Your essential guide to Tokyo

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By Danielle Demetriou

Tokyo-based, British journalist Danielle Demetriou is the Japan correspondent for The Telegraph. Her writing on Japan has appeared in titles including Monocle, The Wall Street Journal, Kinfolk and ICON.

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo sits high above the city’s sleek skyscrapers and modern shops in Nihonbashi, which, at first glance, appears every inch the business district. Yet its contemporary façade hides a rich heritage. Upon wandering the streets surrounding this hotel, a closer look within modern retail complexes reveals countless generations-old family businesses, from knife artisans to seaweed merchants.

Feed your mind

For a whistle-stop tour of Japanese culture, head to Ueno Park, a seven-minute ride on the Ginza subway line. On its expansive grounds are a host of museums, including Tokyo National Museum – home to woodblock prints, old tea ceremony tools and ancient Buddha statues, as well as the National Museum of Art and the Science and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. There are also lotus ponds, temples, shrines, a zoo, cafés, concert halls and quality people-watching opportunities. The place is also a cherry blossom season hot spot – with intense crowds of picnickers packed tightly under the cloud-like pink blooms of its hundreds of trees in springtime.

National Museum of Modern Art

Peruse contemporary Japanese art at the National Museum of Modern Art.

Shop like a local

The Coredo Muromachi complex – three contemporary buildings on the doorstep of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo – are perfect for exploring traditional artisan goods in a modern setting. View handcrafted knifes at Kiya, which dates back to 1792, sip a hot broth-to-go at Ninben’s dashi bar and peruse traditional laquerware – from vermillion soup bowls to plates with contemporary motifs – at Yamada Heiando, a purveyor of choice for the Imperial Family. Another local landmark is Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, Japan’s first department store, whose regal entrance is marked with two lions. Top spots are its expansive fourth floor kimono section as well as a basement food hall, known as a depachika, filled with a cornucopia of beautifully packaged Instagram-friendly food.

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Only in Tokyo...

 “The Bank of Japan headquarters, which you can see from Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, is a building shaped like a Yen sign (円). Yet this is believed to be coincidental: an older yen symbol was actually in use when it was built in 1896.”

Masumi Tajima, Director, Concierge Services, Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

See some sights

For a taste of old Tokyo, head to Asakusa, home to colourful Sensoji, the capital’s oldest temple, complete with vermillion gateways and a lively market leading to the entrance. At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the nearby wooden Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre, built by Kengo Kuma (who is also building the 2020 Olympic Stadium).

A 20-minute stroll (or a very quick train ride) from Asakusa takes you to one of the city’s most contemporary landmarks, Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest broadcast tower (measuring a cloud-brushing 634 metres high). Ear-popping elevators take visitors to viewing platforms offering epic vistas across the sprawling megalopolis. Meanwhile, over in the Ginza district, retail and culture are combined in the shiny new Ginza 6 complex, which not only houses a string of high-end fashion flagships and contemporary art installations (possibly the world’s only shopping mall with Yayoi Kusama pumpkins hanging from the ceiling), but also a traditional wooden Noh theatre in the basement.

Toast your arrival

There are few better ways to get your bearings after arriving in Tokyo than by ordering a Nihonbashi cocktail against a backdrop of live jazz in the opulent 37th floor Mandarin Bar. The signature tipple – made by award-winning bartender Yukiyo Kurihara and inspired by the surrounding neighbourhood – is a heady mix of vodka, yuzu and grapefruit in a striking turquoise hue. The adventurous (or the insomniacs) should venture further afield and take a 20-minute taxi ride to Gen Yamamoto – a tiny bar where cocktail imbibing is elevated to an art form. Here, seasonal fruits and Japanese spirits are fused into a delectable cocktail-tasting menu with a near spiritual reverence. It brings to mind a modern-day tea ceremony (but with alcohol).

Make time to unwind

Escape the neon and urban bustle 37 floors above the ground in the serene confines at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. After warming up in the baths-with-a-view and the amethyst crystal steam room, relax with a muscle-melting signature treatment, fusing oriental meridian massage with bespoke aromatherapy oils. (In a rush? Enjoy an express treatment in the Spa Studio.) For a taste of traditional Japanese serenity in the heart of the city, venture a few minutes on foot to The Koomon, a small family-run cultural institution. Here, in a soothing tatami mat room, the kimono-clad masters teach the art of the tea ceremony, calligraphy and kimono dressing. "

Dine in style 

Tucked away in a discreet corner of the 38th floor of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo is Sushi Sora, a gem of a restaurant that marries traditional culinary craftmanship with contemporary design. A wall of windows framing epic views across the Tokyo skyline competes for attention with the sushi, which is exquisitely prepared in front of guests by expert chefs, and served at a 350-year-old Japanese cypress-wood counter that seats only eight at a time. Meanwhile, less than a 15 minute walk away is Hiyama, a former meat store dating back to 1935 that’s now among the city’s most acclaimed sukiyaki (hot-pot) restaurants. There’s a butcher shop on the ground floor and a Michelin-starred first-floor restaurant in the style of a tea room, serving delicious Wagyu beef and seasonal vegetables.

Sushi Sora

Sushi Sora is the sublime 38th floor sushi bar at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo.

Sushi Sora

Delight in the delicate sushi of Sushi Sora's Master Chef, Yuji Imaizumi.

Sushi Sora

Enjoy Sushi Sora's unparralled views of Tokyo's spectacular skyline.

Hiyama

Hiyama is renowned for its melt-in-the-mouth Wagyu beef.

Time travel

Nihonbashi has a bridge with a long and illustrious history. The first Nihonbashi Bridge was made of wood and built in 1603, while the current bridge, a dual-arch design made of stone, was put in place in 1911 – the 19th one built at this location.

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And finally

Make a wish, Shinto-style, at Fukutoku Shrine, a small but perfectly formed shrine dating back to the 9th century, yet recently renovated. Look out for its red torii gates and curved roof among the modern buildings that surround Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo – then toss a coin, ring the bell, bow and clap your hands.

Gallery

Cherry blossom trees

Tick pagoda and cherry blossom trees in their full glory off your must-see list. Photo: Getty Images

hanami

The ritual of appreciating and contemplating cherry blossom is called 'hanami'. Photo: Getty Images

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

The Bridge at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden during the cherry blossom viewing season. Photo: Getty Images

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Blossom-laden trees at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Photo: Getty Images

Cherry blossoms

In Japanese culture, cherry blossom is a symbol of transience and renewal. Photo: Getty Images