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Getting to know Tokyo

by Claudia Posada

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The bustling metropolis of Tokyo is home to the weird and the wonderful - from vending machines on street corners selling anything from umbrellas to hamburgers, to stunning Edo temples, unique pop-culture and cutting-edge skyscrapers. For such a dizzying and densely populated city, it is surprisingly clean and well organised, with excellent transport links to the rest of Japan. This urban jungle is so full of surprises and activity that it would be impossible to even skim the surface of the city in a day. We have gathered together some top tips for you to get to know this unusual but exciting destination.

World-class cuisine

Japanese Sushi being cutFrom Michelin star restaurants to casual dining and sumptuous pop up street food, Tokyo is known for its exceptional cuisine. When meandering the streets of the city, you will be able to enjoy anything and everything from local and regional cuisine to high-quality international fare. In fact, Tokyo itself has greatly influenced Japanese cuisine. Local Tokyoite dishes even have their own name – “Edo-mae” – meaning “in front of Edo”, which refers to the time when Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) sourced Tokyo’s local seafood. Dishes of note that you should try include Nigiri-zushi, Tempura, soba (thin noodles), Monjayaki (a meat and veggie infused pancake), and the food of sumo wrestlers – chakonabe – a scrumptious Japanese stew. For casual diners, be sure to head to department stores and explore unexpected spots around train stations for popular eateries. Conversely, for high-end restaurants, make your way to the top floors of major hotels such as the Shangri-La and Tokyo Station Hotel and to towering skyscrapers – such as the New York Grill - to enjoy your meal whilst soaking up the striking panoramic rooftop views. For breakfast, we recommend waking up early and heading to the world’s largest fish market, known as the “Tsukiji Fish Market”. Soon to be moved to a new location in Toyosu, it’s a lively wholesale market offering an array of fruit, vegetables, and fish. An astonishing 2,000 tonnes of seafood is handled here daily.

Take note that the Japanese really do mean business when it comes to food. In one restaurant, RyuGin, diners are warned not to wear ostentatious perfume when visiting, in order to not tamper with the taste of the creative dishes in this Michelin-star restaurant. There are also certain cultural rules with regards to eating – it is considered rude to eat in public, yet you are seen to be a connoisseur if you slurp your noodles when eating out – this is locally known to be the best way to get the most of all the flavours! For those wishing for a wackier dining experience, Tokyo also has an accolade of themed-restaurants around the city, including a robot restaurant.

Culture and history galore

Senso-ji Temple TokyoFor those wishing to learn more about the intriguing history of the city, and “The Land of the Rising Sun” (as Japan is sometimes called) in general, Tokyo is also home to some fascinating museums and beautiful temples. The Edo-Tokyo Museum, with its unique and unusual architecture, offers visitors a 400-year history lesson dating from the Edo Period (1603-1868) through its permanent exhibition which displays figurines, models of towns, and life-sized models. To learn about Japanese warfare history, visit the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku, to educate yourself on the fascinating past of the Samurai warriors. This is a perfect family-friendly destination with English-speaking guides who will enthusiastically take you through the Samurai journey. It is also a fully immersive experience as visitors are free to try on costumes and watch the dynamic staged battles. For lovers of science, the National Museum of Science and Innovation is incredibly informative, home to interactive exhibits featuring robots, space and astronomy, as well as displays on genetic discoveries. There is even a display which attempts to explain how the internet functions using ball bearings and springs.

When in Tokyo, you would be mad to give the Senso-ji temple and Meiji shrine a miss. Located in Asakusa, the Buddhist temple of Senso-ji was built  in 645 (making it the oldest temple in Tokyo to date) and it is one of the most visited and colourful temples of the city. It has been said that it was erected to commemorate and celebrate the statue of Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy - which according to legend, was hauled out of the nearby Sumida river by two local fishermen in 628 AD. Equally beautiful is the sacred Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s largest shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). Be sure to head here for a peaceful stroll amongst the striking, colourful architecture for a moment of peace in this energetic city.

Find your inner zen

Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenFind your inner zen in one of the many parks and gardens of Tokyo which offer peace and a green respite from the urban jungle. The 144-acre Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden opens up a completely new world to visitors from the wonderful chaos of Shinjuku. This beautiful garden is split into three sections – an English landscape, a French garden and a Japanese garden. Be sure to pop into the on-site teahouse to quench your thirst and relax whilst taking in the zen-atmosphere. If you are lucky enough to be here in early April, you will be in the perfect viewing spot to catch the famous Japanese cherry blossom trees.

Located a short 10-15-minute walk from Tokyo Station, the 210,000-square metre Imperial Palace East Garden is also certainly worth a visit. Enjoy art collections and photography displays in the on-site Museum of the Imperial Collection, and in the Honmaru area be sure to spot its wonderful variety of plants, including roses, bamboo, orchards and cherry trees. If you are with children, take them to the Showa Kinen Park, where kids can roam free in the rainbow pool. This park boasts seasonal flower gardens, wooded areas and expansive green lawns. These are just a few of the scenic parks on offer nestled in the dazzling chaos of Tokyo.

Make it happen

If you would like to plan a trip to Tokyo, then get in touch with our local experts who are always on hand to create your perfect tailor-made trip, be it off the beaten path or to all the bucket-list destinations. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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