Tokyo fascinates, inspires and energises yet it also has an air of mystery. Depending on which street you turn down you can be propelled into the future or be discovering long-established customs and unravelling layers of centuries-old history. Here the past and the future collide harmoniously.
This frenetic and sprawling metropolis has plenty of what you would expect to see in a modern city, dazzling neon lights, skyscrapers, cutting-edge technology, oh and the crowded trains. Tokyo also clings to tradition. Slotted in amongst this futuristic world are ancient shrines, old-fashioned houses and shops. It this extraordinary heady mix of the common-place and the alien that makes Tokyo the most exciting place that I have ever visited.
It is the most densely-populated cities in the world, but it is astounding that despite having a population of over 13 million it throbs to a rhythm of efficiency. Pavements are spotless, street crime is said to be rare, and we could only wish that our train service was as punctual.
Whatever you are in Japan’s sizzling capital city for, you will certainly be impressed by the politeness of the people who are always willing to help you. If you cannot find somebody who speaks English, you will be amazed how easy it is to communicate with your hands when you get lost which, in my case, was frequently.
The food here is sensational. You may have thought you have had Japanese food at home but the quality here is no comparison so prepare your taste buds for a culinary onslaught. Whether want a snack or want to visit one of the many Michelin-starred restaurant or something in between you will be spoilt for choice. There are plenty of places, especially at lunch time, offering set menus which are tremendous value.
© Y.Shimizu/© JNTO
Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market is the place to go for lovers of seafood. If you go early in the morning you can see the tuna auctions taking place. A good place to go if you are suffering from jet lag and want to try a typical Japanese breakfast. It was the one and only time I felt up to eating sushi for the first meal of the day.
Best to check with your concierge that Tsukiji is open to the public before going. It is, reportedly, moving to a new site in the Toyosu district at the end of 2016.
A lovely time of year to visit Tokyo is in the spring when the cherry trees are in full bloom. The blossom makes the city look pretty especially if you take a walk in Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the city’s largest parks. It provides a welcoming respite from the hectic street life.
Sensoji Temple©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO
After visiting Sensoji, known also as the Asakusa Kannon, a Buddhist temple, founded in the seventh century, the oldest in Tokyo, I headed off to try out the Metro system. The city has so many districts, which are like miniature cities in their own right.
My first stop was Shibuya Station to walk across the renowned intersection. This is some experience. All the traffic lights stop at the same time and then the swarm begins as all the immaculately-dressed pedestrians pour out from everywhere. For one terrifying moment I thought I would be crushed but I walked with some extremely courteous locals who took me under their wing and arrived at the other side in one piece. (Shibuya Station is now under reconstruction so prepare for a little pandemonium.)
Shopping is one activity you have to partake in while in Tokyo. Each neighbourhood has its own identity. I just sampled a few. Shibuya is crammed with trendy boutiques and department stores and is where a lot of fashion trends are born. Shinjuku is chaotic but fun. If you only have time for one make it Ginza where among all the high-end shops and stores are plenty of lovely craft shops. When you see how beautifully purchases are packaged you will not be able to resist temptation.
A day out to Mount Fuji, Japan’s most legendry symbol and highest peak has to be one of my highlights of the trip. This sacred snow-capped dormant volcano rising majestically into the sky surrounded by so much natural beauty is a marvel no picture can truly capture.
When somebody asks me where I would go back to if I was given a ticket to anywhere, I instantly reply Tokyo. Its compelling juxtaposition of yesterday and tomorrow makes it special.
By Daralyn Danns
Japan Airlines. For information about flights and fares visit www.jal.com
Stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Extemporary service at this highly-regarded hotel. Rates start from JPY55, 999 per night on a B&B basis (approx. GBP 350). For more information or to make a booking, call +81 3 3270 88 00 or visit www.mandarinoriental.com/tokyo