Tokyo. 13,000,000 people may roam its streets, but it has enough spirit to deliver a unique experience for every single one.
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A melting pot of contemporary culture, traditional customs and other-worldly attractions, the affectionately named ‘Big Mikan’ – or big mandarin – has certainly earned its accolade as the third greatest city on the planet. In this guide, we explore how a city of mysterious backstreets and soaring skyscrapers has captured the hearts of millions – and why you’re sure to be next…
What to see in Tokyo
With 23 wards stretching 2,188 square-kilometres, there’s a seemingly endless number of places to discover in Tokyo. We’ve narrowed it down to just four hotspots you won’t want to miss – and with one of the world’s most efficient transport systems, they’re all only a train ride away. From sumo wrestling tournaments to ancient temples of worship, read on to discover a handful of Tokyo’s inspiring highlights.
Believed by many to be the city’s most revered holy space, millions from across the world travel to sample the healing powers of Sensō-ji. Whether you go to see real doves pick out your fortune card or to absorb the aromas created by heady clouds of incense, the temple grounds provide a spiritual experience befitting of its rich Buddhist history. We recommend checking out the gardens within the temple, which are as beautiful as they are unassuming.
Although not in Tokyo, Mount Fuji represents a strong presence within the city, and should not be missed if you are planning to take a day trip. Around 60 miles from Japan’s capital, this active volcano is best visited during colder seasons, since the haze around it makes visibility poor. Worry not if the timing isn’t right; there are five lakes surrounding the mountain, alongside shrines, and even its very own theme park, Fujiku Highland.
Sumo wrestling and Japanese tradition go hand-in-hand, finding their spiritual home at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. In what is one part sporting event, one part cultural ceremony, you can observe the fascinating world of sumo, with its elaborate dress, gamesmanship and cross-legged floor seating. Our top tip before you book? Second-floor tickets tend to be better for those with bad backs!
Miraikan Science Museum
Though its roots can be found in the military history of Tokyo, today, the Miraikan is one of the city’s top science and technology museums. Situated in Odaiba, this is the destination for all-things robotics, physics and space exploration – not to mention a catalogue of Japanese innovation through the years. It is especially great for families with young children, providing introductory-style exhibits that make science fun.
Best kept secrets
Tokyo is a major tourist destination with numerous stunning attractions, and as such, it isn’t short of crowded spaces. While some revel in being swept up by the throng, others may prefer to experience the city at their own pace, and this is exactly what our best-kept secrets list aims to deliver. We have compiled some of Tokyo’s lesser-known haunts, just as breath-taking as all the popular spots.
Not unlike other Asian cities, Tokyo is known for its ephemera of weird and wonderful keepsakes, harkening to bygone eras, enigmatic cultural icons and figures of national pride. Here are four of our favourites to take home with you as a lasting symbol of your trip.
No mantelpiece would be complete without an ode to one of Tokyo’s most celebrated landmarks – the Asakusa Kaminarimon. Its insignia is emblazoned on everything: t-shirts, tote bags, lanterns, cups, and makes for a delightful nod to the city’s rich history.
Sake is a light, refreshing wine derived from rice, and often thought of as the national drink of Japan. It comes in cloudy, sparkling and even gold-flake-laden varieties, each with their own distinctive flavour. You can even sample its delights in a number of all-you-can-drink destinations across Tokyo, ideal for trying before buying.
For that special someone, a replica of Singapore’s national flower gilded in 24 karat gold is a superb souvenir to bring home. Full of the spirit of Singapore, you can find all manner of earrings, pendants, necklaces and brooches from any RISIS store across Singapore.
If you know someone with a sweet tooth, you have to pick up wagashi. Traditional Japanese confectionary, or wagashi, goes beyond the sugar rush. Azuki beans, wasanbon, agar jelly; these unique oriental ingredients make for a delicious sweet treat. Step into any one of the 15 shops creating these specialist treats for a thoughtful and delicious present. Who said candy had to be for kids?
If there was one reason to visit Tokyo, food would be it. Michelin three-star dining at every turn; gourmet Asian cuisine in the unlikeliest of place; restaurants that only seat four people – it’s hard to beat a gastronomic experience in the land of sushi. While you are there, you simply must sample these three cornerstones of Japan’s culinary heritage.
With over 5,000 sushi restaurants in Tokyo, it was tricky to choose just one, but Sukiyabashi Jiro wins it hands down. From the relaxed, intimate setting to the discreet yet always attentive service of its acclaimed team, every detail of the environment is carefully designed to let the dishes take centre stage. And what a performance it puts on; this isn’t just sushi, this is a revelation.
If your idea of foodie perfection looks a lot like tender cuts of pork swimming in a hearty broth of chicken, ginger and pak choi, this ramen joint will not disappoint. Fūunji is known for having the best dipping noodles in Tokyo. The catch? There are only 15 seats and no English-speaking staff. Definitely one to visit, just give yourself plenty of time and room for plenty.
The variety, creativity and artistry of the dishes served up in Susisho Masa is unparalleled in the sashimi niche – a fact not lost on its punters, who are responsible for Sushisho’s enviable five-star rating on Trip Advisor. Visit this destination to experience the delicate preparation of fish, just as it should be.
So, we’ve taken you on a digital tour of the best places in the city, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond what we cover in this piece, you will find robot restaurants, a parasite museum, pachinko games, akihabara and capsule hotels. Whatever you decide to do in Tokyo, it is a place of true wonder – somewhere you can escape the pace of Western life and into a fantasy world no less busy, but a lot more fun. How you experience this magical destination is up to you.
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