Japan's capital is a place of unfathomable size, endless variety and constant movement, but just below the surface of this futuristic megalopolis is a surprising and delightful sense of calm
Author Robert Michael Poole Photography Marie Takahashi
DAY ONE The popular impression of Tokyo is one of congestion and chaos, a moil of humanity and neon-topped towers. So you get a bit of a shock when you open the curtains of your hotel room. You’re staying in the Imperial Hotel‘s Frank Lloyd Wright Suite—the famed architect designed an earlier incarnation of the hotel—and your window looks out over a city that is surprisingly green.
After a breakfast of citron scallops and miso soup at the hotel’s Imperial Viking Sal restaurant, you stroll along an old moat toward the Imperial Palace’s East Garden. Enchanted, you lose yourself in the botanical artistry—preened thickets, primped waterways—while being occasionally jolted from your reverie by the apologetic cries (“Sumimasen!”) of passing joggers.
Having left the gardens via the picturesque wooden Hirakawa Gate, you descend into the Tokyo Metro at Takebashi Station, where a technicolor chart points you in a million directions. Guided more by faith than logic, you ride to the Ueno stop, where—hurrah!—you find the Tokyo National Museum. Inside, you walk deeper and deeper into an apparently endless array of cultural artifacts: chintz carpets, gold statues, decorative and unusually lethal-looking swords. You linger at the swords.
Another uncertainly plotted subway trip takes you to Tameike-Sanno Station, in the Chiyoda district, where you’re hoping to stumble across Shunju, a sparsely elegant 27th-floor eatery favored by local housewives and white-collar workers. You’re in luck, and soon you’re sitting down to a lunch of perfectly tender charbroiled beef, homemade tofu and sashimi straight from the port, as the delectable smell of miso drifts from the open kitchen.
Gaining confidence, you ride the metro to nearby Ginza, an upscale shopping area where real estate can sell for more than $23,000 per square foot—which gives you an idea of the sticker prices you’ll be looking at. Even with stratospheric luxury at every turn, however, one retailer stands out: pearl specialist Mikimoto, housed in a tall, shimmering building with windows like scattered gems.
You may not be unspeakably rich, but a person can dream. So you cab it to the Palace Hotel, whose swanky Evian Spa offers a special anti-jet lag treatment. An hour later, having been scrubbed, heated and prodded into a state of extreme well-being, you head up to the sixth-floor eatery Wadakura Go, where you settle in at the counter and start work on a 10-course teppanyaki-style dinner. The meal culminates in a juicy sirloin sashimi with wasabi sauce—a fiery finale that calls for, you decide, the dousing qualities of a nightcap.
Fortunately, back at the Imperial Hotel, the low-lit, smoke-varnished Old Imperial Bar serves very good cocktails. Its gin-based “Mount Fuji” is so good, in fact, that you order another, which will have you performing a solitary, impromptu karaoke number when you make your way back to your room for the night.