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I recently took an around-the-world trip from NYC (with a stay at the new Park Hyatt New York) and then on to Tokyo for 62,500 AA miles and $5.60, with award seats on American’s A321 first class JFK-San Francisco (SFO) and JAL’s Boeing 777-300ER first class SFO-Tokyo Haneda (HND). I hadn’t visited Tokyo for a long time, but it took me no time at all to fall back in love with the city—and here’s why.
1. Energy! Whether you’re in the Shibuya district with its crazy street crossing of thousands or surrounded by hundreds of colorful signs in the electronics neighborhood of Akihabara, being a part of the pulsing street energy of Tokyo is an attraction in itself. I was jetlagged one day, so I took a stroll through an astoundingly huge eight-story video arcade that was so noisy and silly that it completely revived me—and soon had me laughing like a little kid.
2. Respectfulness. Even though Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis of over 13 million, there’s a sense of respect amongst people that I’ve seen in very few other cities. There are little to no displays of selfishness—you won’t see “man spreaders” on the subway or even public nose-blowing. It seems as though everyone in Tokyo has decided to behave as they wish others would behave.
3. Cleanliness. Seriously, this city is so ridiculously clean that you could almost eat off its streets. (Fortunately, you have lots of other options!)
4. Cheap, delicious food—everywhere. Some of Tokyo’s best food can be found in super-cheap, hole-in-the-wall places. I loved walking down small streets, sidling up to a random ramen bar, and simply pointing at stuff in the hope that it would turn out to be good—and it always was.
5. Mass transit. Immense but easy to understand and incredibly cheap (day passes are only ¥710/$6 US), the subway system in Tokyo is amazing!
6. Amazing views. Many of Tokyo’s hotels are perched at the top of skyscrapers (such as the new Andaz, where I stayed, and the Park Hyatt), providing great opportunities to take in some stunning views of the city while earning loyalty points for your cocktails.
7. Unapologetic quirkiness. At night, the already wacky Shinjuku district becomes a complete scene. We went to the near-insane Robot Restaurant, which is as close to being inside a kaleidoscope as I’ve ever felt, and then to the Roppongi Kingyo transvestite theatre, where the way-over-the-top drag queens couldn’t have been nicer to us—the only Westerners in the joint. The food in both of these places is forgettable, but really, you don’t go to either for cuisine!
8. Outdoor space. Tokyo is full of parks and shrines, including the really cool Ueno Zoo that could just about double as a garden—and is home to everything from pandas to flamingoes. The city is very walkable and easily linked by the metro, so exploring is both easy and healthy.
9. Feeling like a celebrity. The average height of Japanese women is 5’2” and for men, it’s about 5’7”—so at 6’7,” I was truly a freak of nature. People were nice about it, though, smiling at me if I caught them staring and always willing to take a photo with me—the human version of Godzilla!
10. Vending-machine culture. There are more vending machines per capita in Japan than in any other country in the world—as of 2013, the city had over 5 million of them. You can get almost anything from a Japanese vending machine, whether it’s a green tea soda, beer, a floral arrangement, umbrella, underwear, a toasted sandwich, or even packets and aluminum cans of ramen. Chances are, if you can think of a thing, Tokyo is selling it somewhere in town, in a vending machine.
Have you been to Tokyo before? What were your favorite things about the city?