WORDS AND IMAGES Paris Brummer
The Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off in Japan in September. A quick Google search of what to do in Tokyo brings up about 354 000 000 results, so we’ve put together an insider’s guide to make the most of the wealth of free and affordable things to do and see.
WHERE TO STAY
The colourful Shibuya district is everything the movie Lost in Translation made it out to be… and more. It prides itself on offering some of the best nightlife in Tokyo – karaoke, arcades, clubbing, shopping and restaurants. Its position on the Yamanote Line makes the stop just a few minutes away from Harajuku, Omotesando, Meguro, Roppongi and Shinjuku. It also has direct transport options to both Haneda and Narita airports. Shibuya is home to some of the best hotels in Tokyo. Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu is located in Mark City, with direct access to Shibuya Station. The hotel affords breathtaking views from its top floors and serves a delicious traditional breakfast, featuring an assortment of seasonal pickled and fermented foods to introduce you to Japanese cuisine.
WHAT TO EAT
To some, Japanese cuisine is as daunting as it is exciting. Dive right in at the Tokyu Foodshow in Shibuya, an example of many markets and food courts in Japan that offer an array of Japanese foods and confections, often with English descriptions on the menu. Experiment to find out which textures and flavours you like, bearing in mind that a steaming bowl of ramen never disappoints.
With Asian ingredients becoming readily available in supermarkets, Japanese cuisine has reached a new wave of popularity, and presentation is everything. Kappabashi, or Kitchen Town, is a shopping district between Ueno and Asakusa where you’ll find specialist kitchenware and more. Kappabashi is a short walk from Tawaramachi Station on the underground Ginza Line.
WHAT TO SEE: ARCHITECTURE
Viewing architecture in Tokyo is an enriching and free activity for your itinerary. Some notable architectural structures are religious sites or public facilities, offering entrance for either a small donation or for free. Take a trip to Asakusa to see Kengo Kuma’s multilayered culture and tourism information centre; a train stop away in Ueno, you’ll find Le Corbusier’s brutalist National Museum of Western Art; and in Minato, the National Arts Centre by Kisho Kurokawa boasts a breathtaking glass façade.
Keen to learn a little more? Numerous guided architectural tours are offered online. A personal favourite was a tour inside Kurokawa’s futuristic and dystopian Nakagin Capsule Tower. Although this icon of Japanese Metabolism has fallen into disrepair and red tape, visitors can fortunately enter the building on a guided tour to fully understand the scope of its technical feats and cultural legacy.
WHAT TO SEE: DAY TRIP
At the risk of travelling to Japan and not seeing a single temple, the World Cup fixture schedule fortunately offers some tackle- and try-free days to escape the city for some sightseeing. Kamakura is a historical seaside town often referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan. It is home to numerous significant Buddhist temples and sacred Shinto shrines. Rent bicycles and work your way along the temple map, finally stopping at the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, to fully appreciate its scale against the backdrop of the sky. Kamakura can be reached by train in under an hour from both Tokyo and Yokohama, making it perfect for a day trip.
WHAT TO SEE: ART & DESIGN
You’re spoilt for choice with museums, but these three are especially well-curated and designed. 21_21 Design Sight is an art space in Roppongi designed by architect Tadao Ando and fashion designer Issey Miyake. The exhibitions are multidisciplinary, with a strong emphasis on art and design.
A short walk away in Roppongi Hills is the Mori Art Museum. Exhibitions rotate every three months, with past calendars featuring Takashi Murakami, Ai Weiwei, and artworks and sketches by film director Tim Burton. The gigantic 10 m-tall bronze, steel and marble sculpture of a spider, Maman, by French artist Louise Bourgeois on Roku Roku Plaza outside the museum is worth seeing.
A little further away in Shinagawa is the Archi Depot Museum. The warehouse-cum-gallery space houses maquettes and final design models from notable architects like Shigeru Ban, Kengo Kuma and Riken Yamamoto, to name a few. The museum is both educational and aesthetically pleasing for architecture enthusiasts.
WHAT TO BUY
Tsutaya T-site in Daikanyama is a “bookshop” spread across three interlinked buildings adorned with lattices of interlocking T’s. Designed by Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture, the T stands for Tsutaya – a Japanese rental chain. Across the three buildings, you can find collections of CDs and DVDs, magazines, sought-after and rare books, film photography supplies, a café, an upscale convenience store, and the Anjin lounge, where visitors can browse a library of classic design magazines and books. Daikanyama can be accessed on foot from Shibuya or on the Tokyu Toyoko Line.
Discover more about Japan and the concept of omotenashi – a selfless and aware form of hospitality that the country is famous for – here.