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Tokyo is the capital city of Japan, a country known for its extraordinary history, beautiful culture and scenic geographic prospects. The city’s mix of the ultramodern and traditional makes it a place catered to almost anyone with different sites to visit and several museums and traditional grounds to see and respect. Tokyo is the world’s most populous metropolis with a population of 13.96 million (as of 2021) in an area of 2,194 km². The city is also a part of Japan’s 47 prefectures, which consist of 23 central city wards, multiple cities, towns and villages west of the city centre.
Tokyo is a city for any and everyone to visit, it offers visitors an experience like no other with what seems to be an unlimited choice of shopping centres, entertainment, culture and dining. Whether you are there for the food, people or history, Tokyo provides its visitors with ample amounts of the city’s vibrant culture, which permeates the air and leaves you with a sense of community and respect for the people and the beautiful country they live in.
The story of Tokyo begins in 1590, when Japan’s hereditary military dictators, shoguns, moved their base from Kyoto to where Tokyo stands today. The shoguns named their new found city Edo, and although the Emperor of Japan remained in Kyoto, the power and profit the country withheld moved east to Edo.
In the two centuries that followed, Japan remained sealed off from the rest of the world and during this time tea ceremonies, calligraphy and the art of the Samurai became the key cultural practices the Edo period was known for. However, when the shogunate fell in 1867, Emperor Meiji seized the reins of power and moved to Edo. When he reached Edo, he renamed the city to Tokyo and established it as Japan’s capital while also opening the country’s borders and welcoming outside (specifically western) influence. He made Shinto the state religion and established himself as a divine being with total power over the nation.
During this period of change, as the Meiji revolution peaked, people flocked to the city from the countryside, helping boost educational standards and bloom the arts and theatre.
However devastation hit the city in 1923 when the Great Kantō earthquake struck, killing over 100,000 people and leaving 2 million homeless. Whilst the city was recovering, war swept across the globe and WWII rained down over 100 missiles onto the city, leaving many buildings destroyed and halving the capital’s population in only five years. However, despite all this Tokyo rose from the rubble and entered the 21st century as one of the greatest cities in the world.
Highlights of Tokyo
Many people only see Tokyo as a city of technology and modern architecture as places such as Harajuku and Shibuya crossing exist, and while these places are so very interesting and picturesque in their own way, they don’t show off all that Tokyo has to offer. Within and on the outskirts of the city lies many historical buildings and temples filled with the rich culture Tokyo is drenched in. In addition to this, the city also offers several natural and green spaces to admire the indigenous flora which live in Japan.
Tokyo’s fashion district of Harajuku has almost every store to fulfil your inner fashionista while Shinjuku is one of Tokyo’s largest shopping and entertainment districts where several flagship and electronic stores, general retailers and several shops and boutiques are along the streets and underground shopping arcades. If you feel like emptying your bank account, or buying someone special something expensive, Ginza is the place to go where several high end department stores, boutiques, art galleries and designer brand stores are featured. With a great mix of almost every leading Japanese and international brand name fashion, cosmetic and electronic companies, Ginza is the place to be.
What makes the city of Tokyo special?
Tokyo is known for its iconic landmarks like the Tokyo Sky tree and Shibuya Crossing. It is also famous for its extensive amounts of temples and historical sites, shrines and tree lined streets. Its culture also shines, with the city’s cuisine being showcased almost everywhere you go and the traditional fundamentals still being followed and respected, even in this new age of technology. The world class transport systems shouldn’t be overlooked either, being known across the world as the best. Tokyo is a city filled with almost any and everything, making it a place of diversity. Tokyo combines century old traditions and futuristic technology and living to produce a place which both leads the world’s technological advancements while also acknowledging and respecting the work of their elders and those who have come before them.
5 Great Hotels in Tokyo
1. The Peninsula Tokyo
Known as one of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotels for seven consecutive years, The peninsula Tokyo is recognised as one of Tokyo’s best luxury hotels to stay in. Located opposite the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park in Marunouchi district, and within minutes walk of Ginza (the designer shopping captain of Tokyo), The Peninsula Tokyo gives its visitors pristine views of the Japanese skyline accompanied by exquisite facilities, extensive dining options and experiences as well as the renowned Peninsula service. The Peninsula’s elegant accommodation offers guests with a top tier experience in a luxury environment with sophisticated restaurants to dine in and several spa and wellness activities and facilities to allow guests to relax and soak in Tokyo’s glory.
2. The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
Mixing the worlds of luxury while also incorporating elements of east and western traditional Japanese architecture and materials is what The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo strived to achieve. Located in downtown Tokyo, The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo is finished with sleek lines and organic materials which seamlessly flow into the ultramodern architecture which the Ritz-Carlton is made from. Through drawing inspiration from Japanese tradition, all of the facilities, restaurants and rooms in The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo seem to give guests a unique experience in a 5 star hotel. In addition to this, the spa highlights timeless rituals in the pursuit of modern wellness to redefine luxury in Tokyo.
3. Aman Tokyo
Aman Tokyo has made a hotel which seamlessly integrates modern urban aesthetics in a serene traditional Japanese atmosphere. Through Aman’s traditional inspiration, they have incorporated ikebana displays, washi paper doors, engawa platforms and ryokan style rooms into the hotel to create a unique and sophisticated space. Each room and suite is generous in size while also feeling warm with a minimalist design. Every bedroom is furnished with natural textures and feels timeless and simple, without overlooking what luxury means. Aman Tokyo’s extensive range of restaurants and cafes allows guests to choose from a wide variety of cuisines from around the globe. Aman is also known for its picturesque and serene wellness and fitness facilities with a spa, fitness centre, yoga and Pilates studio and pool with a Panasonic view.
4. Shangri-La Tokyo
Shanghai-la Tokyo offers guests a tranquil and elegant atmosphere with panoramic views of Tokyo’s luxury skyline. With rooms which take inspiration from Japanese style and urban modernity, Shangri-La Tokyo fuses together these two valued cultures in Tokyo to create a luxury and comfortable hotel. Through their spa services, boutiques and abundance of restaurants, Shanghai-La Tokyo invites guests to indulge in relaxation and comfort within the hotel.
5. The Four Seasons Marunouchi Tokyo
The Four Seasons Tokyo is known as an intimate boutique hotel which is in the heart of Marunouchi’s central business district, serving as a location to indulge in relaxation and act as a quiet haven from the busy and bustling nature of Tokyo. With an urban modern interior, The Four Seasons aims to help guests relax and provide ultimate comfort while still having the flourished and luxury details of any other Four Seasons hotel. With a spa, world class restaurants and other amenities for guests to enjoy, The Four Seasons focuses on the guest and what they need. As well as their extensive list of services and amenities, The Four Seasons has many traditional sites, ceremonies and spectacles which embrace and pay tribute to Tokyo’s rich history.
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Restaurants and Cafés
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The Four Seasons, Sézanne is a restaurant which serves guests classically rooted modern French cuisine from the hands of the Michelin starred Chef Daniel Calvert and talented patisserie Chef Elwyn Boykes’.
With an interior which is based on relaxed luxury and a show kitchen offering guests a front row seat into the cooking process, Sézanne focuses on the experience of the diner and how they interact with both the food and the environment they are eating it in. With several dining options inside of the restaurant, the orchestra-like composition of French cuisine brings luxury to the city of Tokyo in a new and interesting way.
Florilége is a renowned restaurant known for its atmosphere and attention to detail when it comes to the diners’ experience. Through the use of an in-depth concept, the staff and chefs at Florilége understand what they must deliver, bringing stories to the table and guiding them through nature’s ingredients. Combining Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques with French cuisine results in the masterpiece that Florilége presents to the table. With every meal being prepared in front of you, the diner not only sees what they are eating but also how it was made and the process of how their meal was made.
Located in the backstreets of Shinsen, Kotaro can be seen as a secret hide away, filled with exceptional ingredients and whimsical plates of food placed in front of you. The interior is intimate with 10 seats at the counter which face the show kitchen, which allows diners to experience the cooking process while eating. The food at Kotaro is known to respect Japanese tradition while also not being bound by it, exploring and navigating the worlds of cuisine and flavour profiles.
Tonkin is known locally as a true Tokyo institution which specialises in tonkatsu and has been serving meals since 1939. Through following and sticking to the old-school traditions of Japanese cuisine, Tonki has not only made a name for itself but they have become known for its signature meal options which range from two. They serve two set meals which both include the chosen cutlet alongside white rice, cabbage, mustard and miso soup chock full of either pork or tofu. With a large open kitchen to accompany this meal, Tonki’s feel is almost homy, allowing the diner to watch the well-oiled traditional method of cooking Tonki’s renowned tonkatsu.
Locale calls itself a farm to table focused restaurant which works directly with small farmers to not only get the freshest and best of ingredients, but to utilise the specific and special components of each ingredient and understand how the season changes their flavour profile. Through a combination of Italian, Moroccan, Korean, French and Californian cuisine and cooking techniques, the food brought to the table is most literally a fusion of the worlds cooking all made with Japanese ingredients and cookware. Accompanied by a cosy and warm ambiance, Locale has named itself as an eatery which should be on anyone’s list to visit.
6. Udon Maruka
Known as one of the best Sanuki udon restaurants in all of Tokyo, Udon Manuka always has the best noodles for any occasion. The restaurant’s renowned tick and chewy noodles always result in queues which stretch pretty far. The Kagawa prefecture specialty, Sanuki udon, is made of wheat to create a thick, firm and chewy texture. In addition to the amazing taste, the affordability of this restaurant is what makes it truly remarkable making it work the 45 minute wait.
7. Dotcom Space
The innovative, minimalist coffee parlour Dotcom Space is known for its great coffee and calming atmosphere. The café is known for pushing the boundaries of coffee, technology and brewing. Side by side baristas and robotic arms work together to provide the customer with a great coffee.
8. About Life Coffee Brewers
The small coffee spot offers customers with great coffee in a cute environment. The little brewery has great drink options as well as friendly staff and great service.
Things to do in Tokyo:
1. Tokyo Sky tree
The Tokyo Sky tree is arguably one of Tokyo’s most well known tourist attractions which offers visitors an ample amount of activities to complete throughout your day. The Sky tree not only has a terrace tour, but they also have a Sky tree café to grab a bite when you’re feeling peckish on your adventures as well as a light show to admire in the vibrant Tokyo night scene. The Tokyo Sky tree gift shop to purchase a small gift for anyone special and a restaurant to dine in when you want to take in the beautiful view of Tokyo.
2. TeamLab planets
TeamLab Planets is a museum where the visitor walks through water and a garden to become one with nature. The museum has four exhibits and two gardens where you can explore and interact with the environment around you. The experience invites people to immerse their entire bodies, with other people, in massive bodies of immersible artworks to explore what it’s like to be inside of a piece of art.
Some of the finest painters in the world, who changed the face of modern art, call the gallery home. This renovated railroad station features works by prominent artists including Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, and more. There are many fantastic pieces of art by well-known painters that you probably recognize, including Paul Cezanne’s Card Players, Bal Moulin Galette by Renoir, Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night
3. Senso ji
Sensoji Temple, also known as Asakusa Kannon, is located in Tokyo’s Asakusa district and is the city’s oldest, most colourful and popular religious building. With over 20 million annual visitors, it has been deemed as one of Tokyo’s most popular religious temples as well as the most frequented spiritual site in the world.
4. Sakurai Tea Experience
The Sakurai Tea Experience is one of Tokyo’s most special places. The restaurant serves authentic Japanese cuisines as well as amazing tea which is known for its great quality and superb taste.
5. Yoyogi Park
- Yoyogi Park is a spacious city park in Shibuya which is one of Tokyo’s largest parks featuring wide lawn areas, ponds and forested areas. Although there is no specific activity which can be done in this area, it had to be added to the list due to its versatility, beauty and refreshing atmosphere compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. The park is a great place to visit any time of the day as a jogging location, picnic spot or area for any other outdoor activity. The variety of colourful and vibrant trees add to the natural areas beauty with beautiful trees flourishing year round.
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DisneyLand anywhere around the world is known to have an amazing atmosphere and DisneyLand Tokyo upholds that philosophy. The theme park is a great place to go during my time of the year with the family and kids with rides for people, of all ages, adults to children. The destination also has hotel rooms onsite to accommodate any guests as well as an ample amount of restaurants, shops, spectacles and fun. The attractions, parades and shows at Disneyland Tokyo enhance the experience, with an abundance of rides for every age group, fun parades and amazing shows throughout the day and year.
2. Disney Sea
Another off brand of Tokyo Disney Resort, Disney Sea, has amazing attractions such as the Venetian Gondola which transport guests to a different world within the park.
3. Pokémon Centre
For all Pokémon nerds across the world, Tokyo has the biggest Pokémon centre in Japan and the first official Pokémon café in Tokyo. Any Pokémon you can imagine will probably be in this store, with an abundance of toys, figures and cutting edge technology for everyone to enjoy. The Pokémon café features a wide range of tasty meals, desserts and drinks with every item being Pokémon themed.
4. Ghibli Museum
The Ghibli museum in Tokyo leads with enjoyment, and they focus on creating an environment where creativity is nurtured. All visitors are accounted for and accommodated. The museum features original works and pictures with projection rooms and an exhibit room which show movement and life. The Ghibli museum also has a café which is a place of relaxation and enjoyment with great food in a picturesque environment. The museum shop has any gift possible for you to purchase gifts for anyone special, or to keep as a souvenir. The parks and greenery inside of the Ghibli Museum allow guests to bind with nature and fully indulge the Ghibli world.
Places to Visit in Tokyo
1. Nezu Shrine
Nesu shrine, as it stands today, is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. The shrine which is also known for its beauty, lies in Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward near Ueno Park, and has amazingly lush greenery with gentle ponds of carp and pathways which act as a walkway under the small shrine arches. These arches tunnel you into the elegant and vibrant wooden structures that reflect the rich Japanese culture that exists in the city.
If you wish to experience Nezu shrine’s full beauty, spring is the time to visit when the shrine’s thousands of famous azalea bushes bloom pink and cascade down the shrine’s hillside garden. Nezu Shrine also holds a Bunkyo Azalea Festival in April so that everyone can experience and appreciate the beauty within the shrine.
2. Inokashira park
If you wish to take in more nature within Tokyo, Inokashira Park is a must visit location for you. The green oasis is loved among locals as a place to relax and take in nature in one of its most beautiful forms. Additionally, if you are ever looking for a different perspective, the Inokashira Pond, which is located in the centre of the park, has boats available for hire. Spring at Inokashira Park is much awaited every year, as it is the time that cherry blossoms bloom and surround the edge of the pond. And the fleeting season of white-pink petals is a great time to picnic under the flowers and soak in the natural beauty Tokyo has to offer.
3. TeamLab Borderless
TeamLab Borderless is a museum which harnesses the reins of creativity and art and makes it a world without borders. The artworks shown are all different, moving out of rooms, communicating with other works, influencing and intermingling with each other. TeamLabs Borderless is reimagining boundaries and wants the visitor to immerse their body in the cast world of borderless artwork using space to explore, discover and create new worlds with other people.
4. Tokyo Towers
Tokyo Towers stands at 333 metres high in the centre of the city and is the world’s tallest, self supported steel tower and 3 metres taller than its model, the Eiffel Tower.
The tower today is recognised as a symbol of Japan’s post-war rebirth and how the country overcame devastation and grew to become a major economic power. The tower’s main deck at 150 metres can be reached via an elevator or 600 step staircase. And although you do need to pay for access, the visual vantage point is breath-taking with 360 views of Tokyo. The tower also has some “lockdown windows” in the floor to stand on as well as a gift shop and a café.
Hikes in Tokyo
Here are some of the top sites for route information and inspiration for hikes:
A hike without the energy intensive effort sounds lovely and that is what is offered to you at Kinchakuda. This hike in the area is known for being quite an easy one however that is not to say that it isn’t worthwhile visiting. The 2-3 hour hiking course showcases Tokyo’s beautiful natural flora species with gorgeous flowers that bloom along the trail.
2. Mount Tsukuba
The twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba make for a great hike during any time of year. The fairly easy, but sometimes challenging hiking trail has amazing views and scenery to take in as you explore the Japanese wilderness. At the peak of the mountain there are also restaurants and shops for you to enjoy, which means you can spend a few hours in the beautiful area.
3. Mount Takao
The Mount Takao hike is a very popular hiking location with tourists due to the wide variety of trails that suit different levels of hikers with monkey parks, a shrine and waterfalls. The Omotesando trail is a great one to hike on, as it is considered quite beginner friendly and consists of wide, paved walkways. However if you came for the waterfalls, Biwa Waterfall trail is for you, which is slightly more difficult p, but isn’t impossible for a beginner to intermediate hiker.
4. Mount Oyama
If you are after a challenging but rewarding hike, Mount Obama is for you. The trail is on a mountain with amazing views which only get better the higher up you hike. In the trail there is a temple and shrine you can visit as well an area where tofu is served if you stop for lunch. However, if you’re not up to the hike and just long for the views, you can instead take the cable car which will take you to the summit.