Take A Break: Tokyo

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6 min read

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

Let me set the scene: you’re in Tokyo for a critical client meeting. Then suddenly, the meeting is cancelled. You’re up to date with all your other work (obviously). And you find yourself (miraculously) with a few hours to kill in the food, shopping and design mecca of the world.

But, you hit a snag: what do you do in a mind-boggling city, where surprisingly little English is spoken and the best restaurants are booked out months in advance?!

Happily, I’ve been in this position a few times over the years and collected a dossier of the best tricks, tips, local secrets and haute hangouts. Enjoy!

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

Eat in Tokyo

Going to Tokyo without trying a great meal is like going to Egypt and missing the pyramids. Legit. Traditional Japanese cuisine has been added by UNESCO on its list of world heritage treasures. So go forth and conquer, one pair of chopsticks at a time…or with a naifu (ナイフ) and fōku (フォーク) if you so please.

Where to eat an amazing meal without much planning

In a country, with an unrelenting pursuit of perfection, where sushi chefs dream of sushi, you don’t have to go to a Michelin starred restaurant to eat a great meal.

Noodle-me

Try Ginza Kagari Ramen, where locals spend their lunch hour queuing, and be transported by the creamy chicken broth ramen (“tori-paitan soba”), Afuri, (various branches) yuzu infused ramen.

Hang with the locals

Stroll around the ‘hood’, go to the neighbourhood izakaya (gastro pub), picking the one which is packed with locals. Arriving early or later in the evening makes it easier to score seats. Try Fuku, (Yoyogi Uehara)Teyandei (Shibuya), specializing in Okinawa regional dishes, Meatman (Roppongi) for excellent grilled meat. If in doubt check Tabelog for rankings and local recommendations.

Luxe-out

Want an elaborate meal but can’t read the menu? Ask for omakase (literally “I will leave it to you”), let the chef design the meal and be prepared to eat seasonal delights. Try Ginza Maru or Rakushokushu Maru (its sister in Omotesando) for an affordable and foreigner-friendly option.

How to eat Michelin in Tokyo without an advance booking

Befriend your concierge

They may be able to secure a last-minute seat. Or, try a service like “Pocket Concierge” which helps foreigners secure bookings at Michelin restaurants.

Timing is everything

Lunch is easier than dinner and is often much cheaper. The not-so-well kept secret is that there are astounding lunch deals to be had in Tokyo in nearly every restaurant. Score!

Fishy paradise

You wanna eat Michelin sushi but Sushi Saito or Jiro is booked until the end of the year? Check out the new under-the-radar options with next year’s stars. Try Sushi IchiyanagiGinza Iwa (amazing budget lunch option), Takumi Shingo (dinner only, omakase (“I’ll leave it up to you”) recommended) and if you must Michelin, Sushi Kanesaka branch in Tokyo Palace may have seats even if the Ginza original branch is booked out.

Wholesome beasts

Head to Shima for the Wagyu steak experience at a bar counter with a kindly chef. Don’t miss their entrees of stupidly large local oysters, seasonal specials like fresh bamboo shoots and white asparagus in the spring.

Tired of Japanese food

There is no shortage of Michelin starred French restaurants in Tokyo, but for a casual, unbeatable meal try the new wave of artisan Tokyo pizza that certainly give Italians a run for their money. Seirinkan (Naka-Meguro)Da Michele (Ebisu)PST – Pizza Studio Tamaki.

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

Drink in Tokyo

Caffeine hit

Walk the back streets of Omotesando to Koffee Mameya, the reincarnation of legendary Omotesando Koffee. If you can’t face the hoards (and Instagram shots), head to the more business-like Toranomon Koffee (open from 7am), set up by the same folks. Girl baristas helm, Lattest in Omotesando, is the genuine article.

Tea

If green is more your beverage colour of choice, Ippodo (Marunouchi) offer tastings before you select your leaves, and Sakurai Tea Experience is an unforgettable contemporary tearoom experience.

Something stiffer?

Hotel bars are mostly single-lady-friendly. Try Old Imperial Bar (Imperial Hotel) or Royal Bar (Palace Hotel Tokyo) with its own cask Yamazaki whiskey (a.k.a. the world class Japanese Whiskey). For something more adventurous, make a pilgrimage to Gen Yamamoto for one-of-a-kind curated cocktails (book ahead); or Bar High Five for a mixology experience. Bistro Shin (Naka-Meguro) is perfect for a relaxing glass of vino.

Shop in Tokyo

Retail therapy for you stylish ladies?

For your Japanese fashion fix, head to Aoyama/Omotesando for AnrealageUndercoverSacaiAcne collab with Tomorrowland.

Ginza does luxury brands like nowhere else. You’ll also find dover st marketTomorrowland. Oh, and for snacks: Akomeya.

Marunouchi for Echire “death by croissant”, Commes Des Garcons, and Rose Bakery.

Daikanyama for eva (vintage), Limi FeuMaison KitsuneFred Segal.

You will realise what’s been missing from your life when you visit Tokyu Hands (Shibuya) or a Muji store. Miso muddler or kiwi fruit slicer anyone?

Itoya (Ginza) will fulfil all your stationery obsessions.

t-site (Daikanyama) is a giant bookstore and so, so much more. Get your manga fix here.

For everything under one roof? Go to Isetan (Shinjuku)Matsuya and Mitsukoshi (Ginza) for classic department store adventures. Don’t forget the “depachika”, the dazzling department store food halls, which are often in the basement.

Hit up Superfuture app and Timeout Tokyo for the latest retail outlets.

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
Hermes store Tokyo, designed Renzo Piano – The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

What to do in Tokyo

Zen out, here

Tired of the hoards of shoppers and streets packed with pedestrians? Re-connect with your inner goddess in the stunning gardens at the Nezu Museum, or if you have the time, take a trek out to Yakumo-Saryo for breakfast in a zen temple of a tea-room.

Walks in Tokyo to stretch those pegs

Hipster spotting

Catch a glimpse of the Tokyo hipster, in its natural habitat by strolling around any of these neighbourhoods: Ebisu, Shibuya, Daikanyama, Naka and Meguro.

A stroll along the riverfront in Naka-Meguro is particularly lovely.

Pre-hipster era

For a real blend of the old, the new and the French, try wandering the cobbled streets of Kagurazaka. Make your way up from the Imperial Palace past the Yasukuni shrine. Then cross the river and explore the labyrinthine ending at the Akagi Shrine – a testament to Japanese design flair. Kagurazaka is also a must on the culinary map of the city.

The place where it’s always Sunday afternoon

If you have time to venture further afield, take a train to Jiyugaoka, “the Tokyo neighbourhood which is always a Sunday afternoon”, aptly named for its cosy cafes. Interestingly, I hear it’s the suburb of choice for the single Tokyo women.

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

Run in Tokyo

Sweat out that jet lag with a jog around the Imperial Palace. Always counter-clockwise. Classic.

Art in Tokyo

Check what’s showing at SCAI the Boathouse (Yanaka) or Mori Art Musuem (Roppongi).

Only in Japan

Cat cafés are everywhere but have you been to a hedgehog café? Hedgehog Café Harry (Roppongi). Call ahead and book to skip the queue. Kawaii! (cute!)

You’ve got 24 hours to burn? Head south to Hanafubuki

For a re-education in relaxation, head to one of the most beautiful, and authentic, Ryokans in Japan. Hanafubuki is just under two hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train). This traditional Japanese inn has no less than seven private hot springs, naturally heated by volcanic activity. Fresh, local food is served up in an authentic dining room. Don’t pass up on the grilled fish for breakfast.

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan
Hanafubuki Ryokan, for your re-education in relaxation – The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

Enjoy!

Jacelyn x

Have you got any tips we can add to our list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Meet Jacelyn
Jacelyn is a media lawyer who thinks that travel like life should always have a little bit of magic. She loves a clean-cut aesthetic, intriguing photos, an engrossing read and a well-curated playlist.

The Best Travel Guide: Tokyo, Japan

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