You could say I have a bit of a love affair with Tokyo. I’m not Japanese, but everything about its culture speaks to me from their incredible hospitality to the amount of care they put into everything they do — everything is packaged perfectly, their metro stations are always spotless, and the level of politeness is unreal — I’ve never been bowed to more in my life. In fact, I always find myself randomly bowing to people for a few days after I come home! I’ll never claim to be an expert on Tokyo since I am — after all — just a tourist, but I’ve been asked by a few readers to put together a guide of my favorite things to do while I’m there. So here it is…enjoy!
Where to Stay
^^ our room had the most beautiful view of Tokyo Tower^^breakfast buffet on point!
When we were planning our trip this time around, we knew that we wanted to be in the heart of the city and we knew we wanted to stay at a place with lots of amenities. Since we would be there almost a week, having a gym, spa and restaurants on site would be extra convenient. The ANA InterContinental Tokyo checked off every box on our list. It’s really located in the city of Ark Hills and easily accessible to Akasaka and Roppongi, the center of Tokyo.
The hotel has breathtaking views of the Tokyo skyline and Mount Fuji, and has 11 restaurants and bars right in the hotel including the two-star Michelin restaurant Pierre Gagnaire. We dined at both Teppanyaki Akasaka and Cascade Cafe, where we ate the full breakfast buffet every morning. You probably saw lots of this on my Instagram stories, but the food was probably my favorite breakfast buffet I’ve ever been to. Holden loved the Japanese side (he’s a way more adventurous eater) while I loved all of the American staples.
I’ve stayed in plenty of hotels in Tokyo and let me tell you they’re all pretty tiny! One time H and I went to Tokyo with two other couples and stayed in a one-bedroom rental which was quite the squeeze. This time at the ANA InterContinental we stayed in one of their beautiful Premier rooms which was really spacious so we were very happy with our choice. It was also a one-minute walk from the Ginza line and a two-minute walk from the Namboku line which were the only lines we needed to take to get everywhere we wanted to go.
Where to Eat
Gyoza @ Harajuku Gyoza Ro
Ahh, gyoza…one of my very favorite Japanese meals. Like many places in Japan, you have to go to this place early (right when they open) to ensure you’re not waiting in a really long line. We always order both the fried and steamed dumplings, as well as the pickled cabbage and the miso cucumber dish, which is a MUST. Whenever I’m inside I don’t see too many people ordering it, but I would eat this as a snack every single day if the cucumbers in the states were as crispy and fresh. If you love gyoza, this is the place — it’s cheap and it’s quick, just the way gyoza should be.
Tonkatsu @ Maisen
When it comes to food, Holden doesn’t mess around. He wants the best and will go to great lengths to find it. It’s pretty much like me when it comes to shopping. We started asking around where the best place to find Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and everyone pointed us to Maisen. It did not disappoint. We were the only non-Japanese people in the joint so you know it’s authentic! Their menu is so extensive that you can pick from a variety of cuts and grades of pork ranging from affordable to super-specialty. There’s even a dish on the menu where they only serve two orders of it per day!
Sushi @ SushiDai Tsukiji Market
If you’re not a diehard sushi lover and/or you don’t like waiting in lines, this isn’t the place for you. Some people even start waiting in line at 5am just to eat there. The only reason I’m being so honest is because I don’t like raw fish and I don’t like lines, so I prefer to shop around the local market while H eats sushi. But everyone I’ve ever traveled with in Tokyo says this is the best place for sushi based on the crazy line outside, I believe them!
Teppanyaki @ Teppanyaki Akasaka
This Teppanyaki restaurant was located conveniently inside our hotel at the ANA InterContinental Tokyo and had the most breathtaking view over the city from the 37th floor. And while I thought that was magical, the food was even better. Our set menu included pan-fried fish fresh from Tsukiji market, fresh kuruma prawns, superior Japanese black-haired Wagyu beef, garlic fried rice and fresh fruit. Everything was expertly prepared right in front of us on the teppan grill and I kept telling Holden how I couldn’t believe how carefully the chef cooked the food. Case in point: he only cooked half of our steaks and presented them for us to eat, then cooked the other half just to make sure that the steak we were eating was the perfect temperature. Also I should add that the prawns were so fresh that they were still alive when they brought them to the grill! An amazing meal with amazing service and an amazing view — I’m not sure you can ask for much more than that.
Crepes @ Santa Monica Crepes
Eating crepes in Harajuku is one of my very favorite things to do in Tokyo. There are a few places I love including Santa Monica Crepes, Angel’s Heart and Marion Crepes, and they’re all very similar if you ask me. I love Santa Monica crepes because they have literally hundreds of toppings options including ice cream and fresh fruits, and I like to try a different one every time. Plus it’s hot pink…so…this place hooked me from the start.
Where to Shop
My top areas to shop are Roppongi Hills, Omotesando, Shibuya and Ginza. Just walking around you’ll find a million shops to pop in and explore, but here are a few of my favorite stores I go to every time I’m in Tokyo:
Loft — This is a hidden gem tucked away in Shibuya filled with home goods, gifts and random knick knacks. If you’ve ever been to a Daiso or a Bed Bath and Beyond, it’s a crossover between the two.
Shibuya 109 — This store is iconic and with 10 floors to explore, you could probably spend a whole afternoon here. It’s filled with small, trendy boutiques where you can buy anything from fur coats to sandals. Shibuya 109 is just for women’s clothes and accessories, and there’s a separate men’s version also in Shibuya.
Etude House — If you’re a makeup lover like me, pop in Etude House if you’re in Harajuku. From cheap sheet masks to the latest Korean skincare, this place is a must. It’s a Korean brand, but they don’t have any stores in the US so it’s worth checking out in Tokyo.
Mitsukoshi and Matsuya Ginza — These are two iconic Japanese department stores that are 100% worth browsing. They’re pricey, but always give me so much outfit inspiration since I love to check out what’s trending in Japan. We also love going down to the basement to buy a few snacks from their food halls which are like your local food court times 100.
Where to Play
^^the machine automatically put makeup on Holden and this photo kills me every time!
Purikura @ Sticker Shop NOA
If you’re not familiar with Purikura, it’s like the Photo Booth at your local mall meets the SnapChat “pretty” filter. Except it’s not just one booth — it’s 50 all lined up next to each other and you’ll get lost in the fun just like you’re 16 again. The place will be swarming with young Japanese girls and it’s all part of the atmosphere. There are plenty of places to do this along Takeshita Dori, but we always go to a place called Shop Noa.
Karaoke @ Shidax
If you love to sing karaoke, Shidax in Shibuya is the place to do it. It’s a whole building filled with tons of themed rooms that hold groups of up to 40. They also serve food and drinks so you can sing the whole night away.
I could probably do a whole other post with museums, parks, shrines and other attractions like the Imperial Palace, but I’ll save that for another time. Or if you’d like my suggestions, feel free to ask me in the comments. Until next time!