There’s a 99.99% chance you’ll have an incredible time in Tokyo without even trying — so you don’t really need to read this (or any) Tokyo travel guide. But just in case, here are some of my favorite food and shopping spots from our September trip.
I should mention: 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.
First, a couple of excellent malls so you can get all your gift and souvenir shopping done at once: KITTE (map link) is a newish mall (it opened in March 2013) located inside the JP Tower by the Marounchi subway stop.
On the the third and fourth floors you can browse Japan-made lifestyle accessories, stationery, design stuff, beauty products and homewares. We spent hours there.
My favorites shops were Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (below) for homewares and accessories, CLASKA Gallery & Shop for gifts, and Marunouchi Reading Style (above) for stationery.
Right by KITTE is the Intermediatheque museum. It’s inside the original Tokyo Central Post Office building that’s connected to the mall. You could spend a couple of hours here too.
The exhibits are curated by the University of Tokyo and they’re incredible. Entrance is free. No photos though.
Another place I made a point to visit was the mAAch mall (map link) near Akihabara. Before it was renovated, it was an abandoned subway stop built in 1912 between the Kanda and Ochanomizu stops on the Chuo line.
Now it’s a incredible space to find creative stores and restaurants. There’s also a Hitachino Nest Beer bar to reward yourself after you finish browsing the entire length of the mall.
Across the street from mAAch is Niko no Mansei (map link), a 10-storey building dedicated to wagyu (or Japanese beef). They take it so seriously they run their own cattle ranch.
Each floor has one or more restaurants. There’s shabu-shabu and sukiyaki, teppanyaki, hambuger steak (what we had above), a steakhouse, yakiniku and Korean style BBQ. The higher the floor, the more expensive your meal.
The hamburger steak restaurant was charmingly retro. I love how Japanese interpret Western food for their own tastes. For instance, you can order bread or rice as part of your lunch set. It also comes with miso or potato soup.
Another great meat find was Ikinari Steak (above). I was torn about whether or not to have a steak dinner in Tokyo (soooo expensive) but then we walked by this standing-room only steakhouse and shrugged, “why not?”
It’s actually a chain and there are already 50 throughout Tokyo. The first one only opened in October 2014 but they all look like they’ve been around for decades. I guess Japan was really dying for a stand-up steak restaurant.
You can choose from three types of meat. It’s cut and weighed to order right in front of you, depending on how much you want to eat. Then it’s grilled to your liking and served with onions, corn and garlic. Delicious.
Everything else is DIY. That’s steak sauce in the kettles, by the way. The beverage menu includes beer, wine, sodas and coffee. You can even BYO. Definitely the most fun I’ve had eating a steak.
As a general rule, we don’t like lining up for meals, so we stayed away from super popular or “famous” places (like those stalls at Tsukiji Market) and just winged it.
Not surprisingly, we dropped into countless yakitori places for random beers and snacks. The food was uniformly great. Above is Jomon Roppongi (map link), an izakaya we passed by randomly and made a reservation for 8pm (under the name, “Ka-chi-san”). When we came back, it was completely packed.
Also on our list were curry, tonkatsu, and for me, cheese and pasta. I’m a big fan of how Japanese make Italian. (My favorite pizza in Taipei is actually Japanese.)
The Canal Cafe (map link) at the old Suijyo boat house is one of the most relaxing places to chill if the weather’s nice. Especially after walking down the length of Waseda Dori and browsing the traditional shops and little boutiques there.
You might notice we didn’t splash out for fancy sushi, or eat bowls of ramen. We don’t usually eat fancy sushi or ramen in Taipei, and to be honest, we didn’t plan to spend a crazy amount of money on food.
However, if you’re looking for specific ideas, this is a good English blog. It’s written by a Japanese chef and sake master.
Towards the end of the trip we ended up eating more Western style food. One night we wandered the alleys of the Shiodome area to find dinner and came across so many Italian places it was hard to pick just one.
In the end, we had some appetizers at Bistro Uokin (map link) with the to-the-rim wine pours below before moving to its sister restaurant Uokin Piccolo (above) for pasta and more wine. Both were packed for a Sunday night.
We switched hotels a couple of times during our stay. One night we were in the Toranomon area at the Andaz Tokyo (you can read that post here, if you’d like.)
The hotel takes up the top six floors of the 52-storey Toranomon Hills building. On the second floor happens to be Toranomon Koffee (map link), the other Tokyo outpost of the famous Omotesando Koffee.
The upside to visiting the Toranomon location is the area is largely a business and finance area. This means fewer tourists and no one else taking photos of their drinks. That’s my iced chocolate below.
You definitely need to pick up a pocket wi-fi gadget at the airport. The subway wifi access has become terribly slow to the point of being useless.
The beer selection at your corner Family Mart and Lawson’s convenience store is amazing. In general, the convenience stores are so advanced and beautiful. I get teary just thinking about them.
We paid a little more for Limousine Bus tickets to get from Narita Airport to the city. The bus dropped us off at the nearest fancy five-star hotel, then we just walked over to our hotel. Getting into the city on the train then switching to the subway can be a pain with luggage.
Some stores do tax-free shopping, so have your passport with you just in case you spend more than the minimum threshold. You get the tax refunded to you in cash on the spot, which means more yen to spend at Lawson’s.