After three years away from Tokyo, it’s the acquainted face of Hi there Kitty that’s first to greet me as I step off the airplane. Photos of the cat – an icon of Japan’s kawaii (cute) tradition – are as ubiquitous as cherry blossoms and geisha. However this time, Kitty appears to be like completely different: she’s sporting a face masks. An indication of the occasions.
After practically three years closed attributable to Covid restrictions, Tokyo is again on the vacation to-do checklist. But when the considered 24-hour neon, robotic motels and conveyor-belt sushi leaves you reticent, then it’s time for a rethink. Tokyo could be subtle, relaxed and, all the time, intriguing.
A refuge subsequent to the royals
Palace Resort Tokyo, within the Marunouchi district, has ‘all the things you may anticipate from a high resort’. Pictured is the Esterre restaurant
The Palace Resort is positioned proper subsequent to Tokyo’s stunning Imperial Palace (pictured)
There’s no denying that Tokyo could be overwhelming, so begin by discovering a refuge through which to base your self. I like to recommend the 23-storey Palace Resort Tokyo, within the Marunouchi district, which is a real haven.
It’s famend for its attentive hospitality, often known as omotenashi, and it has all the things you may anticipate from a high resort – attractive rooms and suites, Michelin-starred eating places, a spa and English-speaking employees. However what units it aside is its location, proper subsequent to the Imperial Palace, boasting 180-degree inexperienced vistas of the outer gardens. Past is the enduring Tokyo cityscape stretching from Ginza to Shinjuku, the place crimson lights twinkle at evening however there’s no neon: illuminated hoardings are banned this near the Emperor’s house.
However when you find yourself able to dive in to town, Palace Resort Tokyo has its personal direct entry to the closest Metro station, Otemachi, which, like the entire transport community, is secure and scrupulously clear and has ample English signage. B&B in a deluxe King Room at Palace Resort Tokyo prices from £395pp, per evening, primarily based on two sharing (en.palacehoteltokyo.com).
Breakfast on the very best sushi
Tsukiji fish market, above, is open from 4am and is simply ten minutes by taxi from Palace Resort Tokyo
Tokyo is surprisingly sleepy within the early morning, so if the jet-lag hits, it’s an excellent time to discover.
Tsukiji fish market (tsukiji.or.jp/english) is open from 4am and is simply ten minutes by taxi from Palace Resort Tokyo. Though the well-known tuna auctions now occur at one other market in Toyosu – an extra ten minutes away by taxi – Tsukiji’s market stays a fantastic place to see something and all the things from the ocean, from large spider crabs to dried squid.
The market is hemmed in by important roads, so you possibly can immerse your self with out worry of getting misplaced. Step in beneath the enormous tuna sculpture and head to Sugimoto Hamono (sugimoto-hamono.com/e), the grasp makers of Japanese knives which they’ll engrave for you.
There are many locations to eat, however for the best fish breakfast, go on to Toyosu (sushi-yamazaki.com/english) and queue for Yamazaki – the very best sushi counter available in the market.
Forest bathing within the metropolis
Nezu Museum (pictured) homes a personal assortment lauded for its tea-ceremony utensils and historical Chinese language bronzes. The star attraction for Kate, although, is its backyard – ‘an virtually inexplicable discover’
An early begin warrants a sluggish day, so go to Nezu Museum (nezu-muse.or.jp/en), an oasis of serenity only a stone’s-throw from the glitzy vogue shops of Omotesando.
Housed in a constructing by Kengo Kuma – the architect behind the Japan Nationwide Stadium constructed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – and screened by towering bamboo, Nezu is a personal assortment lauded for its tea-ceremony utensils and historical Chinese language bronzes.
The star attraction for me, although, is its backyard. An virtually inexplicable discover within the coronary heart of modern Minami-Aoyama, its 4 acres evoke deep valleys and mountains, with a forest of pines, camellias and oaks. Right here you possibly can practise the Japanese artwork of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and have interaction the senses with a meditative stroll alongside the mossy pathways.
Hearken to birdsong! In Tokyo! And the trickle from gurgling pure springs and ponds stuffed with koi. Chill out your eyes on the inexperienced patchwork dotted with historical stone sculptures from Japan and China. Within the centre of the backyard are 4 personal tea homes, so take tea and strawberry sponge in NezuCafe, immersed within the greenery.
Tea break with out the ache
A basic Japanese tea ceremony embraces parts of arts, historical past and tradition, from Zen meditation to ikebana (flower-arranging) and calligraphy, however it’s commonplace for guests who’ve tried it to be left mystified and with aching limbs, having spent hours kneeling.
Not at Sokkon. Created by tea grasp and monk Soko Utagawa, Sokkon (sokkon.jp) presents the prospect to expertise the ceremony alongside the convivial consuming and consuming that normally accompanies a real tea get together – with no kneeling required. It’s hidden away within the basement of a nondescript tower close to Nezu Museum. Inside, a collection of intimate rooms is revealed, together with a tiny wabi-sabi tea home into which one crawls to see the tea grasp’s sluggish, deliberate preparations of the matcha, and to drink the thick inexperienced outcome.
Afterwards, an beautiful meal of greens, rice, fish and pickles is served, washed down with sake, generously poured by the tea grasp (who additionally occurs to talk fluent English). It’s insightful, memorable and enjoyable – a tea ceremony to recollect for the appropriate causes. I gained’t spoil it, however the finish is marked with cocktails in one other secret room with a theatrical reveal.
Eat with the (Michelin) stars
‘Count on to eat a variety of good meals in Tokyo’. Above is a dish served at Salmon & Trout in Setagaya
Count on to eat a variety of good meals in Tokyo: on the final depend, town boasted greater than 200 Michelin-starred eating places.
You probably have your coronary heart set on any of these, e book prematurely or enlist an insider, comparable to your resort concierge, to assist.
I nabbed a counter seat at Tempura Kondo (tempura-kondo.com/en) – which has two Michelin stars and as soon as, being totally booked as normal, turned away President Obama – via myconciergejapan.com, which additionally will get round the issue that most of the eating places have web sites which are in Japanese solely.
Don’t fear should you can’t get a star reserving – there are a lot of extra gems that the locals hope Michelin will depart effectively alone, lest they’ll not get a desk. One such place is Atelier Fujita (atelier-fujita.com) in Yoyogi-Uehara, a Japanese-French seafood restaurant that simply additionally occurs to be among the finest spots for vegetarians. Or there’s Salmon & Trout (salmonandtrout.tokyo/en), in what appears to be like like a bike-repair store in Setagaya.
For a superb sushi-counter present, Sushi M (sushi-m.com) is a 12-seat restaurant run by a chef and sommelier, each previously of Michelin two-star spot Narisawa. Its USP is sake pairing: attempt Akishika motoshibori and be transformed to the rice spirit.
Secret sake spots
Kate drank sake in bars nestled within the labyrinthine alleyways (above) of Sankaku Chitai yokocho in Sangenjaya
Regardless of the various fine-dining choices, my alternative would all the time be to go native and head for a yokocho – barely shabby alleyways full of eating places and bars, which are discovered all around the metropolis.
Yokocho are laborious to navigate – little English is spoken and there are fewer English menus – however they’re one in all Tokyo’s most memorable experiences, so get a information.
I visited the labyrinthine alleyways of Sankaku Chitai yokocho in Sangenjaya with information Tyler from Inside Japan Excursions (insidejapantours.com). Inside minutes of assembly, we have been ducking into an unmarked lane – one I would definitely have missed – into the thick of meals shacks, bars and intriguing locations behind sliding doorways. I used to be totally misplaced by the point we reached the unassuming spot that Tyler was so excited to point out me.
We have been greeted with exuberant cries of ‘Irasshaimase’ (welcome to my restaurant) as we took our bar seats, wedged between a younger couple and an aged common. Plates of sashimi, chestnut tempura, tuna and grilled burdock started arriving – and sake flowed. This modest place turned out to be one in all Tokyo’s finest spots for uncommon sake: an array was listed virtually casually on a whiteboard above the bar.
Later we moved on to a first-floor bar someplace else within the maze, with cabinets of Japanese whiskies and an immaculate bartender. We left late, Tyler guiding me again via the yokocho to my resort, after a night that wouldn’t have been potential with out his inside data.
It’s alright to share a shower
Head to the residential neighbourhoods of Sangenjaya and Shimokita (pictured) to ‘gently take in Tokyo life’
Nights in a yokocho have to be adopted by lazy days, and there are few higher locations to softly take in Tokyo life than the residential neighbourhoods of Sangenjaya and Shimokita.
The world between them has lately been pedestrianised and given a inexperienced makeover, with gardens, espresso outlets and artisan bars – and even a brand new traditional-style resort, Yuen Bettei Daita (uds-hotels.com/en/yuenbettei/daita), with an onsen (scorching spring tub). Its compact rooms have shoji screens, wood flooring and futon-style beds (raised off the ground), plus kimonos and conventional sandals to put on to the tub.
It’s a real Japanese tub, so no tattoos or swimming costumes are allowed – there are separate baths for women and men – and you need to wash earlier than you enter. Locals use the onsen in addition to friends, however should you’ve checked in to the resort (B&B from £191 per room, per evening), the in-room iPad can save your blushes with a stay characteristic that tells you when the tub is quiet.
Take a dip and immerse your self in a aspect of Tokyo that’s as native as it’s low-stress. Do that and also you’ll be leaving feeling energised, impressed and fully underneath the spell of this sprawling metropolis.