Japan has been at the very top of my destinations list for a few years. I knew a country that excels in food, design (and stationery) would suit me perfectly. When I arrived in Tokyo I found myself completely transfixed with the fascinating culture and customs that are in stark contrast to the rush of mad modernism and futuristic fun. If you are brave enough to try strange cuisine and get involved in local traditions you will unravel a magical and memorable world beyond all imagination.
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo – From the ground floor, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is just like any other high-end luxury hotel. But the real experience begins at floor 38 where the panoramic city views will leave you lost for words. If you are lucky Mount Fuji will be glinting majestically in the distance too. The rooms are divinely luxurious and there are numerous fine food options within the hotel.
The Peninsula Hotel Tokyo – The ornate glittering lobby welcomes you in style to the Peninsula Tokyo. The hotel is a favourite with business and leisure guests thanks to its impeccable attention to detail and thoughtful luxury. Don’t miss trying the legendary Kobe beef at Peter restaurant.
Zabutton Hostel – This hip hostel in Azabu, central Tokyo, opened in 2015. There is a coffee shop on the ground floor, and dorms and private rooms on the floors above. We enjoyed the experience of sleeping on traditional tatami beds.
Birdland – There are two branches of this popular yakitori restaurant. The Michelin-starred Ginza branch has a U-shaped bar surrounding the dramatic open kitchen. The little skewers of chicken are absolutely delicious and the poultry is so fresh that you can even try chicken sashimi.
Higashiya – This Ginza boutique sells beautiful Japanese confectionery (wagashi) and also operates as a tea house. It is a great place to pause and recuperate after a busy day’s shopping. Try the famous mocha; pounded sticky rice sweets.
Tsuta (Japanese Soba Noodles) – Getting a seat at the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant is definitely a challenge. I arrived at 7am to pick up one of the last tickets for lunchtime, then spent the next seven hours exploring the city until it was time for my allocated slot. The understated eatery seats just 9 diners at a time and guests sit in silence while they slurp their flavour-packed bowl of ramen. Tsuta’s signature soy-based broth is aged for 2 years and all noodles are made in-house, a bowl costs just £6. There are a few variations to choose from, I would recommend the most popular variety with four pieces of pork and a boiled egg.
Kanetanaka Sahsya – The original Kantetanaka is one of the city’s most distinguished traditional tourist restaurants. This more casual branch is harder to find, upstairs in an office/retail building near Omote-sando station, and is more popular with locals. There is a large, minimally-designed space has stylish furniture and tableware and a communal table looking out to a small rock garden. I recommend visiting for the reasonable set lunch menu.
Tempura Tsunahachi – This tempura institution has been making amazingly light tempura for 93 years. Sit at the bar and pick a selection of seafood and vegetables, which the chef will cook in front of you before serving with dipping sauce and salt. Don’t get confused with an uninspiring restaurant of the same name on the 13th floor of a tower building nearby.
Fureika – When you need a break from Japanese cuisine visit Fureika, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Azabujuban. Opt for the dim sum set lunch for around £20 and relish the endless courses of miniature treats.
Kyourakutei – Yet another casual Michelin-starred eatery, hidden away in the Tokyo backstreets. Kyourakutei serves comforting soba noodles and delicious tempura. Their noodles are freshly milled on the day so they are wonderfully fresh and bouncy. Order the Kamo Zaru (cold soba with hot duck broth, duck meatball and Japanese leeks).
Libertable – This luxurious cake shop and café serves creations by Kazuyori Morita. We tried the Luxe; a decadent chocolate and truffle masterpiece.
High Five Bar – Cocktail making is a fine art in Tokyo and the best bars are not cheap. High Five is an intimate hideaway, with a few cosy tables and a beautiful bar. There is no menu so speak to Hidetsugu Ueno (the owner and head bartender) about your favourite flavours and he will create you something magical. We tried sake and Nikka whisky based drinks, strong and sensual cocktails that were stylishly presented.
Gen Yamamoto – Serious cocktail drinkers will love this bespoke experience. Gen Yamamoto is the owner and sole member of staff at this incredibly exclusive bar. A flavour connoisseur, Gen offers tasting menus only, all based on seasonal local produce.
About Life Coffee – This small takeaway kiosk opened in May 2014 and is now known as one of the best coffee venues in Tokyo. They use beans from a few hand-picked roasters and host international guest baristas and roasters such as Market Lane Coffee from Australia.
Toranomon Koffee – From the same people as the celebrated (now closed) Omotesando Koffee, this hip outlet is located in the business district in the Mori building. The café is beautifully designed in minimal sleek wood and metal and serves tasty coffee and delectable bites. Don’t miss the addictively good pain perdu.
Golden Gai – There is nowhere quite like the Golden Gai. Found in the Shinjuku district this atmospheric area consists of six narrow alleys with over 200 bars and eateries. Some ramshackle venues only seat one or two guests, most bars have a cover charge, but wherever you end up you are sure to have a memorable night!
To See & Do
Nezu Museum – Found in the Minato district, this chic museum houses Nezu Kaichiro’s private collection. We saw their exhibition to welcome the New Year called “Pine, Bamboo and Plum”, explaining the symbolic importance of different plants and animals. The impressive new building was designed by renowned Japanese architect, Kuma Kengo, and opened in 2009. I loved walking around the calming garden.
National Art Centre Tokyo – One of the largest exhibition venues in Asia, the NACT has no permanent collection but houses exciting temporary exhibitions and events. The museum is currently showing an Issey Miyake exhibition.
Tsukiji Fish Market – Often voted the number one thing to do in Tokyo, Tsukiji Fish Market is an unmissable experience. If you don’t mind (very) early starts queue for the famous Tuna auction which only allows 120 tourists per day. Many head to the market at breakfast time to try the freshest sushi from Sushi Dai.
Scai The Bathhouse – This former Bathhouse has been transformed into an intimate private gallery that displays Japanese contemporary art. Be sure to pop into nearby Kayaba Coffee and their new bakery, both just a few minutes’ walk away.
Yushima Tenjin – The shrines in Japan are serene and stunning. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the God of Learning and was founded in the year 458. Around exam time many students hang a small wooden plaque (called an Ema) with their prayers and wishes on it for good luck.
Sumo – Sumo tournaments take place three times a year at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. The afternoon and evening matches are the most important and the ringside seats are the most sought after and expensive. Each ‘bout’ (fight) lasts only a few seconds but is surrounded by an extended period of stretching and ritualistic ceremony.
Imperial Palace East Gardens – This is the only part of the palace that is open to the public. It is all calming and peaceful, but my favourite part was the Ninomaru Garden that features a tree to symbolise each prefecture of Japan.
Museum of Contemporary Art – Located in Kiba Park, east of central Tokyo, the iconic MoT shows both local and international contemporary art. When I visited they had an amazingly comprehensive Yoko Ono exhibition.
Itoya – this stationery supermarket is a mecca for pen and paper addicts like me. Stock up on stylish Japanese staplers and rulers before visiting the Paper Concierge for a bespoke experience.
Uniqlo – I couldn’t resist visiting the flagship Ginza store whilst in Tokyo. This 12 floor clothes shop stocks a vast range of cheap tailored garments that you won’t find in the UK stores. I particularly loved their selection of dark blue jeans.
Spiral Market – Found on the second floor of the Spiral Building, this carefully curated shop stocks a wide range of design-focused homeware and stationery. I wanted it all.
Bloom & Branch – This Aoyama lifestyle concept store stocks beautiful tailored clothes from their house brands as well as international designers. After perusing the garments enjoy a coffee at the instore Cobi café or perfect your look at the shoe-polishing bar by Brift H.
Maison Koichiro Kimura – Lacquerware legend Koichiro Kimura has a tiny psychedelic shop stocking his bold and brilliant creations. He combines 400 year-old family techniques with ‘high technology’ to create avant-garde items.
Stalogy Laboratory – A small aesthetically pleasing boutique in Daikan-yama selling colorful stickers, simple stylish diaries and functional pens.
Okura – The best place to buy authentic Indigo garments in Tokyo. Browse the beautiful blue clothes whilst chatting to friendly staff (who speak very good English). Fashionable tourists will find the perfect souvenir here.
Our Favourite Shop – this little shop is not easy to find, hidden in a suburban area of town. Offering a carefully curated selection of inspiring and creative local designers, like pottery from Marushi Porcelain and Kikof tableware.
Kappabashi – Known as ‘Kitchen Town’ Kappabashi is the catering street of Tokyo. The shops here are a mecca for keen chefs, with world-class knives and weird and wonderful cooking utensils.
Hakone – this beautiful destination is just 100km from Tokyo so makes a perfect escape from the fast-paced city. Overlooking Lake Ashinoko with views of snow-capped Mount Fuji in the distance, it offers postcard picturesque views all year round. The town is most famous for hot spring onsen bathhouses. We visited the lovely Narukawa Art Museum and the educational Tokaido Museum, which explains the history of the area. Nadaman Garden at The Prince Hotel serves a delectable traditional Kaiseki lunch.