Eating Out

Tokyo is one of the world's great cities for foodies. Not only is there a fabulous variety of premium eateries, with collectively more Michelin stars than Paris, but the wonderfully diverse and exciting world of Japanese cuisine reaches its highest peaks here.

From kaiseki, the elaborate and expensive multicourse fine dining experience, to street classics like noodle dishes, deep-fried , mouth-watering pork, and chicken grilled on skewers, Tokyo has it all in abundance.

Then there is the perennial Western favourite, sushi, impeccably served in a thousand different varieties around the city. For a light meal on the move, you can also grab a lunchtime box from any convenience store and find a seat in the many quiet enclaves amid the city bustle. For an unforgettable experience, treat yourself to a pricey but incredibly fresh sushi breakfast at one of the restaurants near the Tsukiji Fish Market in Chuo.

You can also visit the basement level of nearly any department store, which will contain a number of shops selling prepared foods. Piece together your own meal, or just browse the free samples. Note that these stores will begin discounting their food around 7pm.

Chopsticks are used in most restaurants, except those serving mainly Western cuisine. However, you can ask for other utensils. When eating noodles, it is quite normal to pick up the bowl and drink from it, using the chopsticks to eat the solid bits. Slurping is also normal; in fact, it is said to improve the flavour of the food and is seen as compliment to the cook.

In most restaurants, you will be given a wet towel known as before eating. Use this to freshen up by wiping your face and hands. While ordering in a restaurant without an English menu can be intimidating, many restaurants have plastic food models on display, and most offer set menus with popular combinations.

Tipping is not customary in Japan, and attempts to provide gratuity are likely to be met with confusion. At more upmarket restaurants a 10 to 15 percent service charge may be added to your bill. Smaller restaurants and roadside stalls will not accept credit cards.

Shopping

Tokyo has refined shopping into an urban art form and essential cultural experience. The result is quite possibly the most futuristic shopping environment in the world, in which you can purchase everything from underwear to watermelons from vending machines while never interacting with a human. The city is at the cutting edge of fashion and design, as a wide-eyed stroll through the Ginza and Shibuya districts will confirm.

Tokyo is also famous for its electronics stores, the biggest concentration of which can be found in Akihabara, Tokyo's 'Electric Town'. Despite the wide range, you will struggle to find genuine bargains and don't expect to negotiate too much on price. Nevertheless, Akihabara is a colourful and exciting shopping district and the manga and anime stores will delight many.

Shopping malls have also been taken to another level in Tokyo. Shinjuku Station is surrounded by multi-level shopping stores selling everything under the sun. Big name chains such as Keio and Isetan can be accessed directly from the station. They both offer tax-free shopping and European language assistance. For a more upmarket department store experience, visit Mitsukoshi, which has several branches throughout the city.

Tokyo isn't known for flea markets, but two that are worth a visit for artisan-style gifts are Togo Shrine in Harajuku, on the first and fourth Sundays of each month, and Nogi Shrine, on the second Sunday of each month. There are many small markets around the various temples and shrines.

Essential purchases in Tokyo include traditional items like Daruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and chop-sticks. Kimonos are another good purchase although those made from pure silk, as true kimonos are, will be expensive. On a more modern note, the very latest gadgetry and electronics are on offer. A good place to browse for souvenirs is the Oriental Bazaar and Omotesando, both of which offer good value and plenty of interesting human scenery.

One of the surprising aspects of shopping in Tokyo is that despite the vast buildings and slick modernity surrounding everyone, there are still traditional neighbourhoods and quiet districts to be found. Here you can find specialist stores selling unique and frequently handmade items such as micro-brewed or beautiful lacquerware.

Nightlife

The nightlife in Tokyo is spectacular. The city has everything from geisha bars to jazz clubs, dive bars referred to as 'shot bars' to themed dance clubs. It is legal to drink out in the streets and vending machines even stock cans of beer.

A good way to enjoy Tokyo's nightlife is in an izakaya, a pub-style watering hole serving food and drink. Western-style bars are much more expensive than those with local flavour, though chains like The Hub have happy-hour prices that are more reasonable.

Roppongi is the top nightlife district in Tokyo, where the locals are very friendly to (Westerners). Be wary of hostesses and patrons who try to lure you into one of the district's many gentlemen's clubs, where drinks are prohibitively expensive.

Shibuya also has a number of nightclubs, and Shinjuku is home to both Tokyo's red-light district and its most popular gay bars. Women are advised not to walk around alone in these areas late at night. For less expensive bars that cater to students and backpackers, go a little further to the Shimokitazawa, Koenji, and Nakano districts.

Many bars and lounges impose a table charge, which includes snacks like nuts or chips. Not all venues charge and policies vary, so ask before you order anything. Note that the legal age for both drinking and smoking in Japan is 20.

Those looking for a more cultured evening can catch a traditional kabuki performance at the Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza - it is possible to attend and pay for only one act as opposed to the whole production to get a taste for the art form. Other popular forms of theatre include the restrained and refined noh, and bunraku puppet theatre.

You can also see traditional Western music performances by the Tokyo and NHK Symphony Orchestras at various theatres around Tokyo. Check the Japan Times for concert information. For detailed nightlife listings, grab a copy of the free Metropolis publication.

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