One of the most enticing cities in the world, the Japanese capital is ideal for a pre- or post-Asia cruise extension, says Liz Jarvis

The Tokyo skyline glitters at sunset © iStock
The Tokyo skyline glitters at sunset © iStock

Everyone who visits Tokyo falls in love with the Japanese capital, and with good reason: from its futuristic skyscrapers to its temples, to the craziness of Shinjuku, and its tranquil parks, resplendent with cherry blossom in spring and maple leaves in autumn, it’s simply one of the most inviting cities in the world. And, as it’s only an hour’s drive from the port of Yokohama, it makes perfect sense to enhance your Japanese cruise adventure with a few nights in Tokyo, before or after your cruise (or both).

Tokyo began as a small fishing village called Edo, and was fortified by the Edo clan, a band of fierce warriors, in the late 12th century. During the 15th and 16th centuries it grew into one of the largest cities in the world, but it didn’t officially become the capital of Japan until 1869, when the then 17-year-old Emperor Meiji moved there and named it Tokyo, meaning Eastern Capital. Despite suffering catastrophic devastation in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and Second World War, the city was completely rebuilt, transforming into the captivating metropolis it is today.

Cherry blossom trees at Senso-ji temple © iStock
Cherry blossom trees at Senso-ji temple © iStock

Must-sees

An excellent place to start exploring Tokyo and get your bearings is Shibuya, the world-famous crossing known for its neon signs and bars, and statue of the most loyal dog in the world, Hachiko (Hachi). From here it’s easy to get to Asakusa for the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, Nakamise market and the iconic Tokyo Tower (on a clear day you can see Mount Fuji from the observation deck), or if you want to go even higher then the Tokyo Skytree is 634 metres tall.

Located close to Harajuku in a wonderfully serene forest, the Meiji shrine is a popular spot for traditional shinto weddings, which are fascinating to watch. Also worth a visit are the Imperial Palace gardens, particularly in sakura (cherry blossom) season.

Tokyo is foodie paradise and eating out is surprisingly cheap. As you might expect there are sushi bars everywhere you turn, but the gyoza (crescent-shaped dumplings, usually pork) and nikuman (pork buns) are incredible. Head to Shinjuku at night for bars, beers (microbrew fans will be in their element) and, of course, sake.

Cabs are plentiful, although it’s worth ensuring you have the name of your destination written down, or a smartphone handy, in case anything gets lost in translation. But Tokyo is the safest city in the world, and the subway is easy and cheap to use.

Lucky cat figurines © iStock
Lucky cat figurines © iStock

Shopping

The Japanese have perfected the art of shopping and Tokyo has shiny malls galore. Ginza is probably one of the city’s ritziest neighbourhoods, with some very high end boutiques, but there’s also a good selection of more affordable shops. Harajuku is where you’ll find vintage clothing stores and, should you want them, cosplay shops. Marunouchi has elegant (and expensive) malls – beautifully packaged stationery and chocolates are the things to buy here (the Japanese are very big on cakes and sweets). But for the classic omiyage (slightly tackier Japanese souvenirs for friends and family) such as the lucky cats known as maneki-neko, Nakamise market at Asakusa is your best bet. If you’re in a hurry then one of the many vending machines which seem to be on nearly every street and at every station can also yield some unexpected treasures – everything from toy cars and umbrellas to lingerie.

The Tokyo Station Hotel
The Tokyo Station Hotel

Where to stay

Situated in arguably the most iconic building in the city, and over 100 years old, The Tokyo Station Hotel is a luxury boutique haven of soothing contemporary elegance and character in the heart of the city, and within walking distance of the Imperial Palace gardens.

The sumptuous bedrooms are decorated in pastel colours and have high-vaulted ceilings and big windows, and the bathrooms are surprisingly spacious. Service is welcoming and impeccable (the turndown service includes cotton nightshirts placed on your bed as well as handmade red bean paste chocolates) and there’s complimentary wifi throughout the hotel.

There are 10 restaurants and the breakfast buffet, served in The Atrium lounge, is excellent, with delicious omelettes and eggs benedict cooked to order as well as traditional Japanese dishes such as miso soup and grilled fish.

Book a stay at The Tokyo Station Hotel with Small Luxury Hotels of the World from £283 per room per night, based on two sharing on a B&B basis (0800 048 2314; slh.com/tokyostation).

The rooms at The Tokyo Station Hotel feature vaulted ceilings and big windows
The rooms at The Tokyo Station Hotel feature vaulted ceilings and big windows

GETTING THERE: For Asia cruise holidays with a pre- or post-cruise stay in Tokyo, go to princess.co.uk.