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Some Westerners have a highly romanticized view of Japan, picturing it as a woodblock print -- exquisite, mysterious, and ancient.

What a shock, then, to come to Tokyo. In a country known around the world for its appreciation of the aesthetic, Tokyo is disappointingly unimpressive. Some foreigners, unable to reconcile unrealistic expectations with the cold facts of reality, summarily dismiss Tokyo as a monstrosity of the 21st century and go off in search of the "real" Japan. What they don't realize is that beneath Tokyo's concrete shell is a cultural life left very much intact. In fact, Tokyo is the best place in the world to experience Japanese performing arts, such as Kabuki, as well as participate in such diverse activities as the tea ceremony and flower arranging. It's also the nation's foremost repository of Japanese arts and crafts and boasts a wide range of both first-class and unique museums.

Tokyo Attractions

Tokyo hasn’t fared very well over the centuries. Fires and earthquakes have taken their toll, old buildings have been torn down in the zeal for modernization, and World War II left most of the city in ruins. Save your historical sightseeing, therefore, for places such as Kyoto or Takayama, and consider Tokyo an introduction to the newest of the new in Japan and the showcase of the nation’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, fashion, pop art, and design. Tokyo also has more museums than any other city in Japan, as well as a wide range of parks, temples, and shrines. In Tokyo you can explore mammoth department stores, sample unlimited cuisines, walk around unique neighborhoods, revel in kitsch, and take advantage of the glittering nightlife.

When planning your sightseeing itinerary, keep in mind that the city is huge, and it takes time to get from one end to the other. It’s best, therefore, to cover Tokyo neighborhood by neighborhood, coordinating sightseeing with dinner and evening plans. Most museums in Tokyo are closed 1 day of the week (usually Mon) and for New Year’s (generally the last day or two in Dec and the first 1 to 3 days of Jan). If Monday happens to be a national holiday, most national and municipal museums will remain open but will close Tuesday instead. Some of the privately owned museums, however, are closed on national holidays, as well as for exhibition changes. Call beforehand or check websites to avoid disappointment. Remember, too, that you must enter museums at least 30 minutes before closing time. For a listing of current exhibitions, including those being held at major department stores, consult Metropolis, an English-language weekly available in hotels, restaurants, and bars around town as well as online at www.metropolisjapan.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.