Tokyo: Shinjuku and environs
Flashy and modern, with dazzling skyscrapers and department stores. Train tracks divide the commercial hub to the west, Nishi-Shinjuku, from shops and bars in Higashi-Shinjuku.
SEE Metropolitan Government Offices
Nishi Shinjuku 2-8-1, 011-81-3/5321-111, metro.tokyo.jp
Architect Kenzo Tange's twin towers still make an imposing mark on the Tokyo landscape. The boundless (and free) views from the 45th floor are enough to make even an exhausted Tokyo government employee smile. The north observatory is open daily 9:30 a.m.--11:00 p.m. and closed the second and fourth Monday of each month. The south is open daily 9:30 a.m.--5:30 p.m. and closed the first and third Tuesday of each month. Both are closed Dec. 29--31, Jan. 2--3.
SEE Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens
Naito-cho 11, 011-81-3/3350-0151, shinjkugyoen.go.jp
This vast green oasis in the heart of the city has acres of lawns that you are actually allowed to walk on. It's a more relaxed alternative to Ueno Park, and a wonderful spot for cherry- blossom viewing come spring. Open daily 9 a.m.--4:30 p.m. Closed Mon. $1.75.
SEE Yoyogi National Gymnasium
Yoyogi (halfway between Shinjuku and Harajuku), Jinnan-2-1-1, 011-81-3/3468-1171, naash.go.jp/yoyogi
For the 1964 Olympics, Japan's most influential 20th-century architect, Kenzo Tange, created a vision of the future: twin swooping, grey concrete buildings that resemble flying saucers. The grassy hill next door is a good place to lounge and take in the view.
EAT Canal Café
Kagurazaka 1-9, 011-81-3/3260-8068
In spring, cherry trees form a pink canopy over the deck of this European-style café. To reach it, hop on a Chuo Line train, get off at Iidabashi Station, and take the west exit.
EAT Okubo Korea Town
Authentic Korean food that's definitely not made for tourists. Choose any of the crowded restaurants, like the Healthy House (Hyakunin-Cho 1-18-10 2F, 011-81-3/3366-2611, English sign), famous for its barbequed meats and bibimbop (rice mixed with vegetables and fried egg), or Oasis (Okubo 1-15-12 2F, 011-81-3/3209-6535, English sign), known for cheap, filling, spicy stews. Get off at Shin-Okubo Station on the Yamanote Line, and follow the locals--and your nose.
EAT Thai Country
Shinjuku 3-11-1, 011-81-3/3358-0557
A tiny, country-and-western-themed restaurant that's a favorite of local Thais for its home-style dishes, such as fried egg salad and curry.
Shinjuku 2-18-1, 011-81-3/3358-3988
This small, dark, zebra-striped café/bar in Tokyo's largest gay district has $9 all-you-can-drink specials on Sundays 9 a.m.-- 9 p.m. It's the place to come for pre-club drinks on weekends, when the crowd spills over onto the street outside.
DRINK Omoide Yokocho
Near the western exit of JR Shinjuku Station
Memory Lane, a narrow alley squeezed between Shinjuku Station and a jumble of bigger, newer buildings, is a clutch of tiny charming drinking shacks with just enough space for a handful of customers. Most patrons order beer and yakitori (meat on skewers), but the daily drink and snack specials can be delicious. Go now before the property developers get their way and this slice of Tokyo is lost forever.
DRINK Motsuyaki-Dokoro Ishii, Nihon Saisei Sakaba
Shinjuku 3-7-3, 011-81-3/3354-4829
Styled after 1950s Tokyo, the boisterous, standing-room-only bar is packed every night of the week. Vintage ad posters cover the walls and the staff wears old-fashioned happi aprons. Sample the shochu, a distilled spirit made from rice, sweet potato, or sugar cane. Order it mixed with oolong tea, fresh lemon or grapefruit and soda, or straight over ice.
SPLURGE New York Bar
Park Hyatt Hotel, Nishi-Shinjuku 3-7-1-2, 011-81-3/5322-1234, parkhyatttokyo.com
Recreate a favorite Lost in Translation moment at the sexy wood-paneled bar on the 52nd floor, where Bill Murray's character drowned his sorrows in whiskey. After-dark views of the city's flickering neon are stunning, and there are excellent live jazz performances nightly. $18 cover after 8 p.m.
SHOP Lammfromm The Concept Store
Uehara 1-1-21, 011-81-3/5454-0450, lammfromm.jp
Exceptional boutique that stocks works by some of the hottest contemporary artists from Japan and abroad--Yayoi Kusama prints, Yoshitomo Nara T-shirts, and accessories by Takeshi Murakami of Louis Vuitton. The knowledgeable staff can guide you, and prices are not as steep as you'd think.
SHOP Tokyu Hands
Times Square Building, Sendagaya 5-24-2 (New South Exit of JR Shinjuku Station), 011-81-3/5361-3111, tokyu-hands.co.jp
You name it, they have it. Wander the seven floors of this hardware store and you're sure to find items that you never imagined under one roof, like emergency earthquake supplies, gold lamé kimonos, and "bow-lingual" machines that tell you exactly what your dog is trying to say by "analyzing" its bark.
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