A weekend in Tokyo is such a treat. This is a city of contrasts that collide beautifully together: sprawling skyscrapers sit side by side with ancient shrines, historic parklands blend into a backdrop of futuristic architecture and cutting-edge technology works in harmony with traditional customs. Discovering Japan’s capital can take years, but with a weekend to spare, start with the highlights.
Rewind to Tokyo’s past
A little like London, Tokyo is a patchwork of distinct urban neighbourhoods and exploring a few is a good way to get an authentic experience of the city. To trace Tokyo’s past, you could start in Asakusa to discover Sensoji, the city’s oldest (and one of the world’s most popular) Buddhist temples dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. Head to nearby Ueno Park in Taito next, one of Japan’s oldest public spaces with stunning gardens, museums, lotus ponds and shrines. If you’re lucky enough to visit the park during cherry blossom season (typically late April to early May), you’ll be able to join in with one of Japan’s favourite pastimes – ‘hanami’ or ‘looking at flowers’ – and be wowed by the stunning pale pink blooms of the Yoshino cherry tree.
In the park you’ll also find Tokyo National Museum, which is well worth a visit. The nation’s oldest museum, it houses thousands of ancient artefacts, from Buddhist sculptures to ancient calligraphy. Art fans won’t want to miss the Nezu Museum in the Minatu district too, home to a huge collection of pre-modern Asian arts including bamboo crafts, textiles and tea ceremony tools, plus a rather fabulous Japanese garden. The building itself is also something to admire, built by Kengo Kuma, the architect tasked with building the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium.
Fast forward to Tokyo today
Fast forward to 2017 and the best way to take in the sheer skyscrapers and bright neon lights that Tokyo is so famed for today is from above, and the Tokyo Skytree viewing tower in Sumida gives a great bird’s eye view of the city, standing at 634 meters. You could also take in the city’s skyline from the water by taking a cruise aboard a high-tech Himiko and Hotaluna boat in Tokyo Bay.
For a spot of luxury, head to the Marunouchi district, home to one of the best hotels in Tokyo, plus fantastic shopping complexes (bring an empty suitcase) and restaurants (bring an empty stomach). Tokyo holds the record for the world’s highest number of Michelin stars in a city so you’ll be spoilt for choice in this central area. Elsewhere, if you have time to spare, make your way west to residential Tokyo in Daikanyama where you’ll find stylish cafés and cutting-edge fashion boutiques.
Top of the culture list before you head home is a sumo wrestling match to see Japan’s beloved national sport. You can choose to watch from the sidelines, sample the traditional food of the athletes ‘chanko nabe’, or even have a go in a skirmish yourself – holiday memories don’t get much better.