Tokyo: Places I love

Tokyo: Places I love

Below are a few of the places I've enjoyed in Tokyo (as of 2/21/15) - I tried to limit the list to just a dozen or so places you should make the effort to see out if you're there. Just like the other city pages I've pulled together, please keep in mind, this is by no means trying to be a comprehensive list or guide. It's sort of trying to be the opposite of that, these are the handful of places I've been that I'd tell my friends to visit. Tokyo is massive, and it's a lot to take on in a short period. I'll update this page after future visits, I'll also include links to other Tokyo guides or resources I found helpful toward the bottom.

A couple notes before we get to the map: Everytime I've been to Japan/Tokyo has been during February & March - it is cold, sometimes stormy, austere, and wonderful. If you're planning a trip, take the seasons into account - I'm sure Tokyo takes on an entirely different personality in the heat of summer. For those of you planning trips beyond Tokyo, here's a link to a somewhat detailed post from years ago (definitely dated), but it might help your planning. That trip we went from Tokyo, back to Kyoto, Nara, to Naoshima Island, from there to Okayama, and home via Osaka. This time we spent a week in Tokyo.

View map: Heidi Swanson: Tokyo

To Eat and Drink
  • Junteuchi Soba Yumeji: Incredible soba dinner here. Lovely couple who run it. Map it and seek it out!
  • Eatrip (reservations necessary), also have a look at the sweetest adjoining flower shop.
  • OMOTESANDO KOFFEE: Favorite interior ever / great espresso / cubed canelé (more pics here)
  • BEARD - Shin's place is super tiny - make reservations if possible, or prepare to queue up. Brunch was justifiably popular. Sip excellent pour-over or espresso around the corner while you wait at Switch Coffee Tokyo.
  • ISETAN DINING: Mind-blowing example of bottom-floor Japanese food emporium
  • bills: Bill Granger: Tokyo
  • Vegetable Sushi Potager: All-veg sushi - nice, a tad fancy, and you can sit at the counter.
  • Shinano soba: Loved our soba lunch here with the locals.
  • The most beautiful out-of-the-way tea house. If you see me in person, and you're traveling to Tokyo, ask me about this magic, quiet place that deserves to be kept a bit of a secret.
To Shop and See
  • Antiques Tamiser
  • Farmer's Table: Just down the block from Antiques Tamiser.
  • CLASKA Gallery & Shop DO: Great outpost shop related to CLASKA hotel + other shops nearby.
  • TSUTAYA books: Daikanyama: One of the world's best book stores.
  • Cow Books: An exquisite tiny book shop w/ a focus on literature, art, etc. Stroll the nearby Nakameguro canals as well - lots of shops, cafes.
  • Promenade: If you go out to lovely Promenade (small shop on a side street with a mix of housewares, clothing, and antiques), also stop off at 364 Sanrokuyon on the way back. Makes for a nice afternoon in neighborhoods with a different feel from central Tokyo.
  • 364 Sanrokuyon: One of my favorite tiny shops, and worth the train ride out of the center. Culinary focused, unique honeys, local preserves, and Japanese copper.
  • Found MUJI: MUJI concept shop - sort of like MUJI meets Labour & Wait meets Anthropologie
  • Dover Street Market Ginza: Rose Bakery on the top floor, COMME des GARÇONS and other boutiques.
  • Antique Mall Ginza: Like an American antiques mall, but Japanese. 
Where to Stay

  • We stayed at the Park Hotel Tokyo this time around - I think I got a good rate, and booked it through Tablet (which I've had a positive experience with in the past). The views were epic, the service incredibly warm and helpful, a short walk to Ginza, and easy access to the subway. For context, it's also roughly a 15 minute walk to Tsukiji fish market, and that area.
  • CLASKA Hotel: I will definitely book a couple nights at CLASKA on a future trip to Tokyo, my concern has always been that it isn't directly near a subway line (key if you want to efficiently get around the city). Then move to a more subway-friendly hotel. I've stayed very near both Hanzoman and Shibuya stations, also Shiodome - and learned that I prefer staying near one of the smaller stations (like Hanzoman), it's just easier all the way around. A station complex like Shibuya is massive, and it takes a while just to get to the train you're after - and if you have to brave it every time you go out, it's not ideal.

Other helpful Tokyo Links & Tips

  • Here's Wayne's much more comprehensive Tokyo map - it's focused on shops/establishments related to photography/art/design books, cameras, a few art galleries, coffee.

  • Guide to Tokyo Remodelista

  • Monocle | Tokyo (also here)

  • If you buy one Tokyo City Guide, buy this one. It's full of fantastic, unexpected suggestions - not all super posh either. Just good.

  • You'll likely walk miles every day, bring shoes that are broken in.

  • Google map every place you want to go, save it to a map. Having an address is not enough - often the address you copy/paste from a site will not work in Google maps because of the spelling differences. It definitely takes some patience to find smaller places. Also! Call ahead, or check websites, some of the small shops and restaurants can close for extended stretches as the proprietors travel.

  • Places open later than you think (for ex: it's tough to find a coffee shop open first thing in the morning. Some shops are closed in the middle of the week (such as Wed or Thurs), so check the website before you go.

  • Many smaller boutiques (and some restaurants) are cash-only, so carry cash.

  • Related: it can be hard to find a bank that takes international ATMs, that said, the ATMs at the post office seemed to work every time, and there are many post offices. Some of the big department stores also have post offices internally, ask their info desks. It also seems that in the past year or so the ATMs at all 7-11 convenience stores accept American cards (and perhaps other international cards as well). I've was able to consistently get cash this way.

  • Shipping boxes home from the post office wasn't that much effort. Find a small quiet one, they will sell you a box and give you the tape. You want the EMS service, which is insured.