November 03, 2018
Tokyo is one of the world's most amazing cities - it’s huge but celebrates the small and unique and still feels like a step into another world. Are you a foodie, an admirer of craftsmanship, a lover of gardens? Tokyo is your place. Check out our interactive map of everything Tokyo at the bottom of this story. And if you want ideas on crafting courses and shopping, click though to our story on that here.
Staying at Bed & Book capsule hotel at Ikebukuro in Tokyo - a unique and awesome experience.
Tokyo has every type of accommodation experience you can think of: stunning 5 Star international chains, backpackers, home stays and cutting edge design hotels. I put two to the test.
Trunk Hotel Shinjuku: I really really love this place: when I win the lotto I will be living here permanently. The heart of the hotel is its amazing bar, very stylishly relaxed it seems to be the place to have a business meeting if you’re a creative about to launch a start-up. With only 11 rooms this is the very definition of boutique. Trunk also has some awesome and unique Tokyo experiences that they can hook you up with.
Bed and Book Ikebukuro: Take one capsule hotel and embed it in a bookstore: that’s the experience at Bed & Book. These little sleeping pods are cosy and like anywhere with a load of books the space is calm and zen. It is still very much a hostel style experience, shared bathrooms and no personal space other than your small pod, but a very stylish one that is still cheap, in the city and close to the train.
Dining at the soba specialists Kanda Matsuya in Tokyo: seriously amazing cold soba (buckwheat noodles) served with stock and tempura prawns.
Eating in Japan is one of the most amazing experiences in the world. Sushi is of course an obvious choice, but be aware that in Japan it is expensive and not the everyday meal (good quality that it is) that we frequently see in Australia. Try the experience of an omakase (chef’s choice) sushi meal - you will need to book well in advance and the cost can range from AUD$100 to AUD$400 and more.
Trying ramen is essential, as much for the food as the ordering experience. Orders are placed and paid for on a machine at the front of the restaurant - look for the english language button or choose by picture. The order will print out on a slip, grab it, take a seat at the counter and hand over your slip to the server. Chasing down the best ramen is a global pastime - just google away for the most recent hot spot, or wing it on the street, here’s a link to get you started.
Cold soba is another dining experience with chilled freshly made buckwheat noodles served alongside a teapot of hot stock. Pour stock into your empty bowl, pick up some noodles with your chopsticks and dip in the stock, then eat - being sure to slurp. The slurping is harder than you might think after a lifetime of trying not to slurp. Add some tempura prawn on the side and you're in heaven. When you’ve finished the noodles, top up your stock bowl and drink it like a soup. This awesome soba restaurant pictured above (Kanda Matsuya) is in Kanda and is a favourite with locals. It is over 500 years old and you can watch the buckwheat noodles being made on the premises.
The famous Yuzu Martini and the beautiful city views of the 33rd Floor bar at the Tokyo Aman.
So many bars, so little time. There are many great bars on the GetMaking google map below, but two must-do’s are the over the top luxury of the 33rd floor of the Aman Tokyo (try the yuzu martini while gazing out over the city) and the exceptional omakase cocktail experience of Gen Yamamoto. Sit around a counter carved from a 500 year old tree and be taken on a guided tasting of single spirits mixed with seasonal fruits. With only 8 seats per sitting Gen books up well in advance: email him for a seat at the bar well before you travel.
A small sample of food from the famous Tsukiji fish and produce markets in Tokyo.
The fish markets are an awesome experience for any foodie and depending upon your passion for early mornings there are a few ways to experience them. Stay away from the big commercial tours and check out Airbnb for some small guided groups. These tours kick off around 7-8am and they will show you through the outer produce markets, help you taste all the cool stuff and answer the inevitable ‘what is that questions’. They will take you into the fish markets, but after the professionals are done with their bidding. This is a great way to get a feel for the markets. (UPDATE: The traditional fish market part of Tsukiji has now moved to Toyosu, but the outer markets for all kinds of food at Tsukiji are still there and well worth a visit.)
If you are keen to see the professional side some hotels will be be able to hook you up on a very exclusive behind the scenes tour - Trunk Hotel’s Tsukiji experience is awesome. Be prepared to arrive at 4am to watch the fresh and frozen tuna bidding, be guided through the markets and then have a breakfast with some of the inner circle.
The fish markets are in the process of moving to a new location - sad to say goodbye to the old 'underworld' of cobble stones and tiny huts under the vast warehouse roof, but the new location will just be a whole new experience watching that amazing seafood pass through one of the worlds busiest markets.
Exploring Tokyo by neighbourhood.
Jumping off the train and meandering around a neighbourhood is the perfect way to get a feel for Tokyo. Keep in mind that most shops won't open until after 10am or 11am, which allows for a deliciously long sleep in at your hotel, or some early morning temple visiting. Shops can often be closed on a Tuesday or a Wednesday - if you really want to be sure to see a shop then have your hotel call ahead to confirm they are open.
Nakameguro: An older area going through gentrification and now super hip (lots of yoga studios are always the giveaway) there are so many small shops and restaurants this location is awesome for a meander. This is also one of the very popular spots to view the stunning cherry blossoms when they are in season in April, reaching out over the canal. Visit the outstanding Kapuki for beautiful modern kimonos (check when they are open beforehand) check out the a very unusual Snoopy / peanuts themed cafe and shop the perfectly named ‘Snobbish Babies’ children’s store.
Shimokitazawa: I found this neighbourhood more of a tourist shopping experience but still interesting for a walk around. Head north from the train station and meander down the small alleyways. You will find a cute, crowded fabric shop as you head north from the train, and then a mix of jewellery, European clothing shops and even a traditional Kimono shop that requires you to remove your shoes at the door when entering. Every tourist seems to head to Bear Pond Espresso for their caffeine hit and the tiny Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory offers a delicious choux pastry treat.
Firstly, cash is king. It’s becoming less so, but often shops won’t accept non-Japanese credit cards, so carrying cash means you are covered for any experience.
One of the first Japanese experiences you will have is the subway. If you are going to be travelling outside of Tokyo a Japan rail pass can save you money, but if you are staying within Tokyo pick up a Pasmo or Suica pass at the train station when you first arrive - Haneda airport is also the a train station. You need around 2000 yen (approx AUD$25) to set up a card using the english instructions on the machine. You can even personalise your card with your name so if you lose your card you can retrieve the balance - just use your hotel phone number when registering (and make a note of it!). One week of A LOT of Tokyo train rides cost me around 5000 yen (approx AUD$60). The card can be used for all train travel (tap in/tap out) as well as Taxis and for purchases in convenience stores.You can load all your loose change onto it and the balance will keep for 10 years - or you can cash it out and minus a handling fee of around 500 yen. A very helpful step by step process for getting your card is here.
Embrace the energy and otherness of Tokyo and eat everything you can - it's amazing!
Here's our map of everything amazing in Tokyo, zoom in and click on the icons for details: orange are shops and experiences, dark red for accomodation.
November 04, 2018
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