Tokyo is playing the right game in its bid to host the 2020 Olympics
- Credit: Archant
Next month Tokyo will find out if they will be the host city for the 2020 Olympics. Lorraine King visited the capital of Japan to see what it has to offer tourists.
Tokyo is often described as one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Granted property prices are at a premium with the city bursting with condominiums (apartments) to cope with an estimated population of 13 million – 5m more than London.
But for tourists the price of land and property isn’t a factor when visiting this bustling city.
If Tokyo is picked as the hosts of the 2020 Olympics visitors will enjoy an array of interesting and thought-provoking places to visit, sights to see and things to eat.
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One of the first very noticeable things about Tokyo is how clean it is. I would happily eat my dinner of the pavements and we are talking about pavements that are trampled on by millions of people each day.
During my four day stay I failed to spot one piece of litter any where in the city, not a chewing gum wrapper, crisp packet or a discarded receipt.
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How is this possible in a city that also has very few litter bins?
I can only presume its down to discipline and respect for the place where you live/ work.
For a place which is known across the global for its advances in technology the thought of visiting a ‘robot restaurant’ intrigued me.
Was this is an eatery where diners were served by robots?
Would it be like a scene from Doctor Who with a Dalek-type waiter greeting me on arrival?
No this restaurant was more like a cabaret act consisting of scantily-dressed women on giant robots singing and dancing and doing bizarre circus type acts.
I was hooked.
As a tourist I wanted to see more Japanese cabaret.
It’s unusual and addictive.
For those who prefer a less eye-popping form of entertainment a performance at the Kabuki-za Theatre is a must.
This classical form of treading the boards dates back from the Edo period (1603 - 1868) and involves the men-only cast adorning whitened faces and huge outlandish wigs that Elton John would be jealous off.
The cast ‘hams up’ their lines resulting in slight overacting however this makes it more enjoyable.
As expected the play is in Japanese but I managed to keep up with the storyline by wearing a pair of headphones and listening to a specially narrated recording in English (other languages are available too).
Visiting a Kabuki-za is seen by some as a formal affair akin to the Proms in the UK so some women and men wearing beautiful and colourful Kimonos of the highest standard.
The traditional Japanese robe has made its way into the Western world as a fashion item but in Japan the colour, fabric, print and even the type of sleeve can tell you a lot about the wearer.
For instance a young unmarried woman would wear a Kimono of a bright or light colour with a long sleeve while an older or married woman would traditionally stick to a darker shade with a shorter sleeve.
It was pleasure to admire the variety of Kimonos in the theatre.
A visit to a sumo wresting tournament is a must for every tourist. You ask anyone to name a Japanese sport and that is the one which will be firmly on their lips.
The sport goes back to ancient times when it was an event used to determine whether the crops would be good or bad by seeking divine intervention from the gods.
It became a spectator sport in the sixth century where the loser was the first one who touched the ground with any part of his body except the soles of his feet or if he is pushed out of the special ring where the wrestling takes place.
Being heavy yet fit is the making of a good sumo wrestler and I met Yuki Ozaki who retired from the sport in 2008.
At his peak the 37-year-old, who is 6ft 2ins tall, weighed just over 23 stone.
He told me he stuck to a strict fitness regime where he trained from 5am -11am every morning BEFORE having anything to eat.
“It was gruelling,” he added.
“But it was a time of my life I enjoyed.”
I visited Ryogoku-kokugikan which is the largest sumo arena in Japan.
It heartened me to see that visiting the arena was a family affair where spectators of all ages would sit in their specially assigned square and enjoy the delicious bento boxes and green tea which were provided as part of your entry free.
Bento boxes were commonly on sale at all types of venues including the theatre and comprise of rice with fish, and or meat which are eaten with the traditional form of Japanese cutlery – chopsticks.
Another sport favoured in Japan is baseball which formed its professional league in 1936 and currently has 12 baseball teams.
Much like football in the UK baseball has die hard fans with around 25,000 people coming to see a match and an estimated 21.4m people visiting stadiums up and down the land in one year.
Tokyo hopes the game will become an official event in time for 2020.
Like former Olympic host cities Tokyo has drawn up a meticulous plan of how they would serve the games.
The country’s national stadium in Kasumigaka hosted the summer Olympics in 1964 but will be demolished and rebuilt in 2018.
The new building, which will cost an estimated £130billion yen, reminds me of a cyclist helmet and will be used as the main venue for both the 2020 games and its Paralympics equivalent.
Visiting the stadium as it is now it’s not hard to see why it would need to go under the wrecking ball as it seems dated and would struggle to cope with increased footfall if Tokyo wins its bid for 2020.
Naoki Inose Tokyo’s very own Boris Johnson is no doubt crossing his fingers that his city will be the chosen one. A winning bid will boost the city’s economy by an eye-watering £3trillion yen.
As the governor of Tokyo the young looking 66-year-old is the face of the bid and is based in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office in Shinjuku-fukutoshin.
He told me they are looking forward to the challenge and he is sure their transport system can cope with the increase in passengers.
There are also plans to build more hotels across Tokyo to ensure all visitors will have a roof over their head.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Tokyo’s public transport doesn’t run into the early hours like it does in London.
Their Metro (akin to the Tube) finishes around 10 – 10.30pm and there are no night buses which is a bit shocking for a county which is know for it’s incredible work ethic (16 hours a day, seven days a week in some cases).
Therefore late workers face splashing out on expensive cabs (I’ve been told the prices are much higher that Hackney cabs) or financially astute employees find a Manga café where they can stay from as little as £6 a night.
These popular premises are a must for die-hard fans of Manga (a type of Japanese cartoon) as you can read as many Manga comic books or watch DVDs for a set price.
You are given a small private booth that has sleeping facilities hence workers using it if they miss their last train home.
Some cafes also provide free drinks and snacks and at the Comic café which I visited women guest can have their nails and hair done for free if they stay overnight.
Britney Hamada is a famous female comic artist who became famous thanks to her lifestyle of living in Manga cafes.
She has a cheeky teenage look which would not be out of place at Harajuku and Takeshita-dori – the centre of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion.
The clothes on offer both busy vibrant shopping hubs are not for the faint hearted.
I was treated to a guided tour by designer and model Kuamiki who was wearing an eye-catching pastel coloured Kimono.
The area reminded me of a more vivacious Carnaby Street where the young and happening hang out in close proximity to Regent Street where the older less adventurous shopper chooses to frequent.
The equivalent in Tokyo is Omotesando which is referred to as Japan’s Champs-Elysees.
Both are worth checking out though I admit I found Takeshita-dori much more interesting.
Shopping in Tokyo is a fabulous experience especially for electrical equipment after all Japan is the land where technology was born.
In Akihabara, one of the world’s largest electronics trading areas, I was surprised to stumble across a huge Tower Records store no less than five floors selling everything from CDs to clothing.
I was double surprise to see a whole selection on one of the music floors dedicated to Britain’s very own boyband One Direction!
In an era where technology has seen the demise of specialist music shops its ironic that it hasn’t dented the industry in Japan.
However during my look around the shops I became aware that the Japanese community’s petite frame reflected in the clothing and shoes (except kimonos) available on sale for women.
A woman over a dress size 14 with feet bigger that a size six may struggle to find clothing to fit.
The Japanese’s healthy diet is envied around the world. In fact I noticed hundreds of people drinking bottles of green tea like water.
Green tea is heralded as healthy fat-bursting refreshment which speeds up your metabolism.
Combine that with a healthy love of fish and its understandable why obesity is rare in Japan.
As a fish enthusiast an early morning visit to Tsukili Market was one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Akin to London’s Billingsgate the wholesale market handles the most fish products in Japan with 450 species being exchanged every day.
It also boasts an array of sushi restaurants which will make to order dishes right before your very eyes.
Beef is also a firm favourite on the menu and nothing could beat the taste and feel of Kobe beef which is offered in every restaurant I visited.
While it is priced around £250 per kg in the UK it’s fair to say it’s cheaper in Japan but has a long way to go before it’s no longer eaten as a luxury.
I noticed in many restaurants the main soft drinks on offer were coke and green tea and if you fancied the stronger stiff plum wine, saki, beer or whisky.
Other types of spirits are imported so will be at a premium price but the plum wine is worth tasting and the saki is sublime but very strong.
Any tourist must, must, must visit a karaoke bar after all Japan invented the popular pastime which has become a global success.
Karaoke comes from two Japanese words Kara (karappo) which means empty and Oke (okesutura) meaning orchestra.
There are more than 100,000 Karaoke boxes across Japan where people go to sing and not drink – unlike the UK.
Overall, Tokyo has a lot to offer to tourists and while it isn’t the cheapest city in the world it’s a little unfair to say it’s the most expensive as those on a tight budget can enjoy a ramen meal(noodles) for as little as £2-£3 and even the most swankiest eatery located in the city within the 450m high Tokyo Skytree attraction where you can see the city from a birds eye view while shopping, offers an a la carte menu which would cost around £30 a head.
I flew to Narita airport with Japan Airlines http://www.jal.co.jp/en/.
Flights go from Heathrow and take around 12 hours.
I stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, 2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo, visit www.keioplaza.com/
Travellers who prefer a Japanese setting would enjoy Sadachiyo in Taito-ku www.sadachiyo.co.jp/e/eindex.html.
If Tokyo is picked as the hosts of the Olympic 2020 it’s a wonderful chance for visitors to enjoy the games and the wonderful culture it has to offer.
Even if it doesn’t host the games it’s worth a visit. I can’t wait to go back.
Click on the photo gallery to see more images of Tokyo.