Fast-paced and glitzy, polite and aesthetically inclined: Tokyo might seem like a bundle of contradictions, but it can actually get the seemingly disparate elements to work together for an enchanting whole.
No matter what your plans are in Tokyo, there’s no way you can miss the city’s most famous sight: Asakusa. Located in north- eastern Tokyo, the Asakusa district is home to the city’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. A long avenue, packed with shops selling souvenirs, handicrafts, kimonos and an array of sweets, leads to the Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. In front of the main entrance is a huge cauldron filled with sand in which the devout stick masses of incense sticks, giving it a foggy and surreal look. A giant chochin, a Japanese lantern covered in red paper, adorns the entrance behind which is the deity, supposedly recovered from the river Sumida in the early 7th century by fishermen. The temple is flanked by a five- storeyed pagoda. Adjacent to it
is the Asakusa Shrine, a Shinto shrine, dedicated to the people who founded Senso-ji. Less ostentatious than the main temple, the shrine is nevertheless considered sacred by the Japanese.
For an incomparable view of the city, the place to head to is the observatory deck of the Tokyo Tower (¥900). An
imposing communication tower, it is a latticework structure inspired by — and uncannily similar to — the
Eiffel Tower. It offers 360-degree views of the city and is worth making the effort, especially for a night view. Head also to the Roppongi Hills, an area of chic and luxury high-rises located on an elevated portion of the city. Around sunset, it is possible to catch sweeping panoramic views of the city from amid the buildings.
For Culture Vultures:
The Imperial Palace, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, is a nice sight but since visitors aren’t allowed entry, it can only be seen from a distance. A much better option is to catch a kabuki performance. A traditional Japanese dance-drama with elaborate costumes, make-up, emphatic gestures, riveting music and highly stylised rendering, kabuki is typically based on historical stories, myths and legends. However, there have been efforts to usher in cross-cultural adaptations, such as the recent performance of The War Chronicles of the Mahabharata, which opened to rave reviews and ran to full houses. The best place to catch a performance is at the Kabuki-za in Ginza (tickets from ¥4000 onwards), the foremost theatre for traditional kabuki. If you are strapped for time, it is also possible to buy reduced tickets to see just one act.
Loosen The Purse Strings:
For shopping mavens, Ginza is the place to be. Even non-shoppers will find it mesmerising, especially at night. Considering that space is premium in Tokyo, the main street and adjacent streets are packed with glittering
high-rises hosting every possible global luxury brand. Meanwhile the more elegant and niche places, such as art galleries and boutique stores, are tucked away on the perpendicular streets. Malls, department stores and specialty stores rub shoulders, and it is easy to spend hours wandering around Wako, Matsuya and Mitsukoshi. In between are also some spectacular places such as the Muji, the minimalist Japanese brand, and Itoya, a nine-floor stationery store. This is the perfect place to pick up materials for calligraphy or a print of Mount Fuji on
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi:
Tokyo has an incredible range of choices for gourmands. Tiny family eateries near the Asakusa Shrine dish out soupy ramen noodles, teamed with light-as-air tempura, while crowded pavement eateries near Ginza offer some of the best grilled and steamed seafood dishes. From stand-and-eat joints to elegant open-kitchen chains such as Tsukiji Tama Sushi, sushi is available across budgets. But, there’s so much more to Japanese cuisine such as okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes with a variety of toppings), yakitori (skewered and grilled chicken), kushikatsu (skewered meat and vegetables, battered and deep-fried), takoyaki (wheat ball dumplings filled with meat, usually diced octopus), teppanyaki (noodle and rice dishes cooked on an iron griddle) and so much more. And, while you’re at it, buy a bento box meal (available in bento stores everywhere, especially malls and stations), a compact rectangular box with up to a dozen different bite-sized items in separate compartments, which is a complete meal in itself.
Tokyo’s engagement with its limited space is nowhere more pronounced than its hotel rooms. It might come as a bit of a surprise to discover that rooms in even mid-star hotels are rather small and functional. Enterprising hoteliers have turned this into a virtue, and it might be an experience to stay in one of the capsule hotels, little pods with common facilities. There are even luxury ones such as Prime Pod Ginza and First Cabin. But, if the idea of enclosed spaces is not your cup of tea, then opt for something like Remm Hibiya at the edge of Ginza, which has compact rooms and is accessible to important sights and public transport.