What hasn’t been written on Tokyo yet? Everything here is larger, busier, crazier, louder, cheesier. Either in Lost in translation (Sofia Coppola), Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu), or even more recently Oh, Lucy! (Atsuko Hirayanagi), the city is depicted as hostile, complex, and somewhat inhuman.
Yet, despite this complexity, or maybe because of it, there is something for everyone in Tokyo. It has remained surprisingly very human, and there are many ways for the visitor to feel at ease in this maze of craziness. This diversity is also often depicted in movies: An Automn Afternoon (Yasujirō Ozu), Tokyo-Ga (Wim Wenders), or even more recently Sweet Bean (Naomi Kawase) each show different sides of Tokyo.
This is what the visitor might expect on their first encounter with Tokyo: a little bit of both. The repeat visitor - and there are many, considering the hidden charm of the city - will further explore the parts of the city they enjoy, but must keep exploring so as to grasp its evolving reality. This comes with a price: choosing and picking where to go before the trip, as the city is too large to leave it to luck. But Tokyo facilitates this task: each neighborhood has its own specificities.
Loved by Tokyoites and tourists alike, Shibuya is the landmark neighborhood in western Tokyo. Home to the famous Shibuya crossing, top department stores, and trendy clubs where DJs from the entire world spin. This fast-paced neighborhood recalls New York’s Times Square, but is also surrounded by smaller streets and alleyways with galleries to the south and Omotesando’s high fashion shopping paradise to the north.
Shibuya Hikarie is a multipurpose high-rise tower where all kinds of people, goods and information come together in synergy. The “future of Shibuya” makes for a great visit as it is centrally located and there is something new every time you visit. But what makes this building unique is the Creative Space located on the 8th and 9th floor, where exhibitions, art performances and small boutiques for artisans.
2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-8510
There is no one word to describe SPIRAL. It is a self-proclaimed multi-purpose cultural center, but it also includes a restaurant bar, a tea shop, a beauty salon, an accessories shop, and most importantly a gallery. Housed in a 1985- building designed by Fumihiko Maki, the Japanese post-modern architecture is at least half the reason for going there.
5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Is it a shop or an art gallery? A little bit of both, of course. The 2F really is an exhibition space; ceramics from a renowned artist were exposed when we went, it changes regularly. Downstairs, on the 1F, the shop really feels like an exhibition space as well, and it’s designed to feel that way. Large black canvas lined up on the side walls hide tall drawers where clothes are hidden. The symmetry is intended to show neutrality and equality in displaying the clothes. By pulling the canvas, the works are revealed. Clothes are thus hidden in the drawers-canvas, so as to make the space itself an art piece and to eliminate unnecessary visual interruption. Graphpaper was founded by Takayuki Minami in 2015, and you should definitely visit, and buy a piece as their brand selection is great. They have another location in Hibiya.
1A/2D KARI MANSION, 5-36-6, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku,Tokyo,150-0001,Japan
ALSO RECOMMANDED :
Nonbei Yokocho is hardly a secret location in Tokyo anymore, but this teeny alleyway still makes for a unique experience. Just a minute away from Shibuya crossing, the small pathway feels like Ozu’s Tokyo, packed with six-seater izakayas and bars. Any one of them might lead to a unique experience, but Hiroyuki Furuno’s Shisui is a good place to start. Follow up the night on a second floor karaoke.
1 Chome-25 Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0002
EXPLORE ON A MAP
Hipster, bohemian, trendy, creative: the adjective used to describe this neighborhood depends on the overall taste one has for Shimokita. Slightly off the beaten track, it is easily reached from Shinjuku or Shibuya by train, and is therefore a great base to explore the city from. Alternative bars, trendy restaurants, artsy cafés pave the narrow streets, but it is mostly the place for shopping in zakkas - a Japanese concept referring to objects and household items that can improve your life while not being flashy and even sometimes kitsch.
It takes 10 hours to fly from Paris to Tokyo, 1 hour from the airport to Shimokita, and 10 minutes to find your way to Shirube. But it only takes a second to feel in Japan when you step in. You walk in to a warm welcome, sit on the ground at a table or at the counter, whisper osusume (recommendations), and the rest is a izakaya at its best.
2 Chome−18−2, Kitazawa, Setagaya, 155-0031 Tokyo
Kate Coffee, tucked on the second floor of a modern building, feels like a mix between a modern coffee shop (with its glass door and the handicraft for sale) and your parents’ living room (with its couch and chairs from the 70’s). Grab a (Japanese) book or magazine, gaze through the window while sipping a coffee and enjoy a lunch plate that might as well have been cooked by your Japanese grandma. We first found out about this place in the very good Hello Sandwich Tokyo Guide: check it out for other small places like this one.
2 Chome-7-11 Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
EXPLORE ON A MAP
Where the busiest train station in the world meets teen fashion shops (Harajuku Girls, anyone?), noisy music clubs, cheesy love hotels, tall and bright skyscrapers, and fast-paced business and entertainment centers. But don’t be fooled! While Shinjuku embodies the ultra urban feel Tokyo is known for, it also hosts smaller areas and streets with cute restaurants, is surrounded by two of the nicest parks in town (Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi Park), and is of course a great neighborhood to get anywhere in the city.
One prerequisite: liking sardines! Iwashi (sardines) are the star of the show here at lunch time, available fried with panko, served sashimi-style, simmered in dashi with soy sauce, or prepared in an egg-casserole. The lunch set menu costs 800 yens, a bargain in this 1 Michelin star restaurant. The basement entrance of the restaurant opens onto charmless rooms, but, here, the charm operates in the plate and on the palate.
3-32-5 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022
Here it is not about the quantity. This stationery shop is as small as student’s apartment in Paris, and you have to walk carefully around the tenant’s desk to access the entire display. But yes it is about quality, as you will find cute and unique stationery hard to resist to.
1-1-1, #106 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Yes, this is downtown Tokyo and yet the alley to get to the entrance of Eatrip is a tree garden. Once inside, one feels like in a countryside house, welcomed by the house master. Chef Takayuki Shiraishi cooks fresh and locally-sourced ingredients to make up a cuisine that is a fusion between European and Japanese food, reflecting his world travels before opening Eatrip. The wines here are natural, and everything tastes just as good as it looks.
1F-6-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Narifuri is a brand concept ‘fashion + bicycle’. The bicycle culture is very important in Japan, and is taken to another level in Tokyo. Narifuri was created in 2007 with that in mind, in order to create clothes that are comfortable to wear while cycling. The concept now goes beyond their original “Ride well, Dress well” moto, and includes urban wear and business lines that appeal to the subway commuters, not just the bike ones. Their flagship store was moved to this location in 2017 and includes a bike shop (‘charifuri’) on the first floor where you can rent high-end bikes for a full day or half a day of wandering through the city. Narifuri (形振り) is a Japanese expression relating to how one dresses and behaves, and the brand has tried (and managed, we think) to take it to another level in its 10+ years of existence.
1F/2F Cross-side Bldg. 3-52-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku Tokyo 151-0051
ALSO RECOMMANDED :
No automated machine outside (like most ramen restaurants) show the way for this second-floor ramen restaurant. This woman-owned restaurant is located opposite to the Southeast exit of Shinjuku station, and the line stretches into an unwelcoming staircase. The waitress is not paid to smile but to be efficient. Yet the ramen (fish broth) is delicious and the experience memorable, compared to most other ramen experiences! It is also one of the few options to eat ramen if you don't eat meat.
3 Chome−35−7, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022
EXPLORE ON A MAP
Upscale and immaculate; stylish and artsy. Ebisu and Daikanyama are quite a combo. Very popular with fashionable and young people, the streets house some of the best fashion boutiques and restaurants, as well as cafés and art galleries. It makes for a very pleasant day of wandering while sipping lattes and feeling Japanese.
Originally found in the excellent Tokyo Craft Map (http://tokyocraftmap.jp/), this organic restaurant is an amazing place run by an even more amazing staff. Chef Hideki Murakami is an incredible character who’s had several lives, including one backpacking through the Okinawa islands on which he’s written a book that you can obviously see in the restaurant. It is also reflected in the name and logo of the restaurant: the ‘traveling raven’. Most importantly, the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and the carefully-selected organic wines on the menu are just superb. Two more reasons for which we cannot wait to go back to Kitchen Watarigarasu!
3 Chome−24−14, Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0011
THE MART BY FRED SEGAL
This California brand opened in Tokyo in 2014 and is located on a converted urban railway site of the old Tokyo line. Beyond the fashion shop, Fred Segal opened a market style eatery inspired by LA food culture, including Californian Japanese doughnuts.
13-1 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0034
GARDEN HOUSE CRAFTS
The log-road Daikanyama is a walking path built on top of former rail tracks used by the Tokyu Toyoko line. Opened in 2015, it houses several facilities, including Fred Segal shop and mart, and Garden House Crafts. It is a casual café with a beautiful and large terrace that is as enjoyable in the afternoon and in the evening. The highlight clearly is their own bakery that makes excellent cakes and bread, as well as lunch and snacks.
13-1 Log-Road Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0034
Bonjour Records is a leading Japanese fashion and streetwear brand. The Daikanyama shop houses a great mix of clothes, records and accessories, and is a good spot to uncover the latest gem - be it a piece of clothing or an artist. They also have a ‘Bonjour Bonsoir’ clothing collection, which makes them an instant favorite.
24-1, Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Daikanyama T-Site is the flagship store of the Culture Convenience Club Company, which operates Tsutaya, a nationwide chain of video rental shops and bookstores. It is a real complex that only comprise of a bookshop but also of a stationery store, music, library and lounge. This “Library in the Woods” is worth spending an afternoon at, after lunch at the Ivy Restaurant on the premises.
17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0033
EXPLORE ON A MAP
A small town atmosphere just two stops away from vibrant Shibuya, Nakameguro is a cute neighborhood built along the cherry blossom lined Meguro river. The laid-back attitude, the designer boutiques, and trendy cafes and restaurants will sure allow Parisians, as well as designers and artists, to feel right at home.
This restaurant is in a small and quiet alley very close to Nakameguro station. It serves great Japanese home-style food made with carefully picked ingredients and lots of love. We found out about this place in the excellent ‘Tokyo Eatrip’ book by Yuri Nomura (see the entry about Eatrip in this guide). When we went, on a Friday night, we were the only customers. Owner Hiromi Sato does not speak English but will gladly help you deciphering the specificities of her menu. Gobo tempura, fried sardines, pickled cucumbers were delicious discoveries to go with the classic but succulent miso soup and onigiri that are not to be missed.
1 Chome−7, Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
Away from the busy part of the Meguro river just outside Nakameguro station lies KAN, a discreet izakaya with no outside sign in the middle of residential buildings. It’s another story once you’re inside: large wooden counters and tables, dim light, beautiful sake bar, and very friendly and professional staff. KAN’s traditional cuisine is mostly based on vegetables and fish. The omakase menu is a slow and wonderful succession of dishes that reveal the quality and freshness of the products, and the art of cooking. It is no surprise that several cooks who worked at KAN have gone on to have great careers at renowned institutions.
2 Chome−1−1, Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0043
This small restaurant, located in and old house at the end of a small walkway off a street parallel to the Meguro river, is a charming and delicate place. It is run by Kyoto-born young chef Yuki Aoyama. It is specialized in obanzai cuisine - Kyoto cuisine with seasonal and sustainable ingredients. The quiet and dimly-lit wooden interior is the perfect setting to enjoy one of the lunch set menus or an afternoon tea with a mochi or matcha cake.
1 Chome−1−15-10, Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0042
Don’t be fooled by its full name “Tractor Morning”. They do serve great breakfast (so we hear), but it’s for the nightlife that it’s listed here! Tractor has become one of the hip places in the heart of Nakameguro, with vintage furniture, good drinks, excellent DJs, and especially great crowds.
1 Chome−3−5, Nakameguro, Meguro, Tokyo 153-0061
Right next to Ginza, known for its upscale shopping and home of famous tech companies, Shiodome is a former railway terminal transformed into one of Tokyo’s most modern areas. It is near Tsukiji, Tokyo Bay, and the Hamarikyu Gardens, an oasis of nature with 300-year old pine trees tucked in between skyscrapers.
The impressive lobby is one thing. The amazing view on the Shinkansen tracks below and on the city is another. And finally, the artists rooms is what makes this hotel the real thing: each room features a concept made by a different artist and depicting a part of Japanese culture. The room featured here is “Cherry Blossoms”: created by Hiroko Otake, the painted cherry tree gives a sense of the uniquely Japanese aesthetic awareness of transient nature.
Shiodome Media Tower 1-7-1 Higashi Shimbashi, Minato-ku 1057227 Tokyo