By Ellen Scott, Lifestyle editor
Tuesday 13 Nov 2018 2:44 pm
When you think of a trip to Tokyo, you probably picture tall buildings plastered with flashing ads, colourful outfits in Harajuku, and weird and wonderful themed cafes.
Busy and bustling. Thats Tokyo.
But it turns out Tokyo can be a centre of wellness and relaxation, too – a place to take a breather and find some peace.
Team up your visit with a journey to Nikko, just a train ride away from the city, for a dreamy way to unwind.
Heres what to do while youre there.
Take a dip in hot springs
When you go to Japan, Onsen (hot bath) is a must.
Thankfully the town of Nikko is filled to the brim with outdoor bathing spots. Either choose a hotel with hot springs included (I stayed in Kai Nikko, which has indoor and outdoor baths), or buy a day pass to access some of the springs nestled in forests and mountains.
Yes, you will need to be totally naked. Yes, that will feel daunting.
But once youre up to your shoulders in steaming hot water, youll forget about any awkwardness and just allow yourself to feel restored.
Theres a lot of etiquette around onsen, beyond the required nudity. Have a read of the springs pamphlets and take the recommendations. It really does make a difference to do the deep breaths they recommend, have a warm shower beforehand so your body isnt shocked by the heat, and take some time to sit and sip a cool drink once youre done.
Try standup paddleboarding
Dont panic, paddleboarding is not the sort of high intensity water sport youre imagining.
Its simple: You stand on a floating board holding a long paddle, then slowly glide along the water.
Book in a session with Sup! Sup! to spend the morning making your way across Lake Chuzenji. Its an incredibly peaceful experience, and the best way to take in the views of the surrounding mountains.
Head to Kegon Falls
Pay a small fee to ride the elevator all the way down to the viewing platforms, where you can feel the power of the giant waterfall.
There will likely be tourists at busier times, but if you can find a quiet spot to peer out at the falls, youll feel truly peaceful.
Fuel up afterwards with a bowl of hot ramen in one of the cafes. If you buy the little shiba inu toys the shop sells, you have my jea
Stroll around the town
Nikko is a quiet area thatll ease you in as you recover from any jet lag. Spend a day strolling along the banks of Lake Chuzenji, hopping in a paddle boat and making sure to stop off in the shops selling handmade crafts.
If youre on the hunt for an authentic souvenir, pick up a pair of Nikko-geta, a type of wooden sandals originally created for monks to trek to temples through the snow. Kai Nikko offers a performance on the history of Nikko-geta, complete with incredible dance, and lets you try out the sandals for yourself before you invest in a pair to take home.
Take in Chuzenji Temple
A short walk from Lake Chuzenji youll find the Chuzenji Temple, a stunning set of buildings and the home of the Tachiki Kannon Statue.
Scents of burning incense, climbing stairs among the forest, and views of the mountains will give you a sense of calm.
Where to stay:
I stayed in Kai Nikko and Palace Hotel Tokyo, travelling between the two on TOBU Railways trains.
If you prefer to have your travel and itinerary sorted for you so you can relax without any planning, Steppes Travel offers a seven night itinerary to Japan, staying at Palace Hotel Tokyo and Kai Nikko from £4,685 per person – that includes accommodation and flights.
Visit the spa at Palace Hotel Tokyo
Of course, if youre visiting Tokyo youll want to explore the shops, see the Shinjuku Crossing, and do all the other traditional city stuff.
But after a day of hustle and bustle, make sure to book in at Palace Hotel Tokyos Evian spa.
Make sure to get a massage then nibble on dates and pear juice, then take your pick from one of the hotels specialised packages – offerings include meditation, tea ceremony experiences, and calligraphy classes along with your standard spa fare.
Id recommend the Aqua Relaxation Experience for stress and tension. Being carried around a pool by a man adjusting your posture is surreal, but deeply soothing. It forces you to let go of any rigidity in your body and just let yourself unwind. I dozed off in the water.
Play with Shiba Inus at the Shiba Cafe
There are a lot of animal cafes in Tokyo. Some can feel a tad manic, with backdrops for photoshoots and feeding frenzies, but I found the Shiba Cafe in Harajuku a more comforting experience.
Head there early to book a time slot. The cafe does get booked up fast and queuing on the stairs can feel a bit precarious. If you get there early youll likely be able to get a slot for the afternoon, so you can spend the day shopping and use the cafe as a break.
Once youre in you get an hour, a free drink, and space to play with the pups, stroke them, or just enjoy watching them doze in the sun.
If dogs arent your thing, head to Ra.a.g.f Rabbit Café, where you can take some time out with a couple of bunnies.
Visit the cats at Gotokuji Temple
Theres nowhere on earth like Gotokuji Temple.
Take a speedy train to the Setagaya District to visit the Buddhist temple thats responsible for the maneki-neko (beckoning cat) that youll find statues of all over the city.
The legend goes that at this temple, a cat beckoned a priest and its servants inside to safety. In that cats honour, youll find hundreds of maneki-neko statues propped around the temples grounds – rows of them by the main shrine, little ones tucked under trees, and, of course, statues you can buy in the gift shop.
Spend an hour or so seeing if you can spot them all.
How to get there:
Finnair flies from London Heathrow, Manchester, Dublin, and Edinburgh to Tokyo with a quick stop in Helsiniki with fares from £935 return in Economy Class.