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12 Hours In… Traditional Tokyo

So many traditions, so little time! Here’s your 24-hour culture cram sesh. Hai, dozo…

Distinctive, eccentric, and steeped in traditions originating thousands of years ago, Japanese culture is a deep reservoir of beautiful heritage and eye-opening experience waiting to be tapped by the eager visitor. The catch… How can one possibly cram centuries upon centuries-worth of history into a scant 12 hours on the ground? The answer is you can’t really, but if you plan your itinerary wisely, a solid overview of the country’s gleaming cultural pearls is yours for the taking.

Begin your day in the north of the city at Bunkyo’s heritage jewel Origami Kaikan, a six-floored space first established in 1858 and dedicated to the quintessentially Japanese art of origami (that’s paper-folding to the layman) in the 150 or so years hence. Marvel at the intricately folded cranes, dolls and geometric shapes on the exhibition floor before swishing up to the fourth floor workshop to see the delicately patterned washi paper being lovingly made and dyed. You can even join one of the daily classes on the fifth and sixth floors, though note most are conducted in Japanese. Finally, stock up on cute souvenirs plus your own kit n’ kaboodle including paper and an instructional DVD to continue the education at home.

Newly learned in all things tucked, creased and folded, it’s time to step it up a notch. One of Japan’s most distinguishing cultural aspects is its traditional dress, with boldly-hued, elaborately-wrapped kimono robes essentially embodying the high fashion equivalent of origami. A quick 15-minute cab ride south will land you at Ginza Motoji where ultra-sleek, modern and classic fabrics are custom-made into smart yukata (summer-weight kimono). Slip into a Platinum Boy robe, made using silk from only male silkworms; a Ginza Willow, coloured with dye from a local tree; or an Oshimatsumugi, crafted with a pongee fabric sourced from Amami Island. You’ll simply never wear terry again.

Newly clad, you’re now perfectly placed (and dressed) for a quick skip to Tofuya Ukai, Tokyo’s elegant ode to the humble soybean. Seasonal menus are presented in a refined, kaiseki-style set in some of the most serene environs you’re likely to find anywhere in the city, with the former sake brewery space beautifully appointed with lacquered pillars, tatami floors and a pretty rock garden right under Tokyo Tower.

Is that a twig in your vase or are you just pleased to see me? Post sup, a quick cab across to Minato-ku will get your knees under Sogetsu Ikebana, where the tranquil (read: silent) and age-old practice of Japanese flower arranging has been revealed to small group or private classes – booked in advance, natch – since the school was founded in 1927. Channelling Japan’s ubiquitous minimalist aesthetic for often dramatic results, it’s simply astonishing what you can get up to with two sticks and a daffodil…

You’re already kimono-clad, but while you’re in the neighbourhood it would be remiss not to strike a pause at Tadashi Morita’s Minami Aoyama eponymous treasure trove of textile fragments and antique kimono, Morita. His vast and impressive collection also includes rare costumes and fabric fragments like furoshiki – squarish pieces of cloth traditionally used for gift wrap.

Now, with your traddy gift wrap in hand, a pixie skip down the street will find you just the one-of-a-kind piece to enclose within it. With its bold black brush strokes dramatically set against a stark white backdrop, calligraphy may well be the creative medium that perfectly represents the beauty and quiet complexity of the Japanese aesthetic. Carré Moji offers a delightfully modern take on this ancient art form, housing a collection of approximately 2,000 unique pieces in their soft grey Omotesando showroom. Take home whatever your heart desires, writ large by the masters in your choice of several different styles (including contemporary kanji, bold mojiphic, graphic sumiphic, and even dreamy, fluid English scripts), with the option to frame so it’s mantel ready.

Phew! Almost done. Back in the cab you hop for your last stop, which will highlight what is undoubtedly one of the most revered and sacred of Japanese traditions – tea ceremony. In ravishing Happo-en Garden (or, “Garden of Eight Views”), amidst the flourishing plants, gentle streams, temples and relics, an advanced booking will afford you the chance to imbibe what will surely be one of the most peaceful and memorable cuppas of your life in a traditional C.19th tearoom. Watch your kimono-clad host whisk the powdered matcha tea into submission using special utensils, while enjoying the sips, sweets and schooling in proper etiquette that all come included. Cha-ahhhh!

Origami Kaikan, 1-7-14 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3811 4025,

Ginza Motoji, 4-8-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3535 3888,

Tofuya Ukai, 4-4-13 Shiba-koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3436 1028,

Sogetsu Ikebana, 7-2-21 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3408 1151,

Morita, 5-12-2 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3407 4466

Carré Moji, 3/F, 5-11-24 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 5766 7120,

Happo-en Garden, Chasitsu Muan, 1-1-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, +81 3 3441 7888,

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