Guide to Tokyo

Guide to Tokyo

In this issue

Editor’s letter

As well as the hi-tech, ultra-modern and urban, we can also find rural tranquillity, natural beauty, stunning coasts and ancient tradition, all in the same city.

Map and area guide

A brief introduction to Central and Western Tokyo

Area guides continued

From Northern Tokyo to the tranquil Izu Islands

Introduction to Tokyo

Welcome to a city of contrasts that defies the stereotypes

Tokyo in bloom

Parks and gardens are the perfect escape from the city streets

Video: Transforming Tokyo

Why you can find nature in Tokyo where you least expect it

Focus: Todoroki Keikoku Park

It’s hard to believe that this park, centred on a forested ravine, is 20 minutes from bustling Shibuya

Further afield: Tama

Covering more than 1,500 square kilometres, the Tama region is Tokyo’s best-kept secret

Further afield: the Izu Islands

Sunbathe on a quiet beach, trek around an active volcano and scuba dive among coral reefs

Further afield: The Ogasawara Islands

These incredible, unspoilt subtropical islands are the furthest outpost of Tokyo

Video: The History Channel

Discover Tokyo’s incredible wildlife

Feature: Street food

Experience it all, from deep fried rice cakes to rainbow coloured cheese toasties

Feature: Restaurants

Anthony Bourdain said that if he had to eat only in one city for the rest of his life, Tokyo would be it

Feature: Art

Tokyo’s art scene is diverse and dynamic, and very often the venues are just as artistic

Feature: Architecture

Tokyo has tried to preserve its historical buildings, but it really comes into its own with present-day architecture

Video: Discovery Asia

A city of transformations

Feature: History

The best ways to experience the more traditional side of the city

New openings: exciting new hotels

Tokyo has an amazing array of hotels for all budgets. Sam Ballard rounds up some of the best new arrivals on the scene

Tokyo: in numbers

The facts and figures behind Japan’s beguiling capital

Editor’s letter

Tokyo at its most tranquil

 

Tokyo is Japan’s fascinating capital city and its central location makes it perfect for accessing the whole country.

Whether or not you have visited Japan, perhaps you have a picture of Tokyo in your mind.

Well, what kind of images do you have?

When we mention Tokyo, it often conjures up words such as ‘modern’, ‘hi-tech’, ‘busy’ and ‘crowded’.

But, Tokyo has a very different side too.

As well as the hi-tech, ultra-modern and urban, we can also find rural tranquillity, natural beauty, stunning coasts and ancient tradition, all in the same city.

This dual nature of contrasting aspects is one of Tokyo’s biggest charms.

We can find plenty of comparisons between the old and the new, as well as calm and energetic, wild and immaculate.

In this publication, the ABTA Magazine Guide to Tokyo, you will come to understand the dynamic contrasts that can be found in Tokyo. We hope you enjoy reading.

— Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau

About

Find out more

The ABTA Magazine Guide to Toyko is produced by Waterfront Publishing on behalf of Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau. ABTA Magazine is the official title of ABTA, The Travel Association.

For the latest Covid-19 updates and prevention measures, visit gotokyo.org/en/plan/coronavirus-information


Contacts

Editorial
Anthony Pearce, director
anthony@waterfront-publishing.com

info@abtamag.com
020 3865 9360

Design
DJMWeb, Tiziana Lardieri, The Studio

Sub-editor
Nathaniel Cramp, Emily Eastman

With thanks to: Rob Goss

Sales and partnerships

Sam Ballard, director
sam@waterfront-publishing.com

Bryan Johnson, senior sales manager
bryan@waterfront-publishing.com
0203 865 9338
075 3270 9734


About ABTA

Waterfront Publishing is an independent publisher based in central London. It has two in-house magazines, Cruise Adviser and Solus, both aimed at the travel trade. It has also produced magazines on behalf of ABTATravelzoo; and Emerald Waterways. Its design agency The Studio by Waterfront offers copywriting, proofreading and design for print, digital, advertising and branding.

Get in touch

Waterfront Publishing
Hop Exchange,
Southwark Street,
London, SE1 1TY
info@waterfront-publishing.com
020 3865 9360
Map

Getting around

Area guide

Central and Western Tokyo

Bustling Ginza (Copyright: TCVB)

Central Tokyo
Historic and modern, central Tokyo is home to the upscale restaurants, department stores and boutiques of the Ginza district, but also slices of traditional Japan such as the Hama-rikyu Gardens and the vast grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Up the road from Ginza, Nihonbashi epitomises that blend of old and new, with generations-old restaurants and shops alongside the venerable Nihonbashi Takashimaya Shopping Centre and Ginza Mitsukoshi department stores and sleek complexes such as COREDO Nihonbashi. Adding an extra dimension, there’s also the lively subculture hub of Akihabara, high-rise business centres of Marunouchi and Otemachi, and historic shrines such as Hie Jinja and Kanda Myojin.

Where to stay

For those looking to push the boat out, Tokyo has an incredible range of luxury accommodation.

Among the iconic hotels available is the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo, which has 200 spacious and elegantly furnished guest rooms. It offers an incredible view of the city and is right next to Tokyo Station. 

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo was created in the late 1880s at the request of the Japanese aristocracy to cater to the increasing number of Western visitors to Japan, and remains as elegant as ever. 

The luxurious Capitol Hotel Tokyu, located in Akasaka, boasts three restaurants, including Japanese and Chinese eateries, as well as an elegant lounge and bar.

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, a luxury five-star hotel with traditional and breathtakingly beautiful Japanese garden, is located in the Bunkyo ward. 

New Otani Tokyo, which includes the Executive House Zen, is nestled within a verdant ten-acre, 400-year-old Japanese Garden. It was a filming location for the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

The 33-storey high Prince Park Tower Tokyo is a stone’s throw from the iconic Tokyo Tower. One key selling point is its natural hot spring. 

“A fairytale retreat that mixes 1930s glamour with contemporary cool”, according to Small Hotels of the World, Hotel Gajoen Tokyo, in Meguro, retains its Golden Age elegance today. 

Directly connected to the Tokyo Station, The Tokyo Station Hotel is a grand redbrick building in the Marunouchi business district, dating back to 1915.

Meiji Jingu Shrine (Copyright: TCVB)

Western Tokyo
Like so much of Tokyo, Western Tokyo doesn’t fit a single definition. Take Shinjuku, where on one side of the station are gleaming skyscrapers, yet on another are bars and restaurants in the atmospheric alleyways of the Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai areas, and not to forget the calm expanse of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. A few stations away, Shibuya is known for its youthful station area and hectic street crossing. A day spent exploring this part of the city could take in the tranquil Meiji Jingu Shrine, the colourful teen fashions found along Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori Street, and the luxury fashion brands, boutiques and cutting-edge architecture on Omotesando Avenue.

Area guide

Southern and Northern Tokyo

The iconic Tokyo Tower (Copyright: TCVB)

Southern Tokyo
Move a little southward from the very heart of the city and you find the iconic Tokyo Tower, with its Eiffel-like latticing and signature white and international orange coat. Towering over the nearby Roppongi district are two of the capital’s most striking urban complexes – Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown – both of which mix fashionable retail outlets, galleries, restaurants and other attractions. For a night out, Roppongi also has high-end dining, clubs, and craft beer and cocktail bars. But there’s a very different vibe further south on the artificial Odaiba island in Tokyo Bay, a lively entertainment hub packed with family-friendly attractions.

Ueno Park (Copyright: TCVB)

Northern Tokyo
Where the southern, western and central parts of Tokyo’s core tend to feel more modern and cosmopolitan, the northern and eastern areas retain more traditional character. The winding streets of the Yanaka district are lovely for a stroll, discovering small temples and old shopping streets, but also cool cafes and galleries. Nearby, in Ueno, is the bustling Ameyoko street market, half a dozen top museums and, with Ueno Park, one of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom spots in spring. A fun detour from there is Kappabashi Dougu Street, aka kitchen street, where you’ll find stores that supply Tokyo’s catering industry with chopsticks, pots, pans and even the food replicas seen in many restaurant windows.

Area guide

Eastern Tokyo, Tama and the islands

TOKYO SKYTREE (Copyright: TCVB)

Eastern Tokyo
Like northern Tokyo, the east side is full of old character. In Asakusa, there’s the magnificent Senso-ji Temple, lively backstreet restaurants and plenty of traditional snack stalls and shops to explore. Across the Sumida River you see the 634m TOKYO SKYTREE, which as well as delivering great views over Tokyo has plenty of attractions and shops in its malls. A little south is Ryogoku, the centre of the sumo world, but also a must-visit for its Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Sumida Hokusai Museum and the Japanese Sword Museum, all of which give superb insights into the Japan of old. 

The sparsely populated Tama region (Copyright: TCVB)

Tama
Spread out over almost twice the area of Tokyo’s core 23 special wards – yet with less than half the population – the western side of the capital breaks from the heavily urbanised image of Tokyo, offering visitors leafy suburbs and mountain ranges, outdoor museums and sprawling parks, as well as outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking and glamping.

Escape to Tokyo’s islands (Copyright: TCVB)

The islands
Stretching into the Pacific, south of mainland Tokyo, the volcanic Izu Islands have everything from trekking and diving to simply lazing about and enjoying the views. The closest and largest of the islands, Oshima, is less than two hours by jetfoil from central Tokyo, making it a popular day trip. Other islands require a longer ferry haul, which helps keep them wonderfully uncrowded and peaceful. Further south, the Ogasawara Islands are an archipelago of more than 30 subtropical and tropical islands.

Introduction

Discover a different side to Tokyo

Tokyo is a city of incredible contrasts that defies all the stereotypes as much as it blows your mind, writes Rob Goss. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


Think of Tokyo and you conjure up images of a busy and ultra-modern city, where neon-lit futuristic skylines seem copied and pasted straight out of Blade Runner. It is all of these things, but there’s so much more to Japan’s capital. In the 23 special wards that make up the city’s urban core – that among them are home to nine million Tokyoites (there are 14 million including the wider area) – visitors also find traditional gardens and quiet temples. For every busy main street, there’s a warren of becalmed side streets waiting to be explored. For every skyscraper, there’s a low-rise and low-key residential area, where even elementary schoolers can safely walk to school without their parents.

Tokyo is known for its incredible food scene (Copyright: TCVB)

 

Go beyond the city centre into the Tama region and you’ll find more differences between real Tokyo and the capital’s stereotypes – it is nothing like the world of Lost In Translation. There are mountain ranges for a start, with trails for all levels of hiker. There are ancient temples deep in nature. There are sprawling parks and laidback suburbs. Farmland as well. Look south and Tokyo has an island chain, too, stretching hundreds of kilometres into the Pacific and offering travellers the chance to dive, surf and even trek around active volcanoes. In Tokyo.

One thing often said about Tokyo that is true: the trains do tend to run on time. And they are clean. Another that holds up is that the food is on a different level. It’s not just that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world – 212 at the latest count, including 12 with three stars – it’s the dedication chefs from every culinary walk of life seem to give their craft, whether they are perfecting a ramen stock or crafting kaiseki-ryori, the artistically arranged haute cuisine of Japan with its focus on seasonal produce and techniques that enhance natural flavours. And just as there’s far more to Tokyo than concrete and crowds, there’s also an incredible depth and breadth of flavours on menus to discover – not only sushi, noodles, tempura and wagyu.

Hama-rikyu Gardens (Copyright: TCVB)

It’s become a cliché to say that old meets new, but that’s true at times, too. Sometimes its striking – such as the skyscrapers of Shiodome rising above the traditional garden of Hama-rikyu Gardens. Sometimes its subtle – such as the traditional approach to hospitality even in the most contemporary of galleries, bars or restaurants. The takeaway is that, with Tokyo, there’s always something new to learn, something that will surprise and go beyond expectations. First visit or fifteenth, it’s a city that keeps on blowing minds.

Parks

Tokyo in bloom

The parks and gardens of Tokyo are some of the most historical places in the city, and the perfect escape from busy streets. Rob Goss looks at some of the best. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


Tokyo is a city of many faces. In places, the capital can play up to its reputation for neon and gleaming skyscrapers, for high-tech and innovation, and for those contrasting moments where the old sits next to the new. In many others, it delivers a surprise. That’s most definitely true with Tokyo’s parks and gardens.

Although the city has been devastated numerous times over the years – in just the past century by the great quake of 1923 and the firebombing during World War Two – traditional Japanese gardens remain from the Edo era (1603-1868). In Kiyosumi-shirakawa in Koto-ku, Kiyosumi Gardens is a lovely example, with its central pond accented by pine-clad islets. It has an interesting history, too, having originally been part of the residence of an Edo-era merchant before being owned by the founder of Mitsubishi, who used the gardens as a place to entertain VIPs.

Koishikawa Korakuen gardens (Copyright: TCVB)

In a similar fashion is the Edo-era Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens in Bunkyo-ku, which like so many classic gardens employs ponds, bridges, rocks, man-made hills and decorative trees to create a succession of miniature landscapes. One quirk of Koishikawa Korakuen is the sight of the Tokyo Dome arena – home of the Tokyo Giants baseball team – looming in the background, but that’s not the most striking old-meets-new garden view in Tokyo. That honour goes to the splendid Hama-rikyu Gardens in Chuo-ku, which as the backdrop to its saltwater ponds and teahouse has the towering skyscrapers of the Shiodome district.

Yoyogi Park (Copyright: TCVB)

Away from traditional landscaping, places such as Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and Ueno Park are both gorgeous in cherry blossom season and year-round are ideal for a stroll or a picnic, while Yoyogi Park in fashionable Shibuya-ku has jogging routes and is always good for a spot of people watching, especially when the rockabilly dancers meet up on Sundays or cosplayers wander in from nearby Harajuku. Todoroki Valley is a different experience altogether – it’s a cool ravine with ancient burial mounds and a waterfall traditionally used for ascetic meditation. Very often, you find greenery in the most unexpected of places, such as the Meguro Sky Garden, which is built on top of a Metropolitan Expressway and on clear days offers views of Mount Fuji way off to the west.

All of the above help give the 23 special wards an unexpected amount of greenery, but go beyond the heart of Tokyo and the parks and gardens take on a whole new scale. You could easily spend a whole day in Tachikawa, exploring the more than 150 hectares of Showa Kinen Park, which is home to cycling trails, sports facilities, birdwatching areas and much more. Inokashira Park in trendy Kichijoji is another gem, with a large boating pond, swathes of greenery and, a short walk away, the Ghibli Museum – dedicated to the films of Japan’s most famous animation studios.

Video: Transforming Tokyo

More

Why you can find nature in Tokyo where you least expect it. Click play to watch the video in full.

Parks

Focus: Todoroki Valley

(Copyright: TCVB)

Hidden away in a neighbourhood just 20 minutes from Shibuya, this stunning ravine is like another world, writes Rob Goss. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


Strolling under the green canopy of Todoroki Valley, listening to the gentle flow of water, it’s incredible to think you are in the heart of Tokyo. Found in the neighbourhood of Todoroki in Setagaya-ku, less than 20 minutes from bustling Shibuya, the park is centred on a forested ravine, and an hour or two here makes for a very chilled out break from city life.

After descending a flight of steps into the narrow ravine, a pathway traces what feels like a mountain stream for just over a kilometre, a walk that in itself is calming – and refreshingly cool in Tokyo’s hot and humid summer months. But it’s the things you see on the way that really make the park so different to anywhere else in central Tokyo.

You’ll pass small natural springs and, at one point, come to a waterfall called Fudo no Taki, which for centuries has been used by followers of Shugendo (a body of ascetic practices that originated in the Heian era), meditating as the chilly water falls upon them. It’s more of a mellow trickle these days, but the park’s name (Todoroki can mean ‘roaring’ in Japanese) suggests that the falls were once a more dramatic sight and sound to behold. Nearby is the small but atmospheric Todoroki Fudoson Temple, a particularly pretty spot when its cherry blossoms are in bloom in spring. Elsewhere are ancient burial mounds thought to date to somewhere between the Kofun era (250-538) and Nara era (710-794).

The mood of the ravine changes with the seasons, from the yellow-gold and red hues of autumn to a lush summer greenery, and there are plenty of spots to sit down and slowly soak it in. At the rustic Setsugekka teahouse you can do that with green tea and sweets, or cooling shaved ice covered in fruit sauce in summer. Or you could stop for a moment at the ravine’s small Japanese garden – not as carefully landscaped as many other traditional gardens in Tokyo, but with the way it seems to merge naturally into its surroundings, it’s just as tranquil.

To get to Todoroki Valley take the express train from Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line to Jiyugaoka Station, then change to the Tokyu Oimachi Line and alight at Todoroki Station. Take the south exit and head towards the Seijo Ishii supermarket, turn right and you will see the entrance.

Explore more

Further afield: Tama and Western Area

Harmonica Alley, Kichijoji (Copyright: TCVB)

Rob Goss explores the Tama region, which covers the western area of Tokyo and has everything from mountains and ancient temples to glamping. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


If the 23 special wards that make up the heart of modern Tokyo defy stereotypes with their diversity, then the Tama region goes even further: covering more than 1,500 square kilometres and home to just over four million of Tokyo’s almost 14 million residents, it blows the concrete jungle stereotypes out of the water.

Exploring Tama from central Tokyo, the region begins with suburbs before becoming gradually more rural and even remote, providing a varied range of experiences and attractions. Almost bordering the 23 special wards, Kichijoji has a hip reputation because of its independent cafes, cool bars and street fashions, as well as being one of the neighbourhoods connected to the chilled out Inokashira Park – a lovely spot to picnic, watch street performers or have a paddle in a rowboat. Going ever so slightly further into Tama, but still easy to access thanks to Tokyo’s extensive rail network, you also find the superb Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and its collection of 30 historic structures in Koganei Park.

In Chofu, other Tama standouts often overlooked by travellers are the Jindai Botanical Gardens and neighbouring Jindaiji Temple. The gardens mix roses, cherry blossoms, azaleas and other seasonal blooms, as well as a greenhouse full of orchids and aquatic plants. In a lovely, wooded grove next door, Jindaiji Temple is said to have first been built in 733 and still has some structures dating as far back as the 1600s. It’s easy to while away an hour or two here in the old stores and restaurants by the temple’s main gateway, and it’s worth planning a lunch stop at one of the rustic restaurants serving handmade soba noodles.

Going further west, it doesn’t take long for the Tama region to transition from suburbs to scenic. Just an hour by train from central Tokyo, the 599m Mount Takao has trails (and a cable car) that lead to the mountainside Yakuo-in Temple – first built in the 700s – and then to a summit that delivers a distant glimpse of Mount Fuji. More challenging and more tranquil are peaks such as Mount Otake, Mount Hinode and Mount Mitake, the latter of which is home to a shrine as well as traditional lodgings. For a bit of the outdoors with a bit of style, glamping has taken off in Tama in recent years, with options including the luxurious Keikoku Glamping Tent in Hinohara.

Explore more

Further afield: The Izu Islands

From beaches made from volcanic lava to relaxing hot springs, Rob Goss visits the most un-Tokyo part of Tokyo. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


Sunbathing on a quiet beach, trekking around an active volcano and scuba diving coral reefs might not be the first thing anyone thinks of when it comes to Tokyo. But look at a map of eastern Japan and you’ll see an island chain stretching south of the capital into the Pacific. Called the Izu Islands, they are technically part of Tokyo, and among them they offer up all sorts of very un-Tokyo experiences.

Only an hour and 45 minutes by jetfoil from Takeshiba Pier in Minato-ku, Oshima Island is the closest – and, at 91 square kilometres, the biggest – of the nine inhabited Izu Islands to the mainland and it’s easy to visit on a day trip. There’s a lot to do here, including hiking the volcanic rim of Mount Mihara, lazing on beaches and soaking in the natural hot-spring baths that dot parts of the coastline. While the island’s camellias are in bloom from January to March, the Oshima Camellia Garden is worth a look year-round to learn about the island’s most famous product, camellia oil, which is said to detoxify and moisturise the skin.

About 100km south of Oshima Island – reached by an overnight ferry from Takeshiba or a 50-minute flight from Chofu Miyakejima also has an active volcano at its centre, and even as recently as the early 2000s was temporarily uninhabited because of eruptions. That activity has created some striking scenery, from the large crater of Mount Oyama to the black beach of the Imasaki Coast, which was created by a lava flow in the 1600s. Beyond that, Miyakejima is the natural habitat for a great range of wildlife, including rare birds such as the Japanese pygmy woodpecker, Japanese white-eye and Izu thrush, while the waters around the island are home to hundreds of varieties of sea fish, coral and crustaceans, making it a popular scuba diving destination.

Almost at the far southern end of the Izu Island chain – 280km from mainland Tokyo – Hachijojima was once considered so remote that it previously housed a secret submarine base and hundreds of years ago was used as a place of exile. Nowadays, it’s accessible by ferry and light aircraft and has thriving farming and fishing communities, but a trip here still has that feeling of going far off the beaten path. You can visit Uramigataki Waterfall, located within the mossy forests to the south of the island, where a path leads behind the cascading waterfall, and the nearby Uramigataki Hot Spring is a great place to unwind. Sueyoshi Hot Spring Miharashi-no-yu is another hot spring on the coast and the uninterrupted view of the cliffs from the open-air bathtub is stunning. It’s about as un-Tokyo as you can get.

Explore more

Further afield: The Ogasawara Islands

Minamijima Island (Copyright: TCVB)

Rob Goss heads to the furthest outpost of Tokyo – a group of subtropical islands roughly 1,000km south of the city


While the Izu Islands don’t take much effort to get to, there is a second island group under Tokyo’s jurisdiction that falls firmly in the epic journey category: the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s World Natural Heritage sites. Roughly 1,000km south of central Tokyo, the only way to access the islands is a 24-hour ferry trip from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier to the Ogasawara’s main island, Chichijima – population just 2,000.

It’s bucket-list stuff when you get there. First, the islands are naturally stunning, with subtropical rainforest, rugged cliff faces and idyllic beaches. The islands are also home to wildlife that is found nowhere else, including birds such as the endemic Bonin honeyeater, insects such as the endemic tiger beetle and dragonfly, and animals such as the Bonin flying fox. In the waters around the islands, you can add to that coral reefs, whales, dolphins and loggerhead turtles.

Chichijima is where most people will base themselves, and you could easily spend days just exploring the beaches there, whether that’s paddling in the shallow waters of Kominato Beach, snorkelling off Miyanohama Beach or even diving the wreck of a torpedoed cargo ship that sank just off Sakaiura Beach. Another option is to hike through jungle-like forest to the secluded Hatsuneura Beach.

But there’s also plenty of time to go beyond Chichijima – good thing, too, as the ferry to and from Tokyo only runs every three days in warmer months and every six in colder months. About a kilometre south, one great trip is to tiny Minamijima, home to such rare fauna and flora that to protect it only 100 people a day can visit in the presence of a local guide. From Chichijima, a ferry also makes the two-hour journey to another of the Ogasawara’s gems: Hahajima. Only 20 square kilometres in size and with a population of only 500, it’s absolutely unspoilt. The best ways to see it for yourself are to make the four-hour trek to the summit of Mount Chibusayama – at 463m the highest point in the Ogasawara archipelago – or head for the clear blue waters off Minamizaki Beach to snorkel the coral reef.

Video: History Channel

More

Why you can find incredible wildlife in Tokyo where you least expect it. Click play to watch the video in full and find out more here.

Cuisine

Feature: Street food

Okonomiyaki, a kind of savoury pancake (Copyright: TCVB)

Rob Goss samples the incredible array of sweet and savoury treats available at various locations around the city. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


Japan doesn’t have much of a culture for eating while walking, but that doesn’t mean there’s no street food – just that people tend to stop to enjoy it. And whether sweet or savoury, light or laden with calories, there’s absolutely loads of it to stop for.

For street food full of colour and fun, head to the fashionable streets of Harajuku – indulgent crepe capital of Tokyo. Marion Crepes on the teen-fashion-focused Takeshita-dori Street is the most famous, having been here since the 1970s, and it doesn’t hold back on the portions. Freshly cooked to order on hot plates, the crepes can be filled with about 70 combinations of fruit, drizzled sauces, ice cream and whipped cream, and even be bulked up further with chunks of cheesecake or chocolate brownies. While Marion is an institution, other sweet street food trends come and go (and occasionally stick around) with incredible regularity in Harajuku, so part of the fun is that you never know what you might find – rainbow-coloured cheese toasties, panda- and pig-shaped ice creams and tapioca bubble tea spring to mind as fairly recent trends. One constant is that, whatever the food trend, it will be very Instagrammable.

Over in Asakusa in Taito-ku, the stall-lined approach to Senso-ji Temple is another hunting ground for snacks on the go. Called Nakamise-dori Street, it’s home to traditional stores such as Azuma, which specialises in kibi dango, dumplings made from rice flour and millet that get coated in soybean powder and served on a skewer. The result is a slightly sweet and moreishly chewy snack that goes perfectly with a Japanese tea. Another Nakamise-dori classic is Kokonoe’s age manju, stuffed with sweet red bean paste and then deep fried until it’s crispy on the outside but with a piping-hot soft inside. If that whets the appetite for more, elsewhere along Nakamise-dori are stalls selling traditional snacks like savoury senbei rice crackers and bite-size sponge cakes filled with sweet red bean paste.

You can’t talk about street food without mentioning Tokyo’s army of mobile street vendors. If you are shopping in Ginza and want lunch outdoors, stop by the Tokyo International Forum, as it’s not just a lovely bit of contemporary architecture – at least a dozen food trucks will usually be there, serving international and Japanese flavours. Most usually only run around lunchtime (roughly 11.30am to 2.30pm) on weekdays, but time it right and you could find coffee, roast beef sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, pizza, Indian curries, Okinawan taco rice bowls, organic bento lunch boxes and more, depending on the day. If you aren’t going to be in Ginza, every major business district will have a collection of lunch trucks somewhere to stumble upon.

The mobile stalls that set up at festivals are just as good, although they tend to follow a prescribed Japanese line-up. For starters, there’ll be yakisoba fried noodles, takoyaki (battered chunks of octopus), grilled squid, chargrilled yakitori chicken skewers and a kind of savoury pancake called okonomiyaki. For a sweet finish, expect candy floss, kakigori shaved ice and multi-coloured chocolate-covered bananas.

Cuisine

Feature: Restaurants

Tokyo is one of the great foodie cities of the world, specialising in the most incredible food from every corner of the Earth. Rob Goss samples some of the best. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)


The late Anthony Bourdain once said that if he had to eat in only one city for the rest of his life, Tokyo would be it. Most chefs he knew, he added, would agree. Without doubt, Tokyo is one of the great foodie cities of the world, and for many reasons. For one, it’s a place where chefs take attention to detail and dedication to the culinary craft to the next level with everything, from simple soba noodles to the most sublime sushi. But, from a culinary viewpoint, Tokyo is a great melting pot, too, with restaurants serving not just classic Japanese fare, but specialities from around the country and from every corner of the Earth.

There are far too many classics to try and reel off here, but to call out a few, we could start with ramen – the noodles that many Tokyoites will happily queue an hour for, albeit for just a few minutes of blissful slurping. With Nakiryu in Toshima-ku and Tsuta in Shibuya-ku, you have low-cost ramen joints with Michelin stars, but you’ll find superb ramen all over the city. If you are passing through Tokyo Station, stop by Tokyo Ramen Street in the station’s sprawling underground network – it has branches of eight well-known ramen restaurants covering a variety of styles.

Sushi (Copyright: TCVB)

Of course, there’s sushi, and that comes in all price brackets. Cheap and cheerful (and still really good) are kaitenzushi restaurants like the Ganso Sushi and Sushiro chains, where you pluck the sushi you want off conveyor belts – although you can also order directly, if you don’t fancy something that may have been circling the restaurant for a while. The high-end could cost ten times as much, but if you are going to splurge on sushi, where better than Tokyo? To pick just two in Ginza alone, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Yoshitake are both intimate counter-only restaurants with three Michelin stars.

The capital also has some signature dishes that are less well known outside Japan. Being the centre of the sumo world, Tokyo is the best place to try chanko nabe, the hearty hot pot of meat, seafood, tofu and vegetables eaten by sumo wrestlers to get sumo sized. The Ryogoku neighbourhood in Sumida-ku, where the country’s main sumo hall is located, has dozens of chanko nabe restaurants, many of which are run by former wrestlers.

Less of a strain on your belt, the Tsukishima neighbourhood in Chuo-ku has 70 or so restaurants specialising in a Tokyo original called monjayaki, a pan-fried batter that can include diced vegetables, seafood, meat, cheese and all sorts of other things. Admittedly, when you pour the batter mixture onto the hotplate built into your table to start cooking it, monjayaki isn’t the most appetising thing you’ll ever see, but it cooks into a lovely, sticky mess that you scrape up with little metal spatulas, eating directly from the hotplate. It’s one of those foods that just makes you feel happy; that draws you in to the process of cooking, scraping and trying not to burn your tongue on the spatula. Like so much dining in Tokyo, it’s an experience that’s about far more than simply taste.

Culture

Feature: Art

By Rob Goss
Tokyo’s art scene is diverse and dynamic, and very often the venues are just as artistic

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(Main image credit: teamLab)

From traditional woodblock prints to gritty urban photography, interactive digital art galleries to pop-up installations and skyscraper-topping exhibitions, Tokyo’s art scene is diverse and dynamic, and often the venues are almost as artistic as the artworks they display.

One museum that could just as easily be in a section on architecture is the Sumida Hokusai Museum in the Ryogoku area, which designer Kazuyo Sejima gave a striking facade covered with mirrored aluminium panels. Opened in 2016, it focuses on the work of Katsushika Hokusai – born in this part of Tokyo in 1760 – who, among many other things, created a legendary series of woodblock prints depicting Mount Fuji. That’s well covered at the museum, but what’s really good here is how the exhibitions don’t just look at Hokusai’s most recognisable work, they also look at how he made ukiyo-e prints of natural scenery and daily life in Edo (as Tokyo was called until 1868), as well as his sketches and his deep connection to Sumida-ku.

Equally appealing from both a design perspective and for its art and artifacts is the Nezu Museum in Minato-ku, an easy walk from fashionable Omotesando avenue. Originally opened in 1941 to house industrialist Nezu Kaichirō’s collection of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art, the museum was given a slick makeover by architect Kengo Kuma in 2009.

The collection, however, is the star, stretching to more than 7,000 pieces that cover calligraphy, ceramics, lacquerware, metalwork, paintings, sculptures and textiles. To cap things off, there’s also a lovely traditionally landscaped garden connected to the museum.

To see more traditional art and crafts, it’s also well worth visiting Tokyo National Museum in Ueno or the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Meguro. But if you wanted to combine classic art with contemporary, take a visit to either the fashionable Roppongi district or the far more down-to-earth Yanaka district. The narrow, winding backstreets of the latter are home to gems such as the Asakura Museum of Sculpture, a pre-war wooden house that was once the home and studio of Fumio Asakura (1883-1964), who is considered to be the father of modern Japanese sculpture.

Cold Life at teamLab

There’s also SCAI the Bathhouse, an influential contemporary gallery – housed in a former public bathhouse – that focuses largely on local artists across multiple genres. And beyond that, Yanaka is a lovely, quiet area to let yourself get lost in, a place to stumble upon small temples, old shops selling sweets, crafts and teas, and the occasional hip café or bar in traditional buildings.

In Roppongi, the vibe is very different – this is a cosmopolitan and up-tempo part of town, with three major art venues that together are called Art Triangle Roppongi or ATRo. Focusing predominantly on prominent international and Japanese contemporary artists across a variety of genres is the Mori Art Museum atop the 54-storey Roppongi Hills Mori Tower – even if you aren’t big on art, go up for the view over Tokyo from the open-air Sky Deck.

Not far away, The National Art Center is an oddity in that it has no permanent collection; instead there is an eclectic line-up of frequently changing exhibitions that in recent years have included portraiture from the Louvre Collection, paintings from Yayoi Kusama and collections of manga art. In a different vein again, Suntory Museum of Art – in the Tokyo Midtown complex – is firmly rooted in the past, displaying vintage lacquerware, ceramics, paintings and textiles from Japan and elsewhere.

Arguably representing the cutting-edge of Tokyo’s art scene better than any other venue – at least in technological terms – another must-see is teamLab Borderless, a wonderfully immersive ‘digital art museum’ located on the attraction-packed manmade island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay. Created by a multi-national and multi-discipline art collective, it features dozens of interactive installations designed to form a three-dimensional borderless world, with digital artworks – mostly rendered in real time – that move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other and the people experiencing them.

One example is a psychedelic installation called Universe of Water Particles, where you can walk through the flow of a virtual multicoloured waterfall, changing how it moves and how it is then viewed by others.

Culture

Feature: Architecture

By Rob Goss
Tokyo has tried to preserve its historical buildings, but it really comes into its own with present-day architecture

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(Main image: Copyright: TCVB)

With the narrative of old meeting the new, there’s a bit of blip when it comes to most central Tokyo streetscapes. Architecturally, there just isn’t much of old Tokyo left – certainly not in the way that you encounter cobbled historic quarters in many European cities – because a history of fires and earthquakes has made Tokyo rebuild itself numerous times over the centuries.

Japan, of course, tries to preserve some of its most historic temples, shrines and other landmarks – although traditionally some of the most sacred shrines are purposely rebuilt every 20 years – but there’s an acceptance of impermanence; and in Tokyo an acceptance that the city will always be in a state of redevelopment.

There are some old moments, though. The original Tokyo Station building from 1914 – a grand red-brick structure facing the skyscrapers of the Marunouchi business district – is a reminder of how European architects influenced Japanese design after the country ended its centuries of self-isolation. In this case, the station was designed by Kingo Tatsuno, one of a first wave of Japanese architects who had studied under Europeans such as Josiah Conder.

For an old Japanese aesthetic, the city’s temples and shrines, even when they are rebuilds, architecturally don’t veer from tradition. Nor do the city’s Japanese gardens or teahouses. And though it’s not architecture per se, you can find a lovely retro ramshackle vibe in areas such as the Yanaka district or Golden Gai, a post-war warren of alleys in Shinjuku-ku that are home to dozens of tiny bars.

Big Sight (Copyright: TCVB)

But where Tokyo really comes into its own architecturally is the present (or near-present) day, especially when one looks at the mark internationally acclaimed Japanese architects have left on the city. Take the self-taught Tadao Ando, the 1995 The Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner who, among many other things, gave the city the Omotesando Hills mall in 2006. Stretching 250m along the chic Omotesando avenue, its signature element is a six-floor atrium that drops three floors underground and rises three above; all connected by a 700m spiral ramp.

Then there’s the 1987 Pritzker Prize-winner Kenzo Tange, who left us gems such as the twin-towered Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku and the Fuji Television Network Headquaters in Odaiba, which has a giant silver ball (an observatory) wedged in the upper walkway that connects the two towers of the complex.

Another heavyweight, Kengo Kuma is known for his use of natural materials, which becomes apparent when you look at his New National Stadium (Olympic Stadium) or work such his reconstruction of the Nezu Museum. We can’t forget Shigeru Ban either – he’s another Pritzker winner. Although his projects are often on a large scale, a fun recent piece of work features toilets.

As part of an ongoing project called The Tokyo Toilet, he designed two glass public restrooms for parks in Shibuya-ku that, when not in use, are see-through, so you can check for cleanliness and be sure nobody is lurking inside, but when locked become opaque. At night, they glow like lanterns. It’s not just Ban who is involved. By the time the project is over, there will be 17 architecturally unique restrooms dotted around Shibuya, mostly designed by a who’s who of Japanese architects – Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma and Toyoo Ito included.

TOKYO SKYTREE, Super Dry Hall and waterfront (Copyright: TCVB)

Non-Japanese designers have left a mark, too. Philippe Starck’s Super Dry Hall, which is just over the Sumida River from Asakusa, is one that has become a landmark. Built in 1989, part of the structure mimics a foaming glass of lager.

Sharing the skyline with the 634m TOKYO SKYTREE tower – currently the world’s second-tallest structure – it’s quite a sight. Far sleeker and more recent is Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture’s Daikanyama T-Site in Shibuya-ku, a super-trendy bookstore designed to feel like a ‘library in the woods’ with several interconnected buildings that, as well as speciality books on art, design and travel, also house cafés and ample spaces to plop down for a read.

T-Site epitomises the now in Tokyo. As for the past, if you wanted more than a glimpse of old Tokyo, head to Koganei Park in the Tama region to check out the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. It brings together 30 old structures in an effort to document how Tokyo would have looked over the years. That includes thatched farmhouses to highlight the city’s old rural side and the house of a Meiji-era (1868-1912) politician that shines a light on how Western and Japanese designs first began to merge.

Giving a look at the day-to-day, there’s also a brick Meiji-era police box, an 1850s bar from Taito-ku, a public bathhouse complete with wall art that dates back to the 1920s, a kitchenware store from the 1930s with a copper-plated exterior and a soy sauce shop originally built in Minato-ku in the 1930s. A very different vibe to the Tokyo you find today.

Video: Discovery Asia

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History

How to experience old Tokyo

By Anthony Pearce
The best ways to experience the more traditional side of the city

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(Main image: Copyright: TCVB)

Tokyo began as a fishing village named Edo more than 400 years ago when, in 1603, Ieyasu Tokugawa established the Tokugawa shogunate in the city. It began an era of enormous growth – culturally, politically and demographically – while separating the city from that controlled by the Emperor, who resided in Kyoto, the formal capital of the nation.

Some of the best examples of architecture from this period remain in Asakusa, a district in Taito-ku, including the magnificent Senso-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. The area, which was once the city’s premier entertainment district, today hosts many festivals, such as the Sanja Matsuri at the nearby Asakusa Shrine, one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. Sadly, Asakusa, like much of Tokyo, was badly damaged by US raids during World War Two, particularly the 1945 firebombing.

It was one of three occasions when the city fell victim to fire, following the fires of 1657, which claimed more than 100,000 lives, and those that followed the earthquake of 1923. You can learn more about the Edo Period, as well as the disasters that have shaped the city’s architecture and history at the excellent Edo-Tokyo Museum.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum (Copyright: TCVB)

In 1868, the Tokugawa Shogunate ended and imperial rule was restored, bringing the Edo Period to an end after nearly 260 years. The transition, known the Meiji Restoration, saw the Emperor move to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo and became the capital of Japan. During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the city underwent a remarkable transformation, with the introduction of stone and brick to buildings and roads, the first telecommunications line and the first steam train.

Today, one of the most ‘traditional’ parts of the city is Yanaka, which you will see described as Shitamachi, referring to affluent areas of Tokyo to the west of the palace. Although the phrase actually originates from Edo times, the well-heeled area undoubtedly has an imperial feel. It is also home to the Yanaka Cemetery, opened in 1897, and famous for Cherry Blossom Street, which blooms each spring. Also from this period is the Ueno Zoological Gardens, opened in 1882.

The Taisho era (1912-1926) followed the Meiji period; a time of great cultural expansion and a rise in living standards. However, in 1923 the city was devastated by the Great Kanto earthquake, and in particular the fires that followed. There are discreet memorials in Yokoamicho Park in Sumida Ward to those who died in disaster and the violence that followed. Following this period, the Pacific War broke out in 1941, resulting in Tokyo-fu (prefecture) and Tokyo-shi (city) being abolished, with the Metropolis of Tokyo formed in 1943. From the 1950s onwards Tokyo was rebuilt into the sprawling, incredible and modern city we know today.

Those interested in the city’s history, of course, should visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace itself, built on the grounds of a former Edo castle during the Meiji period, although the majority of it was rebuilt after World War Two. Although many architectural sites have fallen victim to fire, Tokyo’s history can still be enjoyed through its culture. There are, of course, the sumo tournaments and Kappo Yoshiba, the city’s sumo restaurant, where wrestlers continue traditions that have their roots in antiquity.

Likewise, visitors can enjoy Noh, a form of classical Japanese dance-drama that dates back to the 14th century, in the National Noh Theatre, or Kabuki in the Kabukiza Theatre. There remain many traditional Japanese crafts – such as Kiriko glass, Amezaiku and Washi paper – that can be purchased or experienced through expert demonstrations.

Introduction

New openings

Tokyo has an amazing array of hotels for all budgets. Sam Ballard rounds up some of the best new arrivals on the scene


Renowned for being one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, Tokyo is not short of a great hotel or two. Whether you’re looking at a value-for-money capsule hotel or something a little more upmarket – such as the £13,000 per night Ritz-Carlton Suite – the city has you covered.

Last year saw a number of headline-grabbing hotels opening across the city and there are some serious debutants due to come on stream, so we’ve rounded up some of our favourites.

Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi
Having opened its doors in September 2020, the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi marks the luxury hotel chain’s second property in the city. Located close to the Imperial Palace, it is housed at the top of a 39-storey tower within the financial centre of Tokyo. Perfect for the well-heeled who want to stay in a smart part of town.

Aloft

Aloft Tokyo Ginza
Opened last October, Marriott’s youth-orientated Aloft brand’s latest posting is in Tokyo’s Ginza neighbourhood. Rooms come with all the mod-cons – think 4K TVs and rainfall showers – as well as nine-foot ceilings. The design is inspired by the Ginza Miyuki-zoku youth subculture of the 1960s.

Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo
Shinjuku is one of Tokyo’s many beating hearts, with buzzing bars, karaoke rooms and Golden Gai – an area of tiny bars and clubs. The 151-room Kimpton has been inspired by the “New York art and fashion scene” and promises to be a calming presence close to the manic Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world.

Tokyo EDITION (credit: Nikolas Koenig)

EDITION Hotels
Ian Schrager’s design-led hotel brand has maintained its meteoric growth with a new property opening in Tokyo. The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon is the first of two locations planned in the capital, with the second, The Tokyo EDITION, Ginza due to open this year. Expect beautiful furnishings, dark, sultry hotel bars and exquisite rooms.

Janu Tokyo
The new millennial brand by luxury hospitality company Aman is going to be one of three (along with one in Montenegro and another in Saudi Arabia). It will be built around social wellness and will offer a different – perhaps more affordable – opportunity to sample the Aman product . The hotel is due to open in 2023.

Introduction

Tokyo: in numbers