Shinjuku is where Tokyo comes out at night; or at least it seems to! I visited on a short trip in 2009, and ventured out in the evening to explore the Japanese capital’s most neon neighbourhood.
It had been a long day of sightseeing when we decided to head out to the fluorescent tube-lit district of Shinjuku. Tired, we jumped on the metro which led us underground and then above ground, the busy streets of Tokyo speeding by in the dusk twilight.
We emerged from the station into the crazily flashing jungle of food and sundry consumerism that is Shinjuku. Simply wandering the streets was a sight – the myriad of signs and boards blaring their messages in a language so foreign to me. They were all somehow warm and welcoming though; cheap and tacky though some might allege, they all tempted me to come in and experience the delights of the shops beneath them.
Walking along the cosmopolitan streets anonymous, thronged with both locals and visitors, I felt lost to the night and the crowds. To my periphery, I spotted a small wooden doorway leading to the side of a building. Inside, in a small, almost hidden ramen bar, what appeared to be mostly local patrons were slurping away at the traditional noodle soup dish. I had arrived in the Tokyo of my dreams.
When to go
March to May is spring, and September to November is autumn; both are good periods to be in Tokyo. Summer (June to August) is hot, but more problematically very humid and even stormy. Winter is very cold, although if you’re prepared it mightn’t be an issue.
Culture shock: 7/10 – Japan is like another world.
Language difficulty: 4/10 – while not a lot of English is spoken in many places, people are used to foreigners and cater accordingly.
Quality of food: 9/10 – either purely sublime, or deliciously interesting – never boring!
Cost: 8/10 – Tokyo isn’t a cheap place to stay, although food and public transport is relatively cheap.
Physical demand: 3/10
Advice and warnings
Tokyo is fairly safe. The usual precautions apply – keep your wits about you, and remember to respect local sensitivities. Check Smart Traveller or the British Foreign Office for more comprehensive warnings.
Most Australians may enter Japan without a visa for a 90-day stay. Pakistanis must apply to the Japanese Embassy in Islamabad; contact the embassy for details. Indians can apply through their nearest embassy; a single entry tourist visa at the Consulate-General of Japan in Chennai costs INR 500.
Getting there and around
Jetstar has direct flights to Tokyo from Melbourne (sale fares from $598 return) and from Sydney via the Gold Coast (sale fares from $820 return).
From Lahore, THAI Airways International flies to Tokyo via Bangkok from PKR 117,344.
From Chennai, fly THAI Airways International to Tokyo via Bangkok (from INR 47,311 return).
Jetstar flights and some THAI flights land at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, which is a long way from the centre. The easiest way to get to the city is on the Narita Express train, which departs regularly. Tickets cost JPY 1,500 (about US$14).
Some THAI flights arrive at Haneda Airport, which is closer to the city centre.