The strong pound against the yen means that 2015 is a fantastic time to take a cruise from the Japanese capital – and it’s definitely worth spending at least a few days exploring this intriguing city, says Liz Jarvis in this Tokyo City Guide
Tokyo is the kind of city that challenges all your expectations and captures your imagination; as an introduction to Japanese culture it’s not to be missed. From the Blade Runner-esque neon signs at Shibuya Crossing to the calming atmosphere of the Meiji-Jingu Shinto shrine, Tokyo is a non-stop feast for the senses – and surprisingly you can experience many of the highlights for free, helped by our Tokyo City Guide.
Set in a wonderful evergreen forest with stunning cypress and copper trees and a lake, the Meiji Shrine is where the Japanese pay their respects to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, and the atmosphere is serene. Visit in the morning and you may be lucky enough to see a traditional Japanese wedding (it’s a very popular venue to get married). Meiji is a complete contrast to the temple at Asakusa, which is much more touristy, but still worth visiting for the spectacle and the nearby Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji. By the moat at the Imperial Palace you can view the magnificent cherry blossom display in spring. Harajuku, close to the Meiji shrine, is where the Harajuku girls hail from with their big false eyelashes and even bigger shoes. And at Shibuya you can see the statue of Hachikō, the loyal dog who waited in vain for his owner to return.
What to eat
Foodies will be in their element in Tokyo and, as ever, a top tip is to eat where the locals eat for an authentic experience. You can enjoy a fairly substantial amount of sushi at a conveyor belt restaurant for less than £10, while pork buns – white and fluffy like clouds, filled with deliciously tender meat – can be bought for just a few pounds. There are lots of high-end restaurants as well, and prices are usually displayed on the menus in the windows.
Karaoke: there are bars all over the city. Sake (pronounced sah-keh). And of course Japanese toilets, which feature a myriad of controls for every possible need, have to be tried to be believed. Just don’t press the wrong button.
The Japanese take shopping to a new art form and Tokyo has some of the most elegant and stylish malls in the world, ideal for browsing. Particularly noteworthy is Kitte at Marunouchi in the financial district, which has a fabulous food hall. There’s no shortage of affordable stores, either, and there are even boutiques and grocery stores in the subway. For full-on souvenir heaven, head to the market at Asakusa, while in Harajuku and Shibuya you’ll find fashion bargains galore. The Japanese have thought of absolutely everything; there are even places where you can pay to go and stroke rabbits or cats if you don’t have a pet at home.
The best way to think of this sprawling metropolis is as a series of towns; and the good news is that moving between them is surprisingly easy. The subway is cheap, clean and fairly simple to understand, although if you get confused (some of the place names can appear to be very similar) then you’ll usually find someone willing to help direct you. During rush hour it can get a little crazy (Tokyo is the most populated city in the world) but there are numerous underground cafés and bars to retreat to. Tokyo is also a very pleasant city to walk around, particularly near the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, where the wide pavements are spotless and lined with trees. You can see Mount Fuji (just about) on a clear day from the free observation deck at Bunkyo Civic Center, but if you want to get a bit closer, you’ll need to take the train or bus. And if you fancy a day trip from the city, then the Shinkansen or ‘bullet train’ is one of the best train experiences in the world and surprisingly good value for money.
Where to stay
The luxurious Palace Hotel Tokyo has an outstanding location close to the Imperial Palace, Tokyo train station and some of the best shopping malls in the city. Rooms have superb views and are deliciously furnished in opulent fabrics and neutral tones, with marble bathrooms, Nespresso coffee makers and state-of-the-art technology, and the ambience throughout the hotel is sophisticated, with contemporary touches and wonderful art on display. The breakfast is particularly good, with a choice of Japanese and Western dishes on offer. There’s also a spa and swimming pool where you can look at the skyline while you relax, while the bars and restaurants (including a teppanyaki grill) are also impeccable. Rates start at JPY52,000 (£292) per room per night including taxes.
For more information visit their website
Click here to read a full review of a Princess cruise from Tokyo.