Tokyo Is Expensive

Tokyo may be the second most expensive city in the world, but it's possible to get there -- and enjoy yourself -- for less than you'd think.
Tokyo may be the second most expensive city in the world, but it's possible to get there -- and enjoy yourself -- for less than you'd think. (Jerry Driendl - Getty Images)
By Ben Brazil
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 25, 2006

To those of you of modest income, lacking the means to visit a city as distant and expensive as Tokyo, please refrain from envy as you consider my lunch of March 13, 2006.

I'm sitting by the corner window 32 floors above the Japanese capital, enjoying one of the menu's most expensive lunches in the world's most expensive city. A bouquet of flowers at my elbow, I nibble a piece of sashimi and dreamily watch the metropolis stretch toward a hazy, distant line of mountains.

So the view's okay, if I had time to enjoy it.

But I'm due to meet my two tour guides in 15 minutes. And while it's nice that I'm their only guest, I also went on a private tour of Tokyo yesterday, and, if not for my commendable interest in Japanese culture, would be feeling a bit blase about the whole private-tour-of-Tokyo thing.

Before you start decrying the excesses of the leisure class, allow me to add a few details: My lunch costs less than $6, the flowers are fake, the sashimi could be fresher and I'm eating with bureaucrats on lunch break in the dining hall of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Also, all of my tour guides are volunteers, meaning I pay only their expenses, which don't amount to much.

And I guess I should disclose that my week-long trip to Tokyo cost less than $1,000, including round-trip airfare.

Oh, and I told one baldfaced lie. Tokyo is not the world's most expensive city anymore.

It's fallen all the way to No. 2.

* * *

If New York never sleeps, Tokyo never even dims the lights.

Entering this city of 12 million residents -- 35 million if you count the Connecticut-size greater metropolitan area -- feels like entering a room full of TVs, all with the volume cranked up, and trying to watch every channel at once. In the liveliest districts, multistory projection screens top buildings, flashing and pulsing. Red, green and yellow signs ascend from sidewalks, transforming streets into glowing canyons swollen with rivers of people.

Everywhere, the people-watching fascinates. I saw jean-jacketed male hipsters carrying Louis Vuitton purses; Japanese Goth girls vamping around the teenage fashion street Takeshita Dori; sinister-looking tough-guys with auburn-dyed hair, square-toed boots and long black jackets. My favorite, though, was a dignified elderly woman in a pink kimono, a model of tradition who was text-messaging on her cellphone in a subway station.

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