- More about your oliver guide: Amy Rabe
- Trip type: Adult, Family, Group getaway, Solo, City
- Activity level: easy
- Ideal length of trip: 4 nights (before going off to ski - or taking the train to Kyoto!). If you have more time, of course more is better!
to & from
We flew direct from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) on United Airlines. There are also direct flights from SFO to HND on American Airlines and Japan Airlines. If possible, I highly recommend flying into Haneda airport (HND) versus Tokyo’s larger Narita airport (NRT) because HND is smaller, quicker and closer to central Tokyo – making your arrival and departure that much more enjoyable.
Where to Stay
- We stayed at The Peninsula Hotel which was warm and welcoming while also providing complete comfort and excellent service.
- The Park Hyatt Tokyo, where Lost In Translation was filmed, is a favorite among friends.
- Westin, Ritz-Carlton, and Mandarin Oriental all have properties there, as well as many more.
Where to Eat and Drink
- Ramen, ramen, and more ramen! Afuri. Named after a sacred mountain, Mt. Afuri, this charming, cozy & cool ramen place serves light, refreshing and delicate ramen that will not disappoint.
- Rokurinsha: Ramen in the basement of the Tokyo train station! David Chang (of Momofuku), delivers with tsukemen (where the noodles & broth(s) are served separately) that is worth the wait.
- Sushi for breakfast, sushi for lunch, sushi for dinner! Sukiyabashi Jiro Sushi. Maintaining the family’s long legacy of sushi excellence, the son of Jiro creates sushi art and is talkative and accessible throughout the experience.
- Robataya: Traditional Japanese cuisine where the ingredients are so fresh, there is no menu!
- Shozo Coffee is a stylish, little coffee nook in Harajuku. It’s a perfect place for an afternoon coffee & a freshly baked sweet while walking & shopping through trendy Harajuku.
- Friends, and Tokyo veterans, recommend Down the Stairs for a delicious & cozy lunch. It was closed when I was there, but I will try it next time.
What to Do
- Take an early morning run – or walk – around the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda.
- Take your mid-morning coffee to the Tsujiki Fish Market and take in the scale and importance of the world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market.
- Enjoy the tree-lined walk into the Meiji Shrine. And then delight in the rituals & prayer associated with the beautiful shrine & surrounding area.
- Walk throughout the streets, neighborhoods, and boutiques of Harajuku, taking in a hint of the Japanese pop culture and the funky & fashionable storefronts.
- Head to Daikanyama which is commonly referred to as the Brooklyn of Tokyo. It’s off the beaten tourist track which is why it’s a worthwhile jaunt. While there, be sure to enjoy a leisurely stay at T-site, the stunning bookstore (and so much more).
- Pop into the new Yayoi Kusama Museum for a hit of vibrant color from an interesting Japanese artist.
- The Japanese are timely, polite, and rule-abiding people. Try to be the same and it will go a long way in your interactions with them.
- Don’t tip. Although it is very uncomfortable for us Americans to refrain, tipping is not customary in their country, nor is it expected (and sometimes it causes confusion).
Skip the 4:00am arrival to the Tsukiji Fish Market for the live tuna auction. Nowadays, it is a lottery system – and limited to 120 visitors per day – so there is no guarantee that you would get in. I went after breakfast and leisurely took in the scale of the market & the neighboring food stalls – and thoroughly enjoyed it that way.
There is a great shopping in Tokyo, as you would imagine. The Prada store is beautiful, inside & out – the building itself is unique. Other noteworthy shops are Dover Street Market, Comme des Garcon, Sonia Rykiel, Isabel Marant, No. 21, and T-Site. There are so many more, of course, all of the large fashion brands are there – and then there are so many small Japanese lines that are inspiring to see. Happy walking, happy looking!
Tokyo, Japan - Suggestions from the Oliver Community
Here are some of my highlights from Tokyo. It was one of my favorite places that I ever visited- we actually went to Kyoto on the bullet train, too. And we did the Fuji Rock Festival. Everyone in Japan is so incredibly friendly, everything is well organized, clean- AMAZING! The subways are super easy to take- and if you aren’t sure where to go, anyone will be willing to help you. Google maps was very helpful with this. I hope that you love it as much as I did.
In Tokyo, we stayed at the Westin in Ebisu and in the Cerulean Tower in Shibuya, not too far from where you are staying. It is right near Shibuya crossing, which I definitely think is worth visiting. It is a crazy, packed area with lots of lights/music/sounds- you almost feel like you are in an arcade (and there are lots of arcades, if that is up your alley!). This was so much fun to walk around for the day.
Do not miss the Tsujiki Fish Market! It is so much fun to walk around and sample Japanese fare. If you go early enough, you can see the big Tuna being auctioned off, but I think that you have to get there at an unruly hour. We enjoyed just walking around at about 11am and eating lunch snacks as you go. Some places you actually pay for your food in a vending machine first.
I really enjoyed walking/running around the imperial palace in Chiyoda. It was closed when we were there, but it was still a lot of fun to see the scenery.
Ebisu was an awesome little area known for it’s dumplings and small shops. It was fun to walk around, shop, and see Japanese culture without the overwhelming number of people in some areas.
One of my cousin’s (Stryker) friends travels around Japan and eats ramen and posts the spots on his app, Ramen Beast. We loved using this to find out about different experiences as we went.
Nariwasa- this was a super fancy lunch, one of my favorite dining experiences of my life. Pretty pricey, but worth it in my opinion. It was about a 9 course meal- so almost a two hour affair. It was on the more formal side, but the food was out of this world.
DEN- Another seated many course lunch meal. This wasn’t quite as formal- the chef actually tries to make things fun and playful. This was also out of this world.
Sushi Masuda- Have you ever seen “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”- this is the spot of one of his apprentices. We went here for dinner and they serve you fresh fish (Nigiri) until you can’t eat anymore.
All three of those restaurants require reservations- so try to get in ASAP if you are interested.
For Wagyu, we went to Yakiniku Jumbo Shirogane. This is a place where you order a bunch of raw meat and cook it yourself. It was unbelievable! And not expensive compared to our other dining experiences. I also don’t think it is as hard to get in, but would still try for reservations.
You can make reservations at most places by email. At all of these restaurants, people spoke English, so it was easy to order.
Ditto to what Katie said about Shibuya Crossing…it’s a must to see. And I agree with the train system…it’s super easy and useful to get around the city. If you seem to be having ANY trouble, you’re guaranteed help from a number of locals. They are SOOOO friendly it’s ridiculous.
As for Tsujiki Fish Market, once upon a time if you showed up early you could go in no problem (Ira and I did this ages ago), however now they have a new policy and it’s a lottery system so even though you show up at the break of dawn, there’s a chance you might not be let in to see the auction. Just a heads up but you should definitely go have a sushi breakfast there (It’s the freshest you’ll ever have:) Any place is great!) and walk around. I always buy a Japanese knife at the market and have my name engraved in it. They’re great knives and great gifts for anyone back home that likes to cook.
Last time we were in Tokyo we went and did karaoke until 3am which was amazing and so entertaining! Again, I don’t think you can really go wrong in choosing a place…it’s a riot! There are also these photobooths (Purikura) typically in arcades where you take hilarious little photos and you choose the backgrounds and can alter how you look.
There’s a place called Yakitori Alley (or Piss Alley) where businessmen go after work before they get on the train home. It’s the smallest little alley you’ve ever seen PACKED full of yakitori stands that fit about 6 people. Not a lot of English spoken but we got by by just pointing to what looked good. A tasty little snack before dinner or late after some drinking:)
Here are some of our favorite spots in Tokyo for dinner…https://thegoodeater.com/?s=tokyo+japan We also had the best ramen last time below the Tokyo Train Station that David Chang (of Momofuku in NYC) loves called Rokurinsha There was a line around the corner but it went pretty fast and we decided it was worth the wait:)
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