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Tokyo History

Compared to the likes of Rome, Paris or London, Japan's capital is a relative newcomer to the global city scene. Still, in less than 500 short years, Tokyo has become one of the most culturally and economically illustrious cities in the World, despite suffering major environmental disasters and devastating conflicts.

Tokyo's story begins in 1590, when the shoguns (Japan's hereditary military dictators) moved their base from Kyoto to where Tokyo stands today. They named the city Edo, and although the Emperor remained in Kyoto, power and profit moved east with them.

Sealed off from the rest of the world for another two centuries, the Edo period was a time of samurai, tea ceremonies and calligraphy. When the shogunate fell in 1867, Emperor Meiji seized the real reins of power and moved to Edo.

He renamed it Tokyo and established it as Japan's capital, throwing open the country's borders and actively welcoming outside influences, particularly western ones. He made Shinto the state religion, thus establishing himself as a divine being with total power over the nation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this whirlwind of change became known as the Meiji Revolution and it thrust Tokyo headlong into the 20th century. People flocked to the city from the countryside, educational standards rapidly improved and the arts and the theatre both bloomed.

Then in 1923, Tokyo was devastated by the Great Kantō Earthquake. With over 100,000 dead and nearly 2 million left homeless, the city was still trying to recover when war swept across the world. Although Tokyo escaped the atomic bomb, WWII rained down over 100 other missiles onto the city, decimating buildings and halving the capital's population in only five years.

Yet, somehow, Tokyo really did rise from the ashes, entering the 21st century as one of the greatest cities in the world.

Did you know?
• The engineering company behind Tokyo Tower believe it could withstand an earthquake that is twice as intense as the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, which reached a magnitude of nine.
• Each train station in Tokyo has its unique theme song.

Featured Hotels

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Claska Hotel

Modern minimalist design and classic Japanese aesthetics brush shoulders in this hip hotel, just outside of the city centre. There’s the chance to choose between a western–style room or traditional tatami space. Each option comes with plenty of home comforts, including beautiful toiletries and access to a huge CD and DVD collection. There’s even an in–house gallery, plus a French/Japanese fusion restaurant.

Hoshinoya Tokyo

Opened in the summer of 2016, Hoshinoya is a unique urban offering for Tokyo, a hotel with a contemporary take on Japan’s legendary omotenashi hospitality, set right at the heart of the city's Otemachi district. Leave your shoes at the door and unwind into spacious quarters, designed with a tasteful nod to the traditional Japenese aesthetic. The 19-floor hotel with stylish lattice exterior forms a bijou enclave in this bustling business district, just a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station. You won't want to leave your ochanoma lounge area, allocated exclusively to guests staying on each floor and decked in traditional tatami mats, it has a library, sofas and kitchen space. But if you do the rooftop onsen spa is a truly unique Tokyo experience. The hot spring waters are the perfect cure for urban fatigue and will help you revitalise your body and mind, all the while staring up at the open Tokyo skies above.

Hotel Gracery Shinjuku

Set only a few minutes' walk from Shinjuku train station and in easy walking distance of a dizzying array of shops and restaurants, Gracery Shinjuku is something of a landmark - it's set in a modern high rise building that's 30 stories high, and there's a giant replica godzilla head peering out the side. If you're willing to pay extra, you can stay in a godzilla-themed room too. Though the rooms are compact, the bathrooms are larger than the norm and the higher rooms have scenic city views; there's also a convenient Italian restaurant on-site and a cinema on the ground floor.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

The Park Hyatt Tokyo's role as muse and backdrop to Coppola's Lost in Translation pushed it onto the world stage in 2003. Towering over fashionable Shinjuku, guests enter on the 41st floor and gaze across the neon-lit Tokyo sky. Art blends with sleek architecture and spacious rooms, and even the spa combines tradition and modernisation with impressive success. Plus, there's something to be said for working out in the gym that tormented Bill Murray.

Hotel Asia Center of Japan

Quite possibly offering the cheapest double rooms in central Tokyo, this hotel is ideal as as a central base for a short visit. Within walking distance of the ex-pat haven of Roppongi, and the restaurants and bars of Aoyama Itchome, guests are well placed for sightseeing.

Imperial Hotel

This 5-star luxury hotel in Vilnius and is set in a historic 16th-century building. Its great Old Town location, super helpful staff and 55 spotless rooms combine to make this a deservedly popular choice with business and leisure travellers alike.