No other city in the world is like Tokyo – and no other country quite like Japan. So we’ve sought out the best tips for anyone treating themselves to something special – and wishing to experience something incomparable – in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Being flashed in Tokyo
The metropolis of 10 million people on Tokyo Bay is the original megacity, simply overflowing with people, records and contradictions. Neon signs the size of a house, skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, traffic lights where up to 15,000 people cross the road every time the green man appears, shopping malls, constant sound – and people, people, everywhere! Tokyo is one of the most exciting, intoxicating cities in the world. This is a place where you oscillate between the fields of tension created by a millennia-old culture and modern, high-tech lifestyle. It’s very easy to lose yourself in amongst the cherry blossom and skyscrapers, religious and royal monuments such as the Imperial Palace, Ueno Park and Asakusa Shrine, as well as the endless shopping malls, gourmet temples and street kitchens. Tokyo’s Sky Tree Tower, the world’s tallest television tower at 634 metres in height, where the city’s young people meet for their rendezvous, offers a powerful all-round view of East Asia’s largest metropolis. This is a city you just have to have experienced. Tokyo is just breathtaking!
Two very different places to spend the night
The Japanese are known for having ideas and customs which can seem pretty quirky. And spending the night at a capsule hotel, sleeping in a bunk in a space no larger than six cubic metres in size, is undoubtedly one of the quirkiest. The basic equipment includes a bed, a TV, a light and a plug. Next to, above and below your own bunk are more of the individual cabins, temporary homes to other travellers settling down for a peaceful night’s sleep. Because Tokyo has everything but room, these space-saving – and usually cheaper – capsule hotels were created in the 1970s. If you’re looking for a very Japanese capsule experience inspired by the future, try checking in at a capsule offered by hotel chain Ninehours. You’re guaranteed an experience of a positively intergalactic nature!
An overnight stay at one of Japan’s numerous monasteries, on the other hand, is an experience of a more spiritual nature. The Japanese temple hostels are known as shukubo; for a comprehensive overview of the wide range of services they offer, click here. Some 53 of the total of 115 temples offer services as hostels on the holy mountain of Koyasan south of Osaka. Visitors staying there can gain a unique insight into the life of the monks, as well as the opportunity to participate in ceremonies and morning meditation. Although the rooms vary depending on how they are furnished, they usually offer something akin to the experience at a traditional Japanese hotel or ryokoan, with sliding doors made of rice paper, tatami mats on the floor and futons as sleeping mats.
Sushi for breakfast
With its 160,000 (!!) registered restaurants, Tokyo is frequently touted as the ‘Mecca of fine dining’. Since no other city on Earth has as many stars as the Japanese mega-metropolis, it could justifiably be held up as the ‘greatest city in the world’ when it comes to fine dining. Japanese restaurants tend to specialise in a single, highly specific aspect of dining – which is why they then go on to achieve fame for their specialisation and are known as tempura stores, soba restaurants, ramen and sushi bars, or similar. If you don’t mind enjoying sushi for breakfast, be sure not to leave out the experience of a tuna fish auction at the city’s world-famous Tsukiji fish market, in the district of the same name. All the more so since the market will be occupying a brand-new location from October 2018 onwards. Tuna from all four corners of the ocean are auctioned to supermarkets and gourmet chefs here. As well as the stalls themselves, the market is home to countless small bars and restaurants, where fish and seafood are served fresher than anywhere else on Earth. There are small bars – Sushi Dai, for example – both inside and outside the market, where you’ll see tourists queuing up at all times of day and night. One of the best ramen restaurants is Chuko Sobe Inoue, on the main road outside Tsukiji market. This restaurant, too, can be recognised by the never-ending queue of hungry guests extending around the block outside. For a good overview of the upscale range of Tokyo’s kitchens, check out the Guide Michelin, republished in 2017 and also available online.
Rendezvous for cherry blossom
Chidori-ga-Fuchi is the name of the bankside promenade surrounding Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. Nowhere in Japan is more deeply associated with the traditional celebrations of cherry blossom. The blossom is said to represent beauty, awakening and transience, marks the arrival of the new spring, and is a high point in the Japanese festival calendar. Framed by the water of the castle moat and fresh green banks, Chidori-ga-Fuchi promenade is a much-loved oasis of calm for the people of Tokyo. From the end of March to the beginning of April, this particularly atmospheric site is carpeted in the light-pink splendour of the cherry blossom. During the Chiyoda cherry blossom festival, the cherry trees of Chidori-ga-Fuchi are illuminated by night – which can provide a romantic experience in a league of its own, whether you’re sitting on one of the rental boats or observing it from the promenade itself.
Let yourself be inspired on ‘Art Island’
The island of Naoshima has unspoilt nature, and its people continue to lead a highly traditional Japanese life to this day. If Naoshima hadn’t had the art that makes it so special, it wouldn’t have been much more than a sleepy island in the south of the country. Almost 20 years ago, however, Japanese media concern Benesse decided to establish the entire island as a unique museum of avant-garde art. Today, you’re welcomed by a vast, orange walk-in pumpkin the moment you reach the harbour of the ‘gentle island’. Its beaches are adorned by spectacular sculptures – embedded into the landscape as if purely by chance. Starchitekt Tadao Ando has set up a spectacular museum in a subterranean concrete bunker, where the borderline between observer and work of art is suspended in confusing fashion. The labyrinthine building is supported by breathtaking light installations by artists James Turrell and Walter de Maria, as well as oil paintings of water lilies by Claude Monet. Art, nature and culture – nowhere is the overall experience of these three elements so unique and inspiring as on Naoshima.
A journey by Shinkansen – the iconic high-speed train connecting many of Japan’s towns and cities – is an experience in its own right. Any stay in Japan should include at least one trip on the ultra-modern trains, which are the safest in the world and boast levels of punctuality most providers could only dream about. Even on the platform, waiting for the train to arrive, it’s immediately obvious why they have been so successful. The futuristic, brushed aluminium carriage, with your booked seat within, stops just centimetres in front of your nose (always assuming you’re standing at exactly the right point on the platform, as specified on the ticket). Thanks to the quietly waiting queue (everyone in Japan is disciplined and considerate), getting on and off the train is over in moments for all involved. Tickets are never usually checked –Japan is a place where people view cheating the system as simply not an option. Once you’ve reached your seat, you feel as comfortable as on an aircraft – but with considerably more legroom. There is calm throughout the carriage, as people work, eat or quietly chat – everyone here takes the needs of others into consideration. And should you ever leave anything on the Shinkansen, the chance of getting it back is almost hundred percent!
Magical triad: white sand, blue sky and turquoise sea
Japan consists of more than 6,850 islands. The south of the island state is home to several islands with beautiful white sandy beaches promising a holiday feeling par excellence. If you want to ensure you’re not disturbed by crowds of people, you’re best off heading for the island of Shikoku. In the south is the beautiful Pacific beach Asakawa Ozuna, where surfers go that little bit further to find the perfect wave. With its coral formations formed by the sea over the years, Sunayama Beach on the island of Miyako Jima is the country’s most famous beach-inspired motif. The island of Ishigaki, as well as being home to Japan’s southernmost city, offers both dream beaches and perfect conditions for divers and snorkellers. The notorious manta ray, the island’s most famous inhabitant, can be found near Kariba Bay on Ishigaki.
It’s not just Spain that does high-spirited public festivals; Japan’s also famed for them. They’re called matsuri in this part of the world, and are usually held during cherry blossom season in spring or the autumn rice harvest. Since the Japanese just love to party, however, there are also summer matsuri, with one of the best known, the Nebuta Festival, taking place every year between 2 and 7 August in the city of Aomori, in the north of the main Japanese island of Honshu. It’s also known as the ‘festival of colours’, because no other matsuri is more colourful, with splendidly adorned floats and colourful parades moving through the streets every evening, accompanied by taiko drummers, dancers and musicians. The Akita Kanto Matsuri – or ‘pole lantern festival’ – is held from 3 to 6 August every year in the Akita Kanto region. At this festival, artists balance bamboo poles up to 12 metres long with artificial paper lanterns attached to the top of them. Particularly important and internationally known, meanwhile, is Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, when celebrations continue throughout the month of July, with parades, parade floats and music. Tourists and locals alike particularly love this festival, thanks to its numerous traditional street stalls.
Want to treat yourself to Japan’s special sides too? Click here to book your flight from Vienna right now! Austrian Airlines will be flying non-stop from Vienna to Tokyo up to five times a week from 15 May 2018 onwards.