If Tokyo was a TV series it would be called the ‘Bonkers & the Beautiful’.
As a first timer to Japan it’s a fascinating mix; where else can you have robot dinners, immerse yourself in Samurai culture then be following a man dressed as a Panda as he crosses the road sectioned off by Hello Kitty traffic barriers?
Research can both be your friend and enemy. Tokyo is a mega city. Mr G and I chose to split our trip into two covering the south and east areas staying at IHG Strings, then the inner city with Shangri-La. You may find yourself a few inches shorter given the amount you walk, so a luxury hotel by train stations is a must! Both of these tick the box.
IHG Strings, Shinagawa (Days 1 &2)
Checking into IHG strings should have been a breeze; out the train station follow the walkways and pow. Instead we go the wrong way, get lost and have a taxi mystery tour. Welcome to Tokyo! Soon we are marvelling at suite 2919 spanning a corner of the hotel. The large living room in creams and blues reflects the city, mountain and river views. The bathroom is glorious. Something we come to note throughout our trip is that the Japanese really ‘get’ bathrooms they are often the showgirl element of any room. My night flight is swept away with dreamy bath salts and Mr G has a power nap in the king-size bed!
Day 1- Asakusa, Hinode Pier & Kyu Shiba Riku Gardens
Tokyo is enormous. Like a big steak you have to tackle it in pieces or you may give up. Gerald our concierge gives us strict instructions, head north to Asakusa, home to Tokyo’s oldest temple. We buy Pasmo passes and were off. Its 80 degrees and the Kaminarimon gate is instagram central. There are rows of stalls selling everything from sweets to sabres. Mr G is eyeing off an ice-cream but given you’re not allowed to eat walk (where’s the fun in that?) We give it a miss. Incense fills the air as people pay their respects. We drop into our first Izkaya (bar) stab our fingers at a few pictures and savor our first Kirin! Kampai!
Returning by ferry which has an uncanny resemblance to the Starship Enterprise we do something which starts to become very common in Japan…we queue. I have come to the conclusion that Brit’s suck at queuing; these guys have it down to a Ninja art. We stop at Hinode Pier and walk round the beautiful gardens at Kyu Shiba Rikyu. I outrun a mob of mosquitos at dusk and feel rather proud.
Day 1 – The Dining Room
By the evening we are finished! Thank goodness we decide to have dinner at the hotel.
We sip on Verve Cliquot at Bubbles Bar along with lollipop tasters of deer, fruit and cheese all served on elegant silver forks. The main restaurant is situated in the atrium of the hotel on a floating platform. We commence ‘Tapa-tizers’ which turns out to be one of the best meals of our trip. Individual platters of everything from king prawn ceviche, abalone followed by hot ‘tizers’. Am still dreaming of the crispy rice tuna with its silky buttery texture. We both undertake strategic ‘swaps’ and Mr G tastes a rare Ichiro’s Malt Whisky.
Day 2 – Fish Markets, Shibuya and Krug Bar at ANA InterContinental Tokyo
My dedication to 3am wake up calls is thwarted so we head to the fish markets for brunch. The outer market is a labyrinth of corridors of all manner of live, fresh and cooked fish. Skewered, sliced, raw, fried, grilled. Vats of bubbling red broth have queues of salary men. We opt for a place with the biggest queue at Sushizanmai and feast on sashimi.
Carrying on in the theme of the best things in life, we to Japans first bar to focus on Krug. We sip on Krug Grand Cuvee made from 180 reserve wines which is paired with music, tasting notes and insights on individual ipads in our Beber free zone. The tasting menu tonight is of all things ‘Krug X Potato’! From bacon & onion quiche to French fries who knew Krug could be so streetwise?
We head over to Shibuya to finish the evening. We are tipped off that 2nd floor of Starbucks is the best vantage point. We watch the phenomenon played out a thousand times on TV, as the multi-junction crossing lights switch from green to red. Swarms of human ‘black ants’ pour into the street. It’s a real life game of ‘chicken’ wondering who’s going to make it in the final 5 seconds.
We walk south to Drunkards Alley, two streets lined with tiny bars barely big enough to fit a four or five people. We duck under a doorway shielded by flags of Japanese writing, and step inside. Mr G orders a whisky and I have a beer. A few hours later we have made lots of friends plus have a new ‘to do list’.