Visitors to Tokyo never fail to get carried away by a giddy sense of expectation at seeing the city’s throbbing neon lights, softly lantern-lit bars and sci-fi-like, skyscraper-filled skyline. With the unexpected and jerks of surprise – such as salarymen walking pet cats, or middle-aged women dressed in head-to-toe leather jiving to old school rock and roll in public spaces on a Sunday afternoon – lurking around every corner, Japan’s vast capital lives to entertain, whatever the time of day.

Yet the ear-blasting clatter and jangle of pachinko parlours sitting alongside the eye-assaulting shop fronts of areas such as Harajuku can often threaten to overwhelm, and for first-time visitors the main difficulty in traversing this bustling, buzzing city can be finding a space to breathe. But for every high-rise heavy street, there lurks an escape route into another dimension; a teeny alleyway filled with non-descript doorways through which haven-like tea rooms, tranquil gardens, secret sake bars and stylish sushi counters await, offering a welcoming, embracing calm.

So how to uncover Tokyo’s tranquil alter ego? Our advice: ditch the standard guidebook and wander the city’s streets without aim; Tokyo is a city of vibes rather than landmarks, and each of its neighbourhoods unveils a different side of its endless faces. Stroll the neon-lit backstreets of Shinjuku and you’ll find the futuristic city of the future, so often portrayed on the big screen, materialised in real life. Or while away a day along the leaf-lined streets of Yanaka, snacking from shops whose time-worn facades recall a Tokyo of centuries passed.

Those with the time – or inclination – to delve beyond Tokyo’s tourist-tempting hotspots will be the ones who return, again and again, knowing there are ever-more surprises waiting to be discovered down the city’s infinitely alluring labyrinth of backstreets.


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One for architecture fans, the exterior of this hotel is the work of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, designer of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium. Each of the 142 guest rooms has a take-away smartphone available (great if you don’t want the added expense of purchasing WiFi or sim card) and the smaller rooms are reasonably priced regardless of season, despite being located only a short walk from Tokyo Skytree – one of the city’s most iconic sites. Visit the rooftop bar for up-close views of the tower and the Tokyo skyline. For book lovers, the hotel’s Library Suite room is a bucket-list stay, with a wall crammed full of art and design books.

Muji Hotel Ginza

Opened by Muji – the lifestyle brand famous for its understated aesthetics – this hotel’s 79 rooms project the tiny-house ethos, each containing enough space to enjoy life without excess. As expected from Muji, rooms are minimalist rather than overtly fancy, and are decked out in cool natural wooden tones and packed with all the little extras Japan does so well: stylish nightwear, slippers, diffusers and (in some rooms) a small selection of books. A Muji diner, shop, bakery, bar and restaurant make this a one-stop haven for fans of the brand.

Hotel Koé

Slap-bang in Shibuya – a district renowned for the thousands of pedestrians who walk its crossings – this hotel raises the area’s standard for cool, affordable stays. Sleeping, shopping, music, food and art are all on offer inside this concrete-and-glass building. Koé clothing and lifestyle products are available from the shop, many made in collaboration with artists and illustrators. The hotel also presents an endless rota of top DJs several nights a week. Rooms are categorised S, M, L and XL according to size, while corridors and rest spaces display artwork by some of Japan’s most notable names, including Yoshitomo Nara.

  • +81 3-6712-7251
  • Go to Website
  • 3-7 Udagawacho
    Shibuya City


Claska is Tokyo’s original design hotel, with sleek interiors and homely vibe. Its 20 rooms are split into different categories – from zen-feel tatami mat rooms complete with sliding paper doors, through to modern, more western-style rooms with antiques and comfy furniture (some revamped in 2018). The hotel’s location in the relaxed area of Meguro is a welcome distance from the tourist path, and a cherry blossom hotspot come spring. There, you’ll find countless second-hand shops, quiet shrines and sento bathhouses. Claska, and its surroundings, provide the perfect antidote to the crowds and bustle of Tokyo’s busier neighbourhoods.

The Capitol Hotel Tokyu

Going beyond the typical repertoire of Tokyo’s luxury properties, The Capitol Hotel Tokyu offers an array of insider experiences to guests, allowing you to dip a toe into the country’s often mystifying culture. Geisha dinners at nearby historic restaurants, Shinto ceremonies inside majestic shrines and sumo-stable visits are all offered by the hotels’ concierge, making it a stay well worth splashing out for. Rooms feel homely and distinctly Japanese; the vibe is more traditional inn than ultra-modern skyscraper.

  • +81 3 3503 0109
  • Go to Website
  • 2 Chome-10-3 Nagatacho


The 15-room TRUNK hotel is one of Tokyo’s best-located properties, sitting right in the heart of Shibuya, just a hop, skip and jump away from the renowned boutique-heavy area of Omotesando (the Champs-Élysées of Japan). Designed as a community-conscious hotel, TRUNK welcomes bypassers into its various public spaces, including a restaurant, pop-up exhibition space, convenience store, standing yakitori bar, and even a rooftop chapel. The Made in Japan design concept of the hotel means everything – including the mini-bar wines and convenience store beers – is produced as locally as possible.

Wired Hotel

Wired Hotel is stroke of design genius, put together by local master craftsmen whose handmade interiors – such as washi paper walls through to custom-made leather chairs – accommodate all varieties of traveller from budget-conscious guests who book out its bunk-bed rooms through to the less cash-struck, who book the chic penthouse suite with a second thought. Expect carefully thought out design and amenities, including deep-soak tubs and yukatas (without the flashy extras) right in the heart of Asakusa, Tokyo’s original entertainment district.

9hrs Capsules

For one-night pit stops in the capital or nights which don’t end until the early hours, 9hrs’ capsule pods always fit the bill. Quite unlike the coffin-style vessels of collective imagination, these futuristic-feel, comfy pods offer the additional bonus of a book-by-the-hour option, giving you a convenient base for a quick shower, nap and refresh. 9hrs have properties across Tokyo, including a base at Narita Airport, with prices starting from around £20 per night per person. Both women-only properties and women-only floors are also available.

Book & Bed

Book & Bed hosts its guests in cubby holes enclosed between library-style floor-to-ceiling bookcases, containing both Japanese and English literature. Exposed, industrial-chic design mixes with the comforts of endless reams of paper at its three Tokyo locations – Shinjuku, Asakusa and Ikebukuro. Privacy is at a minimum, but at £26 per night it makes an ideal one-night stop over for enthusiastic bibliophiles.


The Capitol Hotel Tokyu


Wired Hotel

Book & Bed

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