIC for a list of dojo (practice halls) that allow spectators. To find out about participating in martial arts training, contact one of the national regulatory bodies.

Baseball and Soccer in Tokyo

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Baseball’s place as Japan’s second national sport appears to be suffering in the face of soccer’s rising popularity. Some young players are choosing to go abroad to escape samurai-like regimes of training but the game continues to stir fervor.

There are two professional baseball leagues in Japan: Central League and Pacific League. The winners face off at the end of the season for the final of the Japan Series, The Central League’s Yomiuri Giants remain Japan’s most popular pro ­baseball team. Their games in the Tokyo Dome are always sold out; book through an agent well in advance. The best place to enjoy a game in the capital is in the beautiful Jingu Stadium, home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (also Central League). Tickets are often available at Ticket PIA.

The J-League, Japan’s professional soccer league, started in 1993.The World Cup, staged in Japan and Korea in 2002, sent interest soaring, and this further increased when Japan reached the second round of the World Cup in 2010. But it was the women’s team, Nadeshiko Japan, that really electrified the nation when they won the Women’s World Cup in 2011.

Ajinomoto Stadium - Tokyo

Ajinomoto Stadium – Tokyo

Ajinomoto Stadium with a capacity of 50,000, is home to two J-League teams – FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy. Tourist information centers have details of games, and tickets are available at Ticket PIA or from the stadium on the day of the match. Gangster-linked ticket touts are much in evidence in Tokyo so always use caution.

Other Sports

For details on other sports check the Sports column in Metropolis magazine. Entries are mostly concerned with gathering together like-minded people wanting to play, but those people will also know where to watch their favorite sports, from tennis and rugby to basketball, cycling, and cricket.

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Sumo in Tokyo

Sumo tournaments, each lasting 15 days, are held in Tokyo in January, May (when the emperor himself attends), and September, all at the Impressive 10,000-seat Ryogoku Sumo Hall in Ryogoku.

Tournaments begin on a Sunday, with each fighter wrestling once a day. Bouts start each day at around 2:30pm with the lowest-ranking wrestlers and continue in ascending order, with the top ranks wrestling from 5-6pm, ending with a bout Involving the highest-ranked wrestler, usually a yokozuna (grand champion).The stadium tends to fill up with spectators as the day goes on.

The best views are on the north side of the stadium. It is advisable to book tickets in advance from Playguide, Ticket PIA at the Ginza 5 Building, or any Lawson’s convenience store. Easiest to get are midweek tickets in the first week of a tournament. If you cannot buy tickets via an agency, try asking your hotel to check for returns, or lining up at the stadium Itself at about 8am on the day.

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Inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Wrestling Arena in Tokyo

If you are not in Tokyo during a tournament, you may be able to watch the daily practice at a sumo stable, or beya.

Most are open to anyone who wants to watch, with a few basic rules: don’t eat or use a camera flash, and be quiet. The closer a tournament is, the more likely you are to be politely turned away. The best time to view practice is 6-10am. Most of the beya are situated near Ryogoku station. Try Kasugano Beya, a tall building with a green copper gable over the entrance, Izutsu Beya, or Dewanoumi Beya. Traditional sumo has been much enlivened by an influx of foreign wrestlers from Hawaii, Mongolia, and Europe, many of whom have become very successful.

Some stables with an unusually open attitude have also made special trips abroad in order to raise aware­ness of sumo internationally: some of their stars even appear in television and other advertise­ments. While eyebrows may have been raised among purists, they cannot deny that such activities have been very good for business.

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Nightclubs in Tokyo

Tokyo’s clubs are many and varied, and the club scene is very fluid. There are several centers for nightclubs; Roppongi, the city’s upscale playground, is one of the most lively. The Roi Building across the road from Don Quijote is full of clubs and bars. The Ni-chome area of Shinjuku is home to some 250 gay clubs, as well as numerous pubs and bars. Many famous DJs operate at AgeHa, Tokyo’s largest nightclub, in Shin-kiba. Atom, in Shibuya, attracts a mainly young clientele and has two dance floors as well as a floor just for relaxation.

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AgeHa Club – Shin-kiba, Tokyo

Other clubs currently drawing crowds for every type of dance music from salsa to techno and house disco are Womb, Ele Tokyo, and Club Asia.

Clubs with a show tend to get going early in the evening, around 7-8pm; the last show ends in time to catch the last trams out to the suburbs, about 11-11:30pm. Smaller clubs start and end later, while dance clubs won’t warm up until around 11 pm and often keep going all night. Expect a cover charge at most clubs of¥2,000-4,000, usually including one drink.

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Gambling in Tokyo

Pachinko is a form of disguised gambling; it was devised in Nagoya just after World War II and is based on the American pinball machine. A good place to go if you want to experience pachinko firsthand is Maruhan Pachinko Tower in Shibuya. Here, each floor has a different theme, and there are special seats for couples.

Winnings from pachinko are generally exchanged for goods – brand-name goods in upscale areas – or for money, but the money exchange has to be done outside the premises to remain within the law, through a hole in the wall. This is because gambling for money is illegal in Japan, except for certain approved (and unsurprisingly highly popular) activities such as horse-racing, powerboat racing, bicycle racing, and major lotteries.

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Playing Mahjong in Tokyo

More often than not, how­ever, a blind eye is turned by the Japanese authorities to the ways in which people choose to indulge in gambling. Mahjong is played in private clubs and homes, for example. Some hostess clubs offer gambling in addition to their other services, as long as it is not for money.

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Live Music in Tokyo

There is no shortage of venues to hear live music in Tokyo. Many big acts, Japanese and foreign, appear at Shibuya’s Club Quattro. O-West and O-East are two other good venues in Shibuya for tech­no and J-pop. In Ebisu the Liquid Room is a trendy place to see a mix of bands. The Akasaka Blitz hosts J-pop groups and some foreign acts. Venues for live music and experimental performances range from the ever-exciting SuperDeluxe in Nishi-Azabu, to expat-hangout The Pink Cow in Roppongi. The Mandala Live House has mostly Japanese bands.

For big-name jazz performers try the Shinjuku Pit Inn, the Cotton Club in Marunouchi, and the Blue Note Tokyo Birdland, in Akasaka, is one of Tokyo’s longest-running jazz clubs Billboard Live Tokyo in Roppongi is a fancy venue that features live music perfor­mances by top artists.

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A Jazz representation at Cotton Club – Marunouchi, Tokyo

For a cozier, more intimate setting, try the Blues Alley Japan, a small club featuring blues, jazz, rock, world music, and other genres.

The domestic and international classical music and opera scene in Tokyo is flourishing. Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Bunkamura, New National Theater, Suntory Hall, NHK Hall, and the Tokyo International Forum are all popular spots.

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Going to cinema in Tokyo

Movie-going is not cheap in Japan, costing about ¥1,800 per person, However, on Cinema Day, usually the first day of each month, ticket prices are reduced. Many cinemas also have Ladies’Day, usually on a Wednesday, when ticket prices for women are reduced to ¥1,000. Some American and European films may take up to three months to reach Japan. Non-Japanese films are usually shown in the original language with Japanese subtitles.

In Shibuya, Bunkamura sometimes shows Japanese films with English sub­titles and occasionally screens Independent and European films.

Also in Shibuya, the Theater Image Forum, designed by archi­tect Masaharu Takahashi, uses the most advanced digital techno­logy. The centrally located Toho Cinemas Chanter shows art-house and Independent movies.

For mainstream movies, try United Cinema Toyosu, which is one of the largest in Tokyo, with 12 screens. It is possible to hire children’s seats and even blankets here. Marunouchi Piccadilly in the Mullion Building in Yurakucho has five screens, while Ebisu Garden Place has two.

A popular choice is the nine-screen Toho Cinema Roppongi Hills in the Roppongi Hills complex.

Toho Cinema Roppongi Hills

Toho Cinema Roppongi Hills

Fans of Japanese cinema should visit the National Film Center.

The annual Tokyo International Film Festival is held in October/November. Other worthwhile festivals include the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

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International and Contemporary Theater and Dance in Tokyo

The theater scene encompasses everything from Shakespeare (at the Tokyo Globe) and Broadway musicals to comedy, classical ballet, and modern dance, with the main venues in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Marunouchi. The level of performance is usually high.

The Tokyo Comedy Store offers non-Japanese and Japanese the chance to show off their comedy skills in English: two laughter- packed hours on the fourth Friday of the month at Crocodile in Harajuku.

A uniguely Japanese theater experience is Takarazuka, a company divided into five troupes and composed entirely of women. With their own state-of-the-art Takarazuka Theater in Yurakucho, they perform adaptations in Japanese of Western musicals and historic love stories, and are famed for their lavish productions.

The Interior of Takarazuka Grand Theater

The Interior of Takarazuka Grand Theater

Nihon Buyo Kyokai stages regular performances of traditional dance. Usually at the end of May, the Azuma Odori, an annual production of dance, drama, and music, brings Tokyo’s geisha community on stage at the Shinbashi Enbujo Theater Buto – a unique and compelling art form – is contempo­rary dance combined with performance art. Developed in the 1960s, performances feature shaven headed dancers, almost naked, painted with makeup. Slow, simplistic cho­reography seeks to create beauty out of the self- imposed grotesqueness.