Sarah Maxwell strolls Tokyo’s district of Ginza, famous for its upmarket shopping, high-tech stores and traditional theatres – and a stone’s throw from one of the largest fish markets in the world
1. Tsukiji fish market
Start your tour in the morning if possible, which allows you to visit the fascinating Tsukiji fish market, one of the largest in the world. It is the source of all the fabulous sushi in restaurants throughout the city and is a buzzing (and surprisingly fresh-smelling) centre of trade. Huge crates are piled high with lobsters, oysters as big as your head, glistening fresh fish, giant frozen tuna and the occasional controversial chunk of bright red whale meat. If you enjoy seafood, this market is unique and unmissable. If you can force yourself out of bed at 5am, you’ll catch the vibrant tuna auctions, but things are still bustling until around 11am. One vital tip: don’t wear your best shoes. Open Monday-Saturday. Better to go by taxi if you’re going early. Otherwise, it’s on the Hibiya subway line; alight at Tsukiji station. tsukiji-market.or.jp/youkoso/welcom_e.htm.
2. Daiwa Sushi Cafe
For an unusual breakfast, pop into the famous Daiwa Sushi Cafe outside the market – it serves without doubt the freshest sushi you’ll ever eat. You’ll spot Daiwa by the people queuing patiently outside for their turn to sit at the narrow counter. Pieces of sushi are made in front of you, and placed on a long wooden shelf, almost as fast as you can manhandle them with your chopsticks and dunk them into your saucer of soy sauce. The seafood is so fresh, it’s worth checking that it has definitely expired. Go for the set menu (Y4,000/£18.90), which allows you to try a bit of everything. Offerings include shrimp heads, makizushi (rolled sushi) containing fish eggs or tuna, nigiri-zushi (rice hand-rolled into oblong shapes) topped with, variously, sea urchin, oceanic eel, prawn and squid, finishing with a slice of egg omelette. It’s all washed down with miso soup with clams and hot green tea (or you can go for sake). It’s a real education in authentic sushi and well worth the queue, even at 7am. Open 0500-1300, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Chuo-ku. Tel +81 33547 6807.
3. Hama-Rikyu Gardens
To help digest your breakfast, head away from the river to Shin-ohashi Dori and walk left along it to Hama-Rikyu Gardens. This outdoor space is bordered at one end by a large expressway, with a moat around either side, but has an entrance at the northeast corner. Despite being hemmed in somewhat by a main traffic artery and several towering buildings, the gardens make for a peaceful stroll. This park has been around for centuries. It is styled as a typical feudal lord’s garden from the Tokugawa period (between the 17th and 19th centuries) and was used as a hunting ground by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The central feature is a saltwater pond, with a small bridge that leads to a traditional teahouse. You can stop here for a green tea and sweet for Y500 (£2.30).
4. Harumi Dori
Leaving the gardens again by the northeast entrance, take the pedestrian walkway to Showa Dori, which intersects with Harumi Dori. Turn left and this main street leads you to the famously stylish shopping district of Ginza. Although modern malls have sprung up in other parts of the city, Ginza retains its crown as Tokyo’s upmarket retail heartland, with international names such as Bulgari, Brooks Brothers and Prada taking pride of place alongside Japanese department stores such as Mitsukoshi and Matsuya. Apple computers opened its first retail store outside the US here in 2003. Ginza is also home to several traditional Japanese theatres and on Harumi Dori, you’ll pass Kabuki-za, home to the flamboyant style of Japanese performing art known as kabuki. Ninety-minute matinee performances are available from 11am onwards, costing Y1,000 (£4.60), if you have extra time on your tour.
5. Sony Building
Carry on walking up Harumi Dori, past the Ginza 4-chome Intersection, until you reach the slim Sony Building on your left. Even if you’re not a gadget fan, it’s difficult not to be hooked on the wall-to-wall displays of the latest video cameras, digital cameras, MP3 players, Playstations and plasma TV screens of a ridiculous size. As you work your way through eight floors of super high-tech toys, you can fiddle with the samples as much as you dare and even relax in one of several sofas and gaze longingly at the huge home cinema systems – the largest costing a cool Y398,000 (£1,820). Unfortunately, many of the models shown are unavailable in Europe, so you’ll either need to negotiate some expensive delivery charges, if you can’t resist a plasma TV, or content yourself with admiring the gleaming hardware, but it’s a good way to soak up some of Tokyo’s high-tech gadgetry.