I recently traveled to Japan on a whirlwind tour of the Kanto region (Tokyo and Vicinity). The goal of this trip was to get familiar with Tokyo and surrounding prefectures (counties).
I stayed at two Prince hotels: Shinagawa Prince Hotel- This is a good 3-star property across from a major train station and shopping complex on the south side of Tokyo. It is a bit out of the way for most touristic purposes. Always book a higher level room in the Annex or Main Tower as otherwise you may get one of the rooms more fitting for a backpacker (who smokes). Kowagoe Prince Hotel- 30 minutes out of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture and similar to above.
In Tokyo the activities I enjoyed the most:
1. Tsukiji Market termed ""The Fish Market at the Center of the World"" by Teodore C. Bestor in his book of the same name. Grand rooms filled with hundreds of huge frozen tunas caught from every ocean in the world makes for a fascinating morning outing followed by a delicious fresh sushi lunch in one of the many surrounding restaurants. 2. Mitsukoshi Department Store is the oldest department store in Japan, founded as a kimono shop. This is the Harrods of Tokyo and well worth a visit. 3. Meiji Shrine. This is a beautiful Shinto shrine set amongst serene gardens in the middle of Tokyo in Shibuya. This is a popular site for weddings and I was lucky enough to view a wedding procession with the bride and attendants in white kimonos. 4. Shopping at Shibuya Town Center (think Melrose Ave.) and Roppongi Hills (very upscale) and Ginza (designer). 5. Visiting and taking a lesson at a Wadaiko Drum School ...very exhilarating. 6. Riding the Tokyo trains in general but especially at rush hour–a must!
Recommended day trips:
Travel to Saitama Prefecture.
1. Take a train to the town of Iwatsuki and visit the Hina Doll museum and practice painting a doll to take home. Visit the Sake Museum and tasting room. Then stroll over to Omiya Bonsai Village and learn about this ancient art. Try a lunch of marinated eel.
2. Visit the picturesque old town of Kawagoe which has been restored to represent the Shogun era. Here there are many old merchant houses, quaint shops, gardens, shrines and part of an old castle. In the afternoon visit The Railway Museum with Shinkansen (bullet trains) on display.
Travel to Chiba Prefecture.
1. Visit Sawara, a scenic town of restored old buildings on the Ono River and take a ride on the canal on a boat piloted by women in traditional garb. Then visit the Katori Shrine. This is near Narita and could be a way to spend an extra- long layover.
This was a very short trip and I left wanting more. It was such a contrast to the US. For a big urban area, things were very orderly, quiet, clean and unpolluted. People were courteous, polite and helpful if not very warm. You definitely feel the different mindset. Three things I learned about Japan: they had 250 years of peace (approx 1603-1868) during the Tokugawa Shogunate, Shinto and Buddhism exist side by side, and the most important phrase to learn in Japanese is ""arigato gozaimasu"" (thank you very much.)