Tokyo is all the tech, all the quirky, all the cute, and all the busy that you’d imagine it to be. By no means did we likely even scratch the surface, as it has more neighborhoods, foods to try, and things to do, to count, but we’d like to think we experienced enough to know we want to go back for more.
Must visit bars
- Old Imperial Bar. Located within the Old Imperial Hotel, beside Imperial Palace, this classic lounge was designed in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright, as he had a heavy hand in designing the Imperial Palace that stands today. The lounge was styled in glamorous 1920’s style Wright’s signature touches throughout. Low lighting and comfortable chairs compliment the design. Enjoy their signature Mt. Fuji cocktail and superior complementary bar snacks.
- Tight. Cozy spot found in Shibuya’s Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkard’s Alley). Though it comfortably fits 4-5 people, anywhere from 10-15 often squeeze in. Truly friendly bartenders, great views of the small ally below, and the passing metro illuminated at night. Drink sake from a glass in a cedar box.
- Amulet-D. Another tiny but welcoming bar in Charm City where great people and conversation spill onto the street. The bar tender speaks English fluently and loves to chat if you start a conversation with him! (No website available, but if you make a right out of Tight, go around the corner- your first right- you’ll see it in front of you on the back street)
- Scramble. A great spot for people-watching over a beer, right in the heart of the iconic Shibuya Crossing.
Must eat / drink
- Gyoza (dumplings) at a little spot next to Kaffir Lime Thai in Omotesando. Said to be the best in Tokyo (True testimony: we sat next to a couple who was back for a second day in a row- the only time they’ve ever done that!)
- Melonpan (Melon bun) at Kagetsudo Bakery in Asakusa. A sidewalk bakery that draws a crowd, but well worth the wait!
- French pastries at the United Nations University Farmers Market (The farmer’s market is held on Sundays, but check online for the exact schedule)
- Matcha ganache, cherry jam and black sugar cronut, frozen s’more, and blossoming hot chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Omotesando (Yes, this bakery is owned by the pioneer who fathered the famous cronut of New York City!)
- Kaiten Sushi (Conveyor Belt Sushi). Enjoy the complimentary matcha tea!
- Izakaya: Bar food styled tapas/small bites. Asakusa has a great selection.
- Bento box (delicious varieties at various stands within Tokyo Train Station). Chopsticks will be found taped to the top of the inside of the box.
- Lunch specials. These are found throughout the city from 11am-2pm for various cuisines. A great deal usually ranging from $10-$15, which includes a [non alcoholic] drink.
- Banana and chocolate crepe at the crepe truck in Yoyogi Park on Sundays.
- Macha tea latte
- By no means fancy, but as a novelty, try the pancakes in a package (can find at 7-11 or any convenience store). The syrup and butter are a surprise to find in the middle!
More information on Authentic Japanese Foods can be found here.
- Allpress Espresso. Worth the trip. Housed in a restored timber warehouse in the middle of a quietly eclectic Tokyo neighborhood.
- On the Corner’s No. 8 Bear Coffee Shop.
- Bill’s. Don’t miss their savory ricotta hot cakes.
- Genki Sushi in Shibuya.
- Menya Musashi Shinjuku Honten in Shinjuku for the open kitchen experience and the most savory ramen.
- Yomiuri Giants Baseball Game. Games are very popular with locals, so it’s best to buy your tickets online. Interestingly, you need to pick up your tickets from a post office, but it’s very easy and they are more than happy to help you. You can find the schedule and tickets to buy here. Insider tip: We’d recommend getting seats if available. If you opt for standing room, get there early to get a spot as spaces fill up quickly and fans do line up 7-8 rows back.
- Coast to Coast. If you’re an American NBA fan, this is a great [reliable] bar to catch the games. The owners are true fans, with the sports’ greatest legends sketched around the walls, and memorabilia scattered throughout. The food / drink specials are also fair, but do make sure to email or call ahead to make a reservation if you’re trying to catch a big game. They are small, and do run out of space quickly!
Must check out
- Tsukiji Fish Auction*. World famous, known to be the largest fish auction in the world. To see it first hand, it will be an early start (or finish to your day depending on how you look at it) but well worth it! There are 120 visitors allowed through on a first come, first served basis each morning, and the spots go quickly. We’d recommend arriving by 2:45am at the latest as by 3:15am all vests for both sessions were gone. Insider tip: This is a great blog to help you plan, if you decide to go.
- Yoyogi Park on Sundays. Great spot for relaxing on the lawn while taking in a variety of unique (and free!) street acts performed by Tokyo locals. It’s also nearby the Meji Shrine, which is also a great site to see.
- TimeOut Tokyo is a great site to check for up to date events happening in Tokyo.
- Japanican.com is a good spot to buy discounted tickets for the more touristy things you might like to do while in town
- Rooftop bars. This is a great list of the top 15 best rooftop bars in Tokyo.
*The Fish Auction is slated to close in November of 2016 in preparation for the Olympics, but an exact date hasn’t been provided, so do check online before you go to make sure it’s still running.
- Maid Cafe
- Sleeping in a night capsule
- 21_21 Design Site. This will only appeal to you if you’re into the topic being exhibited (as it’s a modern art exhibition space). Do check their website to make sure the exhibit interests you before you go.
- Mega Web Toyota City Showcase in Odaiba.
Sky Train (the Yurikamome line) to Odaiba. Beautiful views of the skyline and impressive architecture, both day and night.
Traditional Shiatsu Massage at Momidokoro-Rakuya in Asakusa. Women will have the option to change into a kimono and loose fitting pants and men will change into a comfortable pant suit.
- Wifi isn’t typically available in coffee shops.
- Table charges. As there is no tipping in Japan, restaurants will often add on a table charge per person. In Tokyo they can reach $10USD / person or more in Tokyo, so make sure to ask before you sit down.
- Credit cards aren’t commonly accepted.
- You can still smoke inside most restaurants and bars.
- You should never wear shoes or take rolly luggage on tartan mats.
- Be mindful of when and where you need to take off your shoes.
- Tax-free shopping!
- Everyone is so helpful! Some folks will even walk you to a place sometimes! (It’s good to have directions to point to when asking for help as there is still a high language barrier).
- Subways stop running between 12:15am – 1am. Make sure to keep an eye on the clock as a taxi home can cost more than your hotel!
- It takes 43 minutes on average to get from place to place via the public transit system, so do factor that in to your travel time. There are also “GATES” as exits. Your directions should tell you which gate to look for so you exit at the right place.
- It’s worth singling out the toilets/public bathrooms. The toilet seats are heated. There is a button on the wall that will start playing an audible loop of flushing water. Most toilets have a hand sensor that you hold your hand in front of (not on) to flush the toilet. There are badae options set up for most. Many of the toilet seats will automatically open and close upon entering and exiting the stall. Best of all, they are ALL clean!
- There are yellow brick paths throughout the city. These have been put in place for blind accessibility purposes.
- Happy / arcade music plays to announce everything from subway stops to arriving trains and general PSA’s at stores.
- Elevators- stand to the left if you’re simply riding. The right side is meant for people to walk up.
- Everything has directions, and mostly all of them are translated into English, so do make sure to read them.
- No tipping for anything.
- You’ll find yourself aimlessly carrying your trash around with you. Public trash cans are uncommon so it’s helpful to kee a plastic bag handy for any trash you may accumulate. However, if you buy something from a store or restaurant, you can give your trash to them and they will happily dispose.
Other things we didn’t do but can suggest
- Sumo wrestling competition- there is a schedule for this but if you miss the match, you can opt to go to a practice session at the sumo stalls (which includes a photo opp).
- Robot show. Your bento box or dinner will be additional to your ticket price.
- Zazen meditation. We attempted this but unfortunately what we read online didn’t hold true when we arrived, so do call before you make the trip. Check online for centers who don’t charge, and centers who offer guided sessions. Also, read their fine print as you’ll likely need to arrive early if the session is guided (if you’re a first timer).
Suggestion cred: Thank you Nana, Todd, and John for all of your wonderful suggestions!