City Spotlight: Tokyo, Japan

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Tokyo, Japan

April 2015

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Length of visit: 2 ½ Days

Lodging: Park Hyatt Tokyo and Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon

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+ L managed to get us rooms at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. I’m not even going to get into how he managed to do that, but suffice it to say, this hotel is amazing (intimidatingly so), in a great area, and they redefine exceptional service.

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+ The Hotel Grand Arc Hanzomon is wonderful. It’s located right across from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the service is great, and every room has a view. Our room was a great size by Japanese standards, very comfortable, and made us happy. It’s also quite close to a subway station, which makes it great for budget travelers.

Can’t Miss Sights and Tours

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+ Tokyo National Museum – This museum is well-curated and full of Japanese treasures. During the Westernization process, Japan struggled to have arts such as printmaking and poetry classified as arts, and the museum tells the story of how that was achieved. This is one of just many parts of the narrative that this museum is telling, but it was one that stuck with me. L liked the sword galleries 😉

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+ National Treasures Gallery — We almost overlooked it, but this is in the same complex as the National Museum. It has a number of important pieces on loan or donated by families in Japan.

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+ Sensō-ji – A temple set in the heart of Tokyo, this place is a total assault on all of your senses. It’s loud, crowded, and full of the smell of incense being burned. It’s also tremendously fun, full of many devout Buddhists, and is a great place to get your fortune. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, and definitely worth a visit.

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+ Edo-Tokyo Museum – I was not 100% sold on this, but L insisted, and I’m so glad that he did. This is an interactive museum with both adult- and child-friendly exhibits charting the evolution of Japan from the Edo period to present day. We only had an hour and a half there; we could have used three or four hours. It’s an exceptionally well-curated museum with fantastic exhibits. Definitely put it on your list!

Great Food

+ Here’s your trick for Tokyo: start looking for a place to eat at 12:30. Find a few places that are packed with Japanese people slurping up their ramen over lunch. Walk back by around 1:15 and look curiously in the door… chances are, if they have an English menu, someone will wave you in. This helps you avoid tourist traps and find great food. We had excellent, cheap ramen that way.

+ Branch out. Our last day there, we weren’t feeling like walking around to find food. We ended up at an Indian restaurant a block from the Grand Arc called Mother India. It looked fine from the outside, but actually ended up being quite tasty. We liked it and went back for dinner.

Overall

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I’m not a huge fan of big cities, and Tokyo redefines big. It’s crowded and expensive. That said, the people were kind and courteous. On the train, a businessman apologized to L for how crowded it was… at 5 o’clock on a weekday. There are some truly amazing sites, like the museums we saw, and the parks that bring quiet to large parts of the city. We spent our last day wandering around taking it all in. It’s a great way to spend part of your adventure.

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