Between Tokyo's kaleidoscopic lights and the 13 million people who live, work and play in the city, it can be a little daunting to visitors. Tokyo's maze of neighbourhoods offers up everything from the serene cherry blossom groves and temples of traditional Japan, to the super-modern bullet trains and skyscrapers of modern Japan. However, whether it is the hip Shinjuku district or the traditional Sumida district, there are always luxury options for the discerning traveller. Tokyo is, after all, the major business capital of the country and with such esteemed visitors from the largest corporations from across the world, there is a demand a high quality.
Tokyo has some of the best and most varied shopping in the world. Judging by the sheer amount of people that pack the stores each day, shopping might just be the city's favourite pastime. From traditional Japanese crafts to the newest in electronics, there are just so many goods that visitors in Japan can get; it is actually a bit overwhelming.
When it comes to the hottest shopping, there are four districts that visitors need to keep in mind. Nestled among the art galleries of Ginza is a different sort of art - the art of international fashion. It is in this district that visitors can find all the high-end international labels and where all those with Prada and Armani money flock. Those looking for the best in Japanese designer clothing will find the highest concentration in the Aoyama district. Quite a few international names are popping up there as well. For the young and young at heart looking for youthful, fun and energetic fashion, the legendary Harajuku and Shibuya districts are where shoppers should to head as long as they feel comfortable surrounded by the high schoolers and 20-somethings that permeate the areas not just for the fashion, but for the nightlife as well.
Aside from fashion, Tokyo is well known for its electronics. However, visitors should not only make sure the electronics they buy are usable in their home country - they should also consider shopping around. Many of the electronics found in Japan can often be found just as cheap all over the world. However, occasionally shoppers may find a product that is not yet out on the international market and is just too good to pass up. When it comes to shopping for electronics, the Akihabara district is a Mecca. As Akihabara is also a popular hotspot for gamers and anime fans, it is likely that visitors will see some truly unforgettable sights there.
Electronics and high fashion are fantastic buys in Japan, but most visitors opt for a more traditional souvenir. Everyone wants to go to Tokyo and buy themselves a kimono or a real katana, but some traditional Japanese souvenirs can be tricky to get back home. Japanese swords are a prize souvenir, but uninformed shoppers soon find out they can be the biggest pain to ship back home. It is best to do ample research on shipping it back before buying one. Japanese goods like woodblock prints, lacquer-ware, banners and all manner of silk goods make for a one of a kind prize.
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It's usually quite the shock when visitors go to Tokyo expecting the vision of Japan that they have in their head. Visitors often dismiss the city as a monstrosity of the modern age and flock outside of it looking for the "real" Japan. However, for those that bother to look, Japan's culture has seeped into the foundation of Tokyo. They still host the activities that the aristocrats of Japan indulged in from days gone by. These luxury activities were the pinnacle of refinement, displaying the dedication to admiration of the aesthetic by the upper class.
Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, is the pinnacle of admiring the aesthetic. In its simplest form, the practice is meant to represent the connection between heaven, man and earth, but various other forms have emerged throughout the ages. Throughout Tokyo, there are still several schools that are dedicated to passing on the practice to the younger generations, as well as foreigners with an urge to learn. Places like the Sogetsu Ikebana School and Ohara School of Ikebana offer one-time classes.
Alternatively, for those who are bit too masculine for the art of flower arranging, another popular cultural activity in Japan is the art of tea ceremony. This 1,000 year old art was at first a way of staying awake during long hours of meditation for Buddhist monks. Later it was developed into a highly stylized ritual which came with detailed rules on how tea should be prepared, served and drank. The simplicity of the movements and the tranquility of the surroundings serve to free the mind of the triteness of everyday life. Traditionally, tea houses are small spots and, more often than not, reservations are required to either witness the ceremony or get a lesson in making tea. Tea houses like Seisei-an and Chosho-an require reservations and prefer them to be made in groups, but are also willing to teach and share a cup of tea with curious foreign visitors.
In Tokyo, seasonal ingredients reign supreme and the emphasis is on freshness. While Tokyo chefs have been a bit stubborn when it comes to foreign concepts in food, there are still a few fantastic places to find some culinary experimentation.
When diners think of tofu, there is hardly anything elegant or exemplary about the spongy white blob. However, at Ume No Hana tofu is the specialty. In their eyes, it is the perfect high-protein, low-calorie food. It is served in every possible way, from boiled to stir-fried with crab meat. They have raised this lowly health food to the pinnacle of haute cuisine. It is an unforgettable dining experience served in the most traditional of dining rooms.
Tofu is fine, but sometimes diners just need a good meal of meat. Beef is taken quite seriously in Japan which is demonstrated in their high quality marbleized beef. Beef is ranked on the ratio, distribution and sweetness of the fat in relation to the meat. At Ushibenkei, visitors can sample the highest possible rankings of meat in a rustic setting. For the best experience, it is highly recommended to order the gyu-nabe ("Beef Pot") which is delivered on a charcoal burner straight onto the diner's table. The beef is fresh enough to be eaten raw, so diners should not be surprised if they receive paper thin slices that are only lightly seared.
From the western hotels for tourists and the simple business hotels for the business travellers, to the traditional ryokans and the large luxury chains, it is not difficult to find quality lodging in Tokyo.
For the discerning traveller, there are luxury hotels like the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton, but those can be found everywhere. Travellers who truly want to experience Tokyo should hunt for other high-end options.
The Dogashima New Ginsui Hotel isn't some modern skyscraper hotel nestled within the city. Instead it sits perched above the water over a secluded beach. Each room hosts a Japanese-style guest room the overlooks the sea. When most people visit Tokyo, they never expect the beautiful seaside views that the Dogashima grants. The hotel specializes in first class service, which also includes a seafood kaiseki dinner and a buffet breakfast. Those that need a little pampering should head to the day spa or the nearby outdoor hot spring.
For a more traditional stay, visitors should consider a stay at the Atami Taikanso. This little villa was once owned by the Japanese artist Yokoyama Taikan, but has since been transformed into a traditional Japanese inn, or "ryokan". The spacious rooms are quintessentially Japanese with their floor-to-ceiling windows, tatami floor mats and artistic use of wood. Like with all ryokans, the prices are a bit high, but a stay is a cultural experience like no other.