You know Tokyo – perhaps from the illustrated pages of Akira, or the films of Akira Kurosawa. Maybe your personal style is informed by Harajuku street fashion or the classic avant-garde of Comme des Garçons; maybe your musical taste runs to BoA or the 5678s. You might only know it in passing, from images of pedestrian hordes traversing Shibuya Crossing, stereotypes of buttoned-up businessmen or a clip of an incomprehensibly wacky Japanese game show. Tokyo is a city where unconventional individuals find freedom in anonymity – where the Japanese aphorism, the nail that stands up gets hammered down, doesn’t necessarily apply.
Tokyo’s bubbling nabe (pot) of creativity is a rich, long-simmering brew resulting from the mix of age-old Japanese traditions, a modern urban society and novel international ingredients. Likewise, its cuisine, popular culture and psyche blend old Japan and modern tastes. It’s a city torn between rigid rules and etiquette, and fluid reinvention and fusion – all of which create a flavour both recognisable and totally foreign. The city’s massive scale alone means a stunning abundance of idiosyncratic experiences.
If you’re planning on doing a bit of sightseeing in Tokyo, the ski resorts in the Japan Alps are a quick and convenient add-on. Although they may not be exactly on Tokyo's doorstep, Japan’s small size and excellent infrastructure means that the difference is really only one quick internal flight.
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Has playrooms, puppet theatres, a swimming pool and a music lobby where kids can make all the noise they like. The Children's Castle Hotel next door was built especially for those with young children and can be a convenient refuge for travelling families. It's located off Aoyama-dōri.
Japan's Imperial Palace is an appropriate place to start the city's laundry list of interesting sights, as it is – geographically, at least – the centre of Tokyo. The leafy grounds occupy the site of the original Edo-jō, the Tokugawa shōgunate's castle when they ruled the land. In its heyday the castle was the largest in the world, though little remains of it today apart from the moat and walls. The present palace, completed in 1968, replaced the one built in 1888, which was destroyed during WWII.As it's the home of Japan's emperor and imperial family, the palace itself is closed to the public for all but two days of the year, 2 January and 23 December (the Emperor's birthday). It is possible, however, to take a tour of the imperial grounds, but you must book ahead through the Imperial Household Agency's website. Reserve well in advance – slots become available on the first day of each month. Tours run twice daily from Monday to Friday (10am and 1.30pm), but on weekends, public holidays and afternoons from late July through to the end of August.The main park of the palace grounds is the Imperial Palace East Garden, which is open to the public without reservations. You must take a token upon arrival and return it at the end of your visit.
Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan (National Science Museum)
This large, sprawling, multistorey museum dedicated to the pursuit of science is packed with delights, especially if you're travelling with the little ones. Displays (eg of the forest or animals of the savannah) are imaginatively presented, some allowing kids to climb up, down, around and even within.
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