Tokyo has to be one of the finest destinations in Asia. The rich, refined, culture is so unique that it always makes for an exciting experience. I have been there once in the winter and once in the summer and both times have been equally epic. Regardless of the season, you’ll find that Tokyo is simply unmatched. Perhaps it is because of the amazing mix of tradition and modernity, history and technology, and attention to detail and efficiency.
Here are some of the highlights from our summer 2016 trip.
Ginza is right in the heart of the city and is home to all the large Japanese department stores ( Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Hankyu, Isetan) and lots of well-known international designer brands. There are also plenty of little cafes, pastry shops, and restaurants.
At night the streets are fully decked in neon lights.
One evening we got a little carried away shopping that we found ourselves starving just as all the restaurants in the Ginza area started to close. We found this little food joint under the train tracks that was full of young locals (always a good sign). The food wasn’t spectacular but it exceeded our expectations. The experience though, was extremely fun. I’m sure our family will look back on this trip and remember this night fondly.
This coffee shop caught our attention because of the beautiful brass interiors and the smell of coffee from down the street. Toriba sells a variety of quality beans (we took home a bag and loved it!) and cups of coffee for only ¥100 (less than $1)!
Gonpachi is well known because of it’s appearance in the movie Kill Bill. That aside, their take on modern Izakaya food is loved by touists and locals alike.
We were on our way to the large Takashimaya and Tokyu Hands store in the Shinjuku area and Jon and I ended up exploring some side streets while looking for a place to grab a quick bite. We really enjoyed wandering into some of these alleys and gardens .
Vending Machine Meals
It probably took us a good 20mins of matching Japanese symbols and spying on other customers before we successfully managed to put in our order, but it was worth it. The food was average but experience makes it worthwhile.
Seryna is a fine dining restaurant that is known for their Kobe Beef and Stuffed Crab. It’s best to come lunchtime when they have set meals and it’s important to make a reservation. The food is pricey but unforgettable.
The Imperial Palace
We took a leisure walk around the Imperial Palace to see the residence of the Imperial family. It is a short distance from Tokyo station and you’ll find plenty of families and tourists biking around the surrounding gardens. The grounds are open to the public in the daytime and lovely to stroll around.
Hibiya park is located just beside the Imperial Palace. It is a lovely Japanese garden with several ponds. It’s peaceful and very pretty. I’d recommend taking an early morning walk and sipping your coffee from one of the benches facing the water.
Tsukiji Fish Market
We made a run to the Tsukiji Fish market for a nice sushi breakfast. I wanted to make sure Jon got to experience the market in the mornings and to try fresh Toro (fatty tuna).
Unlike most of the stalls at Tsukiji, this restaurant is open till dinner time. I always get a kick out of watching them stack and scan our plates when it’s time to compute our bill. Somehow the plate stacking also turns into a little competition to see who ate the most sushi…or is that just our family?
The iconic Shibuya crossing always gives you an adrenaline rush. We had wanted to come a bit closer to rush hour (at peak hours, they say up to 1,000 people cross at the same time) but surprisingly, at 10pm ,there was still a nice crowd.
This area is shopper’s paradise. I think of it as the Champs Elysees of Tokyo. The streets are lined with perfectly manicured trees that you can enjoy while window shopping. The architecture of some designer flagship stores are so impressive that they’ve become tourist attractions. I personally love to visit the globally known Japanese brands like Marimekko and Issey Miyake.
Japanese Beauty Finds
I used to think that these were just regular convenience stores. Nope! They are cosmetic havens. Stores like Matsumoto Kiyoshi are all over the place and they’re open late. I can spend a whole evening going through various versions of eyebrow pens, nail stickers, face masks, conditioners, collagen creams, perfumes, patting sponges… and all sorts of happy things. You also find all of the well-known Asian cosmetic brands here.
The first time we visited Tokyo, my mom and I were constantly noticing all the ladies dainty, artsy, manicures. They had perfectly painted, nicely decorated, chip-free, sparkly nails ! Now, we make it a point to squeeze in a manicure appointment when we’re in Tokyo. It’s my little souvenir from trip that lasts me at least 4 weeks.
Food along the way…
In Japan, eating Sukiyaki is quite an art form. There is an order and way in which the ingredients are cooked and served to each person at the table. Not only is it amusing to watch, it’s so fine and delicious that you’ll never be able to enjoy a typical Japanese restaurant’s sukiyaki again.
We came across this stall by accident as we were strolling around the side streets of Omotesando. Boy, are we glad we found this gem. This creme brûlée crepe was heavenly!
Unfortunately, I am allergic to my favorite fruit. While I absolutely love strawberries, I get a nasty reaction to them that lasts me a few weeks. However, I have concluded that Japanese strawberries (of all shapes and forms) are worth the breakout.
Crème de la Crème at Reponggi Hills
We were strolling around Roponggi Hills and this long line caught our attention. As tourists do, we joined the bandwagon and waited 15mins for what turned out to be, this ice cream filled cream puff. Very yummy and well worth the wait!
Lastly, navigating the Tokyo MRT/subway system is quite a feat. The map alone resembles a bowl of noodles and sometimes appears only in Japanese. If it’s your first trip to Tokyo, I suggest taking the time to study the map before leaving your hotel.
This will not be my last post on this beautiful, modern city! Maybe one day, I’ll write about my winter trip in 2010. Till then, I’m hoping the winds will quickly take me back to Tokyo for some strawberries and sushi!