In the heart of downtown Tokyo there is a huge green lung. In the center, the Imperial Palace, where Emperor Naruhito, his wife, Empress Masako, and the imperial family live. Unless your name is Justin Trudeau, you won’t be able to visit the Imperial Palace (just like you can’t visit Buckingham Palace in London). On the other hand, the eastern gardens are of exceptional beauty, very representative of Japanese vegetation, and access is free.
Our verdict: this is the most beautiful park in Tokyo, right in front of the Eastern Gardens. This Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken, is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of this city of 14 million people (three times as dense as New York). You can also gather and make wishes near Shinto temples. If I could teleport an hour to Tokyo, I would go there.
No, you are not going to city hall to acquire a detailed knowledge of Tokyo municipal politics. You go there for… the spectacular view from its observatory on the 45th floor! Plus, it’s free. If you are a postcard lover, this is one of the few places in Tokyo where you can buy them (besides a few museums).
Leaving the town hall, go for a stroll in the park next door. At one of the park’s exits, you’ll find the luxurious Park Hyatt Hotel, made famous by Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. However, we learned the hard way that you had to wear clean pants (and not tourist Bermuda shorts…) to have an expensive drink at the New York Bar on the 52nd floor, where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson met in the movie.
Japan has – by far – the best public transportation system in the world. Its stations are not stations. These are cities in themselves, with dozens and dozens of outings and plenty of restaurants with take-out meals. If you take the bullet train in Tokyo, it will probably be at Tokyo Station, right in the city center (the Shinkansen also passes through Shinagawa Station). But the busiest station in Tokyo (and all G7 cities) is Shinjuku. You absolutely must visit these two stations. It’s impressive to see so many people crowded there.
An experience of Japanese baths (onsen) is a must in Japan. It’s like going to the spa, with three (important) differences. Firstly, it costs almost nothing. The one we offer you in Tokyo costs $4.30. Secondly, it’s everywhere, because it’s part of the habits there, almost like having coffee here. Third, we bathe only naked. Yes, blazingly naked. Of course, men and women have completely separate changing rooms and baths. In Tokyo, we recommend the Hisamatsu-Yu Onsen, a 12-minute tram ride and walk from Ikebukuro station. There are cold baths, hot baths, a sauna and an outdoor hot bath.
The most popular place in Tokyo on Instagram: the teamLab digital techno expo in the Toyosu district. However, it is better to buy your ticket several weeks in advance. While you are near the port of Tokyo, it is worth visiting the largest fish market in the world, Toyosu. An aerial tram offering a beautiful view of the city also allows you to reach the beach. Then take the tram (the Yurikamome line) then the metro to reach, on the other side of the bank, the chic Roppongi district. If you have just one museum to visit in Tokyo, choose the National Art Center in Roppongi.
Classical music lovers will be served in this country with a rich tradition. The most beautiful concert hall for classical in Tokyo is Suntory Hall. It’s very easy to buy your ticket online for a concert. After all, you are in Japan, the kingdom of efficiency.
Sports fans will also have something to eat, particularly in summer. The week I was in Tokyo, I had the choice between two baseball teams (the Giants and the Yakult Swallows), J-League soccer matches, and the All Blacks took on Japan in rugby. I chose a Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome in a high-energy atmosphere that resembles that of European soccer, with added Japanese politeness.
A must-have. Undoubtedly the busiest pedestrian street in the world. Times Square much, much bigger. In the evening, at each red light for cars, 2,500 Tokyoites and tourists cross the street simultaneously diagonally under the neon lights and billboards. The district is a reference in terms of fashion. It’s nice, even if we’re not usually into this kind of attraction. After 15 minutes, we rushed back into the huge Shibuya metro station to continue discovering Tokyo.