Getting to know Tokyo


It would take a lifetime to get to know every facet of Tokyo, a city so large that it spreads as far as the eye can see. But look closely and you will find a city of exceptional charm and breathtaking efficiency. The Japanese capital is a fascinating tangle of opposites: the latest technology and traditional arts; crowded stations and quiet backstreets; concrete highways and green parks. Yet it all works like a dream.
Kashiwa Sato, Minato-ku. Tokyo's National Art Centre in Roppongi is always worth the trip - if only to admire the building's stunning architecture, masterminded by the late Kisho Kurokawa. But do also make sure to step inside to see its exhibition on the work of feted graphic designer Kashiwa Sato, creative director of Samurai design studio. The show covers Sato's impressive portfolio of logos and graphic design, alongside branding work he's produced for the likes of Uniqlo, Imabari Towel, Seven Eleven and a number of hospitals around town - not to mention the art centre itself.
It's not only sushi chefs and defenders of traditional cuisine who deserve mentioning in Tokyo. The variety of things to eat in this city will surprise you: from tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork) and soba (buckwheat noodles) to pizzas and steaks, you will find that even the most humble dishes are made to meticulous perfection.
There is no excuse to be bored in Tokyo. If you're craving more traditional arts you will find the finest museums and the most exquisite Japanese theatre. This is a city with a rich cultural scene to match its long history. Whether you're after high or low art, kabuki or karaoke, it's all here.
Mingeikan, Komaba. A must for anyone interested in Japanese crafts, the Mingeikan was founded by Soetsu Yanagi (father of designer Sori Yanagi) in 1936. Yanagi was the leading light of the mingei (folk craft) movement that celebrated the art of everyday crafts such as ceramics, glass, basket-weaving and textiles. The Mingeikan sits on a quiet street in Komaba, housed in a building designed by Yanagi, with a modern wing attached. Inside, the display cases show mingei works from Japan and abroad. It's a treat to remove your shoes at the door and walk across the wooden timbers. Mingei has come into vogue in recent years as a younger generation begins to value its craft heritage. Yanagi's home, which was completed a year before the museum, is across the road and open a few days a month.
History has been hard on Tokyo’s architecture: fire, earthquakes, bombs and high-speed economic development have all left their mark on this sprawling, enthralling capital. The architectural scene is as dynamic as it is unsentimental but some buildings have managed to survive. The sense of history is barely hidden by the city’s superficial modernity.
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, Koganei. This outdoor annexe to the Edo-Tokyo Museum is an architectural park on the outskirts of the city. Home to buildings from a Tokyo that has long since disappeared, it is a revelation. From farmhouses to public baths, prewar shops and even a kabuki theatre, there are buildings here that have been saved from the ravages of earthquakes and developers. The museum also has a number of private residences, including the 1942 home of the architect Kunio Maekawa.