TOKYO

The old world col­lides with the new in Ja­pan’s buzzing, bustling cap­i­tal

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents -

The in­ter­sec­tion of new and old lies at the heart of Tokyo’s ap­peal. The fre­netic en­ergy of its streets and glow­ing sky­scrapers con­trasts with the quiet con­tem­pla­tion of its rit­u­als, cer­e­monies and gar­dens. Cen­turies-old shrines share streets with depart­ment stores and karaoke joints, and tra­di­tional ar­ti­san­ship jos­tles with high de­sign and kawaii trin­kets.

In this ex­hil­a­rat­ing mael­strom, dis­cern­ing vis­i­tors are spoilt for choice.

What to do An after­noon of shopping in Ginza is a must for well-heeled trav­ellers, strolling among Tokyo’s sprawl­ing depart­ment stores and flag­ships of brands from French cou­turi­ers to Miki­moto pearls. Go on the week­end af­ter 12pm, when the main thor­ough­fare, Chuo Dori, is closed to traf­fic.

If it’s au­then­tic cul­ture that you seek, Tokyo is brim­ming with at­trac­tions that show­case its her­itage. His­toric Asakusa is home to the city’s old­est Bud­dhist tem­ple, Sen­soji, as well as rick­shaw rides, ki­mono ex­pe­ri­ences and vi­brant Nakamise Shopping Street. The Shinto Meiji Shrine, pre­par­ing for its 100th an­niver­sary in 2020, is set within a peace­ful 70-hectare for­est, while ad­ja­cent Yoyogi Park fea­tures long cy­cling trails and the chance to see a fas­ci­nat­ing cross-sec­tion of lo­cal clubs – from the­atre to rock­a­billy – meet­ing, re­hears­ing and per­form­ing.

If Yoyogi Park of­fers the peo­ple­watch­ing, Shin­juku Gy­oen Na­tional Gar­den of­fers the beauty, spread out over themed, land­scaped gar­dens. Au­tumn vis­i­tors are greeted with fiery dis­plays of red, or­ange and yel­low as the leaves change colour in the sea­sonal phe­nom­e­non known as koyo.

Look­ing for less tran­quil plea­sures? Sumo is not only Ja­pan’s na­tional sport but also a sought-af­ter cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence. Of­fi­cial tour­na­ments take place three times a year in Tokyo (in Jan­uary, May and Septem­ber), and trav­ellers may be able see the rik­ishi (wrestlers) in the streets around Ryo­goku’s Kokugikan arena. Some training sta­bles will even al­low vis­i­tors to at­tend their morn­ing prac­tice for an up-close look at this an­cient sport.

What to eat Culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences are one of the great­est lures to Tokyo for dis­cern­ing trav­ellers, and – with 234 restau­rants awarded stars in the 2018 Miche­lin guide – there is no short­age of gourmet delights on of­fer. Tra­di­tion is still an un­beat­able draw­card. Take eight-seat Sushi Saito, which con­tin­ues to as­ton­ish din­ers (those that can get in, that is) with its im­pec­ca­ble morsels of the day’s catch; the three-Miche­lin-starred sushi restau­rant is ven­er­ated as one of the finest of its kind. Kaiseki ry­ori, the elab­o­rate multi-course meal that show­cases Ja­panese cook­ing meth­ods, is still con­sid­ered the pin­na­cle of Tokyo haute cui­sine. A new gen­er­a­tion of chefs are adding their own twists to this tra­di­tional din­ing style, epit­o­mised by Zaiyu Hasegawa of Den, the mod­ern kaiseki es­tab­lish­ment that was hailed

as Ja­pan’s Best Restau­rant at the Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 awards thanks to its hu­mor­ous, in­ter­na­tional take on the form. Sit­ting at num­ber six on the same list is Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa’s epony­mous restau­rant, the pro­po­nent of a style named ‘In­no­va­tive Sa­toyama’ in hon­our of pro­duce from the area be­tween moun­tains and vil­lages.

If you’re look­ing for in­ter­na­tional flavours, Ja­pan is home to a legion of chefs that have mas­tered mod­ern French cui­sine. Shuzo Kishida has been lauded for his de­gus­ta­tion menus since open­ing Quintessence in 2006, claim­ing three Miche­lin stars in the 2018 guide, while Shi­nobu Na­mae gives French flavours a play­ful twist with his po­et­i­cally ti­tled dishes at two-starred L’Ef­fer­ves­cence.

For a more cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, you can’t go past iza­kaya, the Ja­panese gas­trop­ubs known for shar­ing dishes, a ca­sual at­mos­phere and an ex­ten­sive drinks list. Kaikaya in the Shibuya dis­trict is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with for­eign guests thanks to its friendly ser­vice and hand-il­lus­trated menu.

Where to stay

Like its cui­sine, Tokyo’s ho­tel scene caters for all tastes, whether you seek in­ter­na­tion­ally branded re­fine­ment or a five-star take on the ryokan (tra­di­tional inn). Many of the for­mer re­side in the up­per floors of the city’s glossy sky­scrapers, stun­ning guests from check-in with some of Tokyo’s finest views. Park Hy­att, An­daz, The Penin­sula, The Ritz-Carl­ton, Man­darin Oriental, Shangri-La and Four Sea­sons (with just 57 rooms) all have so­phis­ti­cated out­posts in cen­tral ar­eas.

Palace Ho­tel Tokyo of­fers a serene lo­ca­tion be­side the Im­pe­rial Gar­dens, off­set by a pro­gram of cul­tural im­mer­sion. Aman’s first ur­ban re­sort, oc­cu­py­ing the top six floors of Otemachi Tower, com­bines the brand’s un­der­stated op­u­lence with Zen re­flec­tion pools, washi rice pa­per and one of the city’s most in­dul­gent spas, while HOSHINOYA Tokyo lays claim to be­ing the city’s first truly luxe ryokan. De­spite its lo­ca­tion within a 17-storey tower, you’ll feel trans­ported to a sim­pler time, with tatami mats, cot­ton fu­tons and on­sen.

Even beyond the city, the Tokyo pre­fec­ture de­liv­ers five-star com­fort, al­beit with a touch of wilder­ness. Popup glamp­ing op­er­a­tor Cir­cus Out­door opened its first per­ma­nent camp this year, over­look­ing Lake Oku­tama in Chichibu Tama Na­tional Park. The five tents range from one- to four-per­son lay­outs and each fea­tures a whim­si­cal de­sign of an­tiques and tex­tiles that rep­re­sent the op­po­site of ‘rough­ing it’. Multi-course meals high­light sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents, while guests of the top-tier Royal Griffin tent may en­joy a pri­vate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with views of the lake.

No mat­ter where you choose to stay or what you choose to do, you can be as­sured of the whole­hearted ser­vice of omotenashi that de­fines the spirit of Ja­panese hos­pi­tal­ity.

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