Five Essential Urban Escapes in Tokyo

By Juliette Olah
November 4, 2015

Ahh Tokyo. We love you for your maze of wondrous food, shopping, entertainment, politeness and efficiency, but sometimes city dwellers just need a break. The overstimulation of senses commonly felt in a major hub like Tokyo can certainly wreak havoc on sensitive nerves. I know I feel it! Hopefully these spots will help you get away from it all, and when you emerge, you might just find yourself ready to embrace the bewildering madness of Tokyo with a revitalised perspective.

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Miyamaedaira Onsen

I am told by my local friends that finding a Japanese native who doesn’t like onsen (hot springs) is inconceivable. Whiling the afternoon away in a steaming hot spring bath has to be one of the most blissfully relaxing experiences on offer in this country. It’s true that enjoying the rambling scenery in a quaint countryside onsen town is ideal, but sometimes you just need a quick fix. Downtown Tokyo has quite a few good onsen, you just need to look a little harder to spot them.

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Miyamaedaira boasts a superb array of nine onsen baths, a sauna, hot rock rooms, and some of the most high-tech massage chairs I’ve ever reclined in—these people don’t mess about when it comes to relaxation. Entry is also very reasonable. For ¥1,200 on weekdays and ¥1,470 on weekends you can hang out for as long as you like.

Address: 2-13-3 Miyamaedaira, Miyamae-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa

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Cabinet Bar

There are some days when a quiet cafe won’t suffice. In this case, it’s time to look for a quiet cocktail bar. Among Tokyo’s endless offerings, this one’s in my top three. There is a humble quietness about this space. The interior is tranquil and minimal, while the menu is absolutely not, with what looks to be hundreds of whiskeys spanning from floor to ceiling behind the bar. But if whiskey is not your thing (and it’s not mine), the cocktail menu is almost as extensive, and the quality of bartending exceptional.

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A word of caution though: this is not the sort of venue to get rowdy and let loose (there are plenty of other izakayas for that sort of thing). It’s a refined sort of vibe, favoring quiet discussion over Friday night hilarity.

Address: 3-12-4 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

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Todoroki Ravine Park

For deep peace, you can’t go wrong with a few inhales of silky forest air coupled with intermittent bird calls. Complete immersion in a wild, natural setting in Tokyo is kind of a tall order, but this impressive gorge comes close. Nestled next to a highway of all places, this hidden wonderland is a bit like stumbling across a desert mirage. The cool walk along the canal will lead you to a charming tea house and a secret hilltop park perfect for flipping book pages sans mosquitos.

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Address: 1-22 Todoroki, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

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Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

If your state of depletion is due to a lack of cultural stimulation, this elegant gallery should do the trick. Set way back amongst the hushed, embassy-lined streets of Kita Shinagawa, the gallery has two levels of contemporary art to explore. A sprawling sculpture garden and a glass enclosed cafe wait to greet you when you’re done with the art. Open until 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights, the Hara Museum is a boon for stressed office types looking for a civilized retreat.

Address: 4-7-25 Kita Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo

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Baishinka Tea House

The serenity felt when entering this space is miraculous. Baishinka is a handsome old house, tastefully restored to a modern tea-time treasure. The refined restraint of the rooms and the interplay of organic and man-made forms is intoxicatingly beautiful. Wander in for a meticulously prepared matcha, and select a traditional Japanese wagashi (sweet) to nibble on. From here all there is to do is admire the bare wood surfaces before you and gaze distantly into the garden. This is designed for serious escaping. Bring nothing.

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Address: 3-4-7 Yakumo, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Open: Wed–Mon, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.