Tetsuya Miura

Tokyo has a varied cultural landscape full of futuristic skyscrapers, centuries-old temples, sophisticated hotels, and enticing restaurants.

January 16, 2014

Lay of the Land

Asakusa: Catch a glimpse of old-time Tokyo at Asakusa’s seventh-century Senso-ji Temple and family-run artisans’ shops.

Ebisu/Daikanyama: The low-key cafés of these adjacent enclaves are an antidote to glitzy Roppongi.

Ginza: Top-end restaurants and depachikas (department store food halls) define the city’s entertainment area.

Marunouchi: The business district is home to Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace, and several hotel chains.

Roppongi: This once-gritty nightlife hub has gone upscale, with urban developments such as Tokyo Midtown.

Shibuya: Tokyo’s shopping mecca swarms with tourists and trendsetters.

Shinjuku: In this central ward you’ll find the world’s busiest rail station and a warren of lively bars.

Getting Around

Taxis, though expensive, are great for navigating the city. The extensive subway system is also convenient.

Stay

Our picks of Tokyo’s top hotels—each with a showstopping view.

The Internationals

Mandarin Oriental: Natural light floods the atrium lobby on the top floor of this gleaming tower. We love the thoughtful details, from the washi-paper lamps to the kimono-inspired wall patterns. $$$

Park Hyatt: Even if you don’t check in here, drinks at the hotel’s New York Bar are a must. The 177 rooms, five restaurants, and indoor pool all share stunning cityscape vistas. $$$

The Peninsula: The Hong Kong–based hotel group brings its tech-savvy sensibility to the Ginza. Marble bathrooms have built-in flat-screen TV’s, vanities are equipped with nail dryers, and in-room VoIP phones let guests make free international calls. $$$$

Ritz-Carlton: Crowning the Tokyo Midtown Tower complex, the Ritz puts guests in the heart of Roppongi. Guest rooms channel old-world glamour with mahogany desks and oversize armoires. $$$$

Shangri-La: At the 202-room Shangri-La, Chinese touches (gold-lacquered panels; silk embroidery) offset a more modern aesthetic (blond wood; statement chandeliers). $$$

The Locals

Capitol Tokyu: Overlooking the Hie Shrine, this Kengo Kuma–designed property is a quiet oasis in central Tokyo. $$

Hotel Okura: Understated Japanese style pervades at the 52-year-old Hotel Okura. Don’t miss the on-site art museum, with more than 2,000 Buddhist works. $$$$

Imperial Hotel: This legendary hotel is known for its large business center and prime location near Hibiya Park. $$

New Otani: It doesn’t get more authentic than the New Otani, with its 400-year-old garden, tea ceremonies, and restaurant’s traditional teppanyaki cuisine. $

Palace Hotel: Earthy elements such as gray aji stones at this 290-room property evoke the neighboring Imperial Palace grounds. Ask for a balcony room facing the royal residence. $$$$

Tokyo Station Hotel: Among the highlights at this revamped hotel, in Marunouchi: Edwardian architecture and sunlit rooms that look out on to Tokyo Station’s ornate plaster cupolas. $$$$

On the Horizon

In 2014, Amanresorts makes its Japan debut in central Otemachi; by summer, Hyatt’s Andaz brand will open in Toranomon. Come 2016, Hoshino Resorts will add an 84-room ryokan (inn), also in Otemachi.

Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000

Shop

Four standouts in the style-obsessed city.

Aquvii: With locations in Daikanyama and Jingumae, this offbeat shop is a souvenir-seeker’s dream, chock-full of unique finds such as brass necklaces made with tiny lightbulbs and tote bags in the shape of Do Not Disturb signs.

Fujiya: The ubiquitous tenugui, or small cotton towel, is elevated to an art form at this third-generation store in Asakusa (whose customers often frame their purchases rather than use them). Dozens of beautiful patterns are created by hand; several were revived from the 18th century. 2-2-15 Asakusa; 81-3/3841-2283.

Takumi: You could spend hours browsing the Japanese folk crafts in Takumi, an intimate, two-story Ginza shop that has everything from ceramics and lacquerware to textiles and bamboo baskets. Look out for rustic Mashiko pottery and wooden kokeshi dolls. 8-4-2 Ginza; 81-3/3571-2017.

Xanadu Tokyo: For a dose of edgy Tokyo street fashion, head to Tatsuro Motohashi’s boutique in Harajuku, which specializes in homegrown labels, including Tokyo’s Exist and the Osaka-based Roggykei. Best bets: eyelet lace vests and oversize leather clutches.

See + Do

A tour of Tokyo’s cultural and historical stops.

Kabukiza Theater: Samurai showdowns, damsels in distress, spirited shouts from the audience—all in a day’s performance of Japanese dance drama. The country’s most famous Kabuki theater reopened in the Ginza last spring, following a three-year renovation. Watch an entire show or buy same-day balcony seats and catch a single act

Mori Art Museum: Set in Roppongi’s Mori Tower, this museum is a hub for global contemporary talent, such as China’s controversial Ai Wei Wei and American video artist Bill Viola. Tickets include admission to the Tokyo City View observation deck—a 52-story-high outlook above the city.

Nezu Museum: Architect Kengo Kuma’s airy new wing at Nezu Museum showcases Asian antiques from a vast private collection emphasizing Buddhist and tea-ceremony artifacts. There is also a moss-covered Japanese garden filled with teahouses, winding stone paths, and maple-shaded koi ponds.

Ota Memorial Museum of Art: The late Seizo Ota spent over half a century compiling ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints. The more than 12,000 pieces, now housed in a diminutive gallery on a side street in Shibuya, represent such masters as Hokusai and Hiroshige—only about 100 are on display at any given time.

Sengaku-Ji Temple: This Zen Buddhist temple has a compelling past: in the early 18th century, 47 ronin (masterless samurai) avenged their lord’s death before committing hara-kiri. Here, their somber stone graves are well preserved, as is their armor in the small on-site museum.

Eat

The city’s white-hot culinary scene is heavy on just-caught seafood, complex flavors, and plenty of innovation.

Ginza Harutaka: Takahashi Harutaka worked for 12 years under sushi master Jiro Ono before striking out on his own in 2006; his first restaurant, a 10-seat sushi-ya loved as much for its exceptional raw fish as for its laid-back vibe, has earned a loyal following among local chefs. $$$$

Jimbocho Den: For fun twists on classic kaiseki (multicourse) meals, head to Jimbocho Den, where Zaiyu Hasegawa blends authentic cooking techniques with playful presentations: Dentucky Fried Chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, while a mascarpone dessert, sprinkled with ground-tea-leaf “dirt,” is served on a spade with a pair of gardening gloves. $$$$

Kozue: The 40th-floor restaurant at the Park Hyatt, in Shinjuku, is a lavish introduction to Japanese fine dining; a kimono-clad waitstaff serves chef Kenichiro Ooe’s simple yet refined dishes on handmade pottery. The changing tasting menu might include sea-urchin sashimi or Kanzaki beef. $$$$

Maisen: Inhabiting an old bathhouse in Aoyama, this popular chain’s flagship specializes in tonkatsupanko-breaded pork cutlet that’s fried golden and drizzled with an addictive sweet-tart sauce. What to order: kurobuta (Berkshire pork), so tender you can cut it with a spoon. $$

Namikibashi Nakamura: It may be hard to find this stylish izakaya, hidden on a side street near Shibuya Station, but it’s worth the effort for the standout small plates and selection of sake. Try the sardine-and-leek-topped tofu or get the omakase (chef’s choice) and let the cook work his magic. 81-3/6427-9580. $$$

Narisawa: In Minami Aoyama, the imaginative dishes of Yoshihiro Narisawa, who trained under Joël Robuchon in France, draw a diverse crowd of Converse-clad Europeans and ladies who lunch. Seasonal courses such as grilled squid with nitrogen-treated paprika pay homage to regional ingredients. $$$$

Ranjatai: You’ll find the tastiest yakitori in town at this under-the-radar gem in quiet Jimbo-cho, where prized hinai-jidori chicken is used to make everything from liver pâté to tender skewered thighs. Don’t miss the smoked duck and rich soft-boiled quail eggs. 81-3/3263-0596. $$

Tsukiji Market: Locals form long morning queues to sample market-fresh fish at Sushi Dai, but there are plenty of other options. Enjoy sashimi on beds of hot rice at Nakaya (81-3/3541-0211), oyako donburi (chicken cooked with egg) at Toritō (81-3/3543-6525), or custard buns and croissants at nearby Orimine Bakers.

Tokyo’s Best Noodles

Hototogisu: Devotees line up at this no-frills, eight-seat joint for its ramen—made with an intense pork- and clam-based broth. The dish topped with thin slices of chashu pork and nori is a house specialty. 2-47-12 Hatagaya; 81-3/3373-4508. $

Kamachiku: Noodles are made by hand each day at Kamachiku, set in a century-old restored granary in Yanesen. Order kamaage udon, served with an umami dipping sauce, then take a stroll to the Edo-era Nezu Shrine nearby. $$

Teuchisoba Narutomi: Masaaki Narutomi crafts his unique version out of pure buckwheat. Try the cold seiro soba and pair it with seasonal tempura. $$

T+L Tip: For a bespoke insider’s tour of Tokyo’s food scene, hire guide Yukari Sakamoto.

Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150

Local Take

Three insiders share their favorite places in the city.

Yoshihiro Narisawa

Chef, Narisawa

Isetan, spread out over eight buildings in Shinjuku, is my favorite department store in Tokyo. I love the selection of international products (French macarons; German cakes) in its basement food hall. When I’m in the mood for seafood, I head to Ubuka (2-14 Araki-cho; 81-3/3356-7270; $$$), also in Shinjuku; it has delicious shrimp and crab at reasonable prices. For a late-night bite, Renge (2F, 3-12-1 Shinjuku; 81-3/3354-6776; $$) stays open past midnight and serves tapas-style Cantonese classics such as shu mai dumplings and roast duck.”

Limi Yamamoto

Designer, Limi Feu

“In the Ginza, I always stop by Kyukyo-do (81-3/3571-4429) for stationery and Japanese washi paper. I especially love the scented versions and often slip them into envelopes when sending a personal letter. If I’m in need of a midday pick-me-up, my go-to spot is Toraya Karyo, in Akasaka, for kakigori (shaved ice)—uji kintoki (green tea with sweet adzuki beans) is one of their better flavors. Daikanyama T-Site, in the trendy Daikanyama district, is the city’s best bookstore, with more than 140,000 titles covering most genres.”

Koichi Nezu

Director, Nezu Museum

“Shibuya’s iconic Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine near Harajuku Station in the Shibuya neighborhood, is the perfect place to learn about Japanese history and culture. My top places to eat are Sushi Zen, a restaurant group that originated in Hokkaido, and Ten-ichi, in the Ginza, where I get my tempura fix. After work, it’s great to unwind with a cocktail at the chic Lounge Bar Privé on the Palace Hotel Tokyo’s sixth floor, in Marunouchi; order a martini and take in the skyline view.”

Where to Drink After Dark

Ant ’n Bee: Japan’s craft-beer scene is having a moment; at this cellar bar, you’ll find a wide variety of local brews on tap. Try the Shiga Kogen Miyama Blonde, made in Nagano. 5-1-5 Roppongi; 81-3/3478-1250.

Bar High Five: There are no menus at this tiny space in the Ginza. Instead, the bartender recommends cocktails with telepathic precision: a Moscow Mule, say, chilled with diamond-shaped ice cubes.

Bar Ishinohana: Shinobu Ishigaki infuses classic drinks with fruit concoctions in his convivial Shibuya bar. The menu is extensive; when in doubt, order the signature Claudia martini.

Gen Yamamoto: Yamamoto’s seasonal creations (such as peach- and wasabi-infused shochu) use ingredients sourced from farmers across the country and are served on a 500-year-old Japanese oak counter.

Ginza Harutaka

Located on the third floor of a Ginza office tower, Ginza Harutaka is a place known mostly to sushi lovers, especially Tokyo chefs. The intimate space with a wooden counter and seating for around a dozen seems almost like a private club, where acclaimed chef Harutaka Takahasi (who's previous restaurant earned a Michelin star) greets regulars and interacts with customers as he cooks. The staff doesn't speak English and the menu depends on what the chef buys in the morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market, but it's always top quality, expertly prepared. 

Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo

The Ritz-Carlton's first hotel in Tokyo commandeers the top nine floors of the city's tallest structure, Tokyo Midtown Galleria—and its close proximity to the bustling Roppongi district gives it instant cachet. The 248 rooms reach as far as the 53rd floor, making them the highest hotel rooms in the city. Not surprisingly, the views are truly awe-inspiring. And with free high-speed Wi-Fi and flat-screen televisions in the bathrooms, the rooms are decidedly modern. Don’t miss the traditional Japanese lunch at Hinokizaka, complete with panoramic views of Mount Fuji. The restaurant also houses a reconstructed 200-year-old teahouse (reserved for private dining). Sunday brunch at American-influenced Towers Grill includes free-flowing Dom Pérignon—a great way to start the day.

Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art

Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, a uniquely Japanese art form, are the focus of this niche museum collection, bequethed by the estate of Seizo Ota, the late chairman of a major Japanese insurance company. Prints in the 12,000-piece collection date back over 200 years and include several masterpieces of the style, including pieces by Hiroshige and the iconic Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. Housed in a free-standing brick building in Jingumae, the museum is small but comprehensive, spread over three floors and including rotating exhibits. 

Tsukiji Fish Market and Restaurant

Located on the fourth floor of the Ala Moana Center, Tsukiji Fish Market is part restaurant and part market. The restaurant serves dishes on an upscale buffet that includes a wide range of sushi and sashimi, as well as authentic Japanese, Korean, and Chinese dishes, such as soba, ramen, and curry. Seating is offered at the sushi, yakitori, and robatayaki bars, providing up-close views of food preparation. The restaurant also has a fish market, where customers can peruse the selection of fresh seafood or attend fish filleting demonstrations. 

Isetan

Isetan is one of Tokyo's most popular department stores and its basement depchicka, or "food hall" (in the tradition of European stores such as Harrod's), has a mind-boggling array of food, sold deli-style from glass cases. Traditional Japanese food is only one option. There's also Chinese dumplings, Italian pasta, and American-style sandwiches and desserts of infinite variety, some so delicate they're like tiny works of art. There's no dining area in the hall, but food can be eaten picnic-style on the store's rooftop terrace. 

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo

Located near Tokyo Station in the Mitsui Tower, the Mandarin Oriental rises above the historical merchant district of Nihonbashi—and enjoys unprecedented city views. Inside lies a sophisticated and modern oasis of calm. Hushed public areas complement its 178 understated rooms (including 21 suites), which feature the latest and greatest technology amenities—massive television screens will make you feel like you have your own private theater. The hotel’s exceptional restaurants include authentic Cantonese at Sense and French-inspired food at Signature. But for a unique dining experience, reserve one of the eight seats at the intimate, Tapas Molecular Bar, headed by Jeff Ramsey. In additional to standard treatments, the award-winning on-site spa, with its sauna, steam room, and pools, offers more unusual rituals, including Japanese kiatsu—a technique involving acupressure and energy work, performed in rooms with outstanding vistas. Plan extra spa time for a soak in the power-jet “vitality and tonic” pools after your treatment.

Maisen

Tuck into a succulent Kurobuta-pork tonkatsu (cutlet) in a shaggy crisp panko crust.

Kozue

Impressive views of the Tokyo skyline are the backdrop for Japanese fine dining at Kozue, located on the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel. Blond wood and bamboo furnishings and accents, ambient lighting, and ceramic or lacquer tableware handmade by artisans all over Japan help create expectations for the carefully considered menu of Chef Ooe. Sashimi served on ice, tableside shabu-shabu (thin strips of meat and vegetables cooked by being swished in hot broth), and a traditional four-course meals come to the table artistically presented and served by kimono-clad waitresses.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Years after its starring role in the hit indie film Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt Tokyo—housed in the upper floors of a handsome steel Kenzo Tange tower near Yoyogi Park in Shinjuku—continues to draw moviegoers and discerning travelers alike. For years this was the Tokyo hotel to stay in, and a Hollywood star-spotting in one of the restaurants or lounges was practically guaranteed. Other luxe hotels have since opened and some celebrities have moved on, but the 177-room Park Hyatt Tokyo continues to offer some of the best amenities of any property in the capital. In a city where space is at a premium, its generous 500-square-foot rooms are a standout with their rare 2,000-year-old Hokkaido water elm paneling, deep soaking tubs, and far-reaching views. The 47th-floor swimming pool, complete with glass roof, is an oasis above it all. Afternoon tea in the peaceful Peak Lounge also offers a quiet respite from the city’s bustle. If the skies are clear, have lunch on the 40th floor in Kozue and gaze upon Mount Fuji as you nibble away on your bento box.

Hotel Okura Tokyo

Understated Japanese style, with expert service and an art museum spotlighting more than 2,000 Buddhist works. 

Les Créations de Narisawa

The brilliant fortysomething chef Yoshihiro Narisawa weds French finesse and Spanish avant-garde savvy with kaiseki aesthetics and a passion for local ingredients. You might taste dashi infused with Japanese cedarwood shavings, Matsuzaka beef coated in “ashes” made out of leeks, or one impossibly beautiful radish in an edible “soil” fashioned from mustard seeds. Not cheap, but the experience is still worth every yen.

Shangri-La Tokyo

At the 202-room Shangri-La, occupying 13 floors of the Marunouchi Trust Tower Main, Chinese touches (gold-lacquered panels; silk embroidery) offset a more modern aesthetic (blond wood; statement chandeliers). If it’s the views you’ve come for, you won’t be disappointed: the award-winning Italian restaurant Piacere looks over Tokyo’s lush Imperial Gardens, while the 29th-floor pool features sweeping views of the city. When you tire of those, head to CHI, the Spa, whose six treatment rooms are the city’s largest self-contained spa rooms, each with their own showers, saunas, and bathtub. Meanwhile, the location is prime: right above Tokyo Station, guests have easy subway access to all corners of the city, while the famous Ginza shopping district is just steps away.

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