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Tokyo: Bonkers And Beautiful

Garden in Sensoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan.

A trip to Tokyo is the grand-slam of experiences. If New York is the city that doesn’t sleep then Tokyo is the city which can’t be defined.

It’s a crazy, wonderful cultural melting pot mixing history and tradition with extreme contradictions of the bizarre and futuristic kind. Take it all in with bite-size chunks; it’s a huge adult playground.

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!

Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, Nihombashi

We move districts which is a fast journey via the Yamote line. Checking in at The Club Lounge means we are pampered with graceful service and an ever replenished plate of finger sandwiches and scones. After days of walking around Tokyo, every part of our bodies are aching so we indulge with a superb massage at CHI The Spa, a dip in pool 29 floors up followed by a Jacuzzi and steam sauna. Our deluxe room #3213 has views across the city, which can be enjoyed from the stunning bathroom, perfect for exhibitionists who consider bathing activities as opportunistic performances! For those not so brave (moi) a screen thankfully provides privacy again.

Imperial Palace, Gardens & Ginza

Fully refreshed, just a few streets away and we are in another world; located on the former site of Edo Castle is the Imperial Palace, its residence of Japan’s Imperial Family – it’s Shogun and then some! The huge gardens are segregated with plaza walkways, massive stone walls, moats and gates. The scale is mind-blowing, as are the number of school kids.

We keep walking south and end up in Ginza. Apparently 1sqm of land here is worth over 10million yen (AUD$123,000), perhaps that’s why a coffee costs $15 and it’s not even owned by Trump! We wander streets of gold, art, boutiques and department stores. This is why window shopping was invented. Do not bring your credit card if you are trying to be good. Chuo Dori, Marronnier Dori and Namiki Dori streets are all fabulous places to line your suitcase not your wallet!

tokyo imperial palace

Dinner at Nadaman

Having served its first dish in 1830 Nadman is famed across Japan for its fine dining Kaiseki (multiple small courses) style eating. We shortly find out why Chef Takehiko Yoshida has such a reputation. Graciously seated by our kimono wearing hostesses, we marvel at the sparkling city 29 floors below in a luxurious room soothed by soft light and diffused shadows from an art installation of falling maple leaves. We dive into the menu. Assorted sashimi arrives in a stunning earthenware bowl filled with shaved ice it looks like a garden dotted with maple leaves, citrus and fruits which have been artfully planted amongst fatty tuna, BOTAN shrimp, sea urchin, squid and more. We follow with feather light tempura, chicken grilled over charcoal and pair it with a 21-year-old Nikka whiskey. We decide to have a nightcap in the Club Lounge, it’s been a day of decadence, repair and relaxation!

Shinjuku, Kabukicho and Rippongi

If you really want to see people, (lots of people) Shinjuku is the area surrounding the largest terminal in Tokyo. Over 3.5 million passengers use this station every day from the metro, private railways and JR. It’s a lesson in movement management. We queue politely in lines, each doorway to the train is marked on the ground as we quickly become ‘carriage strategy geeks’, there’s none of this scrum rubbish, though it has to be said in rush hour the lines blur a bit in the final moments of ‘doors closing’. Good job Mr G is 6ft 3.

Samurai Museum, Kabukicho 

Whilst much of our trip has centered on retail therapy, gardens, relaxation and a lot of eating Mr G is anxious to get our quota of history. I’m the kind of girl who is culturally rather shallow and will swap a museum for miso any day, however this has been created for the regular, non-Japanese visitor who doesn’t really know much about the samurai. The fact that it’s planted in the middle of a space more known for Robot restaurants, love hotels and hostess bars is another reason I kind of love it!

Luckily we had a guide all to ourselves. She starts to unravel the mystery of the Samurai warriors as we walk past an array of yoroi armour from the Muromachi (1336-1573) and Edo (1600-1868) periods. It’s more like walking through a Japanese home with wooden floors tatami mats, slippers and paper screens, low ceilings. Walls of swords, axes and tapestry’s bring it all to life. Mr G is even encouraged to play dress up with helmets, battle skirts and body armour. You come to understand these great men were also the biggest peacocks with love of colour, flamboyance and artistry to their outfits.

Evening in Rippongi Kingyo

There are some experiences when you travel that leave a mark. Rippongi did, in a kind of weirdly avante garde yet slightly disturbing way. Known for its nightlife, the hills area is increasingly cultural with some of the most expensive restaurants, yet the main neighborhood is more like the old Kings Cross. We walk down streets of flashing lights, hosts beaconing us in. We decide to go boom or bust and book tickets for Roppongi Kingyo a cabaret show with performances by transsexual dancers. In 90 minutes we witness tap dancing, cirque de soleil, sailors, robots, dolls, rock n roll, the second world war, water fountains, dancing dragons and some impressive plastic surgery…

Bonkers and the beautiful just about sums Tokyo up. It’s a huge city full of life, fun, history and with more than a few unexpected moments.

So pack your bags, really comfortable trainers and you are most likely to encounter some kind of festival or just create your own. In a place with so much ‘crazy’ you’ll fit right in!

For more on the delights of Japan, click here. And a luxury guide to Tokyo, here.

Written by Karen Lawson

Karen Lawson is a renowned food and travel writer. She is also the CEO of accelerator company Slingshot. She was previously the CEO of CareerOne, winner of BRW Most Innovative Company.

Karen is a huge ‘foodie’ and has been a food and luxury travel journalist for over ten years, writing for a diverse range of publishers. She enjoys researching and writing trips to uncover the world's most luxurious places to stay, places to pop your taste buds and is always on the hunt for new and notable extra-ordinary experiences. She is also an inspirational speaker and a regular on the speaker circuit.

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