Tokyo is a marvelous mix of modern living and old-fashioned manners, a refreshing change from all other Asian city destinations. It's terribly crowded, yet can be strangely quiet. It is home to the understated and the wacky; and you often find them right next to each other on the sidewalk. There are shrines, stone lanterns, and other traces of old Japan scattered among the skyscrapers, swanky shopping malls and hole-in-the-wall noodle shops.
Here's a list of some of the loveliest - and liveliest - sides of Tokyo you can enjoy on a few days' break from Hong Kong.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The world's largest and busiest fish market has long been a favorite destination to fill the predawn hours. But the main reason for going at 5 a.m. is to catch the live tuna auctions. If so, it will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, and limited to 120 people, admitted in two shifts of 60. You can register starting at 4:30 a.m. at the fish information center inside the Kachidoki Gate off Harumi Street. If you prefer to do your exploration at a more reasonable hour, keep in mind that by 9 a.m., business will have already started to wind down. You'll still see fishmongers filleting the day's catch, but you won't have to dodge so many trucks and trolleys.
If the wholesale market smells too fishy for you, an alternative is Tsukiji's outer market, a warren of narrow streets packed with stalls selling fresh seafood, sushi bars and other specialty items, such as real wasabi. You can buy bowls and sashimi knives there too. Right in the thick of it is the reliably superb Sushizanmai's honten, even open 24 hours.
Dinner and Drinks in Ebisu
You can easily spend a fortune on meals in this city, but it's more fun to rub elbows with salarymen at a standing bar or drink in a local on the cheap at a small izakaya. Ebisu, a trendy neighborhood in Shibuya-ku, is full of these establishments, which specialize in grilled meat and vegetables, sashimi and other casual fare, cooked in tiny kitchens and served on petite plates. Almost by definition, they also have extensive drink menus, and are easy to spot by the doorway curtains and chalkboard menus propped up out front. You won't have to venture far from the train station to find side-street blocks full of them, and the neighborhood is easily accessible - just one stop away from Shibuya on the JR Yamanote line, and two stops from Roppongi on the Tokyo Metro's Hibiya line.
With 333 meters, Tokyo Tower is 13 meters taller than its model, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, and the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower. It was completed in the year 1958 as a symbol for Japan's rebirth as a major economic power, and serves as a television and radio broadcast antenna and one of the cities best tourist attractions to get your bearings on this massive city. You can ascend to the main observatory at 150 meters and the special observatory at 250 meters to get a bird's eye view of Tokyo. Under good weather conditions, Mount Fuji can be seen in the distance. A wax museum and several more attractions (including acrobatic monkeys) can be found on the ground floor of the tower. Separate entrance fees apply. It is recommended to combine a visit to Tokyo Tower with a visit to Zojoji Temple, one of Tokyo's major temples, just next to the tower in the park.
Hakone Hot Springs
If you decide to take a day trip to Hakone, you should leave Tokyo very early in the morning and plan on visiting just a few key attractions -- I recommend the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Gora, sample a lunch set menu at one of Gora's many local country-style restaurants (there is even one that specializes in Gyoza dumplings), then of course you must check yourself into one of the many Hot Springs scattered throughout the mountainside. Keep in mind that most forms of transportation (like the ropeway), as well as museums, close at 5pm. If time permits many of the Hot-Springs offer Ryokan style accommodation so you can spend the night and enjoy home-made meals before sleeping on a Tatami mat for a pure Japanese living experience.
By Troy de Haas