Tokyo: a vast city, with so many things to see; so much to do. What follows is one of dozens of possible “best of” to do lists for this city. Individually, these places and experiences offer glimpses of Tokyo’s unique culture; taken as a whole, they should provide a multi-faceted view of the city to a first-time visitor.

Mori Tower Roppongi Hills

Views: It’s hard to fathom how vast Toyko is until you’ve seen it from above. The city has various vantage points, from the observation decks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, and the newly opened Tokyo Sky Tree to the window seats of various top floor skyscraper restaurants such as at Ebisu Garden Place tower. Mori Tower in centrally located Roppongi Hills features a pretty good art gallery, the Mori Art Museum, on the 53rd floor, as well as top floor observation decks.

Hotel Okura main building lobby Toranomon

Aesthetics: The sparse minimalist aesthetics of traditional Japanese design are reinterpreted in various ways in modern-day Japan. One of the most beautiful reworkings, coupling Japanese and mid-Century modern design ideas, is at the Hotel Okura. Sit back and soak up the mid-century modernist japanese vibe of architect Yoshiro Taniguchi’s 1962 hotel. ALthough it has been surpassed in the luxury stakes, the 5th floor main lobby is pure restraint, style and elegance and manages to capture the elusive spirit of wa (和).

Dover Street Market Ginza

Shopping: One of the major pastimes in Tokyo is shopping and the array of stores and merchandise is overwhelming. Comme des Garçons’ mastermind Rei Kawakubo has never stopped innovating since starting her fashion label in 1969, pushing the boundaries of whatever aspect of fashion and design she undertakes; the multi-level Dover Street Market store in Ginza elevates retailing to the level of art installation. If you only see one store in Tokyo…

Anjin Lounge Daikanyama T-Site

Culture: Suburban DVD/CD/game software rental chain store Tsutaya’s answer to the downloadable digital media revolution was to create one of the city’s most sophisticated spaces: a fluid interior arrangement that connects different cultural zones over two levels. It’s part bookshop, music store, DVD store, stationery supplier, cafe and hotel lounge – all with impeccably curated and presented titles and products. The complex also features expansive decks and landscaping together with restaurants and a pet relaxation center. Once inside, it’s hard to leave – or find a seat!

Shinjuku at night

Street life: There’s so much movement, sights and sounds, contrasts and unexpected scenes in Tokyo. Shinjuku is one of the districts that best illustrates this. It has been the inspiration for countless visions of the future, from anime and manga titles to Hollywood sci-fi movies. At night, from the streets around the station’s East exit heading north to Yasukuni dori and the Kabukicho and Golden Gai entertainment districts, Shinjuku is a Blade Runner style assault on the senses.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Gardens: It’s not something that many people would think of when imagining Tokyo, but the city is dotted with several expansive, beautiful green spaces: Rikugien and Koishikawa Kōrakuen; Hama-Rikyū Onshi-Teien and the Imperial Palace’s Higashi-Gyōen; Shinjuku Gyōen and Yoyogi Koen some of the most renowned. On a sunny day, these peaceful retreats – with their manicured lawns and trees, ponds and bridges, gardens and wooded areas, their seasonal variations – are the perfect places to while away a few hours.

Yakitori restaurant in Hibiya

Food: Dining in Tokyo is a wonderful part of life here. As expected in a city of this size, the range of restaurants is bewildering, everything from imported and domestic fast food to the world’s greatest selection of Michelin rated restaurants. No visit is complete without a taste of local sushi & sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu, yakitori and izakaya delicacies. For earthy old-time atmosphere the small grill restaurants beneath the Yamanote railway tracks in Hibiya are hard to beat.

Takeshita dori Harajuku

Street style: Tokyo’s fashionable young Japanese know how to make the best of their shopping paradise; they pull together the stores’ latest fashions in all manner of styles. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the streets of Harajuku, one of the style meccas of the planet. Inspiration galore: from the high school fads of Takeshita dori to the cool street wear labels on show in the streets behind Omotesando.

Tokyo International Forum Yurakucho

Architecture: Tokyo is not a beautiful city the way Paris, Barcelona or even New York are. It’s a sprawling, organic mess of a place. But there are jewels to be seen; architectural gems designed by leading Japanese and international architects are scattered throughout Tokyo: the Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Viñoly (in Yurakucho), the Yoyogi National Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange (Shibuya), the flagship Prada Epicenter by Herzog & de Meuron (Aoyama), the brilliant but time-worn – and perhaps soon to be demolished – Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa (Ginza) are but a few.

Amusement Center Shibuya

Amusements: Cafes, bars and clubs do very nicely in Tokyo, but play is an integral part of socializing and unwinding in Japan. Whether it’s the hypnotic cacophony of the pachinko parlors, an hour of pop stardom in a room in a karaoke center or the thrill of car racing or dance choreography in a game center, Japanese people do more than just hang out; activity and perfecting skills is part of the mix, though I’m not sure what skills pachinko perfects; possibly some strange kind of zen meditation.

There’s so much more that can be added to the above and each visitor will no doubt discover and take away their own defining moments of Tokyo.

Happy travels!

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