Chill Out In Tokyo
Most famous for its neon lights, quirky subcultures and cafés featuring everything from maids, to cats, owls and even robots. Tokyo might not immediately stand out as a relaxing short trip destination. Sure, there’s a lot going on in Tokyo, but, as with any great world city, this means there are a lot of options – even for those looking for a quiet getaway.
Compared with daily life as we know it in Shanghai, there are some things that make Japan and its capital a pretty relaxing place. The most obvious is the orderly queues – to get on the subway, in stores and waiting for a sweet crepe to go – even as crowds of humanity are all around, there is little encroachment on personal space. It’s really amazing how calming the lack of pushing and shoving can be over the course of a few days.
We stayed for two nights at The Peninsula Tokyo in Chiyoda District, perfectly located for the high-end shopping and eating of Ginza, as well as four metro lines, making getting around town exceedingly easy.
If you are staying in Tokyo and have no need for a Japan Railways pass to take you on intercity trains and shinkansen around the country, buy a Suica transport card from a vending machine at major metro stations when you arrive in Tokyo.
Suica cards can be used for all Greater Tokyo metro trains (several companies operate metro services in Tokyo and not all transport cards and passes entitles you to travel on all of them), as well as to buy drinks and snacks at some of Tokyo’s ubiquitous vending machines.
It would be pretty easy to stay within the comfortable confines of The Peninsula and feel as though you have had a relaxing holiday – watching the salarymen go about their business like suited ants from your window. As one would expect from a luxury hotel in any major city, everything is completely taken care of from arrival to departure.
For those traveling with kids in tow, there are very thoughtful touches, such as the child-friendly menu and crayons for colouring included with breakfast in the hotel’s lobby. The lobby is also a popular destination in the afternoons for The Peninsula’s famous afternoon tea.
For those traveling sans child, there are some other major pluses, including an indoor, heated pool and spa, where the signature Keihatsu Enlightenment Massage is guaranteed to get you into full-on relaxation mode with its combination of hot stones as well as kneading rolling and stretching, topped off with a head massage at the tail end of a blissful one hour and fifty minutes.
If you do decide to leave the hotel, however, Tokyo also has a plethora of quiet green spaces and peaceful temples and shrines, so it’s easy to feel connected to the natural and spiritual world sans crowds. A major plus of many temples and shrines are their surrounding gardens, which are deliberately cultivated to imbue a sense of calm in those visiting.
The Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the 19th century Emperor that opened Japan to the West, is one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist attractions, it lies in the middle of Shibuya district’s Yoyogi Park.
The park is one of Tokyo’s largest, and now that the Rio Olympics is done and dusted and the world turns its attention towards Tokyo in 2020, its also worth noting that Yoyogi Park was the site of the city’s last Olympic opening ceremony, back in 1964.
Yoyogi Park’s rolling green expanses are broken up with waterways and stone bridges, with a path encircling the whole place. On sunny days there are many Tokyoites also taking advantage of the pace, playing Frisbee, choreographing sweet dance moves, and even practicing plays.
Make your way off road to the north and west of the park to find more isolated picnic positions and prime, shaded reading spots in which to while away an afternoon. Though Yoyogi Park is a great option for those looking to hang out with friends, or find a quiet slice of solitude, for unbridled beauty in park form look no further than Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
The “Garden” actually incorporates numerous gardens, each in a different, internationally renowned style. The major ones include the English Landscape garden, French Formal garden, Japanese Traditional garden (complete with teahouse) and the curiously named Mother and Child Forest.
Another option is the garden surrounding the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda District – a great local option if you are staying around the Ginza or Tokyo Station areas. As the Japanese royal family still occupies the attached Imperial Palace, it’s rare that tourists are allowed in, but the lovely surrounding gardens are still worth a wander, and also make a great place to settle in for your lunchtime bento box from a local convenience store or food court.
Though it might sound like a strange tourist attraction, there is something oddly compelling and calming about the atmosphere at Tokyo’s Aoyama Cemetery, a quiet and tree-filled sanctuary that is the eternal home of some the Japan’s most important cultural and political figures of the modern era.
Though the greenery is pleasant year-round, the cemetery really comes into its own during cherry blossom season, when the surrounding trees serenely bloom, carpeting the cemetery’s walkways in their discarded foliage.
Even if you can’t read the lines of kanji (characters) decorating the elaborate headstones of the great, good and otherwise buried at Aoyama, the stones themselves, many complete with miniature re-creations of temples and torii (the tell-tale gates of Shinto shrines), are a site in themselves. The nonchalant neighbourhood cats hanging out in the cemetery are also a highlight.
Even though Aoyama is located in central Tokyo, it’s weirdly quiet here, the canopy of trees seeming to somehow insulate this serene resting place in quiet. It’s definitely a top choice for those looking for some peace as part of their intake of Tokyo’s sights and historically significant locales.
As with almost anywhere in the world outside of China these days, many of Tokyo’s most populated and popular tourist sites are covered in Pokémon Go players engrossed in the world as seen through the augmented reality game on their phone.
At The Peninsula Tokyo, kids of all ages (well, as long as they are over five-years-old) can have a real-life Pokémon adventure with an interactive experience designed by The Pokémon Company specifically for the hotel. Participants don a Pikachu hat and, equipped with a Poké Ball, set forth on an imaginative hotel-wide quest to seek out Pokémon characters.