The huge, energetic and fascinating city of Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since 1868. It is a collection of mini-cities in itself all with their particular draw. Its cosmopolitan nature is reflected in its variety of shops, restaurants, markets and 24-hour activity.
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Things to do in Tokyo
Discover the temples & Palaces of Tokyo
The city of Tokyo is the largest and most densely populated in the world, and merits several days’ exploration. A popular visit for first-time travellers is the Asakusa Kannon temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo that enshrines a golden image of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. The present temple dates from 1950 and is a popular meeting place on holidays and weekends, and is located adjacent to Nakamise-dori shopping street. The Imperial East garden is the only part of the Imperial Palace complex that is open to the public. Entry is through the Ote-mon gate, which was at one time the principal gate of the city of Edo, the former name of Tokyo. The garden lies at what was the heart of the old Edo castle. The Tokyo National Museum could take up a day on its own, with extensive displays of historic costumes including samurai armour and swords and fine kimonos, antique folding screens, tea ceremony utensils and Japanese paintings.
Explore the gardens of Tokyo
Hidden away in the urban sprawl of Tokyo are a number of traditional Japanese gardens, which make an interesting and peaceful contrast to the busy city. The traditional Koishikawa Korakuen garden was completed during the reign of the second clan ruler, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, during the early Edo period (1600-1867). It features a large central pond and hills, interspersed with a network of trails marked by points from where you can enjoy the best views, as the designers intended. The Shinjuku Gyoen garden is constructed on the site of a private mansion belonging to Lord Naito, a daimyo (feudal lord). Completed in 1906 as an imperial garden, it was designated as a national garden after the Second World War and opened to the public. It blends three distinct styles: French formal garden, English landscape garden and Japanese traditional garden.
Full day tour to Nikko, Lake Chuzenji and the Kegon waterfall
Nikko, north of Tokyo, has long been a spiritual heartland and provides a rich variety of experiences. The first thing that strikes most visitors upon arrival is the setting: amid sumptuous mountain scenery, the town offers eye-catching views in all seasons. The town's deep historical connection with Buddhism has certainly left its mark as the temples and the tombs of prominent Buddhists are ubiquitous. Nikko's temples and shrines are characterised by simplicity and austerity, highlighting their function as places of worship. Visit the Toshogu shrine, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Leyasu who was the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate government. Built in 1627 it was originally a simple monument, but in 1651 the complex was renovated by the third Shogun, Lemitsu, and turned into the magnificent building it is today. Elaborately decorated with wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf, the 50 huge stone lanterns erected by the Tokugawa family and various 'daimyo' (feudal lords) are particularly eye-catching. The Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park was built in 1898-99, using parts of the Akasaka detached palace that originally stood in Tokyo. The structure was Emperor Taisho's summer residence until 1925 and seamlessly blends Edo and Meiji period architecture throughout its 106 rooms.
Japanese swordsmanship class
Experience the art of Japanese swordsmanship, a craft known as 'iaido', which can be translated as 'the way of the encounter'. Its emphasis is on precise, fluid movements in combat combined with spiritual clarity, as a result, some to refer to it as 'moving Zen'. You will be the guest of an operating 'dojo', practicing with masters of the art. During the first part of the experience, you will watch the choreographed forms, called 'kata', performed by students of the style. Your instructor will then guide you through basic movement using a real iaido sword. You'll even have a chance to try the cutting technique you just learned on rolled bamboo mats or other items made of straw. The class takes place at a cultural centre in Yanaka, a well-preserved and traditional district of Tokyo known for its artisans and craftspeople.
See the snows of Mount Fuji
At 3,776 metres above sea level, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, an iconic symbol of Japan, and one of the most beautiful conical volcanoes in the world. The base of Mount Fuji, which forms an almost perfect circle, stretches 35 to 40km from east to west and the same distance from north to south. Weather permitting, you will be able to take in the spectacular views, before moving on to Hakone National Park to board a boat and cruise across Lake Ashi to Hakone-en garden. From the garden, take the ropeway up Mount Komagatake for a panoramic view of Mount Fuji and the valley below.
Watch sumo wrestling
Sumo is a famous part of Japanese culture and sport, and large championship tournaments are held every year in Tokyo. The bouts are usually brief but explosive, and the rituals before each bout, where competitors first throw salt into the ring to purify it and exchange fierce stares, can take far longer than the actual match. Sumo has traces in Shinto fertility rites and the modern sport bears close resemblance to its historical roots. Sumo wrestlers have armies of fans and are amongst the most famous people in Japan.
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"The whole organisation worked incredibly well and we had a most informative and enjoyable visit. Yoshie Matsumoto must be the most outstanding guide in Japan. She was absolutely superb and added a great deal to our enjoyment."