Far East, in the much romanticised land of the rising sun, Japan is truly the adventurer’s dream. Neon signs and sushi bars aside, Tokyo has so much to offer as a bustling metropolis. Modern as the city is, there is a hint of nature at every corner with bright pink cherry blossoms reaching out in stark contrast against the minimal skyscrapers. During Sakura season you will find every square inch of any park covered in picnic-going, sake-drinking, generally jovial locals.
For those who prefer the alive-at-night kind of stay, Shinjuku is, without doubt the go-to. There are more than enough options ranging from tiny APA hotels to the very fancy Park Hyatt which is slightly removed from the chaotic melting pot that is Shinjuku. Shinjuku Granbel Hotel, is a perfect in-between kind of hotel. It has a great rooftop bar for nights you want to stay away from the fast paced life of Tokyo and is walking distance from the famed Golden Gai. For those who prefer a more cultural and commercial part of Tokyo, Imperial Hotel or the Palace Hotel in Chiyoda near the Imperial Palace is a great option.
EAT AND DRINK
During Sakura, you’ve got to have yourself a picnic in the park. Grab a meal of sushi to go, a bottle of sake and head to Yoyogi Park to enjoy a bit of solo peace amongst a sea of hanami observers. All the streets are dotted with izakaya and yakitori joints for a bit of local flavour. Most eating places are closed by midnight if not earlier so make sure you eat before heading out for a long night. There is however, Yoshinoya – a local chain of diners open all night long. This is great to go to after a late night and drown yourself in a bowl of beef and rice.
For a fun night out, Rigolleto at Roponggi Hills is a great place for tapas and vibe. Try the chicken tacos and the jalapeños with hummus. Make sure you book in advance as all the suits of Roppongi descend on the area at night, and especially on weekends.
Crepes are a staple in Japan and you will find small trucks absolutely everywhere. For those who like to sit and eat, Cafe Crepe is perfect for a brunch and has the freshest ingredients. A savoury crepe followed by green tea ice cream make a perfect meal.
During your stay in Japan, the Golden Gai is an essential stop, at least one night. This consists of four lanes with hole in the wall drinking places. Most seat only about seven to eight people and offer 800 yen all you can drink sake. These are great for meeting locals and fellow travellers as everyone eventually ends up talking to each other. For something more refined, there is of course the Lost in Translation New York Bar at the Park or Maduro at the Grand Hyatt which has an excellent whisky tasting course.
Head to Akihabara for all your electronic needs, known or unknown. It’s not for nothing that they call it electronic city. Harajuku is great to check out local shops with all sorts of goodies from high street brands to local Japanese stores. Definitely go to the seven floor Uniqlo at Ginza, it is the largest in the world and best for basics. For souvenirs and a bit of local Japan, Nakamise Dori in Asakusa leading up to the Senso-ji temple is best. Omotesando is great for higher-end stores, and essential wandering for design heads or just anyone who wants to be dazzled by Tokyo’s art and design scene.
Visit the Imperial Palace Gardens if you have a day to spare and enjoy nature. Check the Shibuya Crossing off your list by getting there at rush hour and grabbing a seat at the top floor of the Starbucks. Just around the corner from here is the famous Hachiko Statue. Wander over to Lad’s for happy hours and a spot of drinks and chicken wings. Head over to Tokyo Skytree for a higher than bird’s eye view of Tokyo city. On a clear day you can even see Mt. Fuji from the top. Picnics in the many parks in Tokyo are a common sight, specially during Sakura and can actually be a good break from all the walking the city requires you to do. The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train is a must do and will get you from Tokyo to Kyoto in under three hours.