This article is part of a guide to Tokyo from FT Globetrotter
Compared with similar-sized cities around the world, Tokyo suffers few traffic jams. It is easy to calculate the time needed to get from one place to the next, so appointments can be scheduled with the efficiency of a school timetable, with very little leeway in between.
As a result, many visitors will be tempted to finish one meeting and head straight to the next, but I urge you not to make this mistake.
I highly recommend walking round Tokyo. Doing so will give you the opportunity to experience the Japanese virtues of cleanliness and safety. Most of Tokyo is completely safe to explore on foot, even alone fairly late in the evening.
The past 10 years have seen an explosion in the number of people running and jogging in Tokyo. The holy grail of routes, and the one that every Japanese runner sets their sights on completing at least once in their lifetime, is a lap of the Imperial Palace.
The gently undulating route is 5km long. As you circle the palace in the prescribed anticlockwise direction, you will see to your left the vast green space within which lies the royal residence, and the moat dug to protect the household from intruders.
In spring the route is decorated with cherry blossoms, and in autumn with colourful foliage.
Look right and you will see a cluster of skyscrapers that abut the palace complex. On what other running route would you find such a juxtaposition of a nation’s history and tradition with the heart of its economic and political activity?
A few laps around the Imperial Palace should satisfy the energetic, but I also recommend venturing into the adjoining Hibiya Park (ask for a jogging map at your hotel). The expanse of green in central Tokyo is certainly on a par with London or New York.
For lunch, visit the top floor of the Marunouchi Building next to Tokyo Station for a view that encompasses Mount Fuji, 100km away as the crow flies, and the Imperial Palace in the foreground. There are several restaurants: take your pick from first-rate Japanese, French or Chinese cuisine, to name but a few.
Should you feel like a postprandial stroll, wander down to Kyukyodo in the Ginza shopping district. The store has been here since the 17th century and stocks a range of authentic Japanese crafts. It’s easy to while away several hours between Kyukyodo and nearby stationery store Itoya.
If the weather is fine, it can be fun to stroll along some of Tokyo’s many riverside paths. In places these paths — once vital to the movement of goods around Edo (as Tokyo was called until the mid-19th century) — have been modernised. For example, the Sumidagawa river terrace, which connects Asakusa, Ryōgoku, Suitengū and Tsukishima, up as far as Tsukiji. And there is always the option of the river bus if you get tired.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Tokyo during the sakura season of March and April, the cherry blossoms along the banks of the Kanda river is a must-see. And be sure to visit Edogawabashi Park after dark to see the blossoms by moonlight.
One restaurant I particularly recommend among the many excellent eateries Tokyo has to offer is Ishikawa, situated in an area called Kagurazaka, just half an hour’s walk from Edogawabashi Park.
The neighbourhood takes its name from an ancient traditional music and dance performance known as kagura, and sections of the maze of narrow streets date back to the days when this was a bustling entertainment district. This is a perfect example of somewhere that should be explored on foot, not by car.
Ishikawa is tucked away in these streets, and first-time visitors to this three-Michelin-star establishment will be warmly welcomed by the owner, without any of the stuffy atmosphere often found in high-end restaurants.
Another top pick in Kagurazaka is Hashimoto, which was established in 1835 and specialises in eel.
Finally, how about some true Tokyo entertainment in the form of kabuki and Takarazuka? Kabuki as a traditional art form goes back several centuries, and since the 17th century has been performed by all-male casts. Be prepared to be bewitched by the charms of the onnagata, who specialise in playing female roles.
The Takarazuka Revue company, on the other hand, was set up in 1914, and is made up entirely of women. They perform not only musical revues, but a broad repertoire ranging from Elisabeth, the sad story of the empress of the Austro-Hungarian empire, to a Japanese musical version of Ocean’s Eleven. Female actors who play male roles are known as otokoyaku, and often succeed in making their male characters cooler than any man you’re likely to meet.
A fitting place to round off the evening is the Old Imperial Bar at the historic Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the place to enjoy a nightcap, perhaps in the form of one of its selection of the Japanese whiskies that can be hard to come by overseas.
What are your favourite places to visit in Tokyo? Tell us in the comments
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