gen yamamoto tokyo

The Tricky Guide to Tokyo: Feb 2016

This is my second Tokyo city guide (here’s the first!) with more of the same good food and drinks, new experiences and interesting finds that I included in the first.

I’ll mention again: this definitely isn’t a first timer’s guide to Tokyo. It’s more about doing things unique to Tokyo that you’d have a hard time finding in Taipei. Ready? Let’s go…

ginza street tokyo

We spent Sunday afternoon in Ginza. The main shopping street is closed to traffic so you can walk up and down, people-watch and enjoy the sun.

There are a couple of department stores worth dropping into along the boulevard. I especially like the Matsuya Ginza (map link), where the entire 7th floor is dedicated to Japanese designer homewares.

Another good spot is the Itoya stationery store (map link) for Japanese pens, notebooks and travel accessories. The only issue is it can get crazy crowded.

muji books ginza

If you’re MUJI-obsessed, stroll over to the flagship MUJI Yurakucho shop (map link) for the biggest selection of MUJI stuff in the entire universe. You’ll see a lot of Japan-only stuff like MUJI appliances, bicycles and also the MUJI BOOK shelves that snake through the store.

FYI, this is the best MUJI in Taipei, in my opinion.

royce pocky

Shopping always gives me the munchies, so I keep an eye out for interesting snacks everywhere from Family Mart to random drugstores. The weather was a bit too cold for my usual Lotte ice cream mochi two-pack, so I picked up this jumbo box of fancy Royce Pocky.

I love Pocky. That’s all.



yebisu beer joel robuchon

This was a good find in Family Mart. As curious as I was to taste this special edition “Joel Robuchon” Yebisu beer, I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I’ve actually given up beer so perhaps I’ll never know what je ne sais quoi gives this beer its Joel Robuchon-ness.

hoshino coffee tokyo

In the previous Tokyo guide I wrote about Toranomon Koffee, the Toranomon location of the now-closed, cult-classic Omotesando Koffee. As great as the modern cafes are, I also love the old-school coffee houses in Japan.

Hoshino Coffee is a chain with a handful of locations in Tokyo serving hand-drip coffee and delicious, fluffy souffle pancakes. If you’re in Ginza, there’s one on the second floor of the Bally building (map link). They have smoking and non-smoking sections.

The pancakes are seriously so dreamy, you guys. A two-stack costs 680JPY and takes 20 minutes, but it’s worth the wait. Coffee is 600JPY, which is a little pricey but you get that microscopic jug of cream on the side. It kills me.

hoshino coffee tokyo

Since the city is so huge, we like to move around and explore new neighborhoods each visit. Last time we were in Roppongi, Akasaka-Mitsuke and Toranomon. This time we decided to stay further north in Asakusa. It’s an older neighborhood known for Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s largest Buddhist temple.

marugoto nippon asakusa

After checking into our budget-friendly room at the Dormy Inn Express, we wandered around and found a brand new mall called the Marugoto Nippon (map link).

The ground floor is a modern-day farmer’s market for Japanese seasonal food and produce…

marugoto nippon asakusa

marugoto nippon asakusa

The second floor has famous homewares showcasing traditional craftsmanship from all areas of Japan. The third floor is like a tourist center promoting satellite towns and what they have to offer. The fourth floor has a selection of restaurants that are probably all unbelievably delicious.

kamiya bar tokyo

Another great Asakusa find was Kamiya Bar (map link), right out of the subway stop. The bar takes up an entire building that looks like it’s from another era. Turns out Kamiya is Japan’s oldest Western-style bar, and it shows. In a good way!

kamiya bar tokyo

You order first at the cashier, then get tickets for your drinks which you hand to the server. We showed up at 9:30pm right when it was last call for food and drinks. We got two of the Denki Bran (electric brandy) for 270JPY each. Kamiya also sells it by the bottle in its retail shop outside.

The atmosphere is rowdy and fun, with a non-smoking section at the front. When we were there on a Saturday night, the place was packed with small groups of locals getting fabulously drunk. Next time I have a reason to go to Asakusa, I’ll definitely be back at Kamiya for some retro European pub food.

shinbashi restaurant

shinbashi restaurant

If you can’t tell, I love the casual nightlife in Tokyo when professionals let loose after a long week at work, the izakayas are spilling out, and well-dressed office workers crowd the streets. It’s not a common sight in Taipei.



One night we headed back to the Shimbashi area where last time we found Bistro Uokin (map link). The problem with Shimbashi though, is most of the busy, hole-in-the-wall places don’t have English menus or English-speaking staff, so they’re not accessible if your Japanese is non-existent.

standing sushi tokyo

We ended up at this tiny standing-room only sushi chain called Uogashi Nihon-Ichi (map link). Other than us, it was packed with locals grabbing a bite between drinks. This place had an English menu, luckily, and served super tasty, fresh and reasonably priced nigiri. Unfortunately, I dropped into the Kanda location another day but it turned out to be terrible.

gen yamamoto tokyo

Most of the time you can’t beat the value finds and cheap eats in Tokyo, but it’s equally fun to dress up and indulge.

Gen Yamamoto (map link) is an eight-seat bar in Roppongi where the bartender, Mr. Gen Yamamoto himself, serves four or six-drink tasting menus for 4,500JPY or 6,500JPY. He uses local, seasonal fruits with Japanese spirits like shochu and sake to make interesting flavor combinations.

We requested the four drink set, but quickly upgraded to the six. He said that happens every single time…

gen yamamoto tokyo

Since Yamamoto speaks English, the tiny bar has become popular with travelers. When we were there, the other six customers included a couple from New York and four friends from London. But don’t let that deter you.

Our 6pm reservation finished around 7:30pm, then we promptly went to find some yakitori. You’ll need to send him an email to make a reservation.



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