Tokyo Travel Destinations
I get about an email a week asking me where friends and acquaintances who are coming to town should go check out while they are in Tokyo.
With the Olympics impending, I have a feeling that this is only going to ramp up… and thus: suggested destinations for first-time visitors to Tokyo!
Note: my interests are kind of limited. I like things that are art/design-oriented, like looking at manga and vintage toys (but usually not buying them—I just think the colors are pretty), food food food, drinks drinks drinks, coffee, record shopping and weirdo stuff. As most friends of mine have similar tastes, this caters to the more indie culture-oriented crowd.
Also note: this is not an exhaustive list by any means—it’s a starter.
- Nakano Broadway
A rapidly aging shopping arcade and one of Tokyo’s weirdo culture mecca. Have a cup of coffee at the cafe co-run by Fuglen and Takashi Murakami, hit up the Mandarake flagship for comics and toys, purchase a pair of pre-worn panties in a can from a vending machine, peruse radical literature at TACO ché and don’t miss the record stores!
This neighborhood amazes just for strolling—check out fashion shops like Galaxxxy, department stores like Parco (especially the amazing bookstores, stationery shop and assorted boutiques in the basement of Parco 1) and Tokyu Hands (don’t forget to grab your USB-powered humping dog), comic/toy shops like Mandarake, snap up vintage hiphop vinyl at Manhattan Records, punk and metal discs at Disk Union, and don’t forget people-watching. Never forget the people-watching! Snap up the latest hipster reads at Shibuya Publishing and load up on essential cycling gear at Blue Lug (owned by one of the most charming, handsome devils in Tokyo). Vegan eats available at Nagi Shokudo. Some of Tokyo’s best coffee is at Streamer. Dine at the absosmurfly delicious Tomigaya Calme and grab some drinks at Fuglen after.
Part of Shibuya, but for the architecturally-minded, strolling Shibuya’s “Love Hotel Hill” in the daytime offers up a plethora of Memphis-inspired 1980s architectural oddities. Highly recommended! I love tantanmen, spicy Chinese ramen and Nanashi offers up the best version I’ve ever had. Also highly recommended!
You can kill a good half-day inspecting fashion brands’ flagship stores, the amazing LaForet department store, streetwear shops, indie culture/fashion shops like Vacant/No Idea, and wash it down with decent beer and yakitori at Baird Brewery. There are a few pieces of notable architecture hanging around, and do check out the assorted back alleys!
- Yoyogi Park
Buy a plastic tarp at a ¥100 shoppe, buy a six-pack and take in the sites and sounds of Yoyogi Park after a stroll around Meijijingu Shrine. Yoyogi Park is the heart and soul of Tokyo, most notably on weekends when folks from all over town pour in to dodge pooping ravens, partake in drum circles, bask in the sun and just be part of the civic experience.
Jimbocho is Tokyo’s used book capital. Great for hunting down vintage books and posters, but also full of great eats and drinks.
Mori Museum is worth checking out for it’s great selection of contemporary exhibitions. A lot of people party in Roppongi. I don’t, except occasionally at SuperDeluxe, a great bar and event space that regularly hosts musical events featuring the likes of Jim O’Rourke, Keiji Haino and other Japan avant garde music luminaries. They host PechaKucha Night, which is a great event to meet folks, see their creative interests, and get your drink on. 21_21 Design Sight is a design-oriented museum. There’s a pretty amazing tequila bar in Roppongi, plus tons of great food. But hands down, the *best* place to have a drink and meet interesting folks in Roppongi is the inestimable Shimauma, located 2 floors above SuperDeluxe, run by folks who will knock your socks off with their charm, poise and kindness.
Shimokitazawa used to be the hub of indie culture, but many of the great businesses there have been replaced by chain retail outlets and “the kids” have moved to Koenji, Tokyo’s current DIY hotspot. Record stores, thrift shops, amazing Vietnamese food, and just great strolling abounds. Of note: Los Apson, the most odd and highly curated record store in Tokyo.
Arai is a small station tucked away a bit north of Nakano. It’s lovely for an evening stroll—loads of great food, a vintage candy shop that kids and adults alike will adore and 35 Minutes, a hybrid gallery/bar run by one of the greatest humans of all time, Kota Sake.
Shinjuku is kind of the Manhattan of Tokyo. Kind of. Loads of shopping at UniQlo, Bic Camera, their hybrid BicQlo, Yodobashi Camera, and tons of other giant retail ventures. At night, Shinjuku lets its hair down—home to Ni-chome, the gay cultural district of Tokyo, red light naughty-land Kabukicho and San-chome, a rapidly made-over shopping/entertainment district, you can find trouble of many shapes and sizes in Shinjuku. Best bet: just go there and wander around. You’ll be happy you did. There is just so much great stuff in terms of great food, great shopping and sights to see that it is hard to list. Many tourists love the Robot Restaurant and many people adore the insanely low prices at the izakaya Alps (then wonder why they feel so crappy the next day). En is a decent izakaya with good food and drinks, but there are a veritable ton of that kind of thing in Shinjuku. Some folks love Piss Alley. Others love Golden Gai. Both are overrun with tourists, so best to look elsewhere.
Shin-Okubo is Tokyo’s Koreatown. There is so much amazing food in this area that it is not even worth listing restaurants. The best bet is to go stroll around and see where your nose leads you. You can find Korean barbecue, sushi, gimbap (Korean maki-sushi), Indian, Taiwanese, Indian, hot pots and loads of other types of cuisine. I’m particularly keen on samgyapsal, kind of the Korean barbecue version of tacos where you cook the meat yourself add assorted condiments and eat everything wrapped in leaves. There are Korean supermarkets, music shops, loads of independent businesses, and tons of unique shopping. Shin-Okubo is home to two of Tokyo’s grimiest and most interesting music venues as well, Suizokan (really worth the trip — a small rock venue full of aquariums) and the dank Earthdom. Loads of great bars, as well.
- Like I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list—there’s no Ginza, Akihabara, Komagome, Shimokitazawa, or many of the other lovely neighborhoods in this fair city.
- There are loads of great resources for navigating Tokyo, but it can be hard to figure out where to start. Check out TokyoCheapo, People Make Places, Go Tokyo, CNN Travel, the Japan Times City Guide, TokyoArtBeat for the latest art and design exhibitions, Time Out, and explore Kaala for heavy music listings.
- Have fun!