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Every month, our Condé Nast Traveller Top Travel Specialist Amy Tadehara brings us insider knowledge on how to access semi-impenetrable experiences, avoid crowds, and find hidden delights well away from those tourist-worn pathways. This month, she’s sharing her favourite spots to eat, sleep and explore in Tokyo…
Tokyo is one of my favourite places to send clients.
The city is a vibrant hub of modern civilisation, buzzing with activity. Suited businessmen rush from one meeting to the next, immaculately turned-out girls totter on impossibly high heels, kimono-clad housewives fill the up-market department store, and at every turn you’ll find a barrage of sights, sounds and aromas. Tiny road-side stalls and shops sell everything from grilled chicken on sticks to high-tech electronics. Bars and restaurants are stacked on top of one another, blazing with neon as soon as dusk begins to fall. And everywhere, people.
Where to stay?
The city has its share of high rise luxury accommodations, but my favourite hotel is the Hoshinoya Tokyo. As far as luxury hotels in Tokyo go – or in the world for that matter – this is unlike any other. Every minute detail has been considered, from its kimono-patterned decorative and functional façade (it shields the rooms from surrounding buildings), to the rounded edges of the ceilings in its corridors and the natural woods, papers, stone, and tatami used in every space. It’s as though you’re in another world. While it does pay homage to traditional ryokan, you still have all the comforts of a top hotel, including comfortable low beds in the rooms and a 24-hour lounge with complimentary snacks and drinks on every floor. You can also join in traditional cultural activities in the evenings and mornings. Try out a real hot spring on the top floor – the water is pumped up from 1000m below the hotel!
What to do?
One of my favourite things to do in Japan is to catch a baseball game. There are few other activities that are truly Japanese and truly American, at the same time. Even if you’re not baseball fan you’ll find the spectacle of a Japanese baseball game to be fascinating. The best part about watching a game is that you don’t need to know Japanese to enjoy it – the atmosphere speaks for itself. Head to Tokyo Dome in central Tokyo or Meiji-jingu Stadium near Harajuku and Shibuya and prepare for a great time!
If you’re looking for something a little more high-culture, we can arrange anything from sumo wrestling to sushi making. One of my favorite truly Japanese experiences to book travellers in Tokyo is a Noh Theatre Workshop. Noh Theatre is the oldest form of Japanese theatre still regularly practised today and the premise is a UNESCO world heritage site! Travellers can really get beneath the surface and learn about the history, props and costumes of Noh – then they get to learn and perform a short piece of Noh Theatre for themselves!
Want to include Tokyo in your Japan trip? Check our our ‘Classic Japan‘ itinerary here!
Where to eat?
One of my new favourite restaurants to send clients to is Waentei-Kikko in Asakusa. Just steps from the famous Sensoji Temple, Waentei-Kikko is housed in a traditional Japanese farm house and serves traditional, seasonal dishes. The proprietor is an accomplished Tsugaru Shamisen player and plays for guests while they eat.
If you are looking for something a little more J-Pop, I suggest the Pokémon Café in Nihonbashi. It makes a great alternative to the popular Monster Café. It is the perfect opportunity to experience the kitschy side of Japan with Pokémon themed food and drinks!
Looking for something a little off the beaten path in Tokyo?
Head to the up–and–coming Kagurazaka district for fashionable shopping, a fun mix of dining experiences and a twinge of European charm. Located north of the Imperial Palace, Kagurazaka is known for its cobblestone streets, a significant French presence and a sophisticated, stylish feel. A must while here, is the Akagi Jinja. This Shinto shrine dates back to the Edo period and was recently renovated into a unique and modern display of wood and glass. The renovation was designed by famed Japanese architect Kuma Kengo, who is also known for his work on Kabuki-za Theatre.
Want to escape the city?
Step back in time with a short day trip to the place known as “Little Edo”. Located one hour from Tokyo by train, Kawagoe retains an atmosphere reminiscent of an old town from the Edo period. Here you will find streets lined with traditional architecture, beautiful temples, and deep historical heritage. Make sure you head to Kashiya Yokocho, Candy Alley, to visit traditional over twenty shops that have been shipping sugar to the masses for a century!
For more Tokyo inspiration, take a look at our tours visiting through the city…