Tokyo is heating up (and not just in terms of its soaring summer temperatures). The Japanese capital is counting down to its moment to shine in the international spotlight. With the 2020 Summer Olympics coming up, there’s a palpable excitement in the city’s air. It’s hard to keep up with the rush of new hotels opening, and long-term infrastructural projects designed to make Tokyo not only more attractive, but even cleaner and safer than it already is.
Looking for contemporary Japanese design on a budget? OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka is a good place to check in. The hotel is housed in a former office building in Otsuka renovated by architect Tatsuro Sasaki. The 125 rooms are clean-lined, comfortable and contemporary, with light-wood frames inspired by Japanese-style scaffolding.
[More adventures in Japan: Travel to Osaka, where food is a way of life]
The Andaz Tokyo in Toranomon Hills – a hotbed of pre-Olympics developments – offers a modern touch of luxury (hyatt.com). The hotel balances an intimate ambience (it has 164 rooms) with a warm urban decor.
Start exploring Tokyo’s more peaceful side with a visit to Meiji Jingu, a historic shrine hidden in Yoyogi Park. In a typical Tokyo juxtaposition, it’s located just behind the bustling chaos of Harajuku Station (take the Omotesando exit). Wander along the long, forest-lined walkway that leads to the elegant shrine gates, before washing hands, clapping and tossing a coin into the central shrine. Next, plunge back into the Harajuku chaos with a stroll along colourful street Takeshita Dori – a bustling showcase of young street fashion. Continue along nearby Omotesando, an elegant zelkova tree-lined boulevard with high-end boutiques and a string of iconic architect-designed fashion flagships. At the far end, pop into the serene Nezu Museum to explore its latest exhibition, curated from an impressive collection of Japanese works (from swords to teacups) – finishing up with a stroll around its exquisite gardens.
Ueno Park, in east Tokyo, is a great one-stop shop (japan-guide.com/e/e3019.html). It’s home to a string of museums and art galleries, as well as lotus ponds, pagodas, more than 1,000 cherry trees and a popular zoo with giant pandas. The Tokyo National Museum is particularly worth visiting.
Put on a headscarf and apron, and learn how to make soba noodles from scratch at the friendly Tsukiji Soba Academy (soba.specialist.co.jp).
Sign up for one of an impressive range of workshops (there is even a gluten-free option), most of which guide students through the soba-making process, before consuming your creations at the end.
Stock up on green tea in the sleek Marunouchi outlet of the Kyoto tea company Ippodo. Sample an array of teas (ippodo-tea.co.jp/en) before taking your pick in the shop, which also sells crafted tea utensils. There is also the Kaboku Tearoom, where visitors can savour perfectly prepared tea with Japanese sweets. Or for those keen to know their matchas and senchas from their banchas, sign up for an on-site tea class.
Sushi lovers would do well to make a special pilgrimage to Ginza Kyubey, a family-run restaurant, home to a four-storey warren of tatami mat rooms and sushi counters, that serves up high-quality sushi (kyubey.jp/en); Steven Spielberg is apparently a regular. Perhaps best of all? The friendly, elderly owner, Imada-san, who makes a point of speaking to every guest. For the Sushi Kaiseki course (strongly recommended), expect to pay from around £116 per person.
Off the map
Just one hour by train outside Tokyo is Kamakura – a pretty coastal town known as “the Hamptons of Tokyo”, packed with old temples, frequented by surfers and surrounded by green mountains. Hire a bicycle next to the station and explore the winding lanes, organic food restaurants, beaches and sights. Don’t miss one of its most famous residents, the oversized Great Buddha of Kamakura, a 37ft bronze statue sitting in the grounds of Kotokuin Temple (kotoku-in.jp/en; temple).
The Sunday Telegraph