*Scroll to the bottom if you want travel tips for Tokyo!*
Despite it being my 5th trip to Japan, this is my first time seriously checking out Tokyo! Previously I had a day’s layover at only went to a few restaurants of interest.
Having been to more scenic and rural areas of Japan, I’ll say Tokyo is definitely different. It’s the only place where English is more understood and you’ll see a lot of gaijin (foreigners) around. In other areas of Japan they’ll be surprised to get a foreigner.
Tokyo is more advanced and there are a lot of foreign brands. It’s almost like New York shifting over! There’s Luke’s Lobster, Magnolia Bakery and MoMA Design Store just to name a few, located in Omotesando neighbourhood. These are brands iconic of my favourite city New York and it does feel like home seeing these around.
In Tokyo things are definitely more expensive than anywhere else in Japan and the density of humans are crazily a lot more. I was used to having peaceful pace and not having to wait in line for anything but in Tokyo, no such luck. September is not a peak period for foreign tourists because there’s no sakura bloom, autumn colours or cool weather, but it happened to be the Silver Week in Japan, with a 5 day holiday from 19 – 23rd September. I arrived on the 23rd so perhaps I had to squeeze with a little more domestic tourists than usual.
My first meal upon arriving in Tokyo after my domestic flight from Hokkaido was Luke’s Lobster.
This is my favourite lobster chain from New York and in Japan, the mark up isn’t a lot. Get the bigger size, of course. If like me, you had to wait in line for an hour, you probably want to purchase more. I completely FORGOT to do that when my turn came, even though I had the intention to, so too bad.
Lobsters are from Maine and they’ll tell you the origin. I don’t really pay attention to the exact origin of the lobsters I consume so I can’t tell which is the better origins for lobsters. If you are a lobster snob this piece of information may be useful.
Lobster Roll (US) – ¥1580
I’ll say it’s similar to New York’s, but the lobster wasn’t 100% as fresh here, though still WAY better than anything you find in Singapore. It’s so simple, authentic, unpretentious and delicious. The 1 hour wait is not worth it though, since it’s a no wait kind of food in New York and I rather have it there. But if you haven’t tried it before and won’t be going to New York anytime soon, you just have to the wait. I’m not sure if it helps with the line but there’s another outlet at Shibuya now. They have it in Osaka and Kobe too and I reckon the queues there will be less crazy because they have less people.
Luke’s Lobster Omotesando
6 Chome-7-1 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
The area which Luke’s is located is omotesando and it’s a very nice neighbourhood with good vibes. It’s modern and western and doesn’t feel too cluttered.
Next stop was Tokyo Midtown, a mall near Roppongi Hills and it has several foreign brands as well. It’s relatively less crowded than most other shopping areas I feel, perhaps because it is more upmarket.
It was after lunch hour and time for something sweet. I wanted Japanese style desserts and in Toraya 虎屋 is quite famous for that in Japan. Tokyo Midtown has an outlet and there was a short queue for it. This brand can be traced back to 1586! 429 years of history that is.
While waiting for a seat I browsed through their retail shop.
I like the way they display their products. It looks very zen to me.
Kuzukiri 葛きり with matcha set– ¥2117
This is something you don’t usually see in Singapore. If you do, it’s going to be super expensive. This is made from arrowroot kuzu flour and you dip the noodles into the refined domestic sugar wasambonto mitsu syrup and enjoy! The texture of the arrowroot noodles are bouncy and super nice! I LOVE IT. Without the drink it would be ¥1404.
Anmitsu あんみつ with matcha set – ¥1901
Red bean paste and Japanese jelly. Ala carte would be ¥1188.
Another popular item which I observed people having shaved ice, kakigori かき氷, matcha flavour called Uji Kintoki 宇治金時(¥1260). Perhaps it was summer so people wants ice, but I sure hope to try it next time.
Besides traditional Japanese desserts, Tokyo Midtown also has foreign brands like JEAN-PAUL HÉVIN (Paris) and Sadaharu AOKI (Paris). I could only choose one though I would like to have both and opted for the latter because I miss it so much after having it it Paris!
Degustation – ¥1550
Instead of the usual macarons, I decided to try the cakes instead this time. They have a sampling platter with a bit of each that it’s a good idea. I like small portions of everything.
Of course, I had to get macarons. #favourite. They threw in some orange chocolate for free too.
It was chestnut / maron season (autumn) so they had chestnut ice cream as a seasonal special. It wasn’t as great as it sounded, sadly.
pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris
Tokyo Midtown Galleria/B1/13
9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo 107-0052, Japan
I’ve always heard about how much better Yoshinoya is in Japan compared to anywhere else and for the first time I’m having it. Above is the regular sort.
The next morning was a day trip to see Mount Fuji from afar. I decided that Kawaguchiko (Fuji Five Lakes) is a good place for viewing. I took a train from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko station. You need to purchase special tickets for this but I failed to do so because I was running late for the train. Thankfully they could do the purchase on board and I didn’t have to be kicked out of the train. Always plan your journey ahead.
Blue rose ice cream for breakfast! I can eat ice cream at any time of the day, for every mean of the day. As long as it’s nice. I love unlocking new soft cream flavours in Japan. This blue rose flavour is a Mount Fuji special. There’s a version with vanilla on top which is meant to look like a snow capped Mount Fuji!
From this station, you can find various sight seeing route buses. There are many places to see the beautiful mountain. Even from the station itself you can catch a glimpse of it, but if you want something scenic like a lake and a reflection of the mountain in the lake, take the bus and hop off somewhere.
For Mount Fuji, you really need luck. It’s best to go VERY early in the morning before the skies gets foggy. I went too late and the weather wasn’t ideal. Rain was upcoming so skies were gloomy and fog covered the mountain! I had to wait and wait for this picture, which at least showed the shape. It’s best to stay here overnight so you can catch the view near sunrise, where fog will be minimum. It’s not possible to come from Tokyo that early, so no choice.
Next stop was Gotemba Premium Outlets for shopping and there’s a bus from Kawaguchiko station directly to the outlets. I’ll warn you first that the food at Gotemba Premium Outlets is not nice. Try to have a backup plan like bread in your bag or something. It may be hard to believe but there’s actually bad food in Japan. Here, at Gotemba Premium Outlets. It’s bad and expensive. They don’t even have fail proof choices like Freshness Burger which Shisui Premium Outlets has.
The selection at Gotemba Premium Outlets however, is way bigger than the others.
Ok, maybe not all food is bad. They have my favourite ice cream! Seasonal chestnut flavour = MUST BUY. Only ¥300.
Gotemba Premium Outlets
1312 Fukasawa, Gotenba, Shizuoka Prefecture 412-0023, Japan
To return to Tokyo, I took a direct bus from Gotemba Premium Outlets, alighting at Tokyo Station. It’s ¥1,650 one way. There are many bus routes you can take, timetables available here.
I finally fulfilled my dream, after so many trips to Japan, to have Tonkatsu! Those knock offs in Singapore (even in Japan) doesn’t do justice to the term “Tonkatsu”. It’s not simply breaded and fried pork. There’s more to it! There are a few famous Tonkatsu restaurants around but I picked this one because it was convenient. I was at Tokyo Station and at Daimaru they had an outlet of famous Tonkastsu chain Maisen. Maisen’s main stop is at Aoyama and it’s more traditional there (and with SUPER long queues), but I suppose every outlet should carry around the same standard. I like how I didn’t have to wait at all here. Maisen is so famous, it’s also available in Bangkok.
Special pork loin set 特ロースかつ膳 130g – ¥3200
This is their signature sort of pork, specially selected based on what they feed on. They don’t just use any kind out there.
The batter was amazingly light and crispy. The pork was soft and juicy. Love at first bite!
Normal pork loin set ロースかつ膳 100g – ¥2400
Smaller portion of pork.
Red Pork loin 紅豚ロースかつ膳 – ¥2500
This breed of pig is different. From Okinawa, it feeds on food blended with beni-imo (sweet potato) making it special.
I love the Tonkatsu here. There may be better restaurants like privately owned boutique restaurants (those with small seating capacity and reservations mandatory), and I don’t know yet how it compares, but for now, Maisen is the best I ever tried. Random fried pork shouldn’t have the same name of Tonkatsu really. It’s not even the same.
The batter is really something you cannot experience in Singapore. I recommend this even if you don’t like pork. It’s all about the batter and the frying skills! Out of this world crispy. I may be exaggerating. But really, when I came back to Singapore and tried Tonkatsu from a Tonkatsu Ma Maison (one of the best in Singapore, supposedly), it was a world of difference.
Tonkatsu Maisen とんかつ まい泉 大丸東京レストラン
Daimaru 12F, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan, 100-6701
Made my way to Park Hyatt for famous Peak Bar. It’s very nice place and thankfully not crowded at all when I was there. Unfortunately, the weather was quite misty so the view wasn’t that great. It would have been a very nice high rise viewing point of Tokyo if the skies were clear! The drinks were good too.
The Peak Bar
Park Hyatt 41F, 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, 163-1055
I intended to have breakfast at this beautiful place somewhere slightly out of the city center, in a residential area, but prior reservations is necessary as they had to prepare the food. For walk in, you can have tea, which isn’t a bad alternative really! If you’re into zen designs, tea appreciation and quiet places, you’ll love this place. Read more about it in my post here.
3 -4-7 Yakumo, Meguro, Tokyo, Japan
Lunch was another memorable affair at Narisawa. It’s one of the best restaurants in Asia and I made my reservations as soon as I could. Food here is using ingredients from all over Japan to create unique, European style dishes. I am a fan of creative cooking so this place worked for me. Read all about it in my post here.
〒107-00612-6-15 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Eating non stop is what I do best and right after lunch it was time for tea. This is Ritz Carlton Tokyo, connected to Tokyo Midtown which I visited on day 1. The lounge for afternoon tea is on the top and if the weather is fine, you’ll be greeted with beautiful views of Tokyo. However, it was a very rainy day so I could see nothing at all.
Afternoon tea was a pleasant affair and I like how they gave options to go with the scones. Apart from the classic Devonshire (clotted) cream, you could choose a conserve like Raspberry jam. I also liked the lemon curd. They have good selection of teas but for me, Earl Grey is the way to go.
For rainy days it’s nice to stay indoors. Traveling doesn’t mean you have to be out and about all day. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and let the afternoon pass by.
The Lobby Lounge
The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo 45F
Tokyo Midtown 9-7-1, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0052, Japan
Before you think that I really eat all day, I spent the late afternoon at Ikebukuro.. Ikebukuro has malls like the super big Sushine City which are kids friendly, lot’s of toys and has an indoor theme park Namco Namja Town. Also in Sunshine City is the biggest Pokemon store. My favourite Pokemon is Meowth. Don’t judge. Unlike Akihabara, Ikebukuro is more female friendly. It’s the place for female geeks to find things they like.
I kinda regret not going into the theme park! There wasn’t much activities I could do because of the weather. The rain just wouldn’t stop and I had to forget about checking Tokyo Tower.
3-1-1 Higashi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 170-0013, Japan
Due to the rain I wanted to be indoors as much as possible. Tokyo Station’s underground is also introduced as a place to avoid rain as described here.
Settled for a random Italian dinner in Tokyo Station’s kitchen street which is underground and linked to the station.
Not bad! Japanese are good with Italian food. Honestly I found Tokyo station to be very complicated and can’t give a clear guide to where exactly this area is. In fact, I wanted to go somewhere else initially but ended up here by chance.
Check out the list of establishments at Kitchen Street here.
DA CIBO TOKYO STAZIONE
Tokyo Station Kitchen Street 1F, 1−9−1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Thankfully, skies were clear the next morning. I started my morning with something atypical of tourists but typical of me – yoga! For a truely unique experience, I had yoga on top of Toranomon Hills, organized by Andaz hotel. It happens every Saturday at 7am and is a 90minutes class. Everything is provided and you just have to turn up. The view was so nice.
Do not be fooled, you can’t just wear this to yoga here. In Singapore where we only have either humid or aircon climates, I’ve never experienced yoga in chilling wind. At 7am despite it being Summer in Japan, it was chilling cold. Long sleeves and jackets are recommended, Lululemon if you can (haha). The coldness made my muscles really stiff, and even basic poses like Triangle felt so difficult! It takes a lot of internal heat to warm you up in this climate and I’ll say that cold yoga is a lot more challenging than hot yoga. Doing yoga in the cold something I never tried before.
For colder months I’m sure they’ll stop this, but if you’re here for summer do give it a try if you love yoga.
Besides the rooftop yoga, Toranomon Hills organizes bring your own mat (or rent for ¥500) yoga community classes every Sunday, during the warmer season, on the ground floor outdoor area of their building. I’ll definitely try it next time.
ANDAZ TOKYO TORANOMON HILLS
1-23-4 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0001
It was still pretty early in the morning and good time for breakfast. Went to Shibuya which wasn’t far away and took the typical selfies at the famous crossing.
Best time to have the famous Ichiran Ramen is in the morning, when there’s no crowd yet. This applies to all Ichiran outlets in Tokyo. Anywhere else in Japan may be easier to dine at peak hours. I like how I didn’t have to wait for this at 9am!
Classic simple ramen. No fancy flavours, no gimmicks. That’s why it’s so good. It was the same standard as the one I had in Kyoto.
While this is nice, I wouldn’t queue and hour for if. Mark my words – DO NOT come at typical meal times! (lost count of the number of times I had to queue for food in Tokyo. It’s crazy.)
Iwamoto Building B1F, 1 -22-7 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Not Far away from Shibuya, I arrived at Omotesando once again and checked out the MoMA design store.
MoMA Design Store
5 −10−1, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan 150-0001
Walked down the streets of Aoyama and decided on this hole in the wall small Italian restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was hidden in an inconspicuous corner, super tiny and had only a lunch menu with 3 choices of main courses.
Starter was salad, pate on bread and an espresso cup of soup.
For main course, the lasagne was really good! A small dessert, coffee or tea and a small cup of wine was served as well. Prices vary depending on what main you choose. The set with lasagne costs ¥1500 which is so value for money!
3-5-25 Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
This whole trip is about eating as usual, and after lunch it means teatime. It’s Saturday and not most ideal but I still took the risk and went to Hidemi Sugino. Try to come early or on weekdays, because there was a long queue for seats. You have to first purchase and reserve your cakes, then the long part is waiting for a seat. It took about an hour in line. Half the flavours were already sold out when I arrived. Before I even got seated down, the cakes were already fully reserved. Had I arrive an hour later than I did (around 2+pm) I would not even stand a chance!
Hidemi Sugino’s cakes are mousse based, somewhat like Kki in Singapore. Expect very light cakes, not creamy and spongy ones.
HIDEMI SUGINO イデミ・スギノ
3-7-17, Kyobashi 1F, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
On Weekends, the main street of Ginza is closed to traffic during the day from 12pm – 5pm or 6pm (April – September). Best time for nice pictures!
For traditional and Michelin starred restaurants in Japan, they typically do not accept foreign bookings. Tempura Kondo was an exception and I managed to secure seats when I called in. It was the most expensive Tempura meal and most of the price goes to the skills, not so much about the ingredients. I’ll talk about it in another post.
Tempura Kondo てんぷら近藤
5-5-13, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan 104-0061
The next morning was straight to lunch and I decided to try this Michelin rated unagi shop somewhere off town. It’s located further west from Asakusa and it take some time to get there.
To my surprise, there was already a long queue despite reaching early. I reached at the opening time, thinking it’ll be alright, but it was already at full capacity. I had to wait in line for the first batch of diners to complete their meal. I didn’t expect this, honestly, because this shop was really out of the way, far from the city center. The surroundings looked like residential areas.
It took a whole hour to get seated and even longer for food to arrive. They have a few sorts of unagi to choose from and I opted for the standard Unaju, medium sized.
Unagji omelette to ease some hunger first.
Finally it arrived! However, it’s not the best unagi.
Seriously! Why do people wait 1 hour for something only second best? There are a few really good Unagi shops in Narita and you don’t have to wait. If you are flying via Narita, I highly recommend checking out Narita town and having Unagi there. You won’t regret.
5-33-1, Minamisenju, Arakawa, Tokyo, Japan 5-33-1
Made a brief stop at Asakusa 浅草 to see what it’s all about. It’s basically like Chinatown in Singapore where tourists like to roam and experience some cultural vibes between rows of touristy looking shops. The nearby Senso-ji 浅草寺 is a famous temple and may be of interest to you if you are into such things.
The famous Tokyo Skytree is also visible from Asakusa. You can plan to visit both areas at the same time.
I found a sweet potato shop which looked good and tried the soft cream here. I liked it! I love “unlocking” new flavours of soft cream at specialty shops.
1 Chome-21-5 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Asakusa was mainly boring for me because I don’t really care about such stuff, but the nearby kitchen street was another story. For those interest in cooking and cook ware, you’ll absolutely love this place! Kappabashi-dori is a long street full of shops selling kitchen ware – think teapots, plates, cutlery and everything you possibly need for opening a restaurant. If any of these products were to be sold in Singapore, the price can be easily doubled or tripled. Many of them are supplier to restaurants and you can find everything, including typical restaurant decorations and signage. Sunday is the rest day however, so most shops are closed. From the 10 -20% of shops that were open, I already spotted so many gems. If you’re into such things, please come on any other day but Sunday to fully enjoy. Note that shops typically close at 5pm so come between 9am – 5pm on non Sundays or Public Holidays.
3-18-2, Matsugaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0036, Japan
Next and last neighbourhood I checked out in Japan was none other than Akihabara, famous for their Japanese subculture for geeks. Thank anime, manga, electronics and stuff like that.
The landscape was different with colourful signs and everything cartoon light. One street was closed to traffic too, somewhat like Ginza. Here you can find lots of tax free shops mainly aimed at tourists from a single country, selling electronics.
I found the biggest Don Quijote ドン・キホーテ(known as Donki for locals) shop in Tokyo. This is a famous tax free shop in Japan which opens till late at night and sell all sorts of things. I found Hario teapots at super good prices! This teapot which cost just ¥1000 is $33 in Singapore! OF COURSE I had to get it.
Don Quijote ドン・キホーテ
4-3-3 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku Tokyo, Japan, 101-0021
Freshness Burger is my favourite Japanese fast food and I believe it’s healthier than others. Just look at the greens! It isn’t exactly everywhere in Tokyo and I didn’t pass by randomly by chance. I checked for a store within walking distance and this one was a short walk away from Akihabara. The avocado salad was good!
Freshness Burger Kanda Sudacho 神田須田町店
1 -14 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0041, Japan
I had time at Haneda before my departure so I went up to the viewing gallery.
Every part of Tokyo has it’s own theme. From what I observed:
Shinjuku – Entertainment, food
Shibuya – Fashion and trends
Harajuku – Teenage fashion
Roppongi / Tokyo Midtown/ Toranomon Hills – Modern upmarket
Ginza – High end shopping, big brands and brand cafes (Hermes, Chanel, Bulgari etc)
Tokyo Station – Neutral and proper
Omotesando/ Aoyama – Trendy, American inspired
Akihabara – Anime, electronics
Ikebukuro – Anime stuff as well, but more female and kids friendly
Asakusa – Old culture
When you exit from a different station you’ll get another view. That is something unique about Tokyo.
Flights are accessible by Haneda or Narita. I highly recommend Haneda if you’re going to Tokyo. Narita is useful if you’re going to Chiba (like Disneyland or Mother Farm) or exploring Narita town as well (best unagi!). Otherwise, take your plane to Haneda and save a lot of time getting to the airport.
From Haneda Airport you only need to take the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho and from there you can switch to the JR Yamanote Line or municipal subways.
From Narita you need to give yourself at least 1 hour. There are buses and trains like JR Narita Express or other normal which gets you there.
Flights by SIA, ANA and JAL will fly to Haneda. Other airlines only offer Narita. I like to fly by ANA and it’s been nothing but good experiences always.
Trains or bus are easy to use. Google maps directions are pretty good. Use it.
Do get a Pasmo or Suica card. I got one with my name engraved and it’s instant! Certain stations sells only Pasmo and some Suica. It works the same way. This card is more useful than you think. It can be used at some vending machines, convenience stores and more. Do note that this is for Tokyo and the region around. In Kaisai they use PiTaPa and ICOCA.
If you have the JR East Pass, you can take the JR Yamanote Line and airport connection trains, but not the municipal subway.
I highly recommend getting a WiFi unit. This can be shared among your friends, though the battery life of the unit will deplete faster. You will need to use Google maps quite a bit and it’s useful because it’ll tell you exactly which exit from stations to take and directions are good. You may also want to check train timings with a Japan train app to not miss any connections (refer to my story above about almost being kicked out of train).
I ordered mine online and collected it at the airport. It’s cheaper to order online than to rent it on the spot at Japan’s airport! It may be confusing to know where to pick it up from, but for mine I picked it up from the airport’s post office in Sapporo as per instructed by email. To do this, you must book your WiFi unit 3 days prior to arrival online so they can deliver it to your pick up point. To return the pocket WiFi, I dropped it off in a mail box as it comes with a self return envelope. Simple!
There are a few types around but the common two are:
- Y! Mobile Pocket WiFi – 4G LTE, good for use in city
- au WiFi Walker – 4G LTE, additional rural area coverage
I ordered a wider range WiFi Walker, because I was going to rural areas in Hokkaido. It cost a lot more than the first one. If you’re trip is only Tokyo city, the cheaper one works fine. Compare prices online to get the best deal. The prices may vary a lot!
Some Pocket WiFi rental agents:
- Japan Rail Pass (WiFi Walker) – I ordered mine here
- PuPuRi (WiFi Walker, Pocket WiFi)
- eConnect (Pocket WiFi)
- Japan Wireless (WiFi Walker, Pocket WiFi)
If you prefer to have your WiFi activated while you’re still on your flight, you can rent it from Changi Airport as well. They have the WiFi Walker model which is the same as the one I rented in Japan and it’s cheaper from Changi than renting it from Japan’s airport. The drawback however, is you probably need to rent it for 1 – 2 more days when you factor in your flight timing. Do calculate what’s the best deal before proceeding.
A useful tip: Bring a fully charged portable charger with you. Sometimes the WiFi unit comes with flat battery and as long as it’s charging, you can use it right away. Typically the WiFi unit will not last the whole day even when fully charged, so it’s good to have your portable charger ready.
Expect minimally small rooms in Japan if you’re not generous. To cut some cost, I think it’s a good idea to not stay in prime areas like Shinjuku or Shibuya. What I did was to choose somewhere quieter in town, but near train stations. I picked Akasaka and it worked fine. It’s still within close proximity to the city.
Give yourself time for queuing up and expect to squeeze with people in touristy places like Asakusa. Queuing up at popular food places can take an hour or more, so be mentally prepared. This is what I disliked most about Tokyo. Nobody wants to waste their precious holiday time queuing up! In a short span of 5 days, I was already sucked into 3 one hour long queues. That wasn’t very pleasant. If you can, always do your research and make reservations if possible to avoid waiting. And I’d like to add that September is a relatively low season. For peak seasons, good luck.
Places with queues:
These are just some of the places I can think of right now. There’ll be more.
- Tsukiji Fish Market Sushi Dai (alternative: Sushi Daiwa next door)
- Ichiran Ramen (alternative: have it in other towns like Kyoto, or go during off peak hours)
- Obana Unagi (alternative: have Unagi in Narita town)
- Tonkatsu Maisen Aoyama Honten (alternative: try other outlets)
- Hidemi Sugino (alternative: come in the mornig)
- Disneyland (alternative: check out other theme parks. Mother Farm perhaps?)
- Luke’s Lobster (alternative: come in the morning)