“Tokyo is so hectic, but inside the hotel it’s very silent. And the design of it is interesting. It’s weird to have this New York bar… the jazz singer… the French restaurant, all in Tokyo. It’s this weird combination of different cultures.” This is how Sofia Coppola describes Tokyo Park Hyatt, the location in which Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray’s peculiar relationship blossoms in her 2003 movie Lost in Translation. If you saw the film, you might already know that Tokyo isn’t for everyone. The Japanese capital doesn’t seem to offer any iconic image, or any familiar element that our western traveler’s minds can cling to when thinking of “Tokyo”. No Arc de Triomphe at the end of Omotesando, the main luxury shopping avenue. No Tower Bridge on Sumida river, which splits the city in two from north to south. No Hollywood sign on Roppongi hills, despite the flourishing Japanese film industry. At first glance, one could think that Scarlett was right: you can feel lost and lonely even among a multitude of people in Tokyo, and then, gradually, it will become easier and easier to understand the city. Its icons aren’t made of visible architecture, they are made of the culture, of the customs and habits of its people, in the city’s ability to respect a past it is proud of, without forgetting the importance of looking ahead. In Tokyo, NYC-style modernity sits shoulder to shoulder with rich, century-long history. 48 hours in Tokyo will never be enough to grasp the city’s essence, but they will definitely make you want to go back.
Here are our favorite places in town: read after the gallery!
The Palace Hotel
This 5-star hotel offers impeccable service and excellent breakfast. Enjoy Japanese dishes alongside great classics of western cuisine on the patio overlooking the park, which will separate you from the hustle and bustle of Marunouchi, Tokyo’s financial district.
Walk across the street from the Palace Hotel and you will find yourself in front of the Imperial Palace gardens. This palace has been the emperor’s official residence ever since the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It’s still worth a visit to see what remains of the older structures, since the palace was partially destroyed by WW2 bombings. The gigantic park is a highlight and is at its best during cherry blossom time.
Tsukiji Fish Market
If getting up at dawn to go see the auction here is not your thing, we still recommend going to Tsukiji for lunch. You will find a web of alleys next to the hangars where the morning bargaining takes place: scattered among the fruit stalls, you will find small, excellent sushi restaurants that will give you the chance to enjoy the freshest fish.
You can spend the afternoon exploring the commercial district of Ginza. Among places of note are Matsuya department store and, of course, the famous avant-garde Dover Street Market, concocted by highly-acclaimed Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo’s imagination. One of the most famous kabuki theaters, Kabukiza, is also located in Ginza.
Shibuya crossing, a.k.a. The Scramble, is one of Tokyo’s most iconic places. Right outside Hachiko station exit, – near the statue dedicated to Hachiko, the famous dog featured in a film with Richard Gere, a dog so famous that Tokyo Municipality dedicated a statue to it – stands the famous crossing, that gets completely invaded by pedestrians walking in every direction every time the light switches to green. A little secret tip: visit one of the noisy game arcades and play with Purikura machines, where you can take personalized passport-sized photos in total Japanese style.
After such an intense day, we suggest you have dinner in one of Tokyo’s best restaurants. It’s not cheap, but it will let you experience traditional, authentic Japanese cuisine, as well as excellent sushi. Don’t forget to make a reservation, as there are only 9 spots available at the bar: this is where you want to be, to watch and enjoy the whole food preparation ritual.
If you like tempura – or what you thought was tempura, before trying Motoyoshi’s version of it – visit this place before an afternoon of shopping. This place is also a little expensive, but the care and attention they put in the choice of ingredients and food preparation will make it absolutely worthwhile.
This tree-lined boulevard has a very high-density of luxury single-brand boutiques, and does not look too different from its equivalents in other cities. What makes it worth a visit is the architecture that houses a lot of these boutiques, such as Prada’s, which might be the most recognizable and famous of the whole area. Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, it can be seen as a huge crystal, whose façade covered in diamond shapes makes it see-through. This façade’s peculiarity is that it is the building’s only architectural element that is not structural. We also recommend avoiding the crowds of tourists and fashion victims, and get lost in the web of alleys behind the boutiques, where you will find several small, independent stores that will perfectly appeal to vintage wear and streetwear lovers.
Before you leave, you can’t miss this last, exquisitely Japanese, experience. Tokyo, like other big cities in the country, is packed full with karaoke bars, where everyone goes to kick back and relax after work – including the city’s younger inhabitants, as well as business people.