Postcard From Tokyo

Where to stay, shop, explore, and eat.

Japan is having a major moment between pandemic restrictions being dropped as of last year and a very strong dollar against the yen. If it feels like everyone you know is headed to Tokyo, it’s probably because they are. And just in time for sakura season, arguably the most popular and stunning time to head to the city, comes our highly curated guide. Don’t take this as an exhaustive to-do list, there’s far too much to see, eat, and explore. Consider it a brief rundown of some spots that haven’t been mentioned to death on social media.

STAY

There are a dizzying array of hotels for every budget, which gets tricky. What seems like an incredible luxury spot that everyone recommends winds up being a major inconvenience if it’s 15 minutes away from the nearest train station. If you’re already clocking in 20,000 steps a day, trust us and find a spot that requires the least amount of walking possible. One easy way to help sort through all of the options was using Expedia’s ChatGPT integration which combs through tons of reviews to find what you need. After typing in luxury, minimal walking, shopping friendly, and a great bar, the site recommended the Four Seasons Otemachi. Optimally located right by Tokyo Station in Ginza, the train is literally right out the door, making it easy to see the city in minutes. With ample sized rooms, a relaxing spa and pool, and an award-winning bar Virtu, the hotel combines Japanese hospitality with the amenities you’d expect from any Four Seasons across the globe.

Should you be looking for an option that skews more traditional Japanese is the Okura Hotel in Roppongi, especially if you’re an interiors lover. Designed by legendary architect Yoshiro Taniguchi, the space underwent an extensive renovation in 2019 helmed by his son, Yoshio. Yoshio also happens to be the mind behind the Museum of Modern Art in New York. While the rooms are brand new, the lobby remains true to its mid-century modern roots as the younger Taniguchi painstakingly recreated the layout, down to the furniture. With multiple restaurants, an art museum on site, and a hidden bar especially for hotel patrons, it’s another fantastic homebase for exploring the city.

Can’t choose between the two? Try hotel hopping so you can feel immersed in the different neighborhoods during your time in Tokyo. Another tip to maximize your stay is to sign up for Expedia’s OneKey program. It’s a rewards program that means you can book both hotels and earn OneKeyCash for both. Then use the currency towards a future trip. It works for all of their sites — Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo.

TO DO

Go Vintage Shopping

Nowhere in the world is there better vintage and archival shopping than in Tokyo. Not only are the prices reasonable, the condition is immaculate. For those who prefer strict thrifting, head to Shimokitazawa and get lost among the shops there. You’ll find everything from Americana like Ralph Lauren, Carhartt, and Levi’s to shops that cater to designer resale. If the latter is what you’re interested in, chain shops like Ragtag, Kindal, and Rinkan are your best bet. For those seeking luxury, archival pieces, make it a point to make a stop at Archive Store in Shibuya for immaculately curated runway pieces from the likes of Margiela, Hermes, and more. And should you be interested in handbags, jewelry and watches, Amore, Vintage QOO, and Casanova will have you covered with extensive collections of Chanel, Rolex, Cartier, and more.

Nerd Out in Your Favorite Neighborhood

Are you into anime and technology? Head to Akihabra. Looking to stock your kitchen with ceramics, a proper knife, and other pots and pans? Spend an afternoon walking on Kappabashi Street. Prefer to wade through vintage art books and magazines? Make your way over to Jimbocho. Want all things kawaii? Harajuku is your place to be. Prefer to enjoy cafes and upscale shopping? Ginza, Daikanyama, and Nakameguro are your spots. It’s safe to say there’s a neighborhood devoted to every hobby and whim, so plan your days by devoting significant chunks of time in each one.

Take a Time Out at the Shrines

One cannot spend their entire trip shopping and eating — although it’s very easy to do so! Take a few moments and explore the beautiful shrines. The major ones are Meiji Jingu in Shibuya, a Shinto shrine, and Senso-Ji in Asakusa and Zojoji near Tokyo Tower, which are Buddhist. As always, be respectful of the worshippers, dress accordingly, and make sure to cleanse your hands, mouth, and face upon entry. If you do head to Senso-Ji, come hungry — there are tons of little shops nearby serving street food. A few favorites include Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku for their eel rice balls and Imo Pippi for their now viral sweet potato bruleé.

Souvenir Shop Smartly

Bring plenty of space in your suitcase because you will easily fill it up. A few places for great souvenirs? Mega Don Quijote is a one-stop shop and can be a sensory overload with its many floors and catchy jingle. Stock up on snacks like sake and melon flavored Kit Kats, Japanese and Korean beauty (sunscreen and Vitamin C serums are two musts), anime toys for the kids in your life, and more. Rather get inexpensive homegoods? Muji, Daiso, and Tokyu Hands are all great resources. Don’t sleep on department stores either. Whether it’s Ginza Six, Isetan, Shibuya Scramble Square, or Parco, you can’t go wrong — just skip the European labels in favor of Japanese brands. And don’t forget to make your way to the basement for an incredible array of bento boxes, sushi, desserts, and other delicious treats as well as stocking up on travel-friendly condiments like soy sauce and yuzu kosho.

DINE

It’s impossible to accurately cover all of the restaurants in Tokyo. The city is obsessed with food and drink, making it not a question of what’s the best but what you can fit in, both time and stomach-space wise. Reservations are generally required but not all places take them. For those that don’t, one tip to note: if there’s a long line and you find that it’s not moving quickly, don’t stand and wait. Take a walk and see what else you can find, you’d be surprised what hidden gem you’ll stumble upon. That said, here are a few favorites worth adding to your itinerary.

Jambo Hanare

Do you like beef? Do you like your beef buttery soft? Then you’ll love Jambo Hanare. Reservations are required for this yakiniku spot where they’ll serve up the richly marbled meat in multiple iterations from pressed over sushi to gently grilled and dipped in raw egg to tartare.

Udatsu Sushi

To be fair, bad sushi is exceedingly hard to find in Tokyo — even the most tourist trappy conveyor belt spots are still excellent compared to the average New York City lunch special rolls. Everyone has an opinion on the best omakase, with options ranging from inexpensive to four figure sums. One that’s priced somewhere in the middle is Udatsu. With its one Michelin star, reservations are required, but it’s well worth it.

Ishibashi

When a restaurant has been around since 1879, you know it has to be good and Ishibashi truly lives up to the hype. The sukiyaki restaurant has a Michelin star but don’t expect fussy fine dining — the entire affair features traditional floor seating and food that can best be described as soul warming. A server will guide you through the process, cooking the meat and adding in the other ingredients as the meal progresses, creating the most delicious bowl of beef, noodles, and vegetables you will ever enjoy.  That said, reservations are mandatory and they fill up fast.

Mukai

Kaisen don, which is finely sliced and chopped sashimi served over rice with uni and fish roe, is quite possibly perfection in a bowl. One well-known spot for this is Tsujihan, with hours-long waits to boot. Don’t bother. Head over to Mukai in Shibuya instead. Located in a quiet residential street it feels like you’re dining in someone’s home. Try to grab the floor seat by the big window and enjoy the garden view as you eat. And don’t forget — leave some rice and fish at the end for ochazuke, which is soup and rice. Mukai’s version is clam based and makes for a soothing finish to your meal.

Ogawa Coffee Laboratory Shimokitazawa

Between all the walking and jet lag, multiple coffee breaks are an absolute necessity. If you happen to be vintage shopping in Shimokitazawa and need a break, make a stop at Ogawa Coffee Laboratory. The highly aesthetic cafe allows you to choose the beans for your beverage, depending on your preferred flavor profile (grab a bag to bring home). For those who like latte art, they’re incredibly meticulous here. Prefer matcha? They also make an incredible one for those who don’t drink coffee. 

Ramen Hayashida

Fish based broths are probably the most underrated ramen bases compared to their porky brethren. And while you can get the standard shio and shoyu noodle soups at Ramen Hayashida, it’s their nodoguro bowl that stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Nodoguro is black throat perch, a fish that when mixed in with pork bones, makes for an umami-filled broth that is both light and incredibly satisfying. Only 100 bowls are made daily so get there early.

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