Sleek, futuristic metropolis for high-tech gadgets. Design-conscious fashion capital. Tokyo proudly flaunts these multiple personalities, but it also gives tradition a distinctly modern twist. Young residents are brushing up on the tea ceremony; customary foods are getting reinvented. And thanks to a runway for international flights at Haneda airport (20 minutes outside central Tokyo), experiencing the Japanese capital is easier.
Make your way past the Goths and Lolitas of the Harajuku district to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Interior gardens lead to this Shinto shrine dedicated to the emperor and empress responsible for bringing the country to the international stage in the late 19th century.
Head to the Omotesando and Aoyama districts for one of Japan’s national pastimes: shopping. Stores that double as contemporary architectural masterpieces lie along the tree-lined main drag Omotesando Dori, including Tadao Ando’s Omotesando Hills mall, Toyo Ito’s building for Tod’s (a crisscrossed mass of concrete and steel meant to mimic the surrounding trees), and the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Prada. Rin is a design shop/gallery/café (one of Tokyo’s signature “lifestyle stores”). Its array of products includes tote bags made from washi paper, Bauhaus-looking chairs, and lacquer tableware. Nearby, kimono shop Shito Hisayo brings a ready-to-wear approach to the normally custom-made world of kimono design. While the shop’s elaborate kimonos may not be the most practical for travellers, the drawstring kinchaku bags will look just as elegant accessorising a little black dress as the traditional garment.
In boutique-filled Daikanyama, a compact, hilly district of wooden homes and winding streets, the indie vibe manifests itself at places like Okura, which uses ages-old indigo-dying techniques on a range of clothing (jeans, dresses, and skirts). Kamawanu stocks tenugui, textiles long utilised for everything from practical coverings to decorative wall adornments. At interiors store Madu, porcelain bowls integrate kanji characters and other classic designs in chic, graphic ways.
Rice crackers are to the Japanese what potato chips are to Americans: comforting and absolutely ordinary. But at Jukka they’re art. Perfectly arranged in illuminated glass boxes, the crackers come in inventive flavours like plum and seaweed and black sugar. The three-Michelin-starred RyuGin offers a molecular take on the kaiseki, a ritualised meal of seasonal small courses—such as dried shrimp gelée and custard made from sea urchin. The menu at the kaiseki restaurant Nadaman at the Shangri La Hotel may be conventional but not the decor. Check out the restaurant’s ornamental focal point: several dozen wooden leaves that appear to be falling serenely from the sky.
Occupying the top 11 floors of a tower in the Marunouchi district and adjacent to Tokyo Station, the Shangri La (from ₹29,792) boasts a 2,000-piece art collection and a contemporary spin on ikebana flower arrangements. The city’s first boutique hotel, the Claska (from ₹18,417) has 20 individually designed rooms, including the Tatami Room, and a pet salon.
Appeared in the March 2013 issue as “Tokyo Animated”. This story has been updated in January 2017.