TPG’s Guide to Tokyo, Japan
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As you already know by now, TPGtv is well underway. So far, you’ve watched as we’ve gone gorilla trekking in Rwanda, sandboarding in Cape Town, boxing in Accra and so much more. That being said, we still have plenty in store for you to see. Coming up, follow along as we sightsee through Costa Rica and take off for Asia, but one of my most recent TPGtv adventures took me to Japan, where I managed to spend eight nights.
My crew and I took off from New York with our eyes set on Japan — Tokyo and Osaka to be exact. Not only was I excited to get back to Japan because I hadn’t been in a long time and it’s one of my favorite destinations, but it was also going to be peak cherry blossom season. I’d heard so much about the cherry blossoms in Tokyo and Osaka, and I was excited to see if they actually lived up to the hype.
You’ll have to wait until the full TPGtv episodes air to get the full scoop on what the trip was like — everything from each of the four hotels we stayed at to each meal we ate. However, people who follow me on Snapchat and Instagram know that I was recently in Japan, and I’ve received plenty of questions about what to do in both Tokyo and Osaka. Instead of making you wait for the full TPGtv episodes, I wanted to put together a quick guide to both cities including my top picks for what to see, where to stay and more. (Be on the lookout for my guide to Osaka, coming soon!)
Let’s dig in:
Singapore Suites — (LAX-NRT) Singapore Suites is one of my favorite ways to get around. Everything from the service to the food to the comfortable seats made this an amazing way to get to Tokyo. I paid 87,500 KrisFlyer miles and around $71 for the one-way ticket. Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Recommend.
ANA First Class — (HND-LAX) This was good, but not as good as Singapore or JAL, in my opinion. That being said, it was definitely better than any US-based option. Note that the Star Wars theme of the aircraft I was on isn’t really noticeable on board except for in coach. To book award tickets directly with ANA, you must book round-trip, so I booked a first-class ticket back to LAX and an economy ticket for later this year. I paid 100,000 ANA Mileage Club miles and around $213 for this round-trip ticket. ANA is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Recommend.
Grand Hyatt Tokyo — Of the three Hyatt properties I stayed at in Tokyo, the Grand Hyatt was the best in terms of its proximity to a lot of restaurants and shops. The Grand Hyatt Tokyo is a Category 6 property, requiring 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night in a standard room. Recommend.
Andaz Tokyo — While all three Hyatt hotels in Tokyo were good, the Andaz was my favorite. It was the newest of the three hotels I stayed at in the city, although the location isn’t the greatest. The Andaz Tokyo is a Category 6 property, requiring 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night in a standard room. Recommend.
Park Hyatt Tokyo — The Park Hyatt Tokyo is good for its chicness, but it needs a major renovation, in my opinion. It’s a Category 7 property, requiring 30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for a free night in a standard room. If you hold the FoundersCard, you can also enjoy reduced rates — I paid $879 for my two-night stay with the FoundersCard rate, whereas it would have cost $1,677 without the discount, so I saved $798! Recommend.
THINGS TO DO
Abbey Road — Who doesn’t love a good Beatles cover band? I do, so I was excited to experience the Abbey Road club, where live cover bands perform four shows a day. You can also pay separately for food and drink, but I didn’t choose to eat there. We even had a TPG reader meetup at this venue, which was a lot of fun. The cost to get in to Abbey Road varies with the band playing, with prices ranging from ~$18-$25. Roppongi Building Annex B1 4-11-5 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Aoyama Cemetery — Knowing I was going to be in Japan during cherry blossom season, I was determined to see as many of the beautiful trees as I could. I heard the Aoyama Cemetery was the perfect place to go in metropolitan Tokyo, and it sure didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely stunning to walk down the rows of the cemetery with beautiful cherry blossom trees hanging overhead, but I’m not sure how spectacular it would be outside of cherry blossom season. Recommend.
Cherry Blossoms — In general, the cherry blossoms themselves are worth the trip to Japan, alone. The beautiful leaves are absolutely stunning and light up the city — even the petals littering the ground make for fantastic sightseeing. I saw cherry blossoms in both Tokyo and Osaka and neither of the two cities disappointed. Recommend.
Karaoke Pasela — What’s better than singing until you lose your voice with a room full of your friends? Not much, and thankfully Tokyo is full of karaoke bars that allow you to sing everything from Celine Dion to J-Pop hits. Karaoke bars are so much fun and really give you the opportunity to let loose and have some fun in Tokyo. I went to Karaoke Pasela, which I highly recommend. 1-6-6, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Meiji Shrine — Located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is in the famed Yoyogi Park. The shrine was built in 1920 and destroyed during World War II, but rebuilt not long thereafter. There’s definitely a tranquil feel when you’re walking in the park around the shrine, and it’s a nice break from the constant bustle of Tokyo. Not to mention, the shrine itself is beautiful and worth visiting for its history alone. Recommend.
Mori Art Museum — The Mori Art Museum is part of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and occupies the 53rd and 54th floor of the building. While the contemporary art inside the museum is worth the visit — I especially enjoyed towering over everyone atop this piece — I also really enjoyed being able to go upstairs to the Sky Deck for some great views of Tokyo (see below). 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Owl no Mori (Forest of Owl) — The owl cafe is unique, but it’s kind of sad to see these beautiful animals tethered down. I went to the Owl no Mori cafe (“Forest of Owl” when referenced in English), which is located in Chiyoda, Tokyo. It was a neat experience, I’ll admit, but at one point they all tried escaping, which was awkward. 5F, 4-5-8, Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Interesting, but maybe skip.
Robot Restaurant — This was my second trip to the Robot Restaurant, and just wait for the footage! Tip: Although it’s technically a restaurant (in that food is served), do not eat there! Before going to the Robot Restaurant, I ate at Sushizanmai nearby in Shinjuku (3F 3-18-4, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo). Get tipsy before you go, because the show is wacky, but if you’re up for a quirky time, I definitely recommend it — for the pictures alone. B2F, 1-7-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Shibuya Crossing — Arguably one of the most famous intersections in the world, the Shibuya Crossing is worth visiting even if you walk only one way across the street. It’s really neat to see the car traffic stop and pedestrian traffic take over the intersection. Recommend.
Sky Deck — As I mentioned above, the Sky Deck is a really neat part of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, located just a few floors above the Mori Art Museum. After you’ve seen some art, head upstairs for some great views and take in the beautiful Tokyo skyline. Best of all, it’s completely outside so you’ll get 360 degrees with no windows and get to feel the fresh air. 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Sushi School — I love sushi — so much so that I jumped at the opportunity to learn how to prepare it myself. The tour I went on features a look through the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, followed by a sushi-making lesson. The best part of it all: After you finish preparing the sushi, you get to eat your own creation — and it’s delicious! Tsukiji Fish Market. Recommend.
Tsukiji Fish Market — As part of the sushi school experience, you go on a tour through the Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest seafood market. You’ll get to tour the outer portion of the market with a guide. Yes, there are other fish markets, but this is on a different level. The sheer amount of fish you’ll see is baffling. Recommend.
Globe Trotter — Globe Trotter, the luxury luggage company, has a special Concorde collection that I’m obsessed with — I ended up buying two pieces! This is a great place to visit if you’re in the market for some new luggage or if you just want to see some beautiful hand-made products. 6F Ginza Mitsukoshi, 4-6-16 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Harajuku — Most of us have heard of Harajuku style, but many would be surprised to learn that it’s actually a neighborhood in Tokyo. This is a pretty young district, and here you’ll find some eclectic streets and souvenir stores. You’ll also find some nice reclusive spots, such as Yoyogi Park (where the Meiji Shrine is located) and the Nezu Museum. Recommend.
Mitsukoshi — Based in Tokyo, this chain department store is a great place to visit — think of it like a Neiman Marcus. It’s a massive store, so there’s something for everyone — including a whole section dedicated to Hello Kitty. 6-4-16 Ginza, Tokyo. Recommend.
Takeo Kikuchi — The men’s brand is perhaps best known for its British-style tailoring. The suits are high fashion and industrial, creating a unique look. There are several locations in Tokyo, but I highly recommend visiting its new flagship store in Shibuya. 6-25-10 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo. Recommend.
UNBY — This is a really unique store to Tokyo. The brand has many different lines within it, including everything from gardening tools to outdoor grills, apparel to bags and much more. Here, you’ll find one-of-a-kind items you’re sure not to find back home. 3-18-23 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Taxi — I was impressed with all the taxis I was in while in Tokyo. Each of my drivers wore a pair of white gloves, which really makes it feel like you’re not in a city taxi. You can hail them on the street as you would in many other major cities, such as New York. One interesting note: In all the taxis I took, the back doors open and close automatically, which is a really neat feature I’d never seen in a cab before. Recommend.
Akihabara — This district is perhaps best known for its bright lights, colors, shopping areas and anime. This is where you’ll find a lot of the quirky Tokyo things like maid and butler cafes and video game-inspired getups. This is a fun neighborhood to explore — even if you don’t plan on visiting any of the themed cafes. Recommend.
Roppongi — This district is known to be pretty shady at night; a couple of TPG readers I met up with said they never go there for that reason. That being said, there are also several things here to see (probably best to do so during the day), such as the National Art Center and the Mori Art Museum, as well as some high-level hotels like the Grand Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. Recommend.
Shibuya, Tokyo — This ward is perhaps best known for the Shibuya Crossing, which, as mentioned above, is definitely worth a visit. There’s a large fashion influence here, as well as some great nightlife options if that’s what you’re looking for. You’ll find some great shopping here, and it’s a public transportation hub so you can connect to other wards and districts throughout Tokyo. Recommend.
Shinjuku — The Shinjuku ward is one of the busiest in the city of Tokyo. It’s a big business and entertainment center, so you’ll find plenty of things to do like karaoke, shopping and sightseeing. The Shinjuku Station is also the world’s busiest railway station, so that’s worth a detour to see the amount of people and constant state of movement. Here you’ll find hotels such as the Hyatt Regency, Park Hyatt and Hilton. Recommend.
Tsukiji, Tokyo — Obviously, when you hear of the Tsukiji district, the first thing that comes to mind is the Tsukiji Fish Market. If you’re a fan of sushi, sashimi or fish in general, this is a must-see location. But Tsukiji offers visitors much more than just the fish market. The district is also home to Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple and St. Luke’s Garden. Recommended.
Bifteck Kawamura — This restaurant is located within a shrine itself. Inside, diners are served Kobe beef and the chef points out on a poster which cow the beef comes from. There’s a whole lineage of Kobe beef, so you know this is the real deal. GINZA MST Building, 8th Floor, 6-5-1 Ginza, Chuou-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Daiwa Sushi — If you’re looking for an authentic Japanese sushi restaurant for breakfast, this is the place to go. It’s located right in the Tsukiji Fish Market, so you know you’re getting the freshest fish possible — and the final sushi product does not disappoint. There can sometimes be a long line to get inside, so be prepared for that. Bldg 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo. Recommend.
Edition Koji Shimomura — Michelin-starred cuisine — need I say more? This restaurant blends traditional French and Japanese cuisine to offer diners a unique culinary experience. I enjoyed my multi-course meal with chef Koji Shimomura, including some pretty extravagant-looking plates. Unit 1F, 3-1-1, Roppingi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Ginza Sushi Ichi — I came here after my sushi school lesson, so I was really in the mood for some sushi — executed by a professional. The restaurant is located in a very small space — just 14 people have room to dine at one time! You really get a personalized touch in a comfortable environment when you’re eating here. 3-4-4 Ginza, Chuouku, Tokyo. Recommend.
New York Grill — As part of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, this restaurant will take your breath away with its views of the city. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, you’re bound to have a great view from the 52th floor of the building. Food options range from beef to seafood, just like you’d find in New York — and it was pretty good, too. 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Recommend.
Ogasawara Hakushaku-tei — This Spanish restaurant uses nothing but the finest fresh ingredients that change seasonally. After my meal, I can officially say that the restaurant earns its one-star Michelin rating — the food was absolutely delicious. I walked down the front stairs of the restaurant stuffed and completely satisfied with my meal. 10-10 Kawadacho, Shinjuku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Santoka — I stopped at my favorite ramen restaurant in Ometesando, Santoka. The restaurant has numerous locations across the city of Tokyo — and even across the world. It’s a not-to-miss ramen meal if you’re near one of its locations. 6-1-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
Yaro Ramen — If you’re looking for a ramen restaurant and you’re not near a Santoka, I recommend this place. When you walk in, you go to this ATM-type machine where you where pick what want. You’ll pay there, give your ticket to the waitress, the chef will cook it and you’ll get served at your table. It’s an open-style seating situation in a tiny building, so a nice, unique atmosphere. Also of note, the portions were huge. Yaro has a few locations and I went to the Shimbashi location, which is one of the busiest districts in Japan and is very popular with businesspeople for a quick bite during work. It’s right next to Toranomon and is within walking distance from the Andaz. 2-9-7 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Recommend.
When talking about such a fantastic city such as Tokyo, it’s hard to go wrong with whatever you choose to do. There are world-famous restaurants, magnificent views from premier museums, some of the best hotels and so much more. Next time you’re in the city — or if you’re in the process of planning a trip — make sure to check out all my Tokyo recommendations.
What are your favorite things to do in Tokyo?
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