Saif and I recently went on our honeymoon, for three weeks in Japan. We spent 21 days across Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka and beautiful Okinawa. It wasn’t our first time visiting this incredible country, but just as previous times, we feel like we’ve just been able to scratch the surface with everything that what has come to be our favourite country in the world, has to offer.
Since so many people have asked for our recommendations since we got back, I’ve FINALLY managed to make a list of a few of our favourites from our time(s) there.
Tokyo below, next up – Kyoto!
THINGS TO CHECK OUT
- Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi park (also mentioned in a note below)
- Hakone for the day is really nice if you want to get out of the city – look up a hot spring that has a view of Mt. Fuji over there (note, mostÂ onsens don’t allow men and women together so you’ll most likely be separated from your partner)
- Hitachi Seaside Park if you want to see a beautiful flower field of blue flowers that literally blend into the sky when you look into the distance though its 2+ hours outside of the city. Check out their website to know which fields bloom while you’re there https://hitachikaihin.jp/en/flowers.html
- Imperial Palace East Gardens – beautiful for a short day stroll
- If you like to play video games (my husband and I do), you MUST check out Taito – or any of the other arcade game halls around the city
- Tsujiki fish market – go early to avoid the lines at the most famous places like Daiwa (and by early I mean at 7 am there will already be an hour long wait)
- Odaiba is pretty damn scenic (futuristic wise) and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is there.
- Tokyo Metropolitan govt. building for a view of Tokyo
- We really enjoyed the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum but I guess it also depends on the exhibition that is on at the time
- Kotaro – Izakaya style, probably the hottest restaurant in Tokyo atm. The chef just serves you based on your preferences. Call in advance. Moderate prices.
- Shin Udon – get in line but totally worth the hype and the wait. If you want to try udon make sure to go here. Cheap.
- Shima – Unbelievable steak dinner if you want Japanese beef. They make extremely attractive and yummy steak sandwiches for you to take home – that itself is worth it. Expensive but my favorite place to get a steak in Tokyo. Not a very romantic ambience though.
- Meat-man – if you like meat, call in advance to book a table and just go. It’s insane. If you don’t like meat, don’t bother. Has yummy cocktails too.
- Wagyu Mafia – 200-300 bucks (USD) for a katsu wagyu sandwich, plus fries and beer. If you love beef and you don’t mind spending the cash, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. They have amazing beer options as well.
- Aldebaran – the closest you will come to a Michelin star burger – in a basement, which turns into a members-only club at night. Lunch only – if you go for a late lunch you may save yourself an hour worth of waiting (although its SO worth it)
- The Blind Donkey – Great (French inspired) food, great ambiance, incredible selection of wines.
- OUT – truffle pasta, wine, jazz – that’s literally it
- Tsuta Ramen – Michelin star ramen for 10 dollars. Go early and get a ticket. They’ll tell you to come back in a couple of hours.
- Benitsuru pancakes – best pancake experience in Tokyo. You have to book a spot by going there early then they’ll tell you to come back at the next available time. It’s in Asakusa which is quite a touristy spot so there are sites to see to kill time.
- Tonki – In my opinion best tonkatsu in Tokyo. There’s only two options on the menu, fatty or lean. The line moves fast so the wait should not be too long. It’s really amazing to watch the team in the open kitchen at work.
- Henry’s burger – Solid wagyu burger. Like a higher end shake shack but same price. They have two locations, one in Daikanyama and one in Akihabara. \
- Serinkan – Supposedly the best pizza in the world. Thoroughly enjoyed it though I wouldn’t call it the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. Good for when you’re sick of Japanese food. Reserve in advance.
- Yakitori Imai – solid yakitori place. Pricey but nice ambiance and they pair really well with wine and sake. Book in advance. Be warned – menu is fixed and yakiroti generally serves up ALL parts of the chicken (which I find a bit unappetising personally, but its still an experience and what is known as one of the best yakitori spots in the city)
- Handsome Café – In super hipster Shimokitazawa, this place is my favorite soba place in the city. Cold soba noodles with tempura on the side. Good prices. Just walk in or wait a few minutes in line if it’s busy
- Bills – if you want a non-japanese breakfast, there’s the Japanese version of London’s Granger and Co in the heart of Harajuku. Its great for everything: breakfast, lunch, dinner, a mid-day beer while shopping… Famous for its ricotta pancakes though.
A lot of recommended sushi places are super expensive and have set menus so try going in the afternoon as it’s cheaper then, or check out moderately priced places like Sushi No Midori where you can order whatever you want. Locals love this place and there are a couple of them around the city. If you’re feeling adventurous try the conveyor belt sushi bars.
Tokyo Bars –
- New York Bar – iconic bar with beautiful view of Tokyo at night as seen in Lost In Translation (if you haven’t seen this movie watch it before going to Tokyo – it really captures some of the city’s essence and will inspire you to do Karaoke, go play video games late at night, and make friends with randoms – this is all easily done in a city like Tokyo, you’ll see). Live jazz in the summer from 8-11. May have to wait in line but worth it. Good cocktails and good bar snacks. Expensive but worth the experience. Burger is great and comes with duck fries.
- Ayoama tunnel – solid underground bar. A bit touristy as of late but always open, always playing good music. Strongly suggest this place if out late at night and looking for a place to go. There’s another bar upstairs which has some pretty cool décor. Opens at 8pm, shuts at 10am.
- Trouble Peach – In Shomokitazawa if you find yourself there in the evening. Super cool bar. Plays rock music.
- JBS Bar is a very popular bar where the owner plays his favorite Jazz records. Shuts by like 11 so don’t go too late.
- Bar Fidditch – Very popular spot. They make drinks based on your preference and will use seasonal ingredients.
- The cabin – best negronis, cozy ambiance, cute spot to stop for a drink after walking around Nakameguru
- Literally any Izakaya – Just go grab a drink and get local. Shirube has a couple of locations and Rock Izakaya is a cool spot too. But there are sooo many.
- Robot restaurant – it’s fucking crazy. It’s on every list and super touristy but you HAVE to go. Book in advance.
For like an actual party party, get on the resident advisor website and see what gigs happening that appeals to you and where. Contact is a popular spot for example. The Japanese really take their appreciation for music to another level so I would say something like this is worth checking out.
For wine bars, browse Shimokizawa, they have these flower shops which are also wine bars and for someone who loves the two – its lovely.
My main suggestion is to explore the area you are staying in. Chances are you’ll stumble upon things that aren’t in any list that you will love. When we are in Tokyo, we literally walk everywhere, and some of our greatest/favourite finds, we’ve come across while just roaming
GENERAL THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
- If a place is really famous and doesn’t take reservations, you’ll probably have to wait in line for a good amount of time. I would suggest going to such places at off times to avoid the crowd.
- Japanese people don’t like to say no – they will just cross their hands in an x which means move on. The service is unbelievable but there are a lot of rules that need to be followed so they can be quite curt.
- Shimokitazawa is a hipster area that has A LOT of vintage stores and record shops. On the weekend, there are beer gardens and a bunch of random stuff going on. Fun to check out if you don’t have any specific plans. Also known to host some of the best coffee spots in Tokyo.
- Nakameguro is known for its cherry blossom scenes during blossom season but it’s also pretty chilled to just walk along the river in the evening. There are a lot of shops and cafés and a couple of bars you can check out along the way. Afuri is a solid ramen spot in the area and WAGYU Mafia Beef Cutlet Sando is also there as mentioned in food list. If you’re there around 10 check out this bar called Cabin. Very cosy and best Negroni I have had.
- Two areas that are overhyped are 1. Ginza – like the 5th avenue of Tokyo, wouldn’t suggest wasting your time here. There’s just shops that would be anywhere else in the world and expensive ass restaurants. There is a great stationary store called Itoya that’s very famous and worth checking out if you’re into that AND 2. Shibuya – it’s kind of like the Time Square of Tokyo but it’s worth checking out briefly. Take part in the famous Shibuya crossing. 109 (street style shops) is there in separate buildings for Men and Women. Good thing is that it’s sort of walking distance to Omotessando/harajuku.
- Omotessando/Harajuku has some solid shopping. If you want to shop properly and cover the whole area it’ll take you a full day at least. Meiji shrine is near here so you can start off by checking that out in the morning, getting some site seeing in, or take a break from the shopping mid-day to do that. Yoyogi park is also around here. Grab a beer from a convenience store and just go chill by the lake to take a break from the city. Would not strongly recommend many restaurants in these areas but the very famous Harajuku Gyozaru is there for gyozas and Bills for really good salads, burgers, pastas, pancakes, etc. There are a lot of good coffee places around here.
- Akihabara and Shinjuku are great to get a sensory overload of Japan. Lots going on visually.
- Roppongi Hills is very upscale in terms of bars and restaurants but very accessible stuff.
- Take your time and explore a certain area every day. Some days you can cover 2 areas depending on where you’re going. Create a google docs sheet and plan the areas with restaurants and bars accordingly. We met many locals and expats who said that even after living in Tokyo for so many years they still find something new in terms of shops, restaurants and bars every week, so just keep a look out for something that may appeal to you, as there is something for everyone there, and the Japanese just do everything better than anywhere else in the world.
- I’m sure you already have good Karaoke places on your list, and sushi you can get just about anywhere so I’m not going to add that to that. Just avoid tourist traps as much as possible, and walk. Also the foods in the main train stations are the best. If you see something you like just try it! Take the subway everywhere. Once you get the hang of it it’s super convenient. Crowded as fuck but an experience nonetheless!
- If you like the idea of picking up a bottle of wine and drinking it outside (I do), pick up your preferred beverage and take a seat in any park around the city. Grab a blanket and enjoy sitting outside. This is one of my favourite activities over going to a bar when we’re in Tokyo.
- Japanese people don’t mind standing in lines, like the rest of us. The culture is so incredibly respectful, you won’t mind it either though. Even a line that stretches around a block or two, will usually get over-with quite fast. But be prepared to stand in line for the good stuff. One of the beauties of Japan is that a lot of the best spots don’t require reservations, but because of that you have to sacrifice some of your time waiting for it. Its pretty much always worth it though.
- Journal Standard
- LHP Men’s
- LHP Women’s in La Foret
- La Foret shopping mall (so much cool stuff, you could go here and be done. Mostly women’s shops but a couple of cool men’s stores too)
- Monkey time (personal favorite for men)
- Worm Tokyo for rare sneakers
- Omotessando hills has a lot and the main Omotessando stretch has many shops as well, such as Solakzade for vintage glasses. A lot of designer shops are on this street.
- Harajuku has a ton of random vintage stores but it’s a long stretch so make sure you cover it all.
- For men specific brands to check out are JieDa and Nonnative.
- Walk around and keep your eyes open, especially around Harajuku. There are A LOT of cool shops. Don’t go to dover street market etc, if you want to focus on the local fashion. Keep your eyes open while walking around Harajuku and browse the whole area. Don’t make a mistake of just seeing a part of it (we did that the first time we went to Tokyo)
- Isetan has an unbelievable selection of Japanese designers but very expensive.
- Louis Vuitton Store has a gallery on top which has some cool exhibits depending on when you’re there. Hit or miss!
- You might find something cool in this store called Loveless which is around the city.
- Go to Daikanyama, it’s got some cool stores. It’s a really small area so can cover it fast. Ebisu is walking distance – very nice to walk around and a lot of restaurants and bars around here. Museum of Photography is there.
- Lot of vintage stores in the Koenji area (but anywhere really)
- A personal favourite is walking along the canal of Nakameguru. You can grab a beer or a hot cider, walk around the cherry blossom trees (that may or may not be blossoming…), and there are tons of cool shops and local brands to browse along the canal
- Two things you MUST get while in Japan: Stationary and beauty/cosmetics. Its the country of everything in these two categories. You don’t need to go to a specific store – it’s everywhere – but if you just want to google your way around you’ll find plenty