PERJANTAI, 24. HEINÄKUUTA 2020
Yoking past and future, Tokyo dazzles with its traditional culture and passion for everything new. Visiting Tokyo is not for the faint of heart. A fuel-injected adrenaline rush into a neon-bright future, TOKYO (東京) is a mercurial metropolis flashing by in a blur of conflicting images. Obsessed with the latest trends and fashions, the world’s largest city – the heart of which is home to at least eight million people – is also fiercely proud of its heritage. Lively neighbourhood festivals are held virtually every day of the year, and people regularly visit their local shrine or temple and scrupulously observe the passing seasons in manicured gardens.
More than any one sight, it's the city itself that enchants visitors. It's a sprawling, organic thing, stretching as far as the eye can see. Always changing, and with a diverse collection of neighbourhoods, no two experiences of the city are ever the same. Some neighbourhoods feel like a vision from the future, with ever taller, sleeker structures popping up each year; others evoke the past with low-slung wooden buildings and glowing lanterns radiating surprising warmth; elsewhere, drab concrete blocks hide art galleries and cocktail bars and every lane hints at possible discoveries.
In Tokyo you can experience the whole breadth of Japanese arts and culture. Centuries-old forms of performing arts still play on stages and sumo tournaments draw crowds; every spring, Tokyoites head outside to appreciate the cherry blossoms – a tradition older than the city itself. There are museums covering every era of Japanese art history and also ones that focus on the contemporary – challenging the old distinctions between art with a capital A, pop culture and technology. But there's a playful side to all of this, too: Tokyo is, after all, a city whose public artworks include a scale model of an anime robot.
When it comes to Tokyo superlatives, the city's food scene tops the list. But we're not just talking about the famous restaurants and the celebrity chefs: what Tokyo excels at is consistency across the board. Wherever you are, you're usually within 100m of a good, if not great, restaurant. It's a scene that careens nonchalantly between the highs and lows: it's not unusual for a top-class sushi restaurant to share the same block as an oil-spattered noodle joint, and for both to be equally adored. Tokyoites love dining out; join them, and delight in the sheer variety of tastes and experiences the city has to offer.
Tokyo can seem daunting at first: the subway map – a tangle of intersecting lines – is often compared to a bowl of noodles. But once you get out there, you'll be surprised how easy it is to navigate. That subway can take you everywhere you want to go; trains are frequent (though sometimes uncomfortably crowded) and almost always on time, and stations are well-signposted in English. That's not to say you won't occasionally find yourself frustratingly disorientated, but locals are generally eager to help you get back on track.
BEST TIME TO VISIT TOKYO
The best time to visit Tokyo is between March and April and September and November. Autumn ushers in colorful foliage and comfortable temperatures. Spring brings in much of the same, but instead of vibrant fall hues, the foliage you'll see here are cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Summer, on the other hand, is peak tourist season, which you'll quickly see from long lines at museums and confused subways riders. If you can, avoid this time of year; you'll face oppressive heat, humidity and high room rates. On the opposite extreme, winter weather is chilly but still manageable; however, you will not be able to experience the full potential of Tokyo's parks at this time of year.
September - November
Fall sees the gradual decline of summer's humidity, heat and tourists. For most of the season, daytime temperatures usually range from the upper 70s to the low 60s, but in September, travelers may see highs in the low 80s. September and October see the most precipitation of the year, so make sure to bring an umbrella with you if you're traveling during this time. And if you plan on visiting from October to November, you'll want to carry a light jacket with you at night as lows dip down to the high 50- and 40-degree range.
December - February
Winter may be the low point for tourism, but don't expect room rates to plummet. Tokyo's hotel prices are fairly stable and expensive throughout the year. Temperatures usually hover in the mid-50s and high 40s during the day but can easily dip below freezing at night. Be sure to steer clear of New Year's as hotel rates are exorbitant and most museums are closed for a few days before and after the holiday.
March - May
Daytime temperatures return to the comfortable 60s and 70s, while the city parks burst with color. The famous Japanese cherry blossoms make their appearance for a week in late March and very early April. Tokyo residents flock to the urban parks in full force for this special event, so brace yourself for crowds. And during Golden Week – a succession of public holidays – prepare for travel to be a nightmare, as residents come in and out of town in droves to celebrate. During this time of year, it's still best to pack a light jacket. Lows hang in the low 40s to high 50s, and in March, daytime highs reach the mid-50s at most.
June - August
If you visit during the summer, you'll have to brave not only the crowds – but worse – the heat. With temps in the high 70s and 80s, Tokyo is hot, sticky and filled with sweaty tourists — yes, you'll be one of them. You'll also contend with numerous rainy days, as June and July are considered to be Japan's rainy season.
GETTING TO TOKYO
Once thought to be a city too far out of reach, Tokyo has never been more accessible. If you’re coming from somewhere far away, you will almost certainly fly into Narita Airport in the neighboring prefecture of Chiba, or into the more centrally located Haneda Airport. But air travel isn't the only way to get to Tokyo. If you're coming from elsewhere in Japan, you have plenty of other options: the shinkansen (bullet train) and other express trains, long-distance buses, and ferries.
No matter which mode of transportation you take, you won't have any trouble getting to and going around central Tokyo, thanks to the impeccable subway system. The subway is arguably Tokyo's most reliable transportation method. Take advantage of the endless lines spanning across the city to get to wherever your trip takes you to. Buy a prepaid Suica or Pasmo card to make going through the ticket gates even easier, and check the maps for additional information about traveling within and around Tokyo.
By Plane - Direct flights to Narita and Haneda are the most common ways to access the country. Once you arrive, you can jump on an express train or Limousine bus that will transport you into the heart of the city. Please check these pages on Narita Airport and Haneda Airportfor more information.
Alternatively, you can fly intoKansai International Airport (KIX) or Chubu Centrair International Airport, Nagoya from abroad. These airports are great access points for exploring areas such as Kyoto, Osaka, Ise, and Takayama, before visiting the capital. You can easily take a domestic flight to Tokyo from these two airports, as well as a host of other local airports that are dotted around the country. An increasing number of budget airlines offer fares at very wallet-friendly prices.
By Train - The shinkansen (bullet train) is another option for accessing Tokyo from other cities around the country. From Kagoshima in the southern island of Kyushu to Hakodate in the northern island of Hokkaido, a network of sleek and speedy express trains criss-cross the country providing you with a quick and easy travel option to Tokyo.
By Ferry - If you want a more unique experience coming into Tokyo, try coming by ferry. It's best to prepare a plan in advance to make the most of a day near the piers. Take a look at the Walks and Tours section for some ideas. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a Tokyo regular, travel and tour agencies itineraries will help you make the most of your Tokyo adventure.
By Express Bus - Japan's long-distance express buses offer a cheaper way into the city and across the country. If you're looking to save some money and are used to long bus rides, you may want to consider taking an express bus. They can be more comfortable than you think. Many buses come equipped with electric outlets and reclining chairs. For overnight journeys, there are usually additional amenities such as blankets and pillows. Some bus operators even offer more luxurious options, like privacy curtains and extra legroom. The biggest hub for bus travel in Tokyo is the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal.
GETTING AROUND TOKYO
Efficient, clean and generally safe, Tokyo's public transport system is the envy of the world. Of most use to travellers is the train and subway system, which is easy to navigate thanks to English signage.
- Subway The quickest and easiest way to get around central Tokyo. Runs 5am to midnight.
- Train Japan Rail (JR) Yamanote (loop) and Chūō-Sōbu (central) lines service major stations. Runs from 5am to midnight.
- Taxi A pricey option but the only one that runs all night; easy to hail.
- Cycling A fun way to get around, though traffic can be intense. Rentals available; some hostels and ryokan lend bicycles.
- Walking Subway stations are close in the city centre; save cash by walking if you only need to go one stop
- On Foot Walking around Tokyo can be a bit overwhelming. The collage of street signs and neon lights induces an exhilarating (and exhausting) feeling that visitors either love or hate. While there are so many distractions, pedestrians also have to stay focused on navigating the streets. Convoluted thoroughfares streak amorphous neighborhoods that repeatedly confuse visitors. If you get lost, the best bet is to find the nearest subway station and situate yourself using a subway map.
WHERE TO STAY IN TOKYO
Set in the Tokyo Disney Resort district of Tokyo, Tokyo Bay Tokyu Hotel is 5 km from Tokyo DisneySea. Featuring a restaurant, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom. Tokyo Disneyland is 5 km from the hotel. Guest rooms in the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV. The units have a seating area. Guests at Tokyo Bay Tokyu Hotel can enjoy a buffet breakfast. There is a 24-hour front desk at the property. A free shuttle service to Tokyo Disney Resort is available. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Tokyo Gate Bridge, Tokyo Sky Tree Tower and Zepp Tokyo. The property is a 15-minute bus ride from Shin-Urayasu Station. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda International Airport, 17 km from Tokyo Bay Tokyu Hotel.
800 m from Sensoji Temple, Hotel Gracery Asakusa provides a 4-star accommodation in the Taito district of Tokyo. The property is located 1.7 km from Tokyo Skytree and 1.8 km from Edo Tokyo Museum. The property is 2 km from Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium and 5 km from Marunouchi Building. All units in the hotel are equipped with a kettle. The rooms come with a private bathroom with a bath. At Hotel Gracery Asakusa the rooms are equipped with air conditioning and a flat-screen TV. Staff speak English and Japanese at the reception. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda International Airport, 30 km from Hotel Gracery Asakusa.
- MyCUBE by MYSTAYS Asakusa Kuramae
MyCUBE by MYSTAYS Asakusa Kuramae is conveniently located a 2-minute walk from Kuramae Station on the Toei Asakusa and Oedo lines. It offers compact yet functional units with a USB port and a shared lounge. Guests can enjoy meals at the on-site restaurant. Free WiFi is available. Tokyo Skytree is a 11-minute train ride on the Asakusa Line while JR Ueno and Akihabara Stations can be reached with a 12-minute drive from the property. Guests can make a 17-minute walk to the Sensoji Temple or the Edo Tokyo Museum. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda International Airport, a 40-minute train ride away. All units come with a flat-screen TV. Bathroom facilities are shared with other guests. Guests can make use of the free luggage storage service offered at the 24-hour front desk. Start the day with a buffet-style breakfast which includes granola, yoghurt and various fresh products. Alcohol beverages and light meals are also on offer.
- Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International
Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International is situated within a 1-minute walk from Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station. The property features a 24-hour front desk and offers free WiFi access in all areas. All rooms feature a complimentary handy smartphone.The handy Smartphones feature unlimited 4G data, a city guide of Tokyo, free local calls and free international calls to USA, China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong. The hotel is situated a 8-minute walk away from Asakusa Train Station, which offers access to the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu Line train routes. Guests can enjoy sightseeing and shopping in the area. Sensoji Temple is only 300 m away and the iconic Kaminarimon Thunder Gate and Nakamise-Dori Street are both within a 6-minutes walk from the hotel. The property offers luggage storage. In addition, guests will find laundry and dry cleaning facilities at an extra cost, as well as a trouser press. Drink vending machines are on site. Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International features 2 meeting rooms. All guest rooms feature air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, Simmons mattresses, an iron, safety box and desk. Electric kettles and refrigerators are also installed. The en suite bathroom features a bath and shower. Free toiletries including toothbrushes, a hairdryer and slippers are provided. The property restaurant serves Japanese and Western breakfast buffet including seasonal vegetables, fruit and bread. Several restaurants and fast-food stores are located within a 5-minute walk from the property.
- Richmond Hotel Premier Tokyo Oshiage
Richmond Hotel Premier Tokyo Oshiage is located just a 2-minute walk from Oshiage Subway Station, the closest station from the Tokyo Skytree. It features free WiFi and a restaurant. All rooms feature a complimentary handy smartphone. Guests can make a short walk to the Tokyo Solamachi and enjoy shopping. JR Tokyo Station is a 25-minute train ride away while Haneda Airport can be reached within a 1-hour train ride. All rooms feature a flat-screen TV, Video on demand (VOD) and an electric kettle. Some rooms have a seating area where you can relax. The en suite bathroom is equipped with free toiletries and slippers. The 24-hour front desk offers photocopying services at a surcharge and 3 meeting rooms. There is also a drinks vending machine on the 7th and 10th floor. The on-site restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes. A breakfast buffet is available at the property.
Just a 5-minute walk from Akasaka Station, Kaisu offers cosy and quiet accommodation with a cafe bar in the heart of Tokyo. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. The Roppongi area and The National Art Centre, Tokyo are a 10-minute walk from the property. Kaisu offers Japanese-style private rooms featuring tatami flooring and both mixed and female-only dormitory rooms. Shower rooms and toilets are shared. Guests will find a 24-hour lounge at the property. Luggage storage service is provided. Tokyo's popular districts including Omotesando, Shibuya, Daikanyama can be reached in 20 minutes by train from Kaisu. Haneda Airport is a 40-minute train ride away.
- Super Hotel Lohas Akasaka
Super Hotel Lohas Akasaka is conveniently located in the central Tokyo, just a 4-minute walk from Akasaka Subway Station. The non-smoking hotel features a spacious public bath and free WiFi. All rooms are fitted with modern facilities like a 32-inch flat-screen TV and video-on-demand programmes. The private bathroom comes with a bathtub, a hair dryer and free toiletries. The property offers a restricted floor for female guests. Akasaka Super Hotel Lohas provides coin launderette. Drinks vending machines are also available on site. There are several subway stations accessible within a 10-minute walk from the hotel, such as Akasaka Mitsuke Subway Station, Nagatacho Subway Station and Tameike Sanno Subway Station. Popular Shibuya or Ginza areas can be reached within a 10-minute subway ride from the Akasaka Station.
- Mitsui Garden Hotel Nihonbashi Premier
Located within a 11-minute walk from Tokyo Station Nihonbashi Exit and 1.9 km of Japan Imperial Palace, Mitsui Garden Hotel Nihonbashi Premier features accommodation with a bar. The property is directly connected to Shin-Nihombashi Station and Mitsukoshimae Station. All guest rooms in the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV. The units will provide guests with a fridge. The front desk is located on the 9th floor. Guests can relax in the public bath. Guests can reach Shibuya and Shinjuku in 30 minutes by train. Yasukuni Shrine is 2.8 km from Mitsui Garden Hotel Nihonbashi Premier. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda Airport, 15 km from the accommodation.
Comfort Suites Tokyo Bay is situated in Tokyo, 4.1 km from Tokyo DisneySea and has a fitness centre. With free WiFi, this 3-star hotel offers free shuttle service and a 24-hour front desk. The accommodation provides luggage storage space and a kids' club for guests. At the hotel, the rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. All units will provide guests with a microwave. A complimentary breakfast is available at the property. Tokyo Disneyland is 4.3 km from Comfort Suites Tokyo Bay, while Tokyo Gate Bridge is 10 km from the property. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda International Airport, 17 km from the property.
Situated in Tokyo, 500 m from The Shitaya Shrine, NOHGA HOTEL UENO TOKYO features accommodation with a restaurant, private parking, a fitness centre and a shared lounge. Featuring a terrace, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk, a concierge service and luggage storage for guests. The rooms in the hotel are equipped with a kettle. All rooms in NOHGA HOTEL UENO TOKYO are fitted with a flat-screen TV and a hairdryer. Guests at the accommodation can enjoy a continental or a buffet breakfast. Popular points of interest near NOHGA HOTEL UENO TOKYO include Ryukoku-ji Temple, Shitamachi Museum and Marishiten Tokudaiji Temple. The nearest airport is Tokyo Haneda International Airport, 29 km from the hotel.
THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO
No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to its legendary capital city. Where else can travellers visit the world’s most famous fish auction, pray at a 1,000-year-old temple and eat out on the charmingly named Piss Alley all in one day? These are the few things you must do and places to visit when you’re in Tokyo.
Witness the titanic clashes of wrestling giants at the National Sumo Stadium in Ryōgoku . Come in January, May or September for a sumo tournament.
Home to old craft shops, traditional inns, and the bustling Sensō-ji temple. There are several bookable activities to help you immerse yourself in Asakusa culture, such as a kimono experience.
Set aside a chunk of time to explore the enormous National Art Centre, a highlight of the so-called Roppongi Art Triangle.
Japan’s ancient seaside capital offers great walks between temples and shrines, plus a giant bronze Buddha that you can clamber inside.
- Traditional performing arts
Enjoy kabuki, nō and bunraku puppetry at the National Theatre, Kabukiza Theatre or Shimbashi Embujō.
There are innumerable places in which to scoff delectable raw fish – don’t leave without giving it a try.
A quintessential Japanese-style garden designed to reflect scenes from ancient Japanese poetry.
- Contemporary art galleries
Discover fresh talent at Design Festa Gallery and 3331 Arts Chiyoda, as well as commercial spaces such as the Agata Takezawa building. The National Museum of Modern art has an excellent collection, too, while teamLab Borderless is a digital art gallery featuring a series of unforgettable immersive exhibits.
The dazzling Tōshō-gū shrine is the star turn of this quiet mountain town, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the land. Nikkō is a great day-trip destination, and you'll also find dazzling Edo Wonderland here, an Edo era-themed park.
It’s amazing how many bars are squeezed into this corner of neon-soaked Kabukichō – getting to and from your seat can resemble a game of Twister.
Pack a picnic and make for the falling blossoms in Ueno Park, around the Imperial Palace moat or along the Meguro-gawa.
Soak in an old neighbourhood bathhouse such as the Jakotsu-yu or at the resort-like spa complex of Ōedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.
Enjoy one of the many annual festivals or regular wedding ceremonies held at Tokyo’s most venerable Shinto shrine.
Trawl the boutiques of Cat Street, dive into crowded Takeshita-dōri, or take tea in a treehouse café.
Most visitors will have seen at least one Studio Ghibli anime – get behind the scenes at the imaginative Ghibli museum.
Housed in one of Tokyo’s most impressive pieces of modern architecture, this repository of Asian arts also has a magnificent garden.
Cruise down the Sumida-gawa or across Tokyo Bay on one of the city’s ferry services, including the manga-inspired Himiko sightseeing boat. In Sumida City itself, you'll find the Tokyo Skytree, which you can climb for epic views.
Tokyo was once a city of canals, and while few remain, a tour of them is a fascinating way to see the city from a different vantage point. Outdoor sports club Zac runs 1½-hour kayaking tours along Kyū-naka-gawa (actually a canal) on Tokyo's far east side. I suggest choose from day or night tours. Guides speak basic English. Children aged six years and over are allowed to join (kayaks seat two). Life jackets provided; see the website for instructions about what to where.
Wanariya offers 45- to 60-minute indigo-dying workshops in English, meaning you get a traditional experience and unique souvenir all in one. Prices start at ¥2000 (per person) for a tea towel (materials included), and kids as young as three can participate. Reservations (minimum one day in advance) required. They also do weaving workshops.
Genial English-speaking chef Inoue Akila is a master of soba – noodles made from nutty buckwheat flour. He has taught chefs who have gone on to win Michelin stars for their versions of this classic Tokyo dish. Classes are held in a compact kitchen overlooking the Sumida-gawa. Additional vegetarian and gluten-free menus available for an extra fee.
Try your hand at sumi-e, the delicate art of ink painting on washi (Japanese handmade paper), at this gallery displaying the artworks of master ink painter Honda Toyokuni. One-hour classes (at 1pm, 3pm or 5pm) are taught by his affable, English-speaking son Yuta, and is highly recommended for budding artists of all ages. Reservations are essential.
Learn how ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) are made at this studio run by longtime Tokyo resident and printmaker David Bull. Hour-long 'print parties' (adult/child ¥2500/2000; tea included) are great fun – and you'll probably be more impressed with your artwork than you'd expect. Children should be 10 years or over to join. There's a shop here too, where you can buy prints made from the professional workshop on the floor above, including high-quality replicas of famous works and Bull's and Jed Henry's humorous, original Ukiyo-e Heroes series – featuring video-game characters reimagined in classical styles.
Experience Tokyo as if in a real-life video game on a go-kart tour. Yes, go-karting on real city streets; somehow, this is actually legal. You must, however, have a valid international (or Japanese) driver's license. Bonus: the tour operator rents out cartoon character onesies free of charge. Street Kart has several shops in different neighbourhoods, each running different courses, day and evening. The Shibuya branch does a short course that includes the district's famous scramble crossing. A longer course from one of the Shinagawa branches takes you through Shibuya, Roppongi (for views of Tokyo Tower) and over the 800m-long Rainbow Bridge across Tokyo Bay (this is slightly harrowing).
The karts are a little tricky to handle. Before you start there's only a short tutorial on how to drive them, then you're on the road with trucks and buses, so absolutely speak up if you're not comfortable; there's always an English-speaking guide and they are experienced at navigating the traffic and at pains to stress safety. Booking are essential.
Karaoke bars and boxes in Tokyo
Legend has it that karaoke, literally translated as “empty orchestra”, was invented by an Ōsaka record store manager in the early 1970s. Today the mainstay of this ¥1 trillion business is the karaoke box, a building packed with comfy booths kitted out with a karaoke system. Rental of these boxes is by the hour and they have proved particularly popular with youngsters, women and families.
If you fancy flexing your vocal cords, branches of the major karaoke box operator Karaoke-kan (カラオケ館) are liberally peppered across the capital. An hour of karaoke here costs from ¥1000 with drinks and snacks extra. Catering to foreigners are Fiesta and the long-running Smash Hits, both of which offer thousands of songs in English as well as several other languages.
TOKYO FOR KIDS
Tokyo is a fantastic city for kids. For starters, there’s a whole swathe of museums, the best ones being Miraikan, the National Science Museum and Edo-Tokyo Museum. For animal lovers, there’s the fabulous aquarium at Kasai Rinkai-kōen and Ueno zoo. The city also boasts Tokyo Disneyland, of course, and the thrill of the rides at Tokyo Dome as well as the wonderful Ghibli Museum, based on the popular anime films produced by the Ghibli studio. If your children are six or under, the National Children’s Castle will keep them occupied for many an hour. For older, tech-savvy kids, the electronic emporia of Akihabara will be a must.
WHERE TO EAT IN TOKYO
- Eat the freshest sushi in town at Toyosu Fish Market
Tokyo is famous for its superb sushi, and one of the best places to get your hands on some is the Toyosu Fish Market. In 2018, the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market relocated to Toyosu, and the latter now hosts the market’s renowned daily tuna auction. You can still visit Tsukiji, though, where the historic outer market’s food stalls and restaurants remain in business.
There is no better-value sushi in Tokyo than the omakase (chef's choice) course here. The menu changes daily (and sometimes hourly), but you're guaranteed to get 10 pieces of nigiri (hand-pressed) sushi made from seafood picked up from the fish market downstairs, prepared one at a time, pre-seasoned to perfection (and with zero boring fillers). Expect to queue.
You can order à la carte, but considering each piece costs ¥500 to ¥800 (based on market rates), the course is the way to go; you also get to choose your last piece. The shop also offers a course for customers who can't eat raw fish (¥4500) and a smaller children's course (¥3000). Staff speak some English and you'll be dining with plenty of fellow travellers, but don't write this off as a tourist spot – locals love it, too.
Cash-only Sushi Dai is one of the shops that made the move from Tsukiji to Toyosu; there's a big photo of the old shop on the wall. It's in the same building as the intermediate wholesalers market. Sushi Dai closes the same days as the market so check the market schedule online.
It's hard to beat Kozue's combination of exquisite seasonal Japanese cuisine, artisan crockery and distractingly good views over Shinjuku. As the kimono-clad staff speak English and the restaurant caters well to dietary restrictions and personal preferences, this is a good splurge spot for diners who don't want to give up complete control. Reservations essential for dinner and recommended for lunch; 15% service charge. The cheaper lunch options are only available on weekdays, when, for an extra ¥1000, you can follow your meal with coffee and dessert at the hotels's Peak Lounge & Bar.
Eatrip is one of the big players in Tokyo's farm-to-table organic movement. Chef Shiraishi Takayuki works closely with domestic producers and his cooking is more about coaxing out the natural flavours than embelishment. The food is ostesibly Japanese but with some international inspiration. Sample dish: mahata (grouper; from Mie Prefecture) sautéed with harissa (made in-house), squid ink and daikon (radish). When you find it (it's a little tricky; it's a house entered via a stone path past a flower shop), you'll be surprised that such a peaceful spot exists in Harajuku. Flowers from the adjacent shop adorn the interior. Bio wines by the glass (¥1000-2000). Course menu only; reserve ahead.
Kikunoi is one of Japan's storied ryōtei, the high-class restaurants that serves kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine). Its Akasaka branch is (relatively speaking) more casual and approachable. English-speaking staff are on hand to explain all the incredible seasonal delicacies served one at a time, each plated as works of art, over the two- to 2½-hour course. Reservations are essential and must be made through your accommodation. 10% service charge.
Sahsya Kanetanaka is the entry level offshoot of exclusive kaiseki (haute cuisine) restaurant Kanetanaka. At lunch (served until 2pm) choose two mains (maybe thin sliced Japanese beef or sea bream) to go with small plates of seasonal vegetables (mushrooms topped with chrysanthemum petals, for example). Dinner (reservations required) is six courses with a little bit of everything. It's an astonishingly peaceful refuge at the back of a mall right on Omote-sandō, with a garden designed by contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. In the afternoon visit for tea and Japanese sweets.
Among the oldest and most famous of Tokyo's wagyū (Japanese beef) restaurants, Imahan (in business since 1895), specialises in courses of sukiyaki and shabu-shabu, thin slices of marbled beef are cooked in hot broth at your table (followed up with vegetables and noodles). For sukiyaki, the broth has a deeper soy sauce flavour and the cooked meat is dipped in raw egg yolk. Diners on a budget should arrive early for one of the 20 limited servings of a gyūdon (rice topped with beef; ¥1500) and other affordable options at lunch. Reservations recommended for courses.
WHERE TO SHOP IN TOKYO
This DIY and zakka (miscellaneous things) store is a Tokyo landmark, loved by locals and tourists alike. It has eight fascinating floors of everything you didn’t know you needed – reflexology slippers, bee-venom face masks and cartoon-character-shaped rice-ball moulds, for example. Most stuff is inexpensive, making it perfect for souvenir and gift hunting. Warning: you could lose hours in here. There's another branch in Shinjuku that is usually less crowded and easier to navigate (but is less iconic than the Shibuya store).
The Okuno Building (1932) is of a rare vintage in ever-redeveloping Tokyo; most such buildings have long come down. But a concerted effort by artists and preservationists has kept it standing, and the seven floors of rooms filled with boutiques and gallery spaces (most open noon to 7pm, closed irregularly). Climb up and down the Escher-like staircases or use the antique elevator to explore.
If you'd like some direction, check Wakako Shibata's gallery Ishi (http://artgalleryishi.com) on the 2nd floor – she speaks English and French. On the ground floor look out for Makoto Optical (www.makotoweb.com) selling vintage and new spectacles, and Union Works shoe shop and repairs.
Beams, a national chain of trendsetting boutiques, is a Japanese cultural institution and this multistorey Shinjuku branch has a particular audience in mind: you, the traveller. It's full of the latest Japanese streetwear labels, traditional fashions with cool modern twists, artisan crafts, pop art and more – all contenders for that perfect only-in-Tokyo souvenir.
Supported by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, this is as much a showroom as a shop, exhibiting a broad range of traditional crafts from around Japan, including lacquerwork boxes, woodwork, cut glass, textiles and pottery. There are some exquisite heirloom pieces here, but also beautiful items at reasonable prices. Summon videos of the artisans at work from the touch screens in the front of the shop.
Isetan is Tokyo's most fashion-forward department store. Head to the 2nd-floor Tokyo Closet and 3rd-floor Re-Style boutiques in the main building, and the 2nd floor of the men's building to discover new Japanese brands that haven't (yet) hit the big time. Other reasons to visit: the homewares from contemporary artisans (5th floor) and the excellent depachika (basement gourmet food hall). Bonus: there's a rooftop garden where you can sit and eat all the goodies you've amassed in the food hall.