After a culturally uplifting itinerary around the different cities of Japan that you can read about further in this booklet, I see no better way to culminate my trip than to spend a few days exploring the dynamic Japanese capital city — Tokyo.
The city has gone beyond being just another Asian capital with massive neon signboards and packed neighbourhoods. On the contrary, it has successfully managed to bridge the gap between old and new, perfectly juxtaposing its rich heritage and culture with its forward-facing, tech-friendly outlook. An example of this unique old-meets-new identity struck me upon my arrival in Tokyo, at its main railway station. The gorgeous, European colonial-style heritage building is preserved magnificently — part of it is now an eponymous luxury hotel (The Tokyo Station Hotel) — surrounded entirely by glass skyscrapers that house some of the world’s top corporate houses.
To truly go under the surface of Tokyo, you need to spend time discovering its unique neighbourhoods. From the glitzy streets of Ginza, to the crowded alleys of Shinjuku, to the plush Roppongi Hills district and even the buzzing Akihabara area, each of these neighbourhoods has a very distinct identity with different offerings. While first timers will enjoy the regular touristy sights of Tokyo, seasoned travellers can delight in the city’s innumerable offerings in terms of local experiences, food trails, leisure walks, shopping districts and even the nightly bar crawl. Tokyo packs in a lot of punch when it comes to the food and beverage scene and it is no secret that this city boasts some of the finest eateries and cocktail bars in the world. Interestingly, though Tokyo has such a strong cultural identity as the Japanese capital, it still boasts a huge expatriate population. This demographic diversity has eventually translated into the city being perceived as a gorgeous patchwork of people, international cuisines and micro-communities.
Additionally, the city has managed to establish itself as an extremely visitor-friendly city with a vast range of public transport options, which may be seemingly complicated, but are extremely simple to navigate and are economical too. The city is served by two massive international airports, Narita and Haneda. While India flight connectivity is limited to the relatively far-out Narita airport, reports suggests that some India flights will start operating from Haneda airport, to make it more practical for business travellers to get to downtown Tokyo, which is not too far. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways will shift its India operations to Haneda airport from March 29.
This year, Tokyo is going to be in focus as it hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics, expected to give a massive fillip to the country’s economy. According to statistics released by Japan National Tourism Organisation, Japan welcomed 31.2 million travellers in 2018, a record number. The country hopes to hit the 40 million foreign visitors’ target for 2020.
Sumida Edo Kiriko Museum
Japan is known for its fine arts and craftsmanship. What better way to experience the thriving art and crafts culture of Tokyo than to spend a morning with local craftsmen. For this, we headed to the quaint and charming Sumida Edo Kiriko Museum located in the Sumida district. This workshop-museum dates back to the Edo era and specialises in the Kiriko form of cutting patterns into glass. Here, you spend time interacting with the craftsmen who demonstrate the pattern-making technique and explain its significance in Japanese culture. Following this, you are invited to sit at the craftsman’s desk and create your own pattern on a glass. You have a selection of basic glasses in different colours and you can choose and create your own Kiriko. Your creation is then neatly packaged and offered to you as a souvenir.
2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan
This has got to be one of the most unique and offbeat experiences you will enjoy in Tokyo. A short walk from the Akihabara district is the 2k540 craftmen district. It is a newly minted quarter built under the overhead railway tracks. 2k540 features a string of stylish homegrown ateliers and workshops showcasing a range of exquisite products. The focus is, of course, on Japanese local artisanal products. As you amble through the district, you must spend time looking at the top-quality products on offer — fashion items, shoes, jewellery, stationery, an entire store of umbrellas, souvenirs and bags.
Tokyo City View and Sky Deck
Situated in the posh Roppongi Hills neighbourhood, Tokyo City View, as its name suggests is a beautiful observatory from where you can enjoy unmatched 360-degree views of the city of Tokyo. Insider tip; save this experience for the end of your itinerary so that you can actually spot the different places and neighbourhoods that you have visited.
Tokyo City View features an indoor observation deck, which is situated 250 metres above sea level. This complex features shops, restaurants and even a beautiful museum showcasing different cultural and historic aspects of the city of Tokyo. Finally, don’t forget to step out onto the Sky Deck, which is a spectacular outdoor observatory terrace at 270 metres above sea level.
Located in the stylish Sunshine City quarter in Toshima, the Sunshine Aquarium is the perfect place for a half-day outing with the family. Sunshine Aquarium is considered to be among the best and most well designed aquariums in the world, with beautifully illustrated signboards. The aquarium features hundreds of different species of marine life on display. Permanent exhibitions are spread across different levels of the building. The Ocean Journey exhibits marine life from different aquatic ecosystems like oceans and bays, with highlights like jellyfish and squids. The Waterfront Journey, as its name suggests, has a focus on coastal marine life.
Tokyo 2020 Games: A brief round up:
PHOTO: KISHIMOTO / JAPANESE OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
Following a grand and widely-publicised opening in September 2019 in Shinjuku, the Japan Olympic Museum has now established itself as a must-see on Tokyo’s travel trail. In fact, it is now highly recommended for the attendees of the Tokyo 2020 Games, who can come here to learn about the history of the Olympic Games in a beautiful setting. The foundation of this museum’s content is built on the concept of ‘Olympism’, widely promoted by the Japanese Olympic Committee. Olympism boils down to learning the spirit of friendship, solidarity, fair play and mutual understanding through sports. The museum is beautifully curated by experts to reflect just that and this is seen through a series of slides, displays, objets and experiences that underpin the culture of the Olympic Games. The walls are pasted with trivia from previous games, showcasing records, previous logos, mascots and even inspiring stories of athletes who have broken different shackles to excel in the games. There is also a display of medals, so you can see, up close and personal, what an Olympic medal looks like. We also spotted a beautiful display of the historic Olympic torches, from previous games.
The curation process has incorporated technology to a large extent to portray content in a most innovative manner. For example, a separate section talking about Olympic world records actually gets you to attempt jumping or sprinting, while certain high-tech sensors display the results.
DID YOU KNOW ?
The Olympic mascot, this time, is called Miraitowa, which comes from the Japanese words mirai (future) and towa (eternity). The mascot’s forehead bears the emblem of the Tokyo 2020 Games and a chessboard motif is designed on its body.
Evening in Ginza – Luxe Retail Paradise:
During an itinerary to Tokyo, don’t forget to spend some time indulging in retail therapy. The best place for this is the glamorous Ginza district that is considered to be the luxury shopping nerve centre of Tokyo. One way to explore Ginza is by foot, taking the time to discover its geometric streets, each packed with some well-known luxury brands on the planet. There are massive stores dedicated to the likes of fashion giants like Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Saint Laurent. There is also a huge selection of standalone boutiques for watchmakers like Rolex, IWC, Panerai and many more.
One of the most iconic shopping spots in the Ginza district is the Mitsukoshi department store housed in a lovely Art Deco building dating back to the 1930s. The store is spread across several levels and is highly recommended to get your hands on high-end Japanese fashion items ranging from clothes and shoes to accessories and even gourmet food. In addition there are many international labels housed here too. The food court, here, is worth checking out for its high-end offerings.
Don’t forget to check out Isetan, arguably the country’s most famous department store (with a significant presence in international cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur). Here at Isetan you can get your hands on a range of super exclusive brands as well as limited edition items, capsule collections from international fashion brands and much more. Additionally, if you are willing to travel to the Shinjuku district, not too far from Ginza, you can check out Isetan’s entire building dedicated to men’s fashion. Isetan Men’s features the best range of high-end suiting brands as well as casual attire. There is a floor dedicated to premium footwear both formal and informal. Isetan Men’s also offers a range of grooming products and fragrances in its men’s beauty space as well.
Another noteworthy Japanese department store that is definitely a must-visit is Takashimaya, with several branches across the city. Focused on the luxury shopper, Takashimaya offers an extremely well curated selection of haute couture seasonal must-haves and separate store sections for most of the major international brands. This is a great place to shop for bags, accessories, fragrances and garments, as well as Japanese stationery and patisserie items. The store is extremely visitor-friendly and offers concierge services for high-end travellers.
Where to Stay:
The Tokyo Station Hotel
As its name suggests, this gorgeous heritage hotel is part of the main station complex in Tokyo, and its grandiose architecture remains intact. This address is absolutely perfect for a discerning luxury traveller who enjoys old-world charm and classic hospitality. Thus, the hotel’s rooms and suites, spread across different categories are exquisitely decorated in classic European style, but are packed with modern amenities. Business meetings are best conducted in the lavish confines of the Atrium, while the Blanc Rouge restaurant is a great place to enjoy a classic French gastronomical experience. thetokyostationhotel.jp
Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo
Situated at the very heart of the fashion and shopping district of Ginza, Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo is Hyatt’s luxury lifestyle outpost in Japan. The overall aesthetic of the hotel is centred around the themes of cinema, the world of print media, creative arts and fashion, visible in its unique, quirky décor. The hotel’s rooms are packed with stylish amenities and boast a colourful, geeky décor. We absolutely loved our morning meetings at the chic lobby lounge and all-day eatery Namiki667. hyatt.com
True to its name, Imperial Hotel, is all about royal hospitality, tucked away in a verdant part of Tokyo in Chiyoda. Here, Japanese culture and its finesse are visible throughout the décor and gracious service standards that you will experience at every point. The rooms are a beautiful fusion of Japanese elements with classic European elegance. The property boasts several high-end dining options like Les Saisons, a French gastronomic restaurant and Peking for Chinese cuisine, in addition to a host of lounges, bars and speciality Japanese restaurants. imperialhotel.co.jp
The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Luxury Collection Hotel
One of the most enviable addresses in Tokyo, The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho is ideally situated at the heart of downtown Tokyo, in the Chiyoda-ku neighbourhood, a short drive from the main railway station. The hotel occupies a couple of floors in a larger building and hence offers breathtaking views of Tokyo from its vantage point. The décor is chic, with exquisite marble detailing. The rooms are understated and artsy. The hotel’s swimming pool, spa and Club lounge are worth checking out. princehotels.com
Keio Plaza Hotel
A legendary hotel in Tokyo, the Keio Plaza is situated in the Shinjuku district, a short walk from a variety of shopping and entertainment areas. The massive hotel is perfect for both business and leisure travellers and boasts a variety of MICE spaces as well as F&B outlets to choose from. The rooms are understated, elegant and brimming with amenities. The club lounge is also a great place to host quiet meetings or to enjoy a post-work tipple. The hotel’s famous concierge service is always at hand to help plan your travels across Tokyo. keioplaza.com