The alpha world city of Tokyo is the gateway to the unique country of Japan, closed to the rest of the world during its centuries of Shogunate rule and home to the mesmerising samurai warrior tradition much loved by Hollywood movie moguls and Western novelists. For the first-time visitor, Tokyo is a confusing but fascinating experience, with its ultra-modernity overlaying its hundreds of years of culture as Edo, the capital of the closed country. Tokyo is a city of contrasts, with its cityscape a riot of high-rise buildings and its narrow back streets crammed with tiny local shops and traditional restaurants.
Tokyo, often unfairly rated as one of the world’s most expensive cities, offers a huge choice of accommodation ranging from five-star luxury through comfortable, modern business hotels and traditional ryokan, Japanese inns found in both modern and traditional buildings. Good places to stay are Minato-Ku’s peaceful Asakasa district, a stroll from Roppingi’s entertainment options, Shibuya with its quirky Harajuku shopping street, Asakusa for its history and nearby Ueno museums, or Shinjuku for its red-light district and futuristic skyscrapers. The city’s lovely parks and famous Tsukiji Fish Market near the APA Hotel Tsukiji are popular attractions.
Tokyo is a fascinating blend of ancient and ultra-modern, with Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and Japanese-style public gardens sharing the crowded conurbation with modernistic skyscrapers and massive shopping malls.
Asakusa is Tokyo’s ‘old town’, home to Senso-Ji Temple with its massive Kaminarimon Gate and carved wooden guardians. The temple is approached via a double line of tiny traditional shops selling kimonos, yukata, traditional accessories and snacks, and the precinct hosts Tokyo’s most-loved annual festival, Sanja matsuri, held every May.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Set in the downtown district along Tokyo Bay, Tsukiji is famous for its tuna auctions, with the huge, prime fish auctioned to the city’s top sushi and sashimi restaurants for millions of yen. Get up early to catch the noisy action, then breakfast at the market’s cafés on the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted.
Constructed in the late 19th century to commemorate the reinstated Meiji Emperor, the Meiji restoration and the end of the Shogunate ruling dynasty, this Shinto shrine is nestled behind its massive torii gate in beautiful, peaceful grounds.
Set in the heart of Tokyo, the moated Imperial Palace holds the original guardhouses and cobbled streets leading to the raised foundations of Edo Castle, the residence of the ruling Shoguns for 500 years.
Eating and drinking and shopping nearby
Eating out in Tokyo suits all budgets and is invariably a culinary experience. For lunch on the run, the basement eateries in the larger rail stations are the perfect choice, with the bento (tray) meals displayed in their windows making ordering easy. The department stores’ basement food halls offer every kind of Japanese dish, with free samples for the nervous, and back-street local restaurants welcome visitors. Tokyo’s Michelin-starred restaurants offer gourmet delights, with the Mandarin Oriental home to three of the best, and Roppongi Hills’ Grand Hyatt Hotel boasts Roku Roku. Budget shopping for quality clothes and homewares in the covered local markets and underground malls costs far less than you would expect, and canny shoppers can save money and fill their suitcases with items which will last for years. Unique souvenirs such as antique kimonos, prints and crafts are best found at the weekly Sunday temple markets.
Transportation from Tokyo’s Narita Airport is by express train from the airport’s underground station to Tokyo Station, and the inexpensive limousine buses and shared minibuses stop at major hotels. Taxis are expensive and sit in the same traffic jams as the limousine buses. Once in the city, the subway is the best way to get around for its dual-language signage and extensive network. It’s backed up by the Yamanote line, a commuter rail service looping around Tokyo’s vast inner city area. Bus travel is the least expensive but the most confusing, as signage is in Japanese.