Get a big pot and throw in some sushi, shogun warriors, Hello Kitty, karaoke and goth-geisha girls and you’ll have a bunch of clichés about Tokyo – but you’ll have barely scratched the surface of this ultra-modern city at the vanguard of 21st century living.
Best time to visit- April, May, March
Lowest Prices: January
Kokyo- Imperial Palace
Japan’s imperial palace is a Shinto paradise, filled with lily ponds of ornamental carp and billowing weeping willows. Kokyo’s immaculate inner grounds are only publicly accessible on 23 December and 2 January; any other time, you can peek at the treasures within from the perimeter. Fun fact: in monetary terms, Kokyo’s land is worth more than all of the real estate in London. You can book your stay at the Imperial Palace Big Apartment with some funky interiors.
Maids, rockabillies and bears – oh my! Takeshita Street is loaded with niche costume shops selling everything from medieval wench-wear to ‘Gothic Lolita’ maid uniforms to the odd pair of kitten ears. As part of the legendary ‘Harajuku Girl’ charm, you’ll spot scores of girls sporting the costumes as (slightly impractical) everyday wear. Kawaii! (cute!). You can book your stay at the Imperial Palace Big Apartment with some funky interiors.
Meiji Jingu Shrine
Don’t be afraid to ‘drop some coin’, especially if it grants you good luck. Meiji Jingu Shrine is set in 700,000 square metres of pristine forest, capped by the giant Tori Gate made from 1,500-year-old cypress. Purify your hands and mouth before stepping towards Emperor Meiji’s shrine, throw coins into the box, bow twice, clap twice, then pray and bow again. You can book your stay at the Imperial Palace Big Apartment with some funky interiors.
There’s no way to deny it – Tokyo is a behemoth of a city, which can be seen from every direction atop this iconic tower. Painted bright orange and white, this 333-metre high steel tower is the second-tallest freestanding structure in Japan. There are observation towers at 150 and 250 metres above ground, giving a birds eye view of the city. Not for the squeamish! You can either stay at the Ginza Capital Hotel Main or continue your stay at the Imperial Palace Big Apartment.
Ginza Wako Building
Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton darling … names, names, names! Identifiable by its clock tower, the grand Ginza Wako Building is a shopaholic’s paradise that’s fashionable by day, boldly illuminated by night. This renowned shopping, dining and entertainment district contains flagship stores for every international luxury brand you’ve heard of – and some you haven’t. While here, book you stay at the Ginza Capital Hotel Main.
Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble
That poor chicken didn’t cross the road expecting to be plucked and pilfered, but perhaps you’ll feel that way crossing this infamous pedestrian thoroughfare. You’ll be jostled every which way but up as a zillion smartphone-ogling people head past you in all directions. For the faint of heart, observe the drama from the Tsutaya Building’s Starbucks on the second floor. While here, you can book your stay at the Turn Table Hostel.
If Robocop needed a new knee joint, you’d probably find him trawling the stores of Akihabara. Known as ‘Electric Town’, get tinkering in Akihabara’s electronic shops that sell high-end appliances, DVDs, computers – and the odd robot-part. It recently became a mecca for anime and manga fans called ‘otaku’ (geeks) who buy collectibles and figurines here. The Apa Hotel Asakusabashi Ekikita is a good option.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish … and he’ll probably sell the spoils at auction. There’s no reserve price at Tsukiji Fish Market, where you can witness the daily spectacle of live tuna being auctioned from 05:25–06:15. Limited to 120 visitors-a-day, arrive before 05:00 and register at the Fish Information Centre. Then treat yourself to some sushi for breakfast!
Raijin (God of Thunder) and Fujin (God of Wind) preferred to simply bliss out than worry about all that pesky weather nonsense. Walk underneath their statues that stand proudly over the main gate, then make your way to the main temple – dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara). A post-temple bargain hunt in the stores of Nakamise shopping street can’t be missed. You can book your stay at the APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi EkimaeOpens.
Tokyo ‘Skytree’ Tower
Superman wasn’t the only being who could scale a tall building in a single bound. Shoot skyward in the rocket speed elevators that head to Tokyo Skytree’s observation decks, 350 and 450 metres above ground. The tallest broadcasting tower in the world has an aquarium, planetarium and 300 shops and restaurants at the base of the tower, great for post-flight snacking. You can opt for the Richmond Hotel Premier Tokyo Oshiage.
Teenagers, trendsetters and theatrical types rub shoulders in this funky Tokyo suburb. Youth culture reigns supreme in Shimokitazawa’s vintage clothes shops, trendy record stores and buzzing student bars. The district plays host to a popular theatre festival each February, while annual music festival in July sees live performances spill out from tiny venues to the streets beyond. You can stay at the Shimokitazawa Hostel.
Known as Tokyo’s capital of retro, Koenji is brimming with second-hand stores. Savvy shoppers flock here to bag bargain clothes and used electronics at knock-down prices, before tucking into yakitori and ramen in low-key local cafés. If you’re in town in August, the colourful Awa-odori festival fills the streets with traditional music and dance. The Cosmos Nakano is a wonderful option for your stay.
Calling all geeks! The Nakano neighbourhood flies the flag for nerd culture with an astonishing array of stores catering to gamers, comic-book lovers and collectors of every conceivable fandom. Cosplayers can pick up finishing touches for their looks in the Nagano Broadway Mall, before strutting their stuff in the local streets and bars. The Cosmos Nakano is a wonderful option for your stay.
Weird, wacky and wonderful – anything goes in Tokyo’s street fashion capital. All possible subcultures rub shoulders in Harajuku’s quirky clothing shops, from pierced punks to pastel-clad, pigtail-wearing Fairy Kei fashionistas. Sundays see Jingu Bashi Bridge crowded with hip young things keen to show off their latest looks in front of camera-wielding tourists. The Millenials Shibuya is a beautiful Hotel.
Towering skyscrapers, bright lights and flashing billboards. Shinjuku is everything you imagine Tokyo to be, and more! Beyond the mainstream stores selling cut-price cameras and computers, mingle with cosplayers and alternative types as you shop for quirky fashions in Shinjuku’s independent malls. Later, head to the neighbourhood’s karaoke booths and cartoon-themed bars for a night out with Tokyo’s hippest young things. You can check out the APA Hotel-Higashishinjuku Kabukicho Higashi.
In the following weeks we will also include the other popular cities of Japan. So keep an eye on this space!