Tokyo Duration:14 days Hotel type: traditional Japanese inn Budget: approx. 600,000 yen
See + Do
Ueno Neighborhood, Japan
Ueno is the old-fashioned part of town that's popular with visitors who come for its cultural attractions. Several museums (including the Tokyo National Museum) and the Festival Hall are clustered in Ueno Park, which is also home to Japan's oldest zoo and Toshogu Shrine. The park has more than 1,000 cherry trees and is a popular spot for spring cherry blossom viewing. Ueno is close to Akihabara, also known as Electric Town, which is the place to go for the latest gadgets and electronics. The neighborhood is also ground zero for Japanese denim; stroll through the market (which was first established in 1949) that runs alongside and under the train tracks. Local brand Hinoya has not one but three shops—Plus One, Plus Mart, and Sun House—selling sought-after locally produced jeans by Burgus Plus, Momotaro, and Sugar Cane along the side street.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
See + Do
Tokyo National Museum, Japan
Tel: 81 3 3822 1111
The national museum of Japan has a spectacular collection of Japanese art, but the displays can be on the old-fashioned side. One exception is the Horyuji Treasure House, a beautiful new building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi (the architect who remodeled the Museum of Modern Art in New York) to display the outstanding treasures of Horyuji Temple in Nara, one of the most important temples in Japan. The National Museum is located in Ueno Park, home to a clutch of top museums and Tokyo's Festival Hall.
See + Do
Shinjuku Neighborhood, Japan
Shinjuku is a metropolis within a megalopolis, an elevated neighborhood on top of the world's busiest station and Tokyo's western hub. This is modern Tokyo at its most unapologetic: a fast-paced, neon-branded, mind-boggling labyrinth of shops, high-rise malls, and clubs (some of which are a bit dodgy). Take a wrong turn and you could easily end up in edgy Kabuki-cho, the red-light district; the black-suited yakuza men outside clubs named Vanity or Goddess are a sure sign that you've strayed into Tokyo's darker side. The high-rise area around Nishi (west) Shinjuku is where you'll find the cathedral-like headquarters of the Tokyo government and one of the city's best hotels, the Park Hyatt. But the modern quickly fades to the grit and back-alley vibe of early postwar Tokyo in Golden Gai, which houses a warren of cubbyhole bars for live music and light snacks. Tokyo's gay district, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, has a decidedly international flair, with Euro-centric bars and clubs and the New York–inspired Brooklyn Parlor, as well as the legendary jazz favorite Pit Inn. Shinjuku also has one of Tokyo's most impressive public parks, Shinjuku Gyoen, which is popular during cherry blossom season in early April and well worth the small entrance fee.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
See + Do
Shibuya Neighborhood, Japan
The crossing in front of Shibuya station, one of the busiest intersections in the world, is a sight in itself, with thousands of pedestrians and huge video screens blaring the latest J-pop. Shibuya is where locals come to get lost in the hilly maze of restaurants, shops, bars, clubs, and gaming parlors. This is the gathering place for Tokyo's kogyaru—girls with dyed hair, deep tans, and boyfriends to match—as well as uniformed schoolkids and salarymen out for a night on the town. Head past the video-screen towers, under the neon arches, and downhill into the winding streets, where stores such as the American cult boutique Opening Ceremony, which arrived in Tokyo in 2009, join established shops like Tomorrowland. Uphill is mostly residential, as well as a less frenetic location for hotels such as the Granbell Shibuya. —Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
See + Do
A Japanese proverb says, "Never say kekko until you've seen Nikko." "Kekko" means both splendid and satisfied, and the double meaning won't be lost on visitors to Toshogu, the mausoleum shrine of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan for 250 years. For sheer over-the-top exuberance, it is unmatched in Japan, with courtyard after courtyard of brightly painted, richly decorated buildings. The effect is both magnificent and overwhelming. Centuries before the arrival of the Tokugawas, Nikko's mountains and waterfalls had already made it a center of religious worship, and the area's natural beauty remains one of its main attractions. If you're staying overnight, try a traditional ryokan (inn) or the quaint old-fashioned Nikko Kanaya Hotel, which opened in 1875 (81-28-854-0001; www.kanayahotel.co.jp/nkh/index-e.html).
(About one hour and 40 minutes by train from Asakusa Station on the Tobu Asakusa line.)
See + Do
Mineral Baths, Japan
Japan is famous for its rustic hot springs (onsen), and even Tokyo has its own mineral-rich baths. Azabu-Juban Onsen sits above a natural source whose dark waters are said to be good for all sorts of complaints, including poor circulation and sensitive skin (81-3-3404-2610; 1-5-22 Azabu-juban, Minato-ku; closed Tues). Soak in the old-style tiled baths and then relax with a beer and a plate of edamame soybeans. Alternatively, pay a visit to one of Tokyo's historic sento or public bathhouses. Built in the days when few houses had their own bathroom, their numbers are now sadly dwindling. One of the best is Daikokuyu, which has all the classic sento elements: spotlessly clean showers and baths for soaking (segregated for men and women) and giant murals of Mount Fuji (81-3-3881-3001; 32-6 Sento-kotobukicho, Adachi-ku). The etiquette is simple: Shower before getting into the bath, and once in the water, absolutely no soap, swimsuits, or washing of clothes!
See + Do
Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine), Japan
Leave the bedlam of Harajuku behind and walk to Meiji Shrine, a peaceful, wooded haven dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852–1912). Pass through the giant cypress gate (or torii) at the back of Harajuku Station and walk along the wide gravel path. The shrine is an impressive sight—austere wooden buildings surrounded by greenery. On a quiet afternoon it can feel a long way from Tokyo. Meiji Jingu is a popular place to get married; on the weekends you're likely to see a wedding party in traditional outfits.
See + Do
Hamarikyu Gardens, Japan
Tel: 81 3 3541 0200
If the relentless concrete and expressways get to be too much, take a short walk from Shiodome station to historic Hamarikyu Garden. Originally built in the 17th century for a feudal lord, it served as the first shogun's official duck-hunting ground and later became the residence of Ienobu, the sixth shogun, in 1704. Today the garden is an unexpected pocket of greenery, with beautiful pines, a large tidal pond, and two duck-hunting fields (unused, these days). The teahouse serves traditional green tea and Japanese sweets. The new skyscraper district of Shiodome now towers over the garden, providing what the Japanese refer to tactfully as "borrowed scenery."
See + Do
Hakone has hot springs, cool mountain air, and outstanding views of Japan's most famous peak, Mount Fuji. It's also teeming with day-trippers on the weekends, so a weekday visit or overnight stay is best. Leave the train from Tokyo and take the small Tozan line (Japan's first mountain railroad, completed in 1930) to Gora before switching to a cable car and finally a ropeway, which, weather permitting, will give you a magnificent view of Fuji. You can also take a boat—a startling repro galleon—across Lake Ashi, or have a dip in one of the area's mineral-rich hot-spring baths. For overnighters, there are scores of inns and hotels to choose from. A seriously luxurious option is Gora Kadan, a modern Japanese-style inn with open-air baths, a swimming pool, spa, and exquisite kaiseki dinners. Meanwhile, the picturesque Tozan line has several other interesting stops, including Miyanoshita, where you can have tea at the Fujiya Hotel, which dates back to 1878, and Chokoku No Mori, where you can visit the stunning Hakone Open-Air Museum, which has alfresco sculptures by artists such as Rodin and Henry Moore.
Take either the bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo Station to Odawara, or Romance Car train from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto. From Odawara and Hakone Yumoto, take the Tozan line. A Hakone Free Pass or Hakone Weekday Pass covers all modes of transport in the Hakone area.
See + Do
Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, Japan
Tel: 81 42 388 3300
This complex is less a museum than a whole day out. Earthquakes, firebombing, and rampant development have left few examples of old architecture in Tokyo, but in 1993 the Tokyo government set aside about 17 acres for this collection of historic buildings, which range from farmhouses and soy sauce shops to private homes and public bathhouses. They were all saved from demolition and relocated to this fascinating outpost of the central Edo-Tokyo museum. Among the highlights: the home of much-admired Modernist architect Kunio Mayekawa.
See + Do
Ginza Neighborhood, Japan
Long the haunt of ladies who lunch, take in a show at the Kabuki theater, and shop in the big department stores and genteel backstreets, Ginza has suddenly become hip. While it's always boasted some of Tokyo's most exclusive clubs and Japanese restaurants, it's now also home to an increasing number of the city's finest French (Brasserie Paul Bocuse) and Italian (La Bettola da Ochiai) restaurants, and even tapas bars. Visit the Maison Hermès Forum or Shiseido Gallery for works by emerging contemporary artists, or take in the latest in gadgetry at the famous Sony Building (its electronics showroom is now compete with an Apple Store). There's a Barneys, flagships of such famous labels as Hermès and Dior, and the Chanel Ginza Building, which is topped by Alain Ducasse's restaurant Beige. Don't miss the Mikimoto Ginza 2 store: Designed by Toyo Ito (he was also behind the arresting Tod's store in Omotesando) with irregular windows and a central atrium, it is dazzling—and fittingly, it's home to Dazzle, a jaw-dropping restaurant and bar that's a good spot for evening drinks.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
Mujirushi Ryohin, Japan
Tel: 81 3 5208 8241
Mujirushi Ryohin ("no-brand goods"), or Muji, is an essential stop and a ubiquitous source for a superb selection of well-designed, good-value housewares, furnishings, and clothes. The Muji look is simple and fuss-free—no bright colors or gimmicks. Buy one of the light nylon bags for the pile of purchases you're bound to make here. There are Muji outlets all over Japan, but this branch is particularly impressive, with the full range of products, including food, toiletries, and even the complete Muji house.—Updated by Rebecca Willa DavisOpen daily 10 am to 9 pm.
Kurachika Yoshida, Japan
Tel: 81 3 5464 1766
The Japanese excel at functional accessories, and this shop is the last word in well-designed, good-looking bags, rucksacks, suitcases, and wallets. Some are made from hard-wearing nylon, others from indigo cotton or high-quality leather. These bags aren't cheap, but they last for years. They even have a back-room repair workshop. The label has several stores around Tokyo, plus various offshoots, but this location has the biggest selection. It sits on a quiet side street off busy Omotesando.
Tel: 81 3 3573 7787
One visit to this tiny jewel—with nine counter seats, no tables, and a kitchen the size of an airplane galley—in the heart of Ginza will forever wean you off clever sushi concoctions and remind you what the best sushi is really about: the freshest, choicest fish available. There are no menu and no price list. While you shouldn't hesitate to let chef Fumio Sato know your likes and dislikes (and your spending limit), you'd be wise to leave yourself in his very experienced hands. He's been in the sushi biz for more than a quarter century, and he personally goes to the fish market before dawn each morning to pick out the day's offerings, which might include tuna from the Indian Ocean, abalone from California, and sea urchins from Maine. Be sure to order his miso soup with shijimi baby clams at the end of the meal. The charming, amiable Sato-san is as big a draw as his sushi. Though his English vocabulary is limited, he uses it with great enthusiasm and humor. Pricey but not outrageous (your check will depend on what Sato serves you, what you ask for, what the day's offerings are, and the fluctuating prices of fish). Reservations a must; a day ahead should be fine.
Daimachi: 5-12-9 Hongo, Morikawa: 6-23-5 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku
Tel: 81 3 3811 1187
Homeikan is a traditional Japanese inn situated in three separate buildings (the 25-room Honkan, 31-room Daimachi, and 33-room Morikawa) in a quiet residential neighborhood near Tokyo University. The rooms are all Japanese-style (that is, with tatami mats and futon mattresses), either "ordinary" for budget travelers or the marginally more expensive "authentic and traditional." Opt for the latter. The main building, or Honkan, is listed as a historic property, while Daimachi Bekkan, across the street, is a former family home with its own Japanese garden. This is not like a Western hotel, so don't expect on-tap room service. The maids leave at 10 pm and the main lights go out at 10:30 pm, although guests are free to come and go. The staff, in fact, is helpful and hospitable. There are no private bathrooms; instead, each of the buildings has separate men's and women's baths, and there is also a family bath. Homeikan also offers massage services, as well as Japanese breakfasts and dinners on request. And free Internet access is now available in all buildings.—Updated by Rebecca Willa Davis
Tel: 81 3 3351 1756
Expect a line (and the possibility that you might have to share a table) weeknights, when local college students and office workers crowd into this lively, casual eatery near Yotsuya Station. It serves heavenly pork-based ramen (called shina shoba) and a menu of Japanese-spun Chinese dishes, such as sparklingly fresh and crunchy jellyfish salad, boiled shrimp, and stir-fried oysters (in season). It's easier to grab a seat at lunch, although the menu is limited at that time of day. Then again, a hearty bowl of the rich, salty ramen—you can hardly see the noodles under the generous slices of pork, hard-boiled egg, sliced green onions, and squares of nori—plus an order of Koya's sara wonton (boiled pork wontons served with a dipping sauce, a dollop of chili paste, and a spray of cilantro), is all you'll need to get you through the rest of the day.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11:30 am to 10 pm.