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A Travel Guide To Tokyo

shibuya crossingEarlier, I shared ’11 Useful Tips When Travelling In Japan’ and “5 Closet Essentials Spotted in Japan”. And now, here’s my final installment from my Japan travels, a guide to a few of my favourite spots in Tokyo.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Shinjuku
Where does one go to get a city view of Tokyo? The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku welcomes guests to their 43rd floor and it’s free. This was the very first thing I did when I arrived in Tokyo and I ended up going at the very best time, sunset (if you can time it, its just spectacular). I was even able to see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Definitely a spot to take lots of photos.

tokyo-fish-market

The Tsujiki Fish Market
This fish market will appear on most travel guides. A lively tuna auction takes place early in the morning 5am-6:15am. They do let a select number of tourists to watch, but do go early to snag one of those coveted spots.

Even if you miss the auction, wandering the market and enjoying some of the freshest sashimi and sushi you’ll ever have is a must. The two most popular restaurants are Daiwa and Sushi Dai. Ambitious foodies will make it to the restaurant way early (we’re talking 4am, as it opens at 5am). The line-ups get really long – I arrived at the market around 10am and the line had to be about 100 people deep. This for a restaurant that seats 13! Luckily, I found a recommendation for a friendly alternative at the market called Ryu.

Like most of Japan, English signage is minimal or non-existent, so make sure you save a photo of the restaurant exterior to help you identify the restaurant. After wandering for 10 minutes, we finally found it and the line-up was 12 deep! It still took us 40 minutes to get seated, but it was worth the wait. Two chefs served a counter of 12. If you order the nigri sushi, the sushi is placed on the counter top in front of you (no plates needed here) and you enjoy the sushi piece by piece. Sushi and sashimi at the fish market can get pricey – but it’s an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.

Since you’ll be waiting a while for a table, grab some tamago (egg omelette) at one of the vendors. You’ll find stands that serve this fluffy and sweet egg omelette throughout the market. So light, so delicious. You’ll also find shops selling dish ware, chopsticks, cooking books and produce at the market.

Yoyogi Park , Shibuya 
The park is the perfect spot for a bike ride, a picnic in the park, a run or a wander. You’ll find groups of people congregating, I spied teenagers practicing dance routines, musicians practicing their instruments and groups of friends chilling at picnic benches. You’ll also find street performers, including mimes and every Sunday around 1:30pm, the Dancing Elvis who are situated at the front entrance of the park. The Dancing Elvis are a group of middle-aged men in their tightest jeans, denim and leather jackets and slicked back hair, dancing and jamming to their hearts desire. Light-hearted fun.

Places to Eat

Where do I start? I couldn’t keep up – there were so many delicious options.

yakitori alley

Yakitori Alley, Shinjuku
You’ll want to avoid wearing anything nice when visiting yakitori alley. In this skinny alley in Shinjuku, you’ll find a strip of yakitori bars – narrow, these places seat maybe 12 people. Order a beer or drink, and pick and choose a combination of grilled meat on a stick like chicken yakitori and pork belly and leek. The fun part is watching them grill the skewers right in front of you. Keep in mind, smoking is allowed in these restaurants. Really, don’t wear anything nice!

Department Store Food Floors
These are located on the basement level of department stores like Takashimaya and Hankyu. It reminded me of the food floors in European department stores like Harrods. But BETTER. Think counters and counters and counters of delicious treats, from savory to sweet. There’s often sampling to help you make that tough decision between this cake or that cake. It’s tough though, trust me. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. Everything is also prettily packaged – individual rice crackers, chocolates, cookies and fancier version of Pocky sticks. This is where you’ll want to buy treats to bring home or take-out as there often isn’t seating.

bake-cheese-tart

The most delicious cheese tarts 

Bake Cheese Tart, Shinjuku
I’m generally not a fan of cheesecake, but I lined-up for these cheese tarts on two occasions and was hoping there’d be a third occasion (sadly, it wasn’t meant to be). These mini tarts have a crispy crust, are not too sweet and are best while still warm. There are locations in Shinjuku and Jiyugaoka. The location in Jiyugaoka also has seating upstairs, while the Shinjuku location is located in the subway and just for take away. P.S. Jiyugaoka was one of my favourite neighbourhoods to wander, my girlfriend read that it was “the most desirable place to live in Tokyo”.

Harbs
Now the Japanese love their sweets and a place that’s perfect for an afternoon break and a spot of tea is Harbs. The restaurant with Japanese roots also has a location in New York. Before you enter Harbs, you’ll be presented with a case filled with delicious cakes – I hear they sell-out, so you may want to avoid going too late in the evening. I’d suggest the crepe cake, 7 layers of crepe with fresh cream and fruit like kiwi and strawberries. It’s light and airy, making it feel like a less guilty indulgence, but really, who cares – you’re on vacation right?

brooklyn-ribbon-fries

Commune 246 

Commune 246, Minato 
This open-air hip food court is close to the busy Omotesando shopping strip in Shibuya – but hidden away at the same time. Once you walk down the side cobblestone walkway with string lights, you’ll find a host of food stalls. From vegan options to fries to Antenna Wired Cafe where we ordered a taco salad rice bowl and spam and avocado rice bowl. There’s an area for communal seating, grab a beer, some bites and enjoy the live entertainment – a DJ was spinning on the Saturday afternoon I was there.

Another bonus of discovering Commune 246 – realizing Blue Bottle Coffee was next door. My best friend in San Francisco always brings me back a bag of coffee beans when she comes home for a visit. You’ll find the familiar roasts of Giant Steps and Bella Donovan at this sleek second floor location. It’s a large space, worthy of a coffee break.

Did you know there’s a Shake Shack in Tokyo? You’re probably thinking – why would I have Shake Shack? Because after one too many bowls or ramen, you’ll want something else. And Shake Shack, have you ever NOT had a good Shake Shack experience?

Things To Eat
It’s hard to go hungry in Japan – as the big cities are stacked with restaurants after restaurants. Types of food to try on your visit, in no particular order: takoyaki (octopus balls), ramen, okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza), crepes (sweet and savoury), Japanese curry, yakitori, omelette rice and katsu. Sushi and sashimi obviously – you could go on and on.

Places to Shop

Takashimaya
This was my favourite designer department store . You’ll find all the big name designers like Celine, Gucci and Dior and beauty counters like Chanel, IPSA and Cle de Peau. Pop-by the information counter for a 5% off discount card as a foreigner – this even includes beauty purchases. If you spend more than 10,000 Yen (on the same day), you can also get your tax back. Just leave yourself enough time to redeem your taxes at the counter.

Tokyu Hands
This is a department store with multiple locations throughout Tokyo, I really liked the Shibuya location which featured about six floors from stationary (the most insane selection – the Japanese love their stationary), home goods and electronics. If you have a kid, you’ll want to stock-up on gift bags for birthday parties or if you’re a baker, the prettiest packaging for your treats. The kitchen section is also super fun to wander around. You’ll find yourself thinking – what do I need? Sadly, I ran out of space in my luggage.

The Japanese Drugstore
You stock up when you’re at the French pharmacy right? You’ll also want to make a stop at a Japanese drugstore. I lugged back home two big 500ml bottles of Tsubaki shampoo. Other notable products (you’ll want to bring photos of these on your phone as it’s quite overwhelming sifting through the shelves): lululun face masks (paper masks) and Cure exfoliator.

home-store

One of the home stores in Jiyugaoka 

The Home Stores: Franc FrancMUJIKeyuca
It was tough not to want to buy lots for my home with the collection of cool home stores I came upon. A few notable chains include Franc Franc, MUJI and Keyuca. Right now on my kitchen counter sits a sleek chrome wire knife block from Keyuca that perfectly fits two chef knives. Happiness.

This is just a sliver of Tokyo. Do share your favourite spots in the comments!

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