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Tokyo for Free

Book Review

Tokyo for Free

By Susan Pompian

Tōkyō is one of the great walking cities in the world. It is a shame that so many people take tours that keep them hermetically separated from the vibrancy and life of the city and see only the commercialized tourist traps. There is so much to be experienced by just walking around.

I remember spending a Sunday afternoon strolling around the grounds of the Imperial Palace and wandering into the Budōkan there. That is an exhibition hall where rock stars like Madonna have performed. On the day that I stopped by, a kendō [fencing with wooden sword-like weapons] tournament was underway and I enjoyed watching youngsters going at each other. I had been walking since the morning and I was grateful to slip in and sit down to rest.

Earlier, I had gone to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which supplies all of the restaurants in Tōkyō, and I savored a meal at a sushi bar there. Eating fish that has just come off the boat is an exquisite treat and I recommend that everyone visit Tsukiji to do the same.

Another time, I went to Ueno and just got off the train to see what was there. Ueno is known for its zoo, but I wasn’t interested in that. I walked along the street and stumbled upon a rock store. That’s right, a store where they were selling rocks. I went in and saw all sorts of rocks, big ones small ones, some sliced in half to show their unique structure, some displayed like trophies. I suppose that one can find similar places selling rocks like at construction supply stores, but this was a business solely devoted to rocks. It was a uniquely Japanese shop.

Tokyo for Free is chock full with these kinds of places that one can visit and have fun without having to pay. Tōkyō is often called one of the most expensive cities to visit in the world, but I don’t find that to be true. Of course if one goes on typical travel agency tours one will be given accommodations at the top hotels and that is expensive. However, that is not necessary. A friend asked me to suggest a hotel in Tōkyō and I found one for him that had quite reasonable rates. I am sure that anyone else can do the same.

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Susan Pompian has advice along similar lines in her great book, Tokyo for Free (www.kodansha-intl.com). The book includes six maps and a survey of over 300 attractions to attend in Tōkyō. And they are all free.

Here is how she describes one:

Hibiya Park

日比谷公園 (Hibiya Koen)

1 Hibiya Koen, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-0012

東京部千代田区日比谷公園1 〒3501-6428

Hibiya Koen was Tokyo’s first Western-style park (opened in 1903), and it still ranks up there among the best. It is located across the street from the Imperial Hotel and contains a 30-m- (100-ft-) wide fountain that spouts water 12 m (40 ft) into the air, refreshing you with a fine spray when the wind blows your way. This is reason enough to linger here in the heat of the summer months. But there’s much more, including two exquisite Japanese gardens with ponds, and a beautiful, well-manicured Western garden with row after row of lovely flowers. The park’s numerous benches are great places for relaxing or reading, which is what you see a lot of people doing here throughout the year.

It always smells so good in Hibiya Park. The trees are big and lush, and they make you forget that you are in the middle of a big city. On sunny days you can watch matches on the park tennis courts, and on rainy ones you can read in the Hibiya Public Library. And if your timing is right, you might catch an open-air concert during lunchtime or even a free flower exhibition. The park spans 161,636 lovely sq m (405,432 sq ft).

Hours: Open 24 hours.

Access: Hibiya Stn, Exit A10 or A14 (Chiyoda, Hibiya, and Mita lines). Also accessible via Kasumigaseki Stn (Marunouchi, Hibiya, snd Chiyada lines).

One thing that one should be aware of is that the writer of this book, Susan Pompian, is a resident of Tōkyō and therefore has compiled information about various events that could only be if interest to people who live in the city year round. Anyone else would be hard pressed to partake in the activities covered.

However, despite that it is interesting to know how many events are held in Tōkyō all around the year for all sorts of enthusiasts. There is really something for everyone.

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