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 THREE A gentle tap at the door tells you a couple of things: One, room service is here; two, it’s early. You’ve opted for a rejuvenating breakfast of lobster cake benedict washed down with a papaya-lime juice cocktail. A long rain shower and a quick green tea, and you’re good to go.
At Shimbashi Station, you take an automated train to Telecom Center, a glass-and-steel rendition of the Arc de Triomphe. But you’re not here to admire the architecture. A few steps away is Ooedo Onsen Monogatari, which is as close as Tokyo gets to an authentic mountain hot-spring resort, with volcanically heated water pumped from 4,600 feet below. Having donned a florid yukata (summer kimono), you then strip and dip, and feel infinitely better for it afterward.
Lunch today is at the ANA InterContinental’s Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire, a restaurant so sleekly modern it has an artist’s-interpretation feel to it. Among the appetizers on offer is an inspired foie gras crème brûlée with green melon sherbet; for the main dish, you go for grilled lamb chops with potato purée and squid ink, which gives you a new appreciation for surf and turf.
Barely pausing to look at the map now, you take the subway to Hamamatsucho Station and the calm waters of Tokyo Bay. Here, you hop a sightseeing boat, courtesy of Viator Tours, up the Sumida River. As the boat cruises past the Philippe Starck-designed Asahi Super Dry Hall, atop which sits a golden object resembling a whale, your tour guide tries to teach you how to sing and clap in the traditional style. Slightly hoarse, you dock at Asakusa, parts of which look just as they did when the district was founded in the 17th century.
A short hike west and you’re in the heart of old Edo. Traversing a narrow alley thick with tea houses and pungent with incense, you cast a surreptitious eye toward one of the few geishas still working in Tokyo. Nearby, flanked by the gods of thunder and wind, a ceremonial gate leads to Senso-ji Temple, the area’s most important temple for nearly 1,400 years, and the adjacent Gojunoto Pagoda, a five-tiered red and white structure where even well-dressed businessmen perform ancient rituals.
Next, it’s a quick stroll to the Nakamise Arcade, a shambles of gift stalls and snack shacks, where you pick up a hand-painted bamboo fan and nibble on a ningyo-yaki (literally, “fried doll”), a cake filled with bean paste and molded into a novelty shape. Yours looks like the smiling face of a little old man, and it’s with some reluctance that you tuck into his ear.
The final stop of the day is the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt, where you’ll be dining at Kozue, a restaurant whose understated design seems to be a tacit admission that—in terms of ambience—it’s all about the view. Waitresses in kimonos deliver your multicourse kaiseki dinner: grilled sea bass, kuruma prawns with seasonal soba noodles, and custard mousse floating in a thick plum sauce. You have just enough energy, you decide, for a final final stop of the day.
Up on the 52nd floor, the New York Bar has even better views of the city. It’s here that Scarlett Johansson met Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, the pair brought together by a shared sense of cultural alienation. Tonight the clientele is local and cosmopolitan, and when the jazz band kicks in, it all seems reassuringly familiar. You’d planned on taking a cab back to your hotel, but you’re thinking now that you might give the subway one last whirl. It’s just what people here do.
ROBERT MICHAEL POOLE isn’t supposed to reveal what his ema wish was for, but it involved the words “win,” “lottery” and “big.”