Japan

Nonstop flights to Tokyo offer Calgarians gateway to Asia


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Deep in a tangle of green gardens, tiny lights twinkle like a mini disco. Fireflies, a quintessential symbol of summer, sparkle in the soft night sky. While I was fascinated by dancing beetles, the flickering light of a bamboo lamp led me down a path. I followed it up a hill, where I stumbled across a three-story pagoda.

I could be anywhere in rural Japan, but I’m actually in central Tokyo. To be exact, it is in the garden of the Chinzanso Hotel. While it might seem like an unlikely oasis, in Japan the opposite isn’t a paradox. Japan is famous for its juxtaposition of city and country, old and new.

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Japan has always had an exotic feel, but it’s also known for being remote, difficult to navigate or expensive. Once upon a time, it might have been all three, but it’s not one of them anymore.

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo
The garden of Chinzanzhuang Hotel is surrounded by a sea of ​​clouds.Photo, Jody Robbins .jpg

English is used everywhere, from well-signed bus stops to restaurant menus, so you can get around with ease. Although Japan is far from Japan, WestJet’s new nonstop service from Calgary to Tokyo makes traveling to Japan easier than ever. But the best-kept secret is the weak yen, which makes everything from dining to events to lodging very reasonably priced.

When it comes to what to do and where to go, Tokyo still has a lot to explore. Part of what makes the city so vibrant is its incredibly diverse neighborhoods. Each area is worth spending a day exploring to fully understand it.

If, like me, you wake up early due to jet lag, take advantage of this and catch the tuna auction at Toyosu Market at dawn. But for this, you need to book tickets in advance.

While there isn’t much to see after the auction, you can enjoy the freshest sushi for breakfast. If you’re still wary, head over to teamLab Planets.

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Digital fun in Tokyo
Visit teamLab Planets’ Digital Fish exhibit.Photo, Jody Robbins .jpg

This is no ordinary museum and you have to take off your shoes to find out why. It might not be the most common way to deal with jet lag, but wading through knee-deep water with digital fish swimming around you seems to help. Whether you’re immersed in a digital gallery or a floating garden with thousands of orchids hanging overhead, art changes with people’s presence. Where else but in Japan can you experience the blurring of the lines between yourself and the exhibits?

After acclimatization, head to northern Tokyo, where you can spend a full day taking the Ueno Park route. It’s like Central Park, but with cultural attractions like two art museums and the National Science Museum. Ueno Zoo covers 133 acres and you can also see performing artists, a lively market and pandas. Also featuring temples and shrines, it’s a one-stop shop for cultural experiences — something Tokyo has no shortage of.

Tuna Market, Tokyo
Jody Robbins on Japan, the hustle and bustle of the Tsukiji Outer Market.Provided by Tokyo Convention and Tourism Bureau .jpg

From Ueno Park, walk to JR Ueno Station to explore Ameyoko. Once a black market area after World War II, this vibrant street market now sells mostly discounted food, clothing and medicine. Speaking of deals, I picked up a pair of ASICS running shoes for $43.

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Another neighborhood worth visiting is Ginza, known for its upscale shopping and Michelin-starred restaurants. Even though things are very cheap in Japan these days, there are always places that can cater to the luxury market. It was here, in the food hall of Japan’s oldest department store, that I discovered the famous $80 melons and $40 bunches of grapes. That’s almost a bargain, considering both would have seen prices rise by at least 30% before the coronavirus hit.

Tokyo Ginza
Jody Robbins on Japan: Ginza is one of Tokyo’s most luxurious enclaves.Provided by Tokyo Convention and Tourism Bureau .jpg

I managed to keep my money in my wallet knowing that not far from Ginza is the Tsukiji Outer Market. Once the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, it is now the birthplace of many culinary trends. Along the sea of ​​tourists, local foodies and boisterous families, I was amazed by the amount of seafood and skewers on offer.

Walking without a sense of direction doesn’t seem to matter either. Every alley has something new to discover. One alley has handcrafted Japanese knives and cutlery, another has thinly sliced ​​beef sushi – the new “it food”. I tossed out the tuna rolls and fresh oysters (both the size of my palm), and scallops seared in their shells on a charcoal grill.

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Then, stroll to Hama-rikyu Garden, a 15-minute walk away. A treat for the senses after the madness of the street markets. It used to be the private garden of the royal family and the shogunate, and is now designated as a special scenic spot.

I grab a cup of matcha and catch my breath in a converted floating teahouse on a tidal pond. Looking through the manicured gardens, winding paths and manicured trees, I was amazed to see the skyscrapers at the edge of the park reflected on the surface of the pond. I forgot for a moment that I was in the most populous city in the world.

This is your Tokyo. One minute you’re part of the crowd, but seconds later you’re gone. I’m glad it’s more accessible and affordable now than ever.

nice to know

As of October 28, WestJet is flying 787 Dreamliner three times a week non-stop to Tokyo Narita International Airport, and will return in spring 2024.

For the latest information on events, attractions and accommodation in Tokyo, visit: gotokyo.org

Buy a 7-, 14- or 21-day Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel on JR trains without a reservation. The pass must be purchased outside of Japan and can be used on the Tokyo Metro as well as trains across the country. Visit: japan-rail-pass.com

For more information on traveling in Japan for Canadians, visit: japan.travel/en/ca

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