Stop over: Tokyo

By Bridget Jones

In a capital city that’s passionately embracing the future, Bridget Jones finds traces of a glorious past.
Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. Photo / iStock
Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. Photo / iStock

Combining the past, present and future, Tokyo is a city like no other. Importance is placed on Japan's traditional culture and customs, but the country's capital embraces the "new" with a passion. More Michelin-star restaurants than any other city, a wonderfully colourful pop-culture community, and historic shrines dotted throughout, there is almost too much to explore. Here are some tips and ideas to make your trip even more interesting.

Be app-y
Being the modern city that it is, the best way to navigate your way through Tokyo's cultural highlights is by smartphone app. Useful downloads include Tabimori, which includes hints on Japanese customs and culture, phrases for various situations, train connections, and a currency converter. Good Luck Trip Japan specialises in tip-offs on special offers at sightseeing, shopping and dining hotspots, and Ms Green is a Manga (animation) guide to the charms of Japan. Free wi-fi is widely available in public spaces across Tokyo.

Rise and shine
Asakatsu, or the practice of getting up early to pursue hobbies, is the latest trend among Japanese looking for a way to spend more time for some "me" time.

The idea is to relish the privacy and quiet before the hustle and bustle of city life begins. Whether it's exercising, meditating or attending an early morning lecture, the early bird is definitely catching the worm in Tokyo.

Cartoon dreams
If you can't bear to get out of bed before the birds do, you'd better make sure you are staying somewhere fabulous. Like many big cities, Tokyo has an abundance of quality hotels, but it's the quirky ones you won't find anywhere else that are extra special. There are a handful of "collaboration rooms" across the city, where standard hotel rooms combine with anime, film and cartoon designers. A fan of Snoopy? The Imperial Hotel has a suite where guests are greeted by a giant stuffed soft toy, and even the cushions, rugs and room service breakfast are in theme. Keio Plaza Hotel has a similar room designed for Hello Kitty lovers and Hotel Gracery offers a realistic experience of Godzilla's world including the monster's life-sized head looking into the windows.

Harajuku girl
In Japanese, the word "Kawaii" means cute things, and the back streets of the famed Harajuku are full of treasures that fit the bill. The area is known internationally as the centre of Japanese subculture and fashion - and you won't be short of places to look! Wander along Takeshita St and visit trendsetting spots like the Omotesando "fashion theme park" mall. On your travels, you can stop and enjoy the peace in the green surroundings of Meiji Jingu Shrine, mixing cutting-edge Japan with it's incredible history.

Drink up
Tokyo is also the place to go for quality sake. The city has quality groundwater and subterranean water, and the Japanese rice wine has been made there in large quantities since the 17th century. Of course there are too many sake bars to name, but for the true connoisseur, the place to visit is the Okunitama-jinja Shrine, in Fuchu. There, the Matsuo-jinja Shrine is dedicated to the guardian deity of sake production. An annual festival is held on September 13 each year, and a sake safety ceremony takes place in late November, when sake production starts at the nine major sake breweries in Tokyo.


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