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Tokyo: where tradition and modern culture meet

With an array of luxe hotels, gourmet restaurants, high-end shopping malls and exquisite ancient shrines and flower-filled gardens to enjoy, Tokyo is a city to behold, writes Sue Wallace.

Tokyo is a vibrant city of contrasts – one moment you can be admiring a delicate silk painting or a perfect bonsai and the next conquering the world’s busiest intersection in the hip suburb of Shibuya.

Dynamic and exciting, Tokyo is constantly changing, but it is also a bustling metropolis where unique tradition and modern culture merge seamlessly.

It is easy to fall for Tokyo’s many charms, infused with the spirit of omotenashi, the Japanese word for polite hospitality and anticipating your guests’ every need.

Luxury accommodation

Luxury boltholes are scattered throughout the city, including the much-lauded Palace Hotel Tokyo with its panoramic views of the Imperial Palace Gardens. This contemporary 290-room hotel will welcome its long-awaited Esterre restaurant, created by leading French chef Alain Ducasse, in November. Award-winning interior designer Shinichiro Ogata has worked his magic with Esterre, the first collaboration between a Japanese hotel and the renowned restaurateur. Guests can also immerse themselves in the Palatial Pursuits experiences with bespoke architecture, art and cultural tours.

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills Hotel is a boutique-style Hyatt brand, offering 164 rooms and suites with expansive views, eclectic gallery-like spaces and great art, while Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo – Fujita Kanko’s five-star flagship property – boasts a magnificent garden where revered fireflies create a magical atmosphere.

The elegant Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo has had a recent makeover at the hands of textile designer Reiko Sudo and art director Ryu Kosaka, transforming guest rooms and suites with an organic woods and water interior design theme.

Autumn colour in Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens
Autumn colour in Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens © Patryk Kosmider/

Eat and drink

Dining is an exciting experience in Tokyo, which has 230 Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other city. Starred chefs are revered and farmfresh seasonal produce abounds, from humble yakitori cafes to multi-course traditional kaiseki feasts.

Standout restaurants include Nihonryori Kanda, which has maintained its three-star status since the Michelin Guide Tokyo was first published in 2007. Known for its quintessential Japanese cuisine, owner-chef Hiroyuki Kanda crafts his daily menu with the morning’s freshest ingredients.

For the tastiest tempura, try Kondo in Ginza or Tempura Motoyoshi, and for authentic sushi head to Sushi Suzuki, where owner-chef Takahisa Suzuki creates culinary sensations.Kyubei is popular for omakase, and at Sushitake, try Fumie Takeuchi’s tender kohada sushi paired with akazu-seasoned rice.

Cultural excitement

Art lovers will enjoy exploring both traditional and cutting-edge galleries such as avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama’s beloved polka-dot paintings and sculptures at her gallery that only admits 200 people per day.

Other galleries showcasing superb contemporary works include Complex 665 in Roppongi, Galerie Nichido in Ginza and the National Museum of Modern Art with its impressive collection of 20th-century art and Nihonga artists.

Palace Hotel Tokyo lobby
Palace Hotel Tokyo lobby

Originally known as Edo, Tokyo grew from a fishing village to become the Japanese capital in 1869. Its fascinating history can be traced at Japan’s oldest national museum, the Tokyo National Museum, which is home to more than 110,000 artefacts and is located in Ueno, one of the city’s oldest public parks.

The park is filled with exquisite ancient shrines, temples, ponds and more than a thousand cherry blossom trees that bloom with fairy-floss pink petals during the sakura season.

Another Tokyo delight is strolling through public gardens, including the elegant Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, and for fun and exercise, visit the bustling Yoyogi Park where you may catch a Japanesestyle rock-and-roll performance.

Love shopping? There are great shopping precincts throughout Tokyo, including the new Ginza Six designed by architect Yoshio Taniguchi and which spans an entire city block. More than 240 shops feature with eclectic floorplans inspired by the alleyways of Kyoto and Ginza. The zelkova tree-lined Omotesando area is also brimming with luxury flagship stores.

Whether watching an action-packed sumo wrestling match at Ryogoku Kokugikan or enjoying the subtle elegance of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Tokyo will never fail to disappoint.

Signature Black Book

Iconic attraction
Meiji Shrine, a green oasis in the city

What’s new?
Shibuya Scramble Square in central Shibuya opened in November 2019, a 230-metre-tall skyscraper with a rooftop deck and views to Mt Fuji

Magic moment
The cherry blossoms in Aoyama Cemetery

Great restaurant
The three-Michelin-starred Ryugin

Cool bar
Gen Yamamoto

Top spa
The Totally Tokyo treatment at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental and Aman Tokyo Spa

Best market
UNU Farmers’ Market and Oedo Antique Market at International Forum

Unusual museum
Mori Building Digital Art Museum

Cutting-edge gallery
SCAI The Bathhouse and new Yayoi Kusama Museum

Best design districts
Ginza for shopping, Omotesando for luxury brands and neighbouring Aoyama for style

Gourmet experience
Tokyo’s depachika underground food halls; Tsukiji Outer Market

Top cooking class
Tsukiji Cooking

Unusual tour
Sumo Tour, guided by volunteers

Great walking tour
Urban Adventures

Best city tour
Tours by Locals

Hidden secret
Nezu Museum Gardens

Ultimate view
Tokyo Skytree and Andaz Rooftop Bar

Helpful tip 
A prepaid Suica or Pasmo Card is the best way to get around

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, The Tavern Lounge
Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, The Tavern Lounge © Kentaro Kumon

This article originally appeared in volume 34 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

Lead image: The serene spa at Aman Tokyo has views across the city

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