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A blitz of brilliant neon, Tokyo, the capital city of Japan is a city unlike any other on Earth. Influencing trends in fashion, education and technology, Tokyo and its natives proffers an intriguing culture. On Sundays, the Harajuka district presents a prime example of intrigue with outrageously dressed youths crowding the streets. Catch one of the six rowdy sumo-wrestling matches at Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium.
Often thought of as a hectic collection of flashing, bright lights and cutting-edge electronics, Tokyo also has a gentler side. With a society greatly influenced by the native Japanese religion of Shinto and Buddhist religion import, Tokyo yields a delicate underbelly that includes a worship of nature and dedication to its beaches, parks and gardens. Be sure to take an hour long journey to Kamakura, the former capital, which claims a variety of temples and shrines set within wooded hills, or relax for a day the mineral baths. Tokyo also offers many Zen gardens to explore. Complete any springtime experience with the Cherry Blossom Festival picnic at Ueno park or Yoyoki park, and watch the soft pink flowers slowly shed their petals.
Museums are abound; take a day to look through the collections of art and samurai culture at Honkan Japanese Gallery, or walk the streets and sample the street food including the delicious octopus dumplings. To get a taste of authentic Japanese culture, stray into the nearby residential areas where many Japanese open the ground floor of their homes to the public as restaurants and quirky specialty stores. But most of all, the Japanese will amaze you will their hospitality and courtesy, a thread that runs through all facets of its culture.
There are many fascinating districts around Tokyo that can be explored over the course of your trip. Each section offers a startling look at many elements of Japanese culture. Classictravel.com suggests these areas in particular:
Known for the youths who congregate near the Meiji Shrine in their wild and quirky street fashions, Harajuku is a place where anything goes, fashion-wise. Influencing trends the world-over, visiting Harajuku is a must for fashion lovers.
Kamakura has a wealth of temples and shrines nested in wooded hills and beaches. The former capital is only an hour away from Tokyo by train, and a spectacular destination for those looking for a Zen escape from the electric bustle of downtown Tokyo. Make sure to visit the 37-foot tall Great Buddha stature, or take a scenic sightseeing walk through the Zen temples at Kita Kamakura.
Visit Tokyo history by checking out the Shiodome Shiosite, a small Shiosection of the Shiocity. Its roots are as Tokyo’s first railway stop in 1872, called the Shimbashi Station. The area is now a bustling economic center full of skyscrapers, restaurants, shops, theaters and hotels.
The athletic district of Tokyo, translates to sumo wrestling in Japan. Until 1909 sumo events were held outside at shrines and temples, however, four permanent sumo stadiums now exist in Tokyo. During your visit, make sure to check out the sumo stables, where sumo wrestlers live, train, practice, and eat. Sometimes in the morning it is possible to view a sumo practice, infamously responsible for most of Tokyo’s historic earthquakes.
5-2-1 Tsukiji Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel. +03 3542.1111
Tokyo's famous fish market; plan to have sushi for breakfast at a counter restaurant or watch a tuna auction.
The Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace, a historic site destroyed and rebuilt twice, is an astonishing example of historic Japanese architecture. Questions exist on whether the Imperial family actually exists: they only make appearances on December 23rd (the Emperor’s Birthday) and January 2nd (New Year’s greetings). During the rest of the year, guided tours of the palace are offered in Japanese, with an English pamphlet and audio guide provided. Tours must be reserved in advance at the Imperial Household Agency. The Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public throughout the year except on Mondays, Fridays and special occasions. For more information on the Imperial Household, visit www.kunaicho.go.jp
Shinjuku Gyoen has three gates for entry: Shinjuku Gate, Sendagaya Gate and Shinjuku Gate. Once a garden for the Imperial Family, it opened to the public as one of the largest parks in Tokyo and one of the best sites for viewing the traditional cherry blossoms. It features three garden types: an English landscape garden with wide lawns, a traditional Japanese garden with teahouses and a symmetrically arranged, formal French garden; there are also some forested areas and a greenhouse.
You will undoubtedly want to see any number of Tokyo’s historic temples during your stay. Try Sensoji, a temple in the old downtown of Tokyo completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple. Located near the shopping market street Nakamise, a short stretch of merchandise such as Japanese fans or traditional snacks from the Asakusa area.
La Porte Aoyama, 5th floor
Get pampered at this delectable tropical Asian-resort restaurant. With a staff that has handwritten welcome notes tucked in its napkins, extends flashlights to read the menus and offers massage chairs, Casita aims to please its guests with not only its great attentive yet unobtrusive service, but standout food. Try the mouthwatering caramelized foie gras as an appetizer. Casita makes the perfect rendezvous for a romantic evening..
Ginza Chanel Building
10F 30503 Chuo-ku
Tel. +03 5159.5500
This joint venture of Channel, KK and Alain Ducasse Group is the hotspot in Tokyo. While world-renowned New York architect, Peter Marino is responsible for the building plans and Karl Lagerfeld designed the staff uniforms, the food is of particular note: Ducasse's contemporary French fare is delicate, flavorful and exquisitely prepared.
6-10-17 Minami Aoyama
Tel. +03 5467.0022
Like its New York counterpart, Nobu in Tokyo is a sleek, classy establishment, replete with atmospheric jazz music and beautiful dÈcor. With Asian food fused with American and Latin touches, Nobu offers a exceptional experience for the palate. Be sure to try the spicy sashimi dishes such as the scallop sashimi with red chili paste.
Tel. +03 3571.6050
L’Osier is an elegant, Art Deco French restaurant in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Make sure to make reservations while planning your trip to Tokyo, as Chef Jacques Borie, recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France award, designs delectable, mouthwatering food for only 40 patrons—each with their own server. L’Osier has an abundant wine selection, a plentiful variety of cheeses, and a list of 30 desserts.
6-3-2 Jingumae, Harajuku
An Asian-Latin fusion restaurant that's popular with foreign and Japanese customers alike. Its been around but its still as good as ever. The setting is charming and traditional with a Japanese-style dining rooms upstairs. The food is definitely a fusion with unusually Unjapanese combos like fresh mint and lamb, but delicious nonentheless. Also unusually for Tokyo, Fujimamas is is kid-friendly and offers vegetarian alternatives. You should try they're weekend brunch -- K.O.
Close to Nakameguro station
Little English is spoken at this stylish boutique restaurant in the artsy quarter of Nakameguro. But don't let that put you off: this is a chance to experience contemporary Japan at its most effortlessly chic. The cuisine, much like the look, blends tradition with contemporary trends. There is a long list of sake and shochu. The restaurant is the creation of Shinichiro Ogata, a local designer, and is very popular. The menus are only in Japanese, but the staff are very willing to help.
Park View Nishiazabu, 1-15-10 Nishi Azabu
Close to Nogizaka station (Chiyoda line)
Swanky diners have returned to this dinner-only much-loved gem. Plush decor and moody lighting give the restaurant an old-world feel, while the staff are warm and enthusiastic. But the real secret behind Furutoshi is its four-course, ¥4,800 menu -- a continuous generously portioned journey through rich, French-inspired meat dishes and delicately dressed Asian seafood. Highlights of the meal include the duck sausage and the bouillabaisse risotto. Amuse-bouches—and the soups and sorbets served between courses—are presented with a Japanese attention to detail. A bit pricey but a sure unregrettable splurge.
Omote Sando Hills
Omote Sando Hills is a luxurious shopping extravaganza in Tokyo.
Tokyo Hipsters Club
61223 Jingumae (Harajuku)
Tel. +03 5778.2081
Tokyo Hipsters Club is the place to go for counterculture in Japan. Allen Ginsberg poems, penknives with Che emblazoned on them and their very own counterculture CD compilation can be yours, as well as a fine staple of alternative clothes.
Shinjuku Isetan, Shinjuku 3-14-1
Tel. +03 3351.7882
Jean-Paul’s cafe is next door to his shop of chocolates that are on display like jewels in a jewelry shop.
1-11-7 Higashi Ikebukuro
Tel. +03 3988.0002
The main store of a five-store chain, BIC Camera claims to have the cheapest cameras in Japan. Maintaining a policy that they will refund the difference if one finds a cheaper deal on the same item elsewhere in Japan. BIC Camera also has a good selection of audio and video equipment, computers and other electrical and digital devices.
Tel. +81 (0)3.3409.7227
Hysteric Glamour is the coolest outlet for super trendy street fashions. Famous for its use of Art Deco style women on bright T-shirts, Hysteric Glamour is unbeatable at bringing together cartoons and fashion.
Takashimaya Times Square
Tel. +81 (0)3.5361.111
This 2,700 square-foot floor is stocked with 70 brands of salt, fanciful prepared foods, rare teas and so much more for food lovers. There are also 10 floors of clothing and restaurants, including the Tokyu Hands store with everything imaginable for the home hobbyist and Kinokuniya bookstore with English-language books. Open daily 10am to 8pm; closed some Wednesdays.
Tokyo has some excellent outdoor antique markets for those looking for some vinage items. The best markets are at Nogi Shrine in Nogizaka, Togo Shrine in Harajuka and Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku. The largest of these, Oedo Antique Market (www.antique-market.jp/eng/ is held a the Tokyo International Forum in Maranouchi on the first and third Sunday of every month.
3-6-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Matsuya department store is worth a visit on its own, but the added attraction is the Design Collection and gallery on the seventh floor. The gallery sells a selection of the best in contemporary and classic wares, as chosen by the Japan Design Committee, with a focus on homegrown goods—particularly kitchen and tableware by the great Sori Yanagi, Japan's best-known product designer. There are also interesting art and design exhibitions.
Tokyo's night scene changes so much that you need someone who knows and is connected to take and get you into the right places. This services, run by two British ex-pats, is perfect if you don't want to waste time. USD84.00 per hr with 3 hour minimum.
Japan uses a different signal from other worldwide carriers. Make sure to rent a cell phone for your journey.
Tokyo Tourism Info
Get the skinny on upcoming fairs and festivals, sightseeing ideas, an introduction to history and culture, and more.
Japan National Tourist Organization
B1F Ohyama Building
2-13-15 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
Tel. +81 3.3409.3301
A hidden gem, tucked away in a side-street basement near Roppongi and Nishi Azabu. Amrta attracts a posh crowd for after dinner drinks.
Blue Note Tokyo
Raika Bldg., B1,
6-3-16 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
Tel. +81 3.5485.0088
Blue Note is a venue for many big names in jazz ranging from Natalie Cole to Herbie Handcock. A great place to experience and see the up-and—coming Japanese talent.
2-2-10 Kotou-ku, Shinkiba
Tel. +81 3.5534.2525
With room for 3,000 clubbers, Ageha attracts big-named DJ’s around the world such as Fat Boy Slim. With different musical zones, outdoor pool and relaxation tent, party-seekers will be pleased with this venue.
A popular club for those under 30, Velfarre is one of the largest clubs in Tokyo.
Minato-ku, near Roppongi station on the Hibiya line
Tel. +81 03.3479.0690
Yellow draws the city’s young hip party-goers with it’s popular music and fun events.
2-16 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku
Tel: 81 3 5459 0039; 81 3 5459 0139
Among Tokyo's top clubs, Womb is the best-known for techno and house music. One of the most popular nights is Sterne on the first Friday of every month with DJ Takkyu Ishino. The club takes up four floors but can get very crowded on weekends. Its open only on weekends. Check the website for the schedule. Closed Mon, Tues, and Weds.
Birdland is a popular Japanese jazz spot that offers a getaway from the neon hustle of Tokyo with its cozy atmosphere, candles and soft lighting. The club features Japanese musicians that attract an adult crowd.
1-26-22 Shoto, Shibuya-ku
At this cozy Australian wine bar and restaurant on a small street near Shibuya, the wine list is overwhelming: 500 vintages from Oz. For oenophiles who'd like to try a range, there's a daily selection of ten wines that can be ordered by the glass. Tokyo is a good city for wine lovers, and the Australian and New Zealand wines here are very well priced.
New York Bar & Peak Bar
Park Hyatt Tokyo
3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku
Located at the top of the Park Hyatt, on the 52nd floor, the New York Bar is everything a good hotel bar should be. You know how it is: discreet service, low lights, live jazz, and you must not forget the breathtaking night views across Tokyo. The point in using this bar in Sofia Coppala's movie is just that -- the views are never lost in translation. If the New York Bar is full (and these days, it often is), go to the 41st floor's Peak Bar.
B1F 3-1-25 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku
This boho salon near Roppongi is run by Tokyo architects and graphic designers. It's a relaxed, chic space with DJ nights and live music. Expect anything from crowded fashion parties to obscure musical performances. Check the website for the upcoming schedule. Closed Sun.