Scintillating cities, breathtaking countryside and unmatched national cuisine makes Japan a fantastic holiday destination, as our Brand Ambassador Alex recently discovered on his short break to Tokyo. Here he shares with us his holiday stories, including where to find the best views – and the best beef.
I had high expectations of Japan, but nothing could prepare me for the wonders I encountered on my holiday there. I spent four nights in Tokyo but could easily have stayed longer to take in all the fascinating sights and neighbourhoods. From the high-tech and futuristic, to glimpses of traditional Tokyo, Japan’s capital is rich in culture and evokes a feeling of energy and tranquility at the same time.
I’m definitely a foodie traveller, so I was overwhelmed by the quality and diversity of Japanese cuisine on my trip. There is evidently an element of perfectionism in Japanese gastronomy: the chefs cook up extraordinary gourmet masterpieces with incomparable panache, and there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Tokyo. I loved trying Matsuzaka beef at Yoroniku Minato restaurant: this is one of the best meats in the country (and the world!); while at Kisentei teppanyaki restaurant I was entranced by the flurry of hands and ingredients as the chefs prepared my dinner, and with the spectacular cityscape as a backdrop.
Tokyo also boasts fantastic food markets, like Mitsukoshi Mall, which has an entire floor dedicated to delicious treats, and the Japanese are experts at taking international cuisine and making it even better: I had the best Italian meal in Tokyo!
Another thing that struck me about Tokyo was the incredibly unique culture here. One of the most important religious monuments is the Meiji Shrine, where during Shichi-go-san-no-hi on November 15, children aged three, five and seven dress in traditional kimonos and their parents give thanks for the child’s good fortune and health. There’s also the national museum, Kiyosumi Gardens and my favourite, the old quarter of Golden Gai.
Nestled in Shinjuku, Golden Gai is renowned for its architecture and nightlife. Protected by local residents from the Yakuza mafia’s destructive mission in the 1980s, unlike other areas in the capital it exemplifies traditional Tokyo with its narrow passages and alleyways where over 200 bars and eateries jostle for space, and creative types congregate to share ideas. I was thrilled to stumble upon a tiny jazz speakeasy one evening, with room for just five people and an impressive variety of whisky to choose from. This was my favourite moment in Tokyo: clinking glasses with a Japanese rockstar (by the looks of it) and the friendly, one-armed barman, listening to jazz – you really don’t know what’s around the corner in Tokyo!
Hakone National Park
Hakone makes for a refreshing retreat from the city for a day, but I could’ve stayed for weeks, gazing at the lush scenery around me. Just a few hours’ drive from Tokyo, Hakone National Park is an awe-inspiring patchwork of pristine lakes, soaring mountains and lush forests, burning orange and red in the autumn, and is home to the famous Mount Fuji. We visited Hakone Ginyu, a traditional ryokan that peers over an untouched, forest-clad valley, and those lucky enough to stay (there’s a three month waiting list) are treated to 180 degree panoramas of Hakone’s dramatic landscape. Staying in a traditional ryokan is an absolute must on any holiday to Japan. You will be met with immaculate service, elegant decor and a totally serene ambience: I was in awe of the peace and simplicity at Hakone Ginyu, and it has stayed with me ever since my return from Japan.
So, rather than quench my wanderlust for Japan, my short break in Tokyo has only made me thirsty for more. Between the bustling working streets, the electric night life, the thousands of exquisite restaurants and taverns, the Elysian like shopping avenues, the spiritual gateways, temples, palaces and parks, there is a feeling of balance, order and serenity that paces the rhythm of this city, and draws in people like me the world over.