Tokyo is the pinnacle of human technological accomplishment, an amorphous amalgamation of western discipline and eastern exotica.

For the outside observer, Tokyo conjures up a flurry of emotions and a sense of wide-eyed wonder; true in part due to its rich and often contradictory cultural legacy. As the well-traveled Japanophile can attest to: Tokyo is the living embodiment of a culture that is both gracious and domineering.

Before I set out for this distant Island, I expected a great many possibilities and yet didn’t know quite what to expect either. My imagination was aflush with a veritable cornucopia of delectable delights, widely ranging in nature from a smorgasbord of sushi to swashbuckling samurais to nuclear radiation to whirling Geishas to electrifying bullet trains and on and on… As I was to later discover, my imagination had only tipped the very top of the proverbial iceberg.

I embarked on a brand new Boeing 767 aircraft operated by Air India; the interiors had however already acquired a dilapidated appearance typical of the Air India experience. The flight was a far cry from full and occupied mostly by business travelers. Contrast this scenario with the stuffed flights overflowing with holiday making families en route to Europe or the United States; and one begins to understand the fallacy of a Pan Asian solidarity.

Moreover, despite the rare luxury of flying in business class, the seats were most curiously constructed. One could not quite fully extend the leg rest without suddenly jamming a foot into something hard or angular; and when the leg rest was fully extended, your wallet or passport would invariably fall into some mysteriously emergent crevice. After a nightmarish journey, the plane descended onto the sparkling runway of Tokyo’s venerated Narita airport. And so the adventure begins…

Tokyo is a city that is replete with a history spanning several centuries and yet it is also provides a glimpse into the future. It is here that imposing skyscrapers co-exist with traditional wooden Japanese homes; where one can attend an age-old tea ceremony and pop into one of Japan’s technologically daunting smart toilets for a leak afterwards. If you’re impressed by the likes of New York, London or Paris then prepare to be downright gobsmacked; Tokyo trumps them all.

There’s an endless array of things to do, sights to see and shiny things to eat. One caveat here is that Tokyo is more suited to the well-heeled traveler; it’s one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever found myself in. The price range varies from the obnoxiously expensive to the not so obnoxiously expensive. However, if your wallet is adequately equipped then here’s an eclectic rundown of Tokyo’s must-dos—

Tokyo Imperial Palace and grounds: Home to the Emperor of Japan, the Imperial Palace is in the heart of the city and is a must visit. The current palace, constructed within the ancient perimeter of the Edo Castle, was built in the 1960s after the earlier palace complex was destroyed by allied firebombing in WW2.

Tofuya Ukai:
Unarguably one of the premier fine dining spots in Tokyo town, Tofuya Ukai is the experience of a lifetime if you can afford it. The restaurant is located in a sprawling traditional wooden structure in the midst of tranquil Zen-like gardens, situated at a stone’s throw from the Tokyo Tower. Guests are led into private tatami rooms featuring the traditional Japanese fusuma sliding doors. The cuisine is simply to-die-for and is tofu centric. Incase you are itching for the tatami dining experience but are inclined more towards all things seafood, the equally impressive Tsukiji Jisaku might be a more suitable option.

Shibuya Crossing:
A sigh for sore eyes! Located outside Shibuya station, this crossing is one of the busiest intersections in the world. Typical of Japanese impeccability, all the traffic lights encircling the crossing simultaneously turn red or green, thereby creating a dazzling humanoid choreography. A great vantage point for capturing a bird’s eye view of Shibuya Crossing is the 25th floor of the Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu.

Meiji Shrine: In remembrance of the late 19th century Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken, this Shinto shrine is perhaps the most famous in all of Japan. Discreetly tucked away in the midst of a forest glade, one is required to walk along a seemingly endless path in order to reach the austere but impressive entrance gate. A subtle sense of spiritualism and esotericism pervades the atmosphere around the shrine. Don’t forget to pick up a charm or totem so that you may receive the benediction of the Meiji spirits.

Bar Orchard Ginza: Tokyo is reputed to be home to the greatest number of bars to be found in any city on earth! Most of these watering holes are located in tiny apartments all over Tokyo. The best ones are hidden and can only be found if you know where to look… One of the best of the best is undoubtedly Bar Orchard Ginza. Tucked away nondescriptly in an unremarkable high rise, this bar is a favorite haunt of locals and the initiated alike.

You enter a tiny rhomboid room with enough seating for about a dozen people at the most. The bar is the only striking feature and you immediately notice a vivid assortment of fruits neatly arranged along the bar counter top. The bartender asks you to choose any one piece of fruit and devises a cocktail based on your choice. The concoctions are extravagantly created in the midst of fumes of liquid nitrogen, eye watering aromatic spices and dynamic fruit splicing & dicing. The result is guaranteed to blow your taste buds into sweet oblivion.

The list naturally goes on and on… Bar hopping in Roppongi, luxury shopping in Ginza, rubbing shoulders with Japanese hipsters in Harajuku and on and on… Also, it’s almost a sin to travel to Tokyo and to not make a visit to Kyoto. The world-renowned Shinkansen bullet train will get you there in approximately 2 and half hours with not a minute to lose! Formerly the Imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is adorned with a smattering of exquisite shrines and cherry blossom lined streets. More intimate and laidback than the fast paced Tokyo, one really feels that time has almost come to a standstill.

Must visit sites include the Golden and Silver Shrine, the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple housing an army of bronze Buddhist and Hindu statues donning grimacing looks, the Fushimi Inari Shinto shrine encompassing one thousand gates and the Kiyomizu-dera also known as the Cupid of Japan. All in all, Japan is one destination that will leave an indelible mark on your psyche if you can afford it.

(Tokyo skyline witnessed from a vantage point close to the Shibuya Crossing.)

(A typical Tokyo high rise in the colorful Roppongi district.)

(A traditional Japanese building in the Imperial Palace grounds.)

(A busy souvenirs market in the vicinity of Buddhist Temple Kiyomizu-dera .)

(The iconic red facade of Buddhist Temple Kiyomizu-dera.)

(Japanese school girls on a day excursion.)

(One of the most popular tourist spots in Japan is the Kinkaku-ji or Golden Shrine in Kyoto.)

(An imposing fox statue at the entrance to the Fushimi Inari shrine.)

(Chronological exhibit at Kyoto’s must visit Manga museum.)

Photographs AGNEYA SINGH