Friday, February 03, 2012

Tokyo - An Outsider's View


Tokyo. An ultramodern city, voted as one of the most livable cities in the world it is also one of the most expensive and most populous metropolis in the world. Most people dream to visit Tokyo atleast once in their lifetime.

Tokyo, known by its old name of Edo until 1868, was a small castle town. This sleepy fishing village became Japan’s political centre in the 17th century when the Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu set up his feudal government here. As part of the Meiji restoration in 1868, the emperor moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo. The erstwhile Edo castle became the Imperial Palace and what was a political and cultural capital turned to the nation’s capital.

The city suffered considerable damage in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and was rebuilt only to be followed up by the air raids during World War II. The city along with other parts of the affected areas was rebuilt and the city as we see it today has no traces of these catastrophes.

The city today has its share of ultramodern skyscrapers, infrastructure and offcourse the layers and layers of highways criss-crossing each other. At times, when driving through Tokyo, the road just does not touch the ground level and you feel the highways are built in mid-air. None of these make the city a concrete jungle, as much as it sounds. The city has its share of open spaces- parks and recreation areas.

Tokyo is one of the most preferred places for people to live. The administrative and business capital of Japan, is also its most populous city. The largest number of expat population also resides in Tokyo, followed only by Osaka. Foreigners prefer to live in Tokyo, because they can socialize with other foreigners, which is difficult in smaller cities. It is also the most convenient place to live in, because of its location- central Japan. Since most Tokyoites are used to having foreigners around them, they may be more tolerant and open to foreigners. Also a larger part of the population can speak in English than in most other cities in Japan. bare minimum knowledge of English can help you move around in the city easily.

Tokyo has many schools and universities offering courses in English, which may be rare to find in smaller cities. This is our personal experience as the city we live in has no International or English school, except for a kindergarten which offers an International course. We had to settle for it for our kid as we don’t have a choice.

Notorious for being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Tokyo does live up to its reputation.  Perhaps most expensive of all, is Housing. People pay exorbitant rent or EMI’s to live in amazingly small spaces. No wonder homes in Tokyo are comparatively smaller. Some apartment buildings have limited or no parking lots and people who own cars, have to rent parking lots elsewhere. Not to mention, the monthly parking rent is expensive too.

If you intend to live in Tokyo and own a car, one of your biggest expenses is surely  Parking charges. Parking in most places is difficult to find and not to mention - expensive. Free parking space is virtually non existent. Parking charges vary on weekdays and weekends and holidays. Don’t expect weekend charges to be cheaper- on the contrary, it is more expensive in tourist areas. We learnt the hard way. We had parked our car in the Asakusa area for a couple of hours. The parking charges are always mentioned in Japanese and what you calculate is not always what you end up paying. No Japanese person can be of much help in calculating ( I would rather say deciphering) the parking charges as they sometimes do not know for themselves, courtesy the fine print.

The various highways that pass through Tokyo have tolls which also add up to the cost of driving in Tokyo. The traffic on work days can be unnerving. Most officegoers prefer to use public transportation to save themselves from the hassles of the commute. Most employers pay a fixed allowance to employees for their daily commute.

Tokyo’s transportation system makes commuting very convenient. The Tokyo Metro is the best and quickest way to get about anywhere within town. The JR East line connects most important places within the city. Believe it or not, taking the train or Metro is the fastest, most convenient and cheapest (in my opinion) to travel within Tokyo. Few areas like Odaiba are also served by the Yurikamome monorail.

Tokyo has a lot of tourist spots to offer for almost any kind of tourist. There are the business districts, the shrines and temples, the parks, the amusement and theme parks, shopping areas. Name it and you have it. Hotel rooms in Tokyo tend to be slightly higher than in other cities. If you intend to just spend a few hours in the hotel room to catch up on sleep or rest a bit, a business hotel like Route Inn or Tokyo Inn would be a good option. If you are on a shoestring budget, there are cheaper options like guest houses or manga cafes. The popular regular hotels are a bit pricey, but offcourse worth the facilities. Staying in a hotel slightly away from central Tokyo or even in the neighbouring prefectures of Kanagawa or Chiba or Saitama could be easier on the pocket.

The airports at Narita and Haneda are both located closer to Tokyo. Limousine buses are the best way to reach Tokyo from both airports. The Airport express connects Tokyo to Narita by train, while monorail connects Haneda to Tokyo.
For more details check out this site :  http://www.tokyoessentials.com/arriving.html

It took me a little over 100 posts before I finally started to write about Tokyo.
Living about 200 kms up north of Iwaki, we have often visited Tokyo. Though I miss the hustle, bustle and lively life in Tokyo, I am content with the slow and easy pace of life in Iwaki. We have visited Tokyo quite a few times over the last 18 months. We visited many of Tokyo's attractions during these trips and I will post more about each of these places in a mini series, beginning my next post.

Some useful links:

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