JAPAN TRAVEL GUIDE: TOKYO
Finally, it’s here!
A big huge thank you to Small Luxury Hotels for arranging the trip (I had simply the best time) and for Japan Airlines for the flight support - it was always a dream of mine to visit Japan and I’m so grateful to this little slice of the internet that I have that made things a reality for me.
For anyone daydreaming about visiting Japan one day, I say do it. Yes, it’s far away but it’s like no other country. Depending on the time of year you go, you can get reasonable flights and it doesn’t have to be a bank-breaking trip once you’re there.
For anyone planning a trip, I hope my guides have provided you not only with some useful information but plenty of inspiration and excitement too.
But back to Tokyo. The place where it all started and ended.
Tokyo is a city full of culture, heritage, design, intrigue and just a hint of madness. I have to admit my pre-conceptions about Tokyo couldn’t have been more wrong (if you’re thinking it’s going to be all Harajuku girls and robots, I’m afraid you’re going to very disappointed).
Much like London or New York, Tokyo can be split into different areas that have their own identities. Some of my favourites were:
Ginza - full of the fancy, expensive shops with the most amazing architecture - you could be fooled into thinking you’re on Fifth Avenue here.
Omotesandō - more amazing architecture on this avenue that wouldn’t look out of place in Los Angeles.
Shibuya - home to the famous crossing, Shibuya is commercial hub full of shops and plenty of entertainment.
Roppongi - the lively neighbourhood and where you go for the nightlife, which as tried and tested, I can say is up there with the most fun.
Harajuku - I got a cool vibe from this place and not at all what I was expecting. It reminded me a little of Abbott Kinney in LA, with cool boutique shops and vintage treasure troves.
There is plenty to see in Tokyo and I just touched upon the surface, but I think I got a good feel for the place and hopefully you’ll find my recommendations of use below, so here they come…
WHERE TO STAY - TOKYO STATION HOTEL
The first of two hotels we experienced on the trip with Small Luxury Hotels was Tokyo Station Hotel.
First opened in 1915, it’s an iconic building surrounded by skyscrapers and office blocks. The epitome of a small, luxury, boutique hotel: 250 well designed rooms with friendly staff that are happy to go above and beyond, refined put together interiors and some very good food (there’s 10 eateries on-site). The hotel also offers you a genius phone to use whilst you’re in Japan (and staying at the hotel of course) that is invaluable for using as a map/internet (since I didn’t have data on my phone whilst there). Breakfast at the hotel was one of the best I’ve probably ever seen. The choice was endless (and resulted in numerous visits from each of us) - you could pair your waygu beef burger with a side of sushi if you like, there’s no food of limits.
For getting around Tokyo (and also for making an exit from it), Tokyo Station Hotel is an ideal location - situated directly above the underground maze that is Tokyo Station - a warren of restaurants, mall tunnels and trains. There’s even a special entrance to the station from the hotel. Getting around Tokyo couldn’t be easier from the hotel - you’re within walking distance to the Ginza district or if you want to spend the day on foot, it’s a good base to start.
WHERE TO STAY - HOTEL GAJOEN
The second hotel we stayed in was Hotel Gajoen, located in the hip neighbourhood of Meguro.
The building within which the hotel itself is based is huge - the entrance hall alone contains the original ‘Invitation Gate of Meguro Gajoen’. Walking through the gate you pass endless pieces of artwork, galleries and a large atrium space home to the hotel’s Japanese restaurant before you head up the elevator to the lobby and from there, you come to the hotel. Sixty rooms split over three floors, bedrooms are modern in design yet very comfy indeed. Complete with a marble bathroom of dreams and a jacuzzi that I didn’t even have a chance to use.
The rest of the building is taken up with function rooms (of which there’s many - the hotel is known to get through around 30 or so weddings in a day in peak season!). We had a tour of some of the rooms and each was more impressive than the last. For those interested in art and design, this is your hotel.
Location-wise you’re still in the mix with the rest of the city but that little bit further away. You’re south of Shibuya which is a good walk away otherwise the subway system is on your doorstep and makes getting around easy peasy.
WHere to visit
Imperial Place - Just a short stroll away from Tokyo Station Hotel is the Imperial Palace - the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan.
Meiji Jingu - Get here early (we arrived at sunrise on our first full day) and you’ll have the place to yourself for most the time, with just a handful of commuters walking through on their way to work.
Yoyogi Park - A spacious park to walk around in the middle of the city. Make sure to see the wall of old sake barrels.
where to shop
Itoya - Stationery heaven. I need say nothing more.
Amore Vintage - For a mooch into vintage designer heaven, head to this store in Harajuku. Chanel everywhere.
Qoo Vintage - As above, another great shop for vintage heaven.
Kappabashi Street - Known as Kitchen Town, it’s a street that’s dedicated to shops which supply the restaurant trade. There’s one shop in particular (you’ll know which I’m meaning as soon as you see it - it’s hard to miss) which is filled to the brim with beautiful pottery and ceramics. All stacked up to the max. Worth a snoop or if you can squeeze that giant plate in your hand luggage, go to town. There’s also a handful of shops where you can buy plastic food - if you’re wondering what they’re for, you’ll soon realise. It’s near impossible to walk past a restaurant window without ‘seeing’ the menu on display.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Tsukiji Market - Apparently it’s not what the fish market used to be - with the early morning tuna auction being legendary - but this market is still very much worth a visit, I loved it. Food is so cheap and so fresh, I can’t recommend enough.
Golden Gai - a maze of bars and restaurants, some more inviting than others.
Eddy’s Ice Cream - OK so the ice cream isn’t exactly the best, but you’re going to feel very Japanese once you get to decorate up your cone. To believe is to be seen.
Koffee Mameya - Your go to for coffee.
Harajuku Gyoza-ro - Such a great little restaurant serving up some of the BEST gyozas I’ve ever tried. So good I went twice.
Tonkatsu Maisen Tokyu - There’s a few dotted around the city, so take your pick.
Reissue - Not the city’s finest coffee, but you absolutely need to visit for a real taste of Japan. And by taste, I mean one of their lattes with their mesmerising 3D latte art. Oh yes.
Ichiran Ramen - For a truly authentic ramne experience, you need to visit
Roppongi Robataya - A traditional Japanese restaurant where the food is cooked right in front of your eyes by two men who sit in the centre of the room. Every time you order something, the chefs shout it out and the rest of the staff shout it back. A great experience but be warned, it is pricey!
New York Bar at The Park Hyatt - For cocktails in the clouds. A must.
WHAT TO DO
TeamLab Borderless - If this is still on when you’re in Japan (I’m not sure whether it’s temporary or permanent) then you absolutely MUST do. Buy your tickets in advance and get the first time of the day, this place is all kinds of amazing. Filled with lights, sounds and installations, it’s somewhere where you could spend at least half a day easily.
Visit the Shibuya Crossing - The famous crossing that you absolutely must see. Annoyingly the best view is still from Starbucks so order those frappucinos and get a good perching spot.
I would always recommend exploring a new city on foot - you do get to see a whole lot whilst getting in a little exercise too. The city is walkable (if you don’t mind those steps mounting up). If that’s not for you, then the metro system is good and super efficient. A little tricky to get your head around at first - and you may occasionally get on the wrong train going in the opposite direction - but keep at it and you’ll find you can get the hang of things pretty quickly.
For travel around Japan - especially if you’re going to multiple cities/areas around the country - I would recommend you purchase a Japan Rail Card. It’s about £200 but that’s your rail covered whilst in Japan. It’s only available to tourists and is best bought before you arrive (confusing a little, yes). I was kindly given mine by the Japan Tourist Board and it really is invaluable. You need to get it stamped when you land, but this is easily do-able at most stations (best thing to do is ask a member of staff at the station you’re at - most had a good grasp of English and could point you in the right direction).
So there you have it! My guides to Japan finally complete. These take a very long time to do but I want the guides to be as informative and visually inspiring as possible, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and hopefully made some notes for your trip!
Thank you to Small Luxury Hotels and Japan Airlines for the most incredible trip, a bucket list trip ticked off.