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WORDS WILFRED BRANDT PHOTOS CHRIS SEARL

TOKYO, JAPAN

HOKKAIDO HONSHU TOKYO KYUSHU SHIKOKU

NAGANO

CENTURIES OLD TRADITIONS, SPACE AGE TECHNOLOGY, UNBRIDLED RETAIL THERAPY, AND THE WORLD'S MOST DENSELY POPULATED CITY STOCKED WITH ITS FRIENDLIEST INHABITANTS. HELLO TOKYO! TOKYO

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The city of Tokyo is home to 12 million people, but the population of greater Tokyo is 30 million. That means, not only are Tokyo's streets themselves packed with residents, but every weekday, the city actually swells to nearly three times its size, only to deflate again come nightfall. It's astounding that such a busy city should

remain not only orderly, but quiet and clean. You can spend a week here and count on one hand the number of times you hear a car horn. You can spend all day on the subway and never hear a mobile ring. You can stand in the middle of Shibuya's busiest thoroughfare during peak hour and not have a single collision.

It's hard to say why exactly Tokyo's society works so well, but the great thing for us foreigners is ­ it does. Crime is virtually non-existent, so you don't have to worry about being robbed. People are extremely helpful, so you don't have to worry about getting lost. Food and drink are easily affordable, so you don't have to worry about going

broke. And the city is a psychedelic sensory overload, so you don't have to worry about growing bored. So jump in headfirst. The worst thing that can happen to you is nothing.

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TOKYO, JAPAN SLEEP As you can tell by the number of skyscrapers wrenched into the city skyline, space in Tokyo is a hot commodity. Therefore, if you're looking for something grand and expansive, you will probably have to pay. Consider how much time you will spend lounging around and weigh your options (locals scoff that the reason Scarlett Johansson was so miserable in Lost In Translation was because she never left her hotel). If you bring along any electronics (laptop, rechargeable batteries, etc) you will either need to borrow from your hotel, or in some cases, purchase from an electronics store, a three-prong converter. Most hotels have incredibly fast internet access and all the amenities of home, so you should sleep safe and sound anywhere you choose.

HOTEL EXCEL, SHIBUYA SHIBUYA MARK CITY BUILDING 1-12-2, DOGENZAKA, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-0043 +81-3-5457-0109 Situated directly above the Shibuya train station, it's impossible to get lost on your way to this one. The rooms are decent, though a bit pricey for the size. The location can't be beat, but if you're after a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle, this isn't it.

CLASKA, MEGURO 1-3-18 CHUO-CHO MEGURO-KU TOKYO 152-0001 claska.com This boutique hotel far off the beaten path has a large gallery/DJ party space, bookstore, fantastic landscaped rooftop terrace, and nine uniquely designed rooms. The amenities are sparse, and some rooms can run small, but it's definitely affordable, and a real treat for any art and design aficionados. The best looking hotel in Tokyo hands down.

CERULEAN TOWER TOKYU HOTEL, SHIBUYA 26-1 SAKURA-GAOKA-CHO, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-8512 +81-3-3476-3000 ceruleantower-hotel.com 40 floors of spacious rooms and stunning views (some as far as Mt. Fuji!) situated just minutes away from bustling Shibuya station; this will set you back a bit but is worth it. There's a restaurant and lounge on the 40th floor, as well as gym and pool facilities, which are quite rare in Tokyo. Request a corner room, as they have views from the tub. Nice.

PARK HYATT, SHINJUKU 3-7-1-2 NISHI-SHINJUKU, SHINJUKU-KU TOKYO 163-1055 +81-3-5322-1234 parkhyatttokyo.com Elegant and classy, this is the ultimate luxury whilst visiting Tokyo (and the ultimate expense), with precision staff, all the comforts of home, and your room cleaned twice daily. Lost In Translation was set here, and while the experience staying there is fantastic, fans of the film looking to visit the restaurant and bar should be forewarned they are overpriced an can be unaccommodating.

HOTEL EXCELLENT, EBISU 1-9-5 EBISU-NISHI SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO Located in the more tranquil and classy surroundings of Ebisu, the accommodations here are smaller, but much more affordable. It's closer to Daikanyama in a terrific building, near lots of quaint stores, cafes, and bars. If you're looking for a less raucous environment and some quiet(er) streets to roam, this is your place.

CHILDREN'S CASTLE HOTEL 5-53-1 JINGUMAE, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-0001 Fun, cheap accommodation for those with children or simply kids at heart, this is a short walk to downtown Shibuya and next to a terrific ABC Books. It's part of a huge recreation center facility for children, and guests may make use of their pool, roof garden, and gym. From the main road, look for the big bizarre sculptures out front by artist Taro Okamoto.

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TOKYO, JAPAN EAT & DRINK The Japanese are artisans who take great pride in everything they do. This includes cooking, so you'll be hard pressed to find a bad meal, and the good news is you can eat easily for $5 and up. The cuisine is as varied as the people; go traditional with sushi, ramen, or yakitori (chicken skewers) or eat international cuisine from French to Lebanese. Many restaurants have English menus, and most at least feature pictures. For the quintessential Japanese experience, try a slow, elegant "kaiseki" dinner, which combines subtle flavors, peaceful surroundings, and elegant presentation. Tokyo bars are boisterous yet unthreatening. You will see men passed out drunk, but you will probably never see a fight. Buses and trains stop running around midnight, which is also when the local taxi fares triple. So if you miss the last train, you have three choices: spend a bundle on a cab, check into a capsule hotel, or rent a karaoke room and sing `till the trains start at 6AM.

OFFICE YAMAZAKI BLDG. 2-7-18 KITAAOYAMA, MINATO-KU TOKYO 107-0061 +81-3-5786-1052 transit-web.com Great concept ­ a bar fitted out as an office. If you're a workaholic you'll feel right at home, but if you're a bona fide slacker steer clear of this one. The crowds have died down since the opening, so get in for some terrific tunes and a fantastic view.

GHEE 2-18-7 JINGUMAE, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-0001 +81-3-3401-4023 Definitely some of the best Japanese curry you're going to come across in Tokyo served in what feels like your nana's antique shop. They've got a big central table to eat at and play reggae music, which seems to be the preferred hipster genre of late in Japan.

BOMBAY BAZAAR, DAIKANYAMA B1 20-11 SARUGAKU-CHO, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-0033 +81-3-5144-8256 Tucked away in a basement amidst the hip and edgy shops of Daikanyama, this hippied out cafe serves scrumptious veggie dishes and curries. And the café's sand and cedar interior takes eco-friendly to new levels by incorporating entirely recycled furnishings (check out the bird's nest sculpture near the entrance). They use only organic veggies and grains, and all natural feed and seasonings.

KINNDENMARU, SHIBUYA SHIBUYAKU UDAGAWA + YOU 24-6 TOKYO (in the laneway with all the sneaker stores behind the 109 Building) There's hundreds of fantastic ramen shops the size of glorified phonebooths all over town - we just picked one with a cute waitress. For around $6 you get a basketball-sized bowl of the heartiest, tastiest noodles you've ever slurped (and slurping is encouraged by local aficionados). In some instances you'll encounter a vending machine at the entrance, where you purchase a ticket to give the waitress for your meal.

BAPE CAFÉ, HARAJUKU 3-27-22 JINGUMAE, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 107-0062 +81-3-5770-6560 Japanese branding goes far beyond the reaches of our western imaginations, and this is just one clothing label that's crossed over into the food service industry, albeit easily the most notable. After Bathing Ape designer Nigo outfitted every kid in Japan from hip-hop hipsters to infant toddlers (check the Baby Milo store) he decided, why not feed `em too? A cozy, nicely outfitted café with Kaws decorations and a regular queue.

DEAN & DELUCA, VARIOUS LOCATIONS deandeluca.co.jp A New York institution that's made its way to Tokyo, D&D is a great place to start your day with tasty pastries, deli delights, and a strong latte. With several locations around town, their Shibuya station store is situated within Foodshow, a buzzing marketplace where you can pick up lollies and treats for friends back home, or fresh fish - if you have somewhere to cook it, of course.

AIR HIKAWAY BLDG. LEVEL B2 2-11 SARUGAKU-CHO, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO +81-3-6415-6231 air-tokyo.com This friendly, low attitude dance club specializes in house music and was featured in Lost In Translation. Slick, modern interior and de riguer light show with a kinda young crowd. Check their schedule online to see whose playing what kind of music before you head over.

HIYOKOYA, AKIHABARA ON THE GROUND FLOOR OF THE TAKAO BUILDING IN SHOWA-DORI TOKYO +81-3-5812-5909 If you've always dreamt of being served by Japanese waitresses dressed as cartoon French maids, this is the place for you. Popular with anime-loving otakos, this restaurant serves curry rice, pasta, and pizza all for around $12, and has a "no touching" policy regarding their waitresses. Nearby is another restaurant where waitresses dress up as your choice of Snow White, a high school girl, or Santa's elf. Creepy.

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TOKYO, JAPAN PLAY

MUSIC At Airs Music Video, Shinjuku (airsonline.com) you'll find two floors of wall-to-wall music DVDs: film clips, live footage, TV interviews, and anything else music related. All videos are rated on quality, professional videos being assessed with an A, B, or C, and amateur videos an X, Y, or Z. If you've been wondering where you can buy a compilation of every Smiths video or that live Guns N Roses show where Axl jumped in the crowd and beat up a fan, they're all here. For great, varied music cheap, Disk Union has several stores, one of the best being their 7-story Shinjuku shop. Other stores worth checking out include Jet Set and Chicken Records in Shimokita, and Bonjour Records in Daikanyama.

Shopping is Tokyo's preferred leisure activity, and the city is awash with eye-dazzling stores to suit every budget and taste. Harajuku sparkles with trendy teen boutiques; Daikanyama is the `hood for hardcore streetwear; Akihabara is a mecca for `otako'- geeky anime and tech-heads. Locals love Shimokitazawa for vintage record shopping and low-key bars with an East Village / Camden style vibe. Jinbo-cho is great for antiquarian and art books (Misha, Skatething, and French director Gaspar Noe shop here). Aoyama is home to edgier high-end fare. And Shibuya has a terrific cross-section of fashion, book and music stores. For extensively researched details and maps to every shop you could possibly imagine, click on the foreigners shopping bible, superfuture.com.

CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES No matter what your style, you'll find what you're looking for in Tokyo. We do have our favourites, here are a few: In Harajuku, check out Head Porter, Beams T, Neighbourhood, APC Underground, X-Large/X-Girl, Train, Visvim, and brand new Omatesando Hills. In Daikanyama, we recommend Silas, Supreme, Styles, Heaven 27 and Stitch. In Aoyama, don't miss the amazing flagship stores of Prada and Comme des Garcons and drop by Loveless, Black Flag and Rocket. If you can find it, Desperado in Shibuya is an eclectic gem with a cult following amongst the super cool locals. Stocking beautiful quality clothing, hats, shoes and jewellery, it sells labels such as Jessica Ogden, Peter Jensen and Australian label Rittenhouse.

BOOKS Shopping for books in Tokyo is like shopping for anything in Tokyo. They have everything you ever knew you wanted, and a million things you never knew you wanted, from architecture to graphic design, science fiction to high fashion, and everything in between. Shibuya is a good place to start and has a great cross-section of stores including Tower Records and Books, Gas Books, ABC Books, and Logos (in the basement of Parco 1, which also has a great adjoining gallery).

MUJI, SEVERAL LOCATIONS Though consumerism may be their Achilles heel, the Japanese aren't slaves to high-priced materialism. Quality takes precedence over price tag, and people are judged not by personal wealth but sense of style, as evidenced by the widespread popularity of cheap, high quality brands like Muji and Uniqlo. Muji sells top-notch basics at double take inducing prices, everything from clothing to stationery to furniture to pushbikes (for $100!!). muji.net/eng

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TSUKIJI CENTRAL FISH MARKET This gargantuan market is like a small village unto itself, peddling 2500 tonnes of fish daily not just to Tokyo's citizens but their restaurants as well. It's a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and motion. Get here by 8AM before all the little fishies are sold, and best visit before 2012 when the market is meant to move to new digs. There's a nearby produce and handcraft market as well.

YOYOGI PARK, HARAJUKU One of the largest parks in Tokyo, adjacent to Harajuku Station and Shibuya's Meiji Shrine, this is a tranquil slice of nature amidst the flashing lights and electrical hum of the city. There are bike paths and bike rentals, and the park is a popular hangout on Sunday mornings (the Harajuku entrance is where the radically adorned cartoon goths featured in Fruits congregate).

TOKYO DOME tokyo-dome.co.jp Known by the locals as "The Big Egg", Japan's first domed stadium opened in 1988 and hosts year round concerts, conventions, and sporting events (local baseball team the Yorimuri Giants are extremely popular). The surrounding area features The Baseball Hall Of Fame And Museum, a hotel, restaurants, shops, a bowling alley, and a fullfledged amusement park with a roller coaster that travels through a nearby skyscraper.

KARAOKE - EVERYWHERE Karaoke venues are littered all over Tokyo, and are a cheap, fun way to spend an evening. For an hourly rate you get a room with couches, a table, and a remote controlled TV screen/karaoke machine. A wallmounted phone connects you to the front desk to order more pitchers of Asahi (which you'll need). Special flourishes in some rooms include gaudy black light decorations, and you'll be astounded at the song selection, from Beck to Bob Marley to Ben Kweller.

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TOKYO, JAPAN DIARY LOCAL HERO Mayumi Horiguchi has lived her whole life in Tokyo and knows the city like the back of her expertly painted nails. In between countless parties and late-night karaoke sessions, she and husband Daisuke Kawasaki publish Beikoku Ongaku, a cutting edge arts and culture mag printed in Japanese and English. Her karaoke favorites include The Specials and Nirvana. Here's five of her other favorites.

DESIGN FESTA May & November designfesta.com Over 50,000 people attend this, the largest international arts event in Asia, held in spring and autumn at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center. Open to professionals and non-professionals it features art and design exhibits, live music, and more.

HIYOKO RECORDS, SHIMOKITAZAWA HONDO APARTMENT 1F, 3-26-6 KITAZAWA, SETAGAYA-KU TOKYO 155-0031 +81-3-3485-6009 [email protected] Open 15:00 ­ 21:00; closed Wed "Hiyoko" in English means "chick" or "chicken", which is just what the owner Makoto's girlfriend draws on each record bag used at the store. Makoto (aka MAKOTROON, his DJ name) used to run Weekend Records in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Theo Parish, DJ Shadow, and Cut Chemist all love Hiyoko Records and have spent hours shopping for records there.

UNIT, DAIKANYAMA ZA HOUSE BUILDING, 1-34-17 EBISU-NISHI, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO 150-0021 unit-tokyo.com This has three stories containing a separate dance club, bar, and café/lounge (open for lunch to late night dinner). Promoters can rent out the entire venue for events, and people like Stussy and Chicks On Speed have thrown parties here. Their website lists upcoming events in English also.

HANAMI (CHERRY BLOSSOM VIEWING) late March/early April This is easily the most jubilant celebration all year. After each cold, drab winter, Tokyo bursts into vibrant pink as millions of Cherry Blossoms bloom. People congregate beneath these beautiful and unique fauna, drinking and rejoicing.

SANJA MATSURI May Matsuris, or "festivals", occur regularly throughout the Japanese year. This particular event, Sanja Matsuri, takes place at the Asakusa Shrine in downtown where half naked men and (clothed) women carry mikoshi, or "portable shrines", through the temple grounds as the crowd cheers.

KOYO (AUTUMN FOLIAGE) mid-November/early December Just as the cherry blossoms herald the beginning of spring, each autumn the leaves around Tokyo burst into vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, signifying the end of a hot Tokyo summer. There is a small window of opportunity between when these leaves change and when they drop off ­ if you catch it, enjoy.

GANJITSU (NEW YEAR'S DAY) Amazing to think that this insane metropolis actually shuts down for three days at New Years, but apparently it does.

JET SET RECORDS, SHIMOKITAZAWA 2-2-3-1F &2F KITAZAWA, SETAGAYA-KU TOKYO 155-0031 +81-3-5433-3883 Open 365DAYS 14:00-22:30 jetsetrecords.net Another great record store in the Shimokita area, this Tokyo outlet of Jet Set Records has been open since 2002. A cozy two-storey shop with friendly staff and sharp design, you could browse for hours here. They carry indie pop, breakbeats, underground hip-hop, electronica, techno, abstract, and more.

HALLELUJAH, OKUBO 1-5-6 HYAKUNIN CHO, SHINJUKU-KU TOKYO +81-3-3200-0112 hallelujah.gr.jp A Korean Restaurant in Koreatown, located in "Multicultural City" Okubo, near Shokuan-dori Street (which is full of signs with Korean writing). This street makes you feel like you've stepped into a town in South Korea. It used to feel like a buffer zone separating Kabuki-cho to the south (the business district) from the Okubo and Hyakunin-cho areas to the north (the residential district), but in recent years it has become a popular commercial district in its own right. The shops have also expanded.

MOMINOKI HOUSE, HARAJUKU 2-18-5 JINGUMAE, SHIBUYA-KU TOKYO +81-3-3405-9144 [email protected] Open 7 days 11am - 11pm (Last order 10:30pm) www2.odn.ne.jp/mominoki_house This natural food restaurant is not only good for vegetarians but also vegans. It is quite hard for vegans to find a place to eat in Tokyo - but here's their place! Famous musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton are fond of this restaurant. They use organic foods and ingredients as well as electronically ionized water in all their dishes.

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TOKYO, JAPAN READ / WATCH / LISTEN THE FACTS THANKS TO STA TRAVEL

JAPAN RAIL - JR NETWORK The JR network is extensive, as one would expect from what used to be the national rail system (now privately owned). If you have a JR Pass, you will almost certainly figure out that even in large cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, there is a JR station fairly near where you want to go. In the countryside JR also runs bus services to connect places that don't have a rail service. Although JR is the largest operator, there are other rail networks worth checking out.

APPROXIMATE AIRFARES STA Travel offers regular flights to Tokyo from all Australian capital cities. Return fares start at $999 plus $300 in taxes ex SYD/BNE.

TRANSPORTATION The best way to get around Japan is via the Japan Rail Network. Japan's railways are fast, highly efficient and cover the majority of the country.

LOCATION Tokyo is located on the mid-eastern part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. It is bounded on the southeast by Tokyo Bay which, in turn, opens into the Pacific Ocean.

CLIMATE/BEST TIME TO GO Japanese are proud of their four seasons, but the discerning tourist should try to aim for two of them. Spring is probably the best time of year to be in Japan. The temperatures are warm but not hot, there's not too much rain, and MarchApril brings the justly famous cherry blossoms and is a time of revelry and festivals. Just watch out for Golden Week (April 27 to May 6), the longest holiday of the year, when everybody travels and everything is booked full.

WATCH Densha Otoko, or "Train Man", is the true story of an otoko who finds love on a Tokyo subway. A huge hit that spawned a manga comic and TV series, many critics have echoed one reviewer's comment that it's, "one of the most authentic views of Japanese city life I've ever come across". Other good flicks to get you in the mood for the city are Lost In Translation, whose dreamy cinematography and moody atmospherics do Tokyo justice, and Kill Bill.

READ For magazines, pick up OK Fred, Relax, Beikoku Ongaku, Quest (free arts & music mag available at place like X-Large and Beams) and Metropolis, "Japan's No. 1 English Magazine" as the cover claims, free around town at Tower Records or online at metropolis.co.jp. Other good websites are superfuture.com, "Yes! Tokyo" Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.tcvb.or.jp, or read one of celebrated Japanese author Haruku Murakami's novels, which are bestsellers all over the world (Kafka On The Shore is his most recent; Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles his most popular).

LISTEN Instrumental moody-andmoodswinging Mono sound like a refined version of Mogwai, and produce a chaotic yet precise sound that sums up their city well. Other Japanese noisemakers to psych you up include The Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple, and Ghost, who rumour has it have lived in run down temples and disused subway stations around Tokyo. For more lighthearted trippy Tokyo sounds, try Cornelius, Pizzicato Five, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and newbie My Bloody Valentine protégés Guitar. And there's always "the Japanese Ramones", Guitarwolf.

WILFRED BRANDT IS A WRITER AND AMERICAN EXPAT LIVING IN SYDNEY. HE TOTALLY LOVES IT THERE.

PAPERPLANE WOULD LIKE TO THANK JAPAN AIRLINES FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE. JAL NOW HAS 35 FLIGHTS PER WEEK FROM AUSTRALIA TO TOKYO AND OSAKA. JAL.COM

OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION Aus/NZ passport holders do not require a visa for up to 90 days for tourist or business visits. Those who require visas must apply in person. Cold hard yen is the way to pay in Japan. While credit cards are becoming more common, cash is still used much more widely and travellers cheques are rarely accepted. ATMs are extremely common in Tokyo but some of them do not accept foreign-issued cards - even if they display the Visa/ MasterCard sign. An alternative is to use ATMs at Post Offices as most often these accept foreign-issued cards. Japan has a 5% consumer tax, though if you eat at expensive restaurants and stay at top hotels you can encounter a service charge that varies from 10-15%. Tap water is safe to drink all over Japan, and due to high levels of hygiene in Japan, food rarely causes any health problems.

LANGUAGE Japanese

CURRENCY Yen, $1 AUD = approximately 87 Yen

COST OF ITEMS AUD Cup of coffee $3.50 Train ticket $2.00 Standard Meal $18.00 Bottle of Asahi $4.00

WORK IN JAPAN STA Travel has teamed up with DaiJob to provide a free service that gives young professionals a platform to seek work in Japan. With more jobs for bilinguals listed than any other site in Japan, most industries are covered ­ including jobs in Hospitality, IT, Marketing/Advertising/ PR, Consumer Products, Finance. Daijob is a free online service. Most jobs will require a tertiary qualification and relevant work experience. See your STA Travel adviser for details or visit `Work in Japan' section at statravel.com.au/livelearn

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