Not that we need another excuse to visit Japan’s capital, but with the 2020 Olympics commencing in Tokyo this year, we do. From the traditional, cultural and historic, to the fun, contemporary, and bustling sides of Tokyo, there is so much to explore in this eclectic city.
It wasn’t easy to whittle down the list of what to do and see, or where to eat, drink and stay, But here it is: our guide to one of Asia’s, if not the world’s, most fascinating travel destinations.
Completed in 1920, Meiji Shrine was built in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to their deified spirits and walking through the grounds feels like you’re travelling back to a more peaceful time. At the entrance, you’ll be greeted by two towering gates and a stroll through the large forrest grounds leads to hidden historical buildings and barrels of sake meant to connect people with their Gods. While you’re there, you may also encounter a traditional Japanese wedding taking place.
Standing up as the world’s tallest tower at 634 metres (or 2,080 ft.), Tokyo Skytree is something you’ll see from across the city. You can however, also spend time exploring the tower itself, or take in the best views of Tokyo, and Mount Fuji, from the observation deck.
This ancient Buddhist temple is Tokyo’s oldest and is located in the traditional downtown area of Asakusa. The sacred Sensō-ji is a must-visit, along with its giant red lantern, traditional craft shops and food stalls along Nakamise Street.
Home to the Emperor of Japan and his royal family, the Imperial Palace is a complex castle compound that can be explored through ticketed and guided tours. It’s sprawled across four landscaped gardens, where the East Garden is open to the public all year round. It’s especially worth visiting in spring for cherry blossoms and autumn for bright yellow ginkgo trees.
If you have yet to witness the spectacle that is sumo, then you must visit Ryōgoku Kokugikan. Here, you can experience (and buy tickets to watch) Japan’s national sport while learning about its history and the high spirits of its giant wrestlers in the sumo hall. If you’re feeling lucky, some stables may let you in to watch early-morning practices without charge. There’s also a Sumo Museum and sumo-themed restaurants nearby.
For days when you’re not sure what to do, you can head to Ueno Park, Tokyo’s largest, which offers a whole host of activities. There’s the Tokyo National Museum, The National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Shitamachi Museum, and even Ueno Zoo. Or for a more leisurely day, spend time strolling, enjoying the foliage — especially during autumn and spring — and picnicking in the park.
The five-floor white building devoted to the artworks of Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama houses paintings, sculptures and installations, including the world-famous infinity room series. Fans of the art world phenomenon will absolutely love viewing Kusama’s prolific artistic output and of course, polka dots, but those just in it for the art are likely to enjoy it too.
When Tsukiji fish market closed in 2018, it split into two separate sections whereby the original location continued to house some food stalls and restaurants. But it is at the new location, in Toyosu fish market, where the daily tuna auctions take place. There are also a number of stalls where you can get the freshest sushi and sashimi in Tokyo.
Having opened its first restaurant in Ebisu over a decade ago, Afuri Ramen has gone from strength to strength. Not only have they opened up outlets across Japan, in America and Canada, but it will soon open its doors in Hong Kong too. However, we recommend tasting the original bowl of steaming yuzu shio ramen in Japan to get an authentic taste of the signature dish.
In a city where omakase is not only plentiful, but also the best in the world, it’s not easy to decide where to go. We strongly suggest going to the 34th floor restaurant, Musashi by Aman, in the stunning Aman Tokyo hotel. It’s led by master sushi chef Musashi, who offers traditional Edomae style sushi in a stunning setting that surrounds an eight-seat counter fashioned from aromatic hinoki cypress wood. Here, we experienced sushi that not only dances around the palate with flavours of umami and sweetness of seafood, but was also executed with precision. What’s more the meal is paired with eight kinds of specially selected sakes including the exclusive Musashi Sake produced by Niizawa Brewery in Miyagi.
Currently holding 3rd place in Asia’s 50 Best and 11th place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Lists, Den is somewhere you need to pay attention to. Here, Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa takes on the high-end cuisine of kaiseki and elevates it. His version is more modern, deeply personal, and combines playful presentations with technical finesse. Signature dishes include an unforgettable foie gras monaka (wafer sandwich) and the fun Dentucky Fried Chicken.
This café, located inside Tokyo Station, is well known by locals for its incredible fruit parfaits, fruit pancakes and fruit cakes. Not only are the packed with fruit, sometimes more than ten different kinds, it’s also the most premium fruit you can find.
Tucked away in a small corner of Shinjuku are the alleyways of Golden Gai. These little drinking dens, about two hundred of them, are packed tightly in six rows. It’s an area of remarkable architectural interest, but also a great way to throw yourself in the local culture. All the little bars have varied themes and it’s worth visiting a few while you’re there.
Placing 6th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars, and 11th in The World’s 50 Best Bars, Bar High Five is definitely a winner. It’s all thanks to the legendary mixologist and owner Hidetsugu Ueno who continues to drive his inspired approach to cocktails in his bar menu. Opt for one of Ueno’s signature martinis, White Lady or Ceremony cocktails to kick start the evening.
Named after the founder and award-winning bartender Shingo Gokan, The SG Club is another bar in Tokyo worth visiting. The bar is currently listed No. 24 on The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019 and No. 13 Asia’s 50 Best Bars. Commanding two floors, the ground-floor space is called Guzzle, and yes it is exactly what you think, and offers a lively and more casual atmosphere. The basement floor, named Sip, is more subdued and speakeasy-esque. On this floor, a more typical Japanese bartending service is offered and even includes shoe-shining. We recommend sampling the wagyu beef fat-washed Old Fashioned.
This former Geisha training house has been renovated into a Tokyo’s first Townhouse hotel concept and the result is superb. With impeccable service, warm staff and a stunning interior design, you will probably never want to leave. We didn’t.
If the natural onsen on the rooftop of this stunning hotel doesn’t sway you to stay, then the relaxing and refined atmosphere sure will. This is luxury wellness in the heart of Tokyo that you’ll want to get to know.
Where a luxury property meets royal surroundings. This iconic location and hotel concept is the epitome of Japanese hospitality and elegance. If you’re unable to stay, you can still enjoy the sophisticated atmosphere of the restaurants, bars, spa and event rooms.