Tokyo is a city that has forever taken the curiosity of many, the high contrast of traditional and modern culture within the style, architecture and culture is quite a spectacle that many travellers are eager to see. Including me! My five days in Tokyo weren’t nearly enough but I managed to squeeze in as much as I could, discovering new favourite foods, restaurants to be remembered and exciting experiences only found in a city like Tokyo. Here, I’ve curated a list of my favourite Food, Experiences & Neighbourhoods in Tokyo that I would recommend to anyone visiting.
For a truly authentic Japanese dish: Tonkatsu
One of my favourite Japanese dishes is Tonkatsu. Breaded, deep-fried/tempura pork cutlet served with Japanese Worcestershire sauce, rice and a vegetable salad, this meal is wholesome and, also, a familiar tasting dish for a western tourist like myself. The most famous place in Tokyo to get this is at a chain restaurant called Maisen.
Their restaurant in Omotesando is based in an old bath house with an urbane retro interior and a take-away stand outside if you are feeling like a quick Tonkatsu sandwich. They also offer other Japanese dishes such as Soba noodles, Sushi and Curry rice, so you and your party are not limited. Despite their popularity, Maisen hasn’t lost its authentic, traditional atmosphere and is perfect as somewhere to trust for true Japanese dishes; I loved it!
Japanese bakeries for a quick pick-me-up
Bakeries can be found all over the city, especially in subway stations, making them perfect for a quick snack and a drink when I was spending the entire day walking about and catching trains. Grab a tray and some tongs, wonder around the bakery and pick up a red bean donut ‘Anpan’, and maybe a Sausage Pan ‘Soseji Pan’, which is essentially a Japanese sausage that’s wrapped in a croissant pastry, covered in ketchup, cheese or mustard (very similar to an English sausage roll). As bakeries mainly became popular from western influence, there are many familiar pastries and breads to grab as well, full of sugar and carbs to keep you going!
Uneclef is one to save for a sweet little snack. The locals queue in the morning for the popular breads that sell out quick, but I would recommend visiting at a quieter time in the early afternoon where there are still plenty of treats to be had. With lots of European influence and some extra Japanese flair this spot serves the best artisanal pastries, cakes and more and they also have the sweetest eat-in area…if you can get a seat!
You cannot visit Japan without seeking out a Gyoza bar
If you don’t know, Gyoza is a type of dumpling that is very popular in Japan, typically stuffed with minced pork mixed with green onions, spring onion, cabbage, ginger and garlic. However, nowadays there is more of a choice. Most locals enjoy this delicacy in gyoza bars across Tokyo where predominantly only meat versions of gyoza are served, with a side of rice (amongst other side dishes) and a glass of beer.
My personal recommendation to try gyoza would be Gyoza No Fukuho (Yoyogi Hachiman), which serves perhaps the best place in Tokyo for a classic gyoza and beer experience.
I’d also recommend Champagne and Gyoza Bar, a friendly, novelty small spot to enjoy a variety of gyozas, including one for the vegans. If you’re not one for beer and a little more sophistication, this Italian/Japanese fusion bar serves prosciutto and other Italian snacks along with a vast selection of champagnes.
The mystical teamLAB exhibitions
The teamLAB exhibitions are one of the most amazing immersive and interactive art experiences you could ever experience, and it is suitable for anyone and everyone. When I visited this art exhibition in 2016 it was a 3,000-square metre temporary showcase over the summer that held a few rooms, in a large tent at the Odaiba-Aomi event space. Unveiling displays such as a crystal universe in which you are surrounded by dangling ‘crystals’ that changed colour along with soothing music and a water artwork piece called ‘floating in the falling flowers’ where you could find yourself a paddling in water, surrounded by light illusions of floating flowers and fish swimming around your ankles.
Now, visiting these exhibitions in one of two spaces is even better, with so much more to experience and loved by locals, tourists and some of the biggest celebrities like Will Smith and the Kardashians.
teamLAB Planets will be present until Autumn 2020, with 10,000 square metres and now 7 exhibits. And, if you have a little more time, go for the much larger teamLAB Borderless; 10,000 square metres of digital art and 60 exhibits that is in a permanent building.
Helipad views at Roppongi hills – Tokyo City View
Tokyo City View is the perfect spot if you are like me and you can’t visit a city without going to the top of a building to take some skyline photos. It costs 1500 yen (around €12.50) to go to the 52nd floor, with a viewing deck, some nice seating and even an art museum to take a look around which showcases some spectacular artists! It is an extra 500 yen (€4) to go onto the Skydeck, but so worth it for some al Fresco views and some clearer images for your camera. Also, kind of amazing to be stood on a helipad in the middle of Tokyo.
Arcade amusements in Shinjuku
This is the most fun activity to get up to in Tokyo, and so perfect for getting rid of some loose change before heading home. Of course, the Shinjuku area is famous enough, I am just here endorsing it. Maybe it’s because I actually won a toy in the claw machine for the first time and now I’m attached to it. No, it is really worth it and there are so many unique games that you don’t find in any other arcades. When you’re not participating have a sneaky people watch at the professionals and their lightning speed hand eye coordination. Give this place a go after dinner and before heading to a fun bar in Shinjuku, I promise you’ll love it!
Tokyo is full of lovely neighbourhoods but I’m about to share with you my absolute top 2 you can’t miss
The charming neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa
An alternative neighbourhood full of independent cafes, vintage shops and live music venues. I’m always on the lookout for independently owned, small businesses especially in large cities like Tokyo and Shimokitazawa ticks all the boxes, untouched by chain stores and owning its own characteristic feel.
Don’t be afraid to wonder into the garage sale-esque shops, it’s just how it is in Shimokitazawa; you might find a gem of a souvenir in one of these stores and for super cheap! If you’re feeling the long queue, you can also find the famous fluffy pancakes here at Flippers.
Easy to find, Shimokitizawa is on the Odakyu Line (from Shinjuku) or Keio Inokashira Line (from Shibuya).
Night lights at Harajuku, Omotesando and Aoyama
Harajuku is well known for bright lights, wide city streets and high street shopping. If you’re looking for somewhere to take the classic multicoloured neon high street Tokyo photo, here is the place. There are also small but remarkably well stocked vintage shops in the little side streets too which are worth popping into. Harajuku leads up to the areas Omotesando and Aoyama, most well-known for luxury shopping. If anything, visit these streets at night just to look at the impressive store fronts and concept stores within. They are quite the parade to look at, especially for their architecture, lighting and visual merchandising.
Of course, there are many things to be experienced in a vastly large yet compact city like Tokyo and I will always suggest taking this city by foot and using the amazing public transport. This way, you are bound see the most of Tokyo and all its wonderful quirks!