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Travel Guide: Big trip to Tokyo: Japan's capital is 'as exciting, overwhelming and surreal as it gets'

29th Jun 2013 6:22pm | By Andrew Westbrook

A city of extremes, Tokyo’s glimmering neon, exotic food, dizzying skyscrapers and ultra-posh toilets will keep your head spinning

First things first, forget about London, Paris or New York. If you’re craving an all-out attack on your senses, there’s one city above all others that keeps the blows coming, 24/7, leaving you dazed, dazzled and desperate for more; that’s Tokyo. Put simply, the Japanese capital is as exciting, overwhelming and downright surreal as it gets.

I’m at the end of my week in the world’s biggest metropolitan area, thanks to an extended stop-off between Europe and Australia, and am still not entirely sure what’s hit me. I’ve not taken any drugs, and barely touched a drop of alcohol, but feel like I’ve entered an elongated state of hallucinogenic glee, my visions flitting from computer game graphics to Samurai movie motifs.

That’s not to say, however, that Tokyo doesn’t do the usual city things well. Indeed, the capital, which until as recently as 1867 was known by its original fishing village name, Edo, has a habit of finishing at the top of lists.

For example, which city has the most Michelin-starred restaurants on the planet – with over twice as many as second-placed Paris? Tokyo. Which city is home to more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else? Tokyo. And where have The Guardian readers voted as the best city in the world to visit, three years running? That’ll be Tokyo. 

Of course there’s one other league that Tokyo is famous, or infamous, for regularly topping, and that’s the one ranking the world’s most expensive cities. And it’s true, prices are high. But don’t be put off, it’s not as bad as you might fear, especially if you’re familiar with Sydney or Melbourne prices.

Most of the costs that seem excessive by international standards tend to hit the locals, such as utility bills and cars. Travellers, by comparison, don’t fare too badly, thanks to plenty of not-extortionate options when it comes to food, accommodation and getting around.

Plus, best of all, Tokyo is not a city where you tick off a list of pricey must-sees, but a place to wander around, gawp in awe and generally succumb to your jetlag-infused confusion. So here’s our guide to making the most of the madness.

Sliding doors

Sure, there’s no shortage of the usual you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-world hostels, but it’s worth throwing yourself in at the deep end, paying a little more (at least for a night or two) and heading to a ryokan, one of the traditional inns which travellers have for centuries been using to rest their weary heads across Japan.

Prepare for sliding paper doors, futons on the floor, ditching shoes for slippers and old-style Japanese breakfasts served on tiny tables in your room.

Be warned, though, if you’re heading to the communal baths in your Japanese robe (like the obliging tourist you are), try and avoid the large group of pissed-up local teenagers also staying there – because they will laugh at you, very loudly. While pointing (trust me).