Getting High in Shinjuku

Shinjuku was the birthplace of Tokyo's first skyscraper, way back in 1971, but in the past decade highrises have mushroomed all over the metropolis. Some of these newcomers house plush hotels (like the new Ritz Carlton in Roppongi's Midtown), while many more boast tony restaurants with spectacular views on their top floors.

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Still, you don't have to spend a wad of cash to get high in Tokyo's skyscrapers. Last week found me at my favorite high spot in town, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's free 45th-floor observatory in Shinjuku, with stunning views over the entire city. Newcomers to Tokyo should make this one of their first stops, because nothing conveys Tokyo's vastness better than this perch high above the city's never-ending sprawl. Actually, there are two observatories here, one in the north tower and the other in the south, both with the same free, mesmerizing views.

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But last week I also discovered a great place to eat in the TMG north tower, offering what is probably the city's cheapest meals with a view. Called Tokyo Catering, it's a cafeteria on the 32nd floor, open weekdays for lunch and dinner. Although it's primarily for government employees, anyone can eat here. A display of plastic food shows the various kinds of meals on offer, including the day's special lunch and a variety of set meals, from noodles or sushi to pork cutlet or fried fish. Most meals cost less than $6 and each food item or meal is displayed with a corresponding number. After deciding what you want to eat, simply purchase your numbered selection from one of the nearby vending machines and then get in line at the counter with your ticket, where you will then be handed the meal of your choice.

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Incidentally, you might want to time your visit to the TMG to coincide with one of 10 guided tours offered by the Tokyo Tourist Information Center, located on the first floor of the TMG. Lasting about 3 hours, tours depart here Monday to Friday at 1pm. Several cost less than $10, including those that take in the gardens of the Imperial Palace or the backstreets of Harajuku and Meiji Shrine. Absolutely free is a walking tour of Shinjuku that covers shopping districts and the basement food floor of Isetan department store.

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The TMG is most easily reached by taking the Oedo Line to Tochomae Station, otherwise known as E28, with a direct exit to the TMG.

In short, you can spend a whole afternoon in Shinjuku and hardly spend any money at all.

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