T+L's Definitive Guide to Tokyo
Published: January 2014
By Jennifer Flowers
Tokyo has a varied cultural landscape full of futuristic skyscrapers, centuries-old temples, sophisticated hotels, and enticing restaurants.
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.
Taxis, though expensive, are great for navigating the city. The extensive subway system is also convenient.
Our picks of Tokyo’s top hotels—each with a showstopping view.
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. $$$$
Ritz-Carlton: Crowning the Tokyo Midtown Tower complex, the Ritz puts guests in the heart of Roppongi. Guest rooms channel old-world glamour with mahogany desks and oversize armoires. $$$$
Shangri-La: At the 202-room Shangri-La, Chinese touches (gold-lacquered panels; silk embroidery) offset a more modern aesthetic (blond wood; statement chandeliers). $$$
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
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.
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. $$$$
Jimbocho Den: For fun twists on classic kaiseki (multicourse) meals, head to Jimbocho Den, where Zaiyu Hasegawa blends authentic cooking techniques with playful presentations: Dentucky Fried Chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, while a mascarpone dessert, sprinkled with ground-tea-leaf “dirt,” is served on a spade with a pair of gardening gloves. $$$$
Kozue: The 40th-floor restaurant at the Park Hyatt, in Shinjuku, is a lavish introduction to Japanese fine dining; a kimono-clad waitstaff serves chef Kenichiro Ooe’s simple yet refined dishes on handmade pottery. The changing tasting menu might include sea-urchin sashimi or Kanzaki beef. $$$$
Maisen: Inhabiting an old bathhouse in Aoyama, this popular chain’s flagship specializes in tonkatsu—panko-breaded pork cutlet that’s fried golden and drizzled with an addictive sweet-tart sauce. What to order: kurobuta (Berkshire pork), so tender you can cut it with a spoon. $$
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
$$$$ More than $150
Three insiders share their favorite places in the city.
“Isetan, spread out over eight buildings in Shinjuku, is my favorite department store in Tokyo. I love the selection of international products (French macarons; German cakes) in its basement food hall. When I’m in the mood for seafood, I head to Ubuka (2-14 Araki-cho; 81-3/3356-7270; $$$), 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.”
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.”
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.