The ancient city of Tokyo; Tokyo the city of the future – this contradiction is at the heart of an appeal which continues to make Tokyo an exciting global destination. The Japanese ability to simultaneously occupy seemingly different millennia with such energy and soul captivates the first time visitor. The city dazzles with futuristic architecture, shops and museums and yet tucked away in quiet spaces, are temples, shrines and ancient stone deities. Within the city there are spacious leafy parklands only a short walk from the city’s buzzing central nervous system, the Tokyo Metro.
One of the most romantic, evocative places to stay in Tokyo is the five star Hotel Chinzanso to the north of the city. The hotel has been built on the site of the Camellia Hills, an inspirational playground to poets and artists as long as 700 years ago. The vast parkland around the hotel was originally planted out in the Meiji period of 1800s and now contains thousands of tree species. With the traditional glamor of grand country house, a stay here feels more like a rural getaway in a more leisurely era. If it weren’t for the cityscape beckoning beyond this sanctuary you could forget you were in the middle of one of the great cities of the world.
At the Hotel Chinzano there is a quiet luxury, evident in its garden setting, the sumptuous rooms, comfortable lounges, bars and library. Hot spring water is piped directly in the hotel spa, Yu, the most extensive in Tokyo.
There are twelve top quality Western and Japanese restaurant choices within the hotel complex. Fascinating themed walks through the park mean you can stroll at your leisure via a river, waterfall, carp pond and a thousand year old pagoda, to a selection of unique eateries. For a traditional dish of soba noodles there is the old ryokan Much-an nestled among trees, straight out of a Japanese fairy story. An historic teahouse Chu-an specializes in sushi and tea ceremonies. Also in the garden setting are two kaiseki or Japanese haute cuisine restaurants, the stunningly minimal Ryotei Kinsui and quirky Mokushundo specialising in iron kettle grill cooking. The menus of these garden restaurants are created in response to seasonal changes mirrored in the garden itself – elegant camellias bloom in winter, frothy cherry blossoms line the banks of the Kanda River in spring, fireflies sparkle in summer foliage which turns to autumn gold.
Outside the gates the world awaits – that is Tokyo, the shopping capital of the world. This city has taken shopping, especially for fashion, to another level. Here there are whole districts dedicated to a particular demographic group and ‘a look’. The young and daring strut their stuff at Harajuku, the cutting edge fashionista’s go to Shibuyu, while the more mature head to Sugamo. This is just the tip of a vast mountain of consumer possibilities. You could spend your entire vacation navigating the maze of Roppongi Hills mega mall and others of similar dimensions. Then there is the shopping gold standard, Ginza. For decades designers have come here to establish an Asian presence. During the weekends the city thoughtfully turns off the traffic in Chuo St and there is nothing between you and your Gucci, Chanel, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Prada.
Whether you are just browsing or have a more serious intent, it really is a lovely way to spend the day. Many of the labels have created cafe spaces for shoppers so that you are able to sit up on the rooftop of the Chanel store sipping a glass of champagne at Le Jardin de Tweed, or to nibble on a chocolate delicacy at Maison Hermes, Le Cafe. For a more Japanese option try the range of luxury teas served at the pearl specialist’s Mikimoto Lounge. The great Tokyo department store dynasty Mitsukoshi has a store here with a foodie’s paradise in the basement.
Tokyo is also rich with museums and art galleries. Some of the highlights are the unmissable Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park with the largest selection of Japanese artifacts in the world. The Mori Museum in the Roppongi Hills tower has the latest in modern art and hosts late night shows.
To see Tokyo as it was centuries ago, check out the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The fascinating Japan Folk Arts Museum is dedicated to ‘the beauty of the everyday object’ and features mass produced textiles, ceramics and other handmade items. If you are inspired by the exhibits and want to buy gifts or souvenirs there are a number of arts and crafts specialists within the city. Fujii Torii is one of the best dealers in arts, crafts and antiquities. The generation of craftspeople creating these objects are sadly taking their knowledge and artistry with them when they die. These extraordinary delicately wrought pieces of lacquer ware and enameling are a touchstone to the traditions of the ancient city of Tokyo, the city of tomorrow.
No matter what your interests are you will be sure to find something to occupy yourself in the fabulous metropolis of Tokyo.
What needs to be added to our ‘Tokyo at its best list’?