Planning a trip to Tokyo? here’s our top picks for things other than sightseeing, based on our last four trips.
(this is current as at our last trip in late Jan 2017)
Before you leave Tokyo airport, there’s a few things you should do:
- Get a wifi hotspot device. Tokyo seems to lack street numbers so it can be kinda tricky to find that specific restaurant/store. However, there are heaps of kiosks selling wifi hotspots in the airport so you can rely on google maps (and our links below) to navigate and google translate to read the menu (and post it all to instagram of course). For unlimited 4G (seriously faster than anything in Australia) you’re looking at about $12 a day. So between two or more people, its cheaper than international roaming. They all seem pretty similar so pick whichever one is in the terminal you’re departing from as you’ll need to return the device at the same place before your flight home.
- Tokyo Metro tickets. You can also purchase Tokyo Metro passes at the airport. These can only be purchased at the airport and selected duty free stores. They’re pretty good value and save a lot of hassle. If you’re travelling around Japan with a JR Pass, you can activate it at the airport station. If you have the JR Pass you won’t need the metro pass, as JR have an above ground train that does a loop around Tokyo.
- NEX tickets, the fast train seems to be the best way to get into town. Buy your tickets at the counter not at the machine (it’s complicated but you need a ticket for the train, a seat reservation and another ticket to get into the station, much easier to get it from the counter!). There’s also slower trains and bus options, but as the airport is 60km to the city, don’t get a cab!
- Have a shower/nap. One of the very few capsule hotels that admit women is at the airport. They also have good showers. Definitely worth it if you’ve just hopped off a red-eye flight!
So on to the food…
Ichiran is everywhere, and is always open. It’s also amazing. You buy tickets (ramen, extra noodles, beer etc) then sit in a study corral. The blind will roll up and you’ll be given a form and pen to fill out (you can ask for the english version, eigo no menyuu ga arimasu ka? arigatou gozaimasu) to specify just how you’d like it (noodle softness, spiciness). Here’s one in Roppongi, Shibuya and another in Shibuya.
SUSHI BAR YASUDA. While other places have the Michelin stars, the food here is still amazing and the atmosphere is too. As well as being a top bloke, Yasuda was the head chef at a top sushi restaurant in New York (Sushi Yasuda) before ‘retiring’ to start his own place back in Tokyo. He’ll tell you everything you’ll ever want to know about sushi. It’s our favourite thing to do in Tokyo. Bookings need to be made reasonably in advance (dinner only) and ask for a counter seat (there’s only 8 seats). The price is about Y13000-18000 for Omakase (he’ll make you whatever is best, depending on what you like) and there’s a cheaper fixed menu (not sure about it, haven’t done it). It can be tricky to find, but that’s why wi-fi and Google Maps is important. You’ll see stairs heading down from the street.
Standing Sushi Bar (Uogashi Nihon-Ichi) is good for a quick bite. You stand at the counter, point out what you like and they make it on the spot. If you are an adventurous sushi eater, it’s important you know what to ask for because if they see you are gaijin they will give you a truncated English menu. However, the food is amazing quality for the price. They have heaps of locations including Shibuya and Akihabara.
Honestly, Sushi Dai (allegedly the best place at the Tsukiji Market) is not worth getting up at 4am for. Lining up is just part of the food experience in Japan, and we’re very patient people when it comes to food, but if you’re doing Yasuda don’t bother with Sushi Dai. Its on par with Standing Sushi Bar, in short the sushi is pretty but the rice ain’t as good.
Other Japanese Food
Gyukatsu Motomura is fried kobe beef, like schnitzel, only more awesome. There was a pretty decent wait for lunch as it’s a tiny restaurant, but totally worth it.
Shabu-Shabu is the Japanese version of fondue or hotpot, you get some thinly sliced beef and veggies and cook them in a hot broth, Shabuzen is a chain with all you can eat options in Roppongi and Shibuya.
Japanese Department stores have amazing food halls, they usually also have a place to eat all your purchases too. The fruit is amazing, its perfect and huge. Ginza is a good neighbourhood for such adventures.
Tokyo has a thriving craft beer scene, for Japanese beer:
A lot of our favourite international brewers are also represented:
- BrewDog Roppongi (has a traditional Scottish menu including haggis and tikka masala)
- ØL by Oslo Brewing Co. (OL Tokyo オル東京)
- Delirium Cafe Tokyo (Belgian beers)
- Mikkeller has a new bar (we haven’t been yet!)
Not Japanese food
If you get sick of ramen and sushi you can also pretend you’re in New York:
ECHIRE Not from NY, but it’s a french butter store with amazing croissants.
Toshimaen Niwa-no-Yu is an a proper onsen that also has co-ed facilities. There’s the usual single-sex areas but also two co-ed (bathing suit) areas (one massive indoor baden type spa and three outdoor spas). Definitely read up on onsen etiquette before you go and cover any tattoos (tape, I guess?).
Ginza is full of Department Stores and flagship stores, its worth a wander. In particular:
- Muji Yurakucho The Muji mothership, so much awesome. The Loft next door is also good times.
- G Itoya (pen) there’s actually two stores, with every kind of stationery ever. The pen floor is a amazing.
Mandarake, have died and gone to nerd heaven. Akihabara is great, and on Sunday afternoons they close the street to traffic and the cosplayers come out. Hit up Yodobashi Camera for all sorts of amazing camera gear and electronics (3DS games only work on Japanese 3DS consoles booooo!). Super Potato is good for vintage/retro stuff. There’s heaps of stores selling action figures and and cosplay supplies in this neighbourhood. Don Quijote is hilarious, it’s like a discount store with high end goods, also good for souvenirs.
Takeshita Dori is a bit of nightmare (it’s always crowded) but if you want Lolita clothing, its the place. There’s also amazing cheap shoe stores, but only if your feet are smaller than a size 8/39. Korean cosmetic brand Etude House has a store here.
But you can find some cool places wandering the back streets between it and around Omotesando. Kiddy Land has a great range of toys (loads of Ghibli if you don’t get tickets to the Ghibli Museum). Cat Street also has good shopping. Yoyogi Park is gigantic, and checking out Meiji Shrine and wandering the forest is nice break from all the crazy.
Tokyo Sky Tree Town
Here’s some places we’ve stayed that we liked:
If you’re flying back with Jetstar we have some recommendations:
- Buy food at the train station or department store food hall before you get to the airport. In particular get the amazing pork tonkatsu sandwiches from one of the many Maisen branches.
- There’s tonnes of vending machines past security, so stock up on water and Pocari Sweat. It’s a good place to use up all those Y100 coins, particularly as Jetstar flight attendants don’t do laps with trays of water like other airlines do.