By Michelle Inaba Mocarski
Tokyo is a wondrous city of welcome and beauty. As the memory of last year’s tsunami fades, tourism to Tokyo - and to Japan generally - is increasing every month. Now, come June 1, it will be more convenient than ever for New Yorkers to visit this extraordinary destination. On that day, American Airlines begins direct service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Flying to and from Haneda is a traveler’s delight, because it is just a half-hour or less from downtown Tokyo, compared to an hour and a half or more from the more distant Narita Airport. And the mood in Tokyo today is positive and enthusiastic, as it would be expected from a culture where the traditional Buddhist idea of impermanence is so strong. Everything changes, and change is to be celebrated as an incentive to live life to the fullest, and Tokyo definitely knows how to do it. The city offers its visitors a contemporary mixture of history, art, and culture: the Imperial Palace, museums, lively nightlife, amazing shopping, and incredible dining experiences. Tokyo is the face of a country where past traditions and modernity coexist harmonically.
Speaking of the past, visitors should start by the Imperial Palace, where the Emperor and his family live. The original palace was built in 1888, but it was destroyed by incendiary bombs in May, 1945, almost in the end of World War II. Although the current Imperial Palace was built in the 1960s, its style follows the traditional Japanese architecture. The Imperial Palace is not open to public visitation, but its eastern area, known as East Garden, is. The East Garden has guided tours and is open for visitation on weekdays.
Ueno Park is another great option, not only for its beauty, but also for its culture. Established in 1873, in the end of the Meiji period, Ueno Park was one of the first public parks in Tokyo, and it is also home to several major museums. In between idilic strolls among the romantic cherry trees, you can visit the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, among several others. And, if you go in the first two weeks of April, you can experience the Japanese cherry blossoms season at their fullest.
The walk among eight hundred cherry trees (plus other 8,000 trees) in Ueno Park might inspire you to check out the AsakusaKannon Temple, a beautiful traditional Japanese spiritual site. The Asakusa is a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century and dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Your pilgrimage will start much before reaching the temple, as you will have to walk through Nakamise, a long and narrow street full of traditional snacks and little shops. Just walking through Nakamise is already a revisit to the past, as the street has been providing goods to temple visitors for centuries.
After seeing some of the historical and cultural Tokyo, you might want to experience the modern Tokyo. That will lead you straight to Shibuya crossing, the Japanese version of Times Square. One of the busiest streets in the world, it is said to have about 2,000 to 3,000 people wandering over it at any given time. It’s a great place for shopping: near Shibuya station you’ll find many department stores for women, men and youths. You can also find trendy Japanese street fashion shops, such as the Shibuya 109, the fashion hub that dictates what’s hot in Japanese youth fashion. But Shibuya is not only about shopping. It’s also about music, dancing and nightlife. So, if you’re looking for partying at a club, search no more: Shibuya is your spot. Among the options you’ll find the Womb, one of Tokyo’s hottest clubs, where you can catwalk some of the fashion you find at Shibuya or Ginza.
Speaking of Ginza, that’s where you want to go for high-end fashion. Ginza is Tokyo’s fashion Mecca, with international brands and famous Japanese fashion designers. It also has the best department stores you’ll find in Tokyo. As far as dining, Ginza offers several upscale restaurants, bars, pubs, and coffee shops, such as the Cafe de l’Ambre. The owner of this coffee shop that opened its doors in 1948, is a 95-year-old man who still roasts his coffee grains in his roasting machine. And he is a firm believer of aged coffee: Cafe de l’Ambre offers Cuban beans from 1974, Colombian beans from 1989, among other aged options. This coffee shop is a haven for those who consider savoring coffee an art, as intriguing and complex as wine tasting.
In Ginza you’ll also find the Sony building, an embodiment of high-tech Japan, with six floors of electronic gadgets, show rooms, restaurants and shops. There are gadgets that Sony produced that haven’t been released yet, and those that won’t even reach the international market! This is definitely paradise for those who are tech-savvy, or for those who just like knowing what’s coming up in the electronics world.
Right next to Ginza is the Tsukiji fish market, where you’ll find Edogin, the best sushi place in Tokyo, offering fresh fish from the market everyday. The Tsukiji fish market is a big touristic attraction because of the tuna auction, where tuna fish can cost as much as a car. The tuna auction has a limit of 120 guests per day. Other excellent options for food are Basanova and Cha Cha Hana. Basanova is a ramen house, located in Setagaya-ku, which specializes in green curry ramen, an adaptation of Thai flavors to Japanese taste buds. Cha Cha Hana is a small restaurant that serves Asian/Pac Rim food, and one of their famous dishes is the grilled Japanese yam and yolk with bonito flakes, and potato dumplings stuffed with scallops and served with wood-ear crab sauce. Both places serve delicious dishes at very, very affordable prices.
Finally, one of Tokyo’s famous landscapes: the Tokyo Tower, in Minato-ku. Tokyo Tower is the Eiffel Tower of Japan: it is 1091 feet tall, and it has two observatories, where you can have a 360-degree view of the city, besides a wax museum, an aquarium, an art gallery, and some souvenir shops. The other very famous landscape of Tokyo is its impressive line of skyscrapers, which are mostly located at the Shinjuku station. Also near Shinjuku Station is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings (TMG), which allows visitors to go to their two observations floors, where they can have a bird’s-eye-view of the city, including the famous Mt. Fuji in the back. The wonders of Tokyo don’t stop here. There are many more sites to visit, exquisite cuisine, shows, the traditional Kabuki theater, and much more to be explored.
American will serve the new route with a 245-seat Boeing 777 aircraft, which can carry 14 passengers in First Class, 37 in Business Class, and 194 in Economy Class. All the convenience of American Airlines direct flight will allow you more time to relax and remember one of the most beautiful memories of Tokyo: the image of Mt. Fuji behind the city’s skyscrapers. A memorable sight to take with you as you sit back in your comfortable American Airlines seat and enjoy your direct flight back home. •
Congratuations to our Grand Prize Winner, Beth Andrews from Manhatan, for naming Tokyo, as the correct answer to our Guess The Mystery Destination Contest and giving the best reason why she loves it.
Beth wins two (2) round trip International tickets from American Airlines
I love Tokyo! It’s super kawaii and way cool! It’s fashionable girls and guys are all the rage of Asia and many Americans use them as inspiration in their style of dress. Just look at Lady Gaga; she gets many ideas from J-Pop stars. I would love to go to Ginza or Harajuku, where I am sure that I could pick up tips and buy really interesting and outrageous clothing! -Beth Andrews