Inspired by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to explore Japan? A weekend in Tokyo is ample time to develop a lifelong obsession, says Clementina Jackson.
The Weekender: Tokyo, Japan
‘Explore the back streets and get lost’ is not the advice you expect to receive when visiting one of the world’s biggest metropoles for the first time, but it’s just the trick in Tokyo. The city is a fascinating contradiction of neon lights, skyscrapers and cutting-edge technology (heated public toilets, hello), alongside ancient shrines and Shinto traditions that pervade everyday life, all underpinned by a meticulous, ruthless efficiency that makes Tokyo both astonishing and extremely safe.
Split your visit into ‘old’ and ‘new’. A tour of the oft-overlooked Nihonbashi district is a crash course in history and ancient crafts from washi paper making to Noh performing arts. Suigian brilliantly combines the latter with lunch, and Mandarin Oriental will organise the lot in a dedicated Nihonbashi experience. Then onto Shibuya to visit the Meiji Jingu shrine before a full immersion into Tokyo’s mad and overwhelmingly pink district of Harajuku.
A stroll down Takeshita Street with its cat cafés, beautifying photo booths, swarms of dressed-up teenagers and all manner of ‘kawaii’ (cute) paraphernalia, will likely take up a whole afternoon – and a second suitcase. And the food? Don’t be put off by unappetising plastic food ‘samples’ that front the restaurants, and don’t just stick to the better-known places. Because it’s when you find yourself totally lost, in a random izakaya, and find that it serves the most delicious, authentic dishes, that you’ll fully appreciate that initial advice – and a lifelong obsession begins.
High above the city at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, in a Mount Fuji-facing room for luck. Slick, sexy and grown up, it boasts one of the finest spas in the world, Michelin starred dining and ‘room fairies’ who leave gifts in your room. Heaven.
As the locals do and head to the affectionately named ‘Piss Alley’ for excellent yakitori, endless sake and hordes of ‘salarymen’. Once sufficiently merry, seek out the closest karaoke joint and go full Lost in Translation.
Embrace Japan’s gift culture. Get fans from Ibasen, knives from Kiya, stationery from Ginza Itoya, bath salts and beauty products from Tokyu Hands and all the colourful, crazy tat you can carry from the shops lining Takeshita Street.
Forget Jiro, choose Tapas Molecular Bar at Mandarin Oriental for an intimate Michelin-starred dining experience where the chef actually interacts with guests. Head to Kawakami An for fresh soba and tempura, and eat sushi and tonkatsu sandos at every opportunity.
Rates for Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo start from 67,000 JPY per room per night (approx. £460).
For visitor information, visit tokyotokyo.jp.