Frequent visitors to Tokyo know the routine: Sushi breakfast at the world's largest fish market, followed by window shopping at tony Ginza boutiques, and then a dinner boat cruise on the Sumida River. But for the savvy traveler who has been there, done that, Tokyo offers hidden charms to rejuvenate the heart and relieve the soles.
Start the day with "morning service" -- or continental breakfast -- at any of the thousands of tiny coffee shops near major subway entrances. Take a seat next to bleary-eyed workers and lay 350 yen ($3.18) on the counter. That will buy a piping hot slice of inch-thick toast, boiled egg, and cup of coffee, made to order, from a strainer filled with freshly ground beans. Work off the carbs by threading through the morning throng of commuters toward one of Japan's high-tech emporiums in Shinjuku or Shibuya, such as Bic Camera or Yodobashi. These electronic department stores offer the latest gadgets -- some sold only in Japan.
After the blaring sights and sounds of Blade Runner-style Japan, make for the tranquility of one of central Tokyo's few urban oases: Shinjuku Gyoen or Hamarikyu Gardens. Both parks are only a short walk from major hubs. Buy a bento boxed lunch at the Shinjuku Isetan or Mitsukoshi department stores on the way and then spread out on Shinjuku Gyoen's lush lawn or in the shade of its cherry trees. Hamarikyu, a hidden hangout on the far side of Ginza originally built to house a feudal lord in the 1600s, still contains two duck-hunting grounds. Don't miss the macha green tea and dessert combo for 500 yen ($4.55) served in the traditional tea house located on an island in a pond across a short bridge.
Tokyo is nothing if not pedestrian-friendly with sidewalks, short cuts, and underground passages galore. That's a good thing since taxi fares start at 660 yen ($6.00) just for climbing into the back seat. But all that walking around takes its toll on one's feet. Stop in at one of the city's ubiquitous foot-massage parlors. Queensway, a chain of reflexology salons, offers a 25-minute foot bath and massage session for 2,625 yen ($23.86).
Dinner in Tokyo can range from five-star French to a bowl of ramen noodles served from a street cart. One newer A-list restaurant is Gonpachi in trendy Nishi-Azabu. Built like a feudal keep, diners peer down at the open kitchen from tables lining the walls. Try the skewered shiitake mushrooms stuffed with minced chicken or handmade buckwheat noodles. Expect to spend about $50 a person, not including the hot cups of sake.
By Chester Dawson