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Sushi SORA.
Sushi SORA. / SUR

The Insider Guide to Tokyo

  • What to do, where to go and what to see in one of the planet’s largest mega-cities

This is one of the planet’s mega-cities; with some 13 million people living in Tokyo, extending to a mind-boggling 37 million residents when one includes the full metropolitan area, the world’s most populous.

STAY:

Prince Gallery Tokyo

Few urban panoramas can match Tokyo’s skyline at night. The city’s elevated highways flow like rivers of light, meandering among neon-topped towers and sparkling apartment blocks - a remarkable backdrop for drinks or dinner. The Prince Gallery is Tokyo’s latest five-star deluxe hotel, offering a smart urban Tokyo experience. It’s a gleaming skyscraper hotel with exceptionally-framed views of the city from each of its public spaces and more than 150 rooms. Contemporary, with a youthful, city vibe that’s cool, on-trend, yet relaxed - and with Japanese service delivered with exceptional finesse and attention to detail. Try the cocktails in the suave Sky Gallery Lounge Levita.

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo

From its impressive double-height Sky lobby on the 38th floor, one can see the Imperial Palace Gardens and Mount Fuji beyond to the west, while to the east is the Tokyo Skytree dominating the almost endless cityscape. This landmark hotel, within the Cesar Pelli-designed Mitsui skyscraper, has interior design by Reiko Sudo who has presented the tower as a tree, a place of shelter and community, bringing the notion of nature into this constructed environment. From the ground floor entrance, with its richly-textured design motifs, fabrics and wall coverings, that combine to inspire thoughts of tree roots, to the reception sky lobby conceived as the tree’s canopy, there are creative interpretations of nature everywhere.

The property is also worth a visit for its ten stylish bars and eateries including the innovative Tapas Molecular Bar; Sushi Sora, an authentic sushi counter restaurant; and Michelin-starred Sense, offering Cantonese cuisine.

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental has treatment rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows offering skyline views. As one of the city’s premium hotels, the MO Tokyo is found in the chic and exclusive Nihonbashi district, close to the area’s landmark Mitsukoshi department store, and the Nihonbashi ‘Bridge of Japan’ which was historically considered the km 0 of Tokyo.

First Cabin capsule hotels

Tokyo is renowned for its ‘capsule hotels’, driven by a demand for reasonably-priced accommodation in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities. These hotels feature small personal pods, instead of guest rooms. First Cabin has evolved the concept with its more spacious, design-driven capsules that emulate a first-class cabin aboard an aircraft. Sizes vary from 2 to 20 square metres.

EAT:

Sushi SORA

To be one of the privileged eight guests, sitting at the sushi counter of this intimate restaurant with stunning city views is to witness the artistry of traditional ‘Edo-mae’ sushi chefs. Dexterity, precision and grace define the work of Yuji Imaizuma and his team. Delicate dishes of seasonal fish are served at the counter made from a single piece of 350-year-old Japanese cypress - a place where tradition and modernity meet.

Café de l’Ambre

Found in the swish Ginza downtown district, this family coffee shop has a retro feel. There are English-language menus and most importantly, great coffee.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Opened in 1994, the Park Hyatt was Tokyo’s first foreign-run luxury hotel and it remains a classic. It was the setting for the cult movie Lost in Translation (all filmed during the night so as not to disturb guests!) Book afternoon tea in the Peak Lounge for a flavour of discreet, civilised Tokyo.

DO:

Rikugien Gardens

City gardens dating back to 1702; one of Tokyo’s ‘Special places of Scenic Beauty’, and an enchanting example of Japanese garden design.

Metropolitan Government Building Observatory

For a free view of the city, head up to the 45th floor of government building 1, in the central Shinjuku district (direct access from Nishi-shinjuku station). Visit the south deck during the day, while for evening views try the north deck, open until 10.30pm.

The Back Street Guides

This boutique firm, founded by Owen and Rie, specialises in personalised tour experiences in Kyoto and Tokyo. Book a private guide for a true insider’s perspective of Tokyo, or join one of the smaller group tours to experience local food, and see unmissable sights such as the Tsukiji fish market, Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Dori, the unique Akihabara Electric District, and the charming Old Yanaka District.

Shibuya Crossing

For a bird’s eye view of Tokyo’s most famous pedestrian intersection, the five-way Shibuya crossing, most tourists head to the Starbucks or L’Occitane cafes. Alternatively, try and dodge the hotel security at the Shibuya Excel Hotel to get to the 25th floor, where corridor windows offer a good view. Alternatively, don’t just observe, actually make the crossing and be part of the crowds.

Arigato Japan

For a great value experience of Tokyo’s remarkable food scene, it’s a great idea to turn to a professional guide. Arigato Japan, founded by Tokyo-resident Anne, offers food tours and experiences in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Try the ‘All Star Food Tour’ of Tokyo, taking in some of the city’s Yokocho alleyway eateries as well as a sit-down restaurant serving regional Japanese delicacies.

Karaoke

One of the biggest karaoke chains, you can find Big Echo multi-storey karaoke lounges throughout Tokyo. Check-in is much like a hotel and you can order food and drinks to your private lounge. Song lyrics are available in English and microphones are said to be tuned so that even the most amateur enthusiast can sound good!

TRAVEL:

At a metro station kiosk, purchase a prepaid PASMO or SUICA smart card - much like an Oyster card in London. It allows you to travel on city buses, taxis or the metro, all without using cash. Use it too in shops, and at some of the ubiquitous vending machines that are found everywhere in Tokyo, selling everything from noodles to sake.