As Tokyo wakes, surprisingly quietly, the scent of dashi from breakfast miso soup mixes with the rich notes of freshly brewed coffee. Breakfast is often eaten on the run. Standing noodle bars at every train station offer steaming bowls of soba noodles to be slurped down in seconds by orderly armies of commuters.
Those with more time linger over French toast or a sweet soufflé with the morning papers at Lauderdale in Roppongi before exploring the area’s museums. Mori Art Museum offers cutting-edge art with spectacular city views from one of Tokyo’s most expensive residential towers. A short walk away is the Tokyo Midtown shopping complex with its warm timber interiors and dramatic ikebana installations; you’ll be cocooned in the impeccable service and luxe Zen design that Japan does so well. In winter, the adjoining park hosts an ice rink in front of the sleek 21_21 Design Sight venue designed by Issey Miyake. A 10-minute walk takes you to The National Art Center, Tokyo, its concrete-and-glass structure housing spacious galleries and Paul Bocuse’s modern, pod-like brasserie that seems to hover like a spaceship.
Leave the glamorous concrete jungle to meander through the small but spectacular Happo-en gardens in Shirokanedai – originally the grounds of a samurai’s home built in the 17th century. Enjoy a private tea ceremony at the rustic Muan tea house next to the koi pond then elegant tempura at Enju restaurant.
Nearby is a grand residence from a very different era. Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is housed in Prince Asaka’s Art Deco mansion built in 1933. The interior is richly decorated, from the custom René Lalique glass doors and lights to the murals by Henri Rapin.
When the weather turns as crisp as a Fuji apple, stalls pop up on street corners, selling freshly roasted chestnuts or small fragrant Castella cakes to fuel your explorations. The best way to experience Tokyo is to get lost. Wander the backstreets of Nakameguro, on the Meguro River, where you’ll find vintage stores, denim specialists and vinyl records next to intimate bars and cafés. Dive into Waltz, a tiny monument to vinyl, cassettes and even VHS tapes, plus the hardware needed to play them.
Drop by Daikanyama T-Site, a sprawling bookshop designed by Klein Dytham that’s packed with design books and international magazines, then head to Higashi-Yama, tucked behind a cinder-block wall near Naka-Meguro Station, for dinner. Slip through the anonymous doorway for delicate Japanese dishes in an atmospheric converted house. After-dinner drinks in the soothing basement lounge are a must for small-batch sakés and innovative cocktails.
Image: Daikanyama T-Site