Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Help me plan a first-time visit to Japan


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The Independent Travel

Q. I am planning a first trip to Japan, and wondered where to stay in Tokyo - and which other places to visit?

Name Withheld

A. My strong advice is to spend a good chunk of time getting to know Tokyo. Japan's capital is a dazzling, beautiful and multi-faceted city. The contrasts between intense urban life and serene escapes are enthralling and energising, even more so than London. In a few minutes (using the superb public transport) you can venture from the high-voltage retail dazzle of Akihabara “electric town” to the friendly, villagey area of Yanaka, with echoes of pre-war Japan.

My most recent 48 Hours in Tokyo - which you can find online at - prescribes an action-packed couple of days, but you can certainly extend your stay to explore more of the city.

The place I stayed most recently, the Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi Annex, is fabulous value and reasonably central.

Going beyond Tokyo: well, you could do what I did on my first visit, and buy the excellent-value Japan Rail Pass. A week's unlimited travel throughout Japan costs costs £226 for 7 days, and enables you to venture to the fascinating northern island of Hokkaido; the imperial city of Kyoto; and the sombre memorials of Hiroshima. But unless you want to feel like a hyperactive Inter-Railer, I'd suggest you consider instead the easy escape from the capital to Hakone National Park - an intriguing combination of volcanic scenery, pretty towns and a world-class sculpture park. There are special fares for short breaks on the high-speed, narrow-gauge train (another uniquely Japanese experience) that runs direct from Shinjuku station in Tokyo to the edge of the national park.

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