Author Andrew Bender Photography Joshua Paul
DAY THREE / Have breakfast at Koots Green Tea, downstairs at Tokyo Midtown, with its blend of the historical and futuristic, Japanese and international. Order a matcha (green tea) latte, whipped to a froth and served in a rustic ceramic cup, alongside blueberry or green-tea scones.
A quick subway ride deposits you near the massive wooden torii gate of the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s largest shrine of Shinto, Japan’s native religion. Its 175 forested acres boast azalea gardens and giant casks of saké awaiting celebrations. In the main pavilion, throw coins into the offertory and offer wordless prayers: two bows, two claps, and another bow.
The Ukiyo-e Ota Museum of Art (open in May after closing for the month of April), a short walk down the tree-lined OmotesandM Boulevard, presents another perspective on traditional Japanese culture. Small exhibits rotate from the museum’s exceptional collection of priceless woodblock prints. A shop downstairs sells tenugui, printed traditional cotton towels worthy of framing.
Around the block, the pedestrian street Takeshitadori is a hot spot for youth fashion. Enjoy a crêpe or ice cream as teens and 20-somethings search for outlandish leggings, punk hairdos, and outfits inspired by manga and anime (Japanese comic books and animation).
Grab lunch at Maisen, a 15-minute walk down OmotesandM’s sidestreets. This famed shop specializes in tonkatsu—breaded, fried pork cutlet, served with miso soup, shredded cabbage, and savory sauces.
Next, double back to OmotesandM for a walking tour of architecture by current and no doubt future Pritzker Prize winners. Tadao Ando’s Omotesando Hills squeezes six stories into what looks like three from the street (see the full effect from the top of the escalators). Across the street, glass sheaths envelop the Christian Dior store by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. The Tod’s building by Toyo Ito appears wrapped in surgical tape.
Cross the wide avenue Aoyama-dori and turn right for the Spiral Building, Fumihiko Maki’s 1980s landmark. Break for coffee and cake in the café before seeing what art is showing in the corkscrew-shaped rotunda.
It’s time to freshen up at the hotel, but first, detour around the corner to the glass trapezoid of the Prada Aoyama, a touchstone of 21st-century architecture by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Diamond-shaped windows bubble out from the surface, revealing a white-on-white interior.
For your final evening, head to the Shibuya district, where the nightscape around Hachiko Square glows with neon and giant TV screens. The music, light, and exuberant crowds are the Tokyo you’ve dreamed about.
Away from the fray, the genteel, contemporary Kanetanaka-sou in the Cerulean Tower Hotel offers kaiseki, the apex of Japanese cuisine. Dishes are seasonal—the assortment of 10 bite-size appetizers changes every 10 days.
Round out your visit as the Japanese might, with a song. Within the stacks of tiny “karaoke boxes” at Karaoke-kan is Room 601, where Bill Murray sang in the film Lost in Translation. It’s available for rent at 30-minute intervals, with cocktail service. From the phone book–length catalog, Murray chose a Roxy Music number with the lyrics “More than this—there is nothing.” Right here, right now, you may well agree.
Andrew Bender is based in LA but returns to his former home of Tokyo frequently as the writer of several Lonely Planet guidebooks about Japan and Tokyo.
Temperatures in April are mild, and rain is infrequent. Highs usually top out in the 60s, with some days reaching the 70s. Morning lows settle into the mid-40s to mid-50s. Tokyo experiences four distinct seasons. However, Japan’s island status tempers extremes. June and July are wet, cloudy, and increasingly humid. August is the hottest month, with an average of 10 days that reach 90 degrees. August and September are the peak months of concern for typhoons. Fall, particularly October, is another good time to visit.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Tokyo climatological details, visit weather.com.
Limousine buses run from Narita International Airport to transit hubs and major hotels for ¥3,000 (US$28); allow 90 minutes (more with traffic). Tokyo’s a walking city, and the subway is spotless, safe, reliable, and inexpensive. Fares start at ¥160 (US$1.50). Day passes (¥1,000/US$9, covering all subway lines) or stored-value cards (from US$9) save you from fumbling with change or figuring out fare tables. Taxis are plentiful; fares start at ¥700 (US$6.50).
A Kappabashi-dori Restaurant supply district with lifelike models of foods
B Kiddyland (www. kiddyland.co.jp) Toy store with Japanese favorites from Hello Kitty to Pokémon
C Sumida River Cruise (www.suijobus.co.jp) Between Asakusa and Tokyo Bay
D Ueno Park Lawns, museums, temples, and the city zoo (www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/main.html)