Explore: Tokyo

Date Posted: 18/02/2015

Skyscrapers, sushi and sailing - Robin McKelvie reveals what Tokyo can offer groups.

Tokyo is an utterly irresistible assault on the senses that offers a thrilling experience for all types of group travel. The Japanese capital is a hotbed of energy and dynamism, awash with glass, steel and, yes, an awful lot of neon.

Japan’s economy may have re-entered recession in November 2014, but that just makes it better value than ever before. Visitors can still enjoy the same high levels of quality that permeate the city, from its tiny noodle bars, through to its myriad Michelin star restaurants.

Tokyo has come a long way since it started life as the village of Edo and it may be a sprawling global megalopolis, but it has also charmingly retained many of its distinctive districts and swathes of character.

Essential sights

Tokyo Skytree: Tokyo is renowned for its skyscrapers. From dawn until well after dusk you can savour the view from the Tokyo Skytree. Opened in 2013, the Skytree is Japan’s tallest and the world’s second-tallest structure, as well as the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world at 634m. The viewing deck vaults an impressive 450m into the heavens above street level. The tower also boasts a café and a shop offering tower themed memorabilia.

Japan Folk Crafts Museum: One of Japan’s leading cultural attractions is the Japan Folk Crafts Museum. It is home to an eclectic range of exhibits, featuring over 17,000 artefacts, with everything from lavish textiles and elegant lacquer crafts, right through to traditional kimono dresses and an array of paintings. The focus is on the work of domestic talents, but there are also pieces from outside Japan.

Asakusa: Japan may have a modern, brash façade, but it also has more traditional districts. Asakusa offers a charming taste of a Tokyo somewhat removed from the modern city of today. It is awash with temples, including the famous Sens?-ji, a Buddhist temple, which are the site of frequent festivities.

Food and drink

Tokyo is one of the world’s greatest foodie cities, a culinary oasis with over 300,000 eateries where you can sample every cuisine imaginable. The sheer quality is demonstrated by the fact that Tokyo now boasts more Michelin star restaurants than any other city on the planet.

While Tokyo can be an expensive destination dining out need not be with many restaurants offering excellent value set menus and superb value, fresh fast food like tempura and rice dishes available in chains like Yoshinoya and Tenya.

Tokyo offers a swathe of chic bars in its skyscrapers that offer sweeping views of the city. A relatively new arrival is the Mixx Bar & Lounge at the ANA Intercontinental, which has quickly become famous for its cocktails as much as its views.

Where to stay

The Park Hyatt has just celebrated its 20th anniversary and remains at the top of the tree with spacious rooms and a 47th floor swimming pool. Lost in Translation fans will remember it from the Hollywood film.

The vaulting 1,200 guest Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku has recently been revamped with a Japanese design edge including Sakan Kan-No’s 40m long red-lacquered lobby panel.

An intimate boutique experience is offered by Mitsui Garden Hotel Ginza, which has been crafted by Italian master minimalist Piero Lissoni.

Best for groups

Karaoke does not enjoy the best of reputations in the UK, but it is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is also excellent fun for groups as you can hire a room so you don’t need to embarrass yourselves in front of the locals, with your own waiter also on hand to keep you furnished with drinks and snacks.

One of the most dramatic ways of really appreciating the epic Tokyo skyscraper-strewn skyline is onboard a cruise at night when the city shines brightest. Groups can embark on a trip around Tokyo Bay on a traditional style Yakatabune boat with the option of savouring tempura, sashimi and sake as you go.

Mount Fuji is one of the symbols of Japan. Groups can hire a guide to enjoy the tough but rewarding ascent, with the option to stay overnight in one of the mountain huts.

Live like a local

Few people think of frenetic Tokyo as a green or relaxed city. Even in its skyscraper laden central areas, though, you can still find more laidback pockets. Shinjuku is a district that local people like to enjoy on weekend afternoons with its parks (including Shinjuku Gyoen with its 20,000 trees) providing welcome space between the skyscrapers. You can join the locals checking out the excellent restaurants and lively nightlife later on.


Journey Time: 12 hours London-Tokyo

Currency: Japanese Yen.

Best time to go: Autumn or early spring are the best times to visit without the chills of winter and the heat and humidity of late spring and summer.

Photo credit: JTA JNTO

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