In 2020, tourists from around the world will flock to Tokyo in record numbers to enjoy the thrill and spectacle of the summer Olympic games. For the world's most heavily populated city – one with an enviable reputation for being as clean, friendly and safe as it is vibrant and exciting – this represents quite the challenge. And if you intend to join the throngs hoping to witness sporting history, it will be for you too.
Most visitors to Tokyo opt to stay – or at least spend most of their time – in the famous dining and nightlife districts of Shubuya and Shinjuku. But during the Games, those famously bustling areas are sure to swell into chaos (albeit of a very polite, Japanese kind), while they'll be more reasons than ever to make use of the cities famously efficient subway and travel further afield – the games will be scattered far and wide rather that focused in one area or arena.
Our recommendation, therefore, is to stay in the grand old business district of Nihonbashi - the birthplace of Tokyo - where you'll find not only smaller crowds but also the best shopping opportunities in the city and some of city's most fascinating areas of history for those down times between events.
Nihonbashi has been the commercial heart of the city since the 17th century when merchants traded along the bridge that gives the district its name. Today, it hosts not only the Bank of Japan but the country's stock exchange and – more pertinently for those seeking pleasure, rather than business – the glorious appointed Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya department stores. For those with a little money to spend, the mixture of intentional luxury brands and small, authentic Japanese artisan outlets is irresistible: you can be checking out the latest Gucci collection one moment then investing in a handmade sashimi knife, sharpened right in front of you, the next. T he district is still lined with countless-generations-old family businesses - including paper, glass, laquerware, fan and kimono makers - beneath some of the city's most striking modern skyscrapers.
In terms of where to stay, the best choice is the famous Mandarin Oriental – one of the finest 5 star hotels not just in Japan, but the world. Open since 2005, the Mandarin occupies the top nine floors of the 36 storey Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, meaning wherever you are stood inside you're afforded stunning views of the East and West of the city (and no city, not even New York, rewards a bird's eye view quite like Toyko). The hotel was conceived as a 'living tree', which is a typically poetic, Japanese way of saying it is made of great slabs of wood and has tranquil water features woven throughout (to extend the metaphor: the rooms, which are uniformly understated and beautiful, serve as the 'branches'). The award-winning spa, it goes without saying, benefits from these structural pleasantries too.
But lets talk about food. Obviously, any visitor to Tokyo – even one hell bent on watching the men's dressage final before whizzing off to the women's shot putt – should sample the cities' street food and informal dining options. But the Madarin also happens to have, within its very walls (or should that be bark?), two of the most luxurious and memorable dining options in the city.
Many of Tokyo's best sushi is hidden away in basements, but Sushi Sora sits proudly on the 38th floor, with only eight seats available. Enjoying the immaculate variations on the simple nigiri or makimono-rolled sushi of Master Chef Yujo Imaizumi while taking in the unparalleled city views is quite the experience – while the sake pairings are perfectly selected, if a little dangerous for the easily imbibed.
Across the hallway is something less traditional, but even more unique - the Michelin starred Tapas Molecular Bar. Ever since Heston Blumenthal started blasting pork scratchings with liquid nitrogen, 'creative' dining has been something of an annoying fad in recent years, but this place breathes fresh life into the trend with an innovative fusion of Japanese and Western cuisines, created over two captivating hours by a team of friendly (and bilingual) chefs led by Ngan Ping Chow. It's not an evening you'll forget in a hurry.
How to get there
When you're travelling to the other side of the world, you want as much comfort as possible. Luckily, Cathy Pacific fly from London to Tokyo with only a short stop in Hong Kong and offer one of the most consistently excellent Business Class services of any airline in the world. The airport lounges are a 5 star experience (whether you're looking for European or Asian nourishment) while onboard the spacious seat, in-flight entertainment, food and - above all - service is of a higher standard then many First Class offerings. It's a no-brainer, really.
Rates for Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo start from JPY 55,000 per room per night (approx. £390). For more information or to make a booking, please call +81 (3) 3270 8800 or visit mandarinoriental.com/tokyo.
For flights, visit cathaypacific.com.