Subject: Tokyo (report)
Hi Ziners,

Thanks to the peculiarities of crossing the international dateline, it turned out I had about 5 and a half days in Tokyo and environs. Although it was my first trip to Japan, and I went with a little trepidation about language difficulties, getting around in the smaller towns, and expense, I'm happy to report that none of these worries were founded.

Yes Tokyo is huge, and it's impossible to see all the areas of interest, but the subway system is so extensive and so easy to use that it is possible to make a good effort at getting to know the city. And within Tokyo proper, most signage uses both English and Japanese characters so finding your destination isn't that difficult.

Highlights in Tokyo: Tsujiki - the early morning fish market is a must for anyone interested in food, and sushi in particular. The auctions start early-- around 5:00 a.m. and last about an hour and a half. After the auction, the action moves to the huge middleman market where restaurants and serious, determined individuals buy their fish for the day. By 8:00 you're ready for breakfast in one of the sushi or ramen stands just on the fringe of the market warehouse.

Public Parks and Gardens - my favorites were the Hama Rikyu Garden, just south of the Fish Market, and the Shinjuku National Garden. These are beautifully cultivated, tranquil spaces, and if the cherry blossoms are in bloom, they can be heavenly (and crowded with locals.) The Imperial Palace East Gardens are also extraordinarily beautiful, and right in the middle of the city, within walking distance of the Ginza.

the Ginza - which makes America and New York's Times Square seem almost third-world. It is flashing, colorful neon as far as the eye can see. It was so much fun taking this in, I went three nights in a row just to walk around and gaze up and down like some hayseed from a small town. And I found myself smiling the whole time.

Asakusa neighborhood - at the center of this area is the Asakusa Kannon Temple, but the narrow streets surrounding the temple are filled with little shops, stores, and street stalls selling anything a tourist or local citizen might desire. This area easily fills a half-day.

Ueno Park and the area under the JR Train station - The enormous park is worth exploring, and definitely a destination for Tokyo families on the weekend. However, after a walk around the surprisingly wild pond at the south end of the park, I found myself captivated by the flea market in the warren of streets surrounding the nearby train station. I could have spent an entire day in this neighborhood. Definitely the best street food in Tokyo, most of it concentrated right underneath the Ueno Station train tracks.

I also spent two and a half days exploring smaller towns in the environs of Tokyo. Kamakura is worth at least a day trip-- there are a half-dozen shrines and temples to see, and the main pedestrian shopping street is fascinating. It can all be done on foot. My last half day was spent exploring Narita City, which has been much written about on this board. It is the perfect side trip to make from Narita airport, and a complete excursion with lunch requires about 4 hours. The Buddhist temple and gardens here are spectacular.

Language is almost never a problem in Tokyo. Outside Tokyo, it gets a little more challenging, especially when all the signage is only in Japanese characters. But I never really had problems. A few well-chosen words, the name of my destination, and a good map always-- eventually-- got me where I was going.

Joel, in Chicago