The hustle and bustle of Tokyo can be overwhelming for many first-time travelers, which is why I am always so grateful to have my wonderful friend Nami Onodera by my side. A Tokyo native and our Senior Director of Brand Insights, Nami is the living embodiment of Tatcha’s East/West sensibilities, and during our many trips together she has introduced me to countless wonders and discoveries. Here are some of our favorite places to visit, and a few insider tips to help you have a memorable, authentic experience in this magical city.
Where to eat
Tsukiji Fish Market
I always start my first day by going to Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s hands down the best way to deal with jetlag (it opens at 5:30 a.m.) and the sushi is so fresh it will make all the other delicious sushi you’ve eaten in your life pale in comparison. It was here that Nami taught me about the nuance of things like the hierarchy of seating arrangements in a sushi bar (the seat closest to the chef is the best in the house and a position of honor) and that sushi is properly served at room temperature, which creates a completely different mouth-feel that is truly exquisite. While you can’t really go wrong, my recommendation is Nami’s favorite Sushisei in Tsukiji. Afterward, don’t forget to shop for excellent-quality Japanese ingredients like nori and dashi.
Address: Sushisei in Tsukiji, 4-13-9 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan, +81 3-3541-7720
Department stores in the U.S. are not known for having delectable food offerings, but in Japan, this is indeed the case — especially in Tokyo. Locals head to the 11th floor of the classy Mitsukoshi Department store in Ginza mouthwateringly delicious fried pork cutlets called tonkatsu.
Address: Mitsukoshi, 4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku
At first glance, this elegant shop looks a bit like it could be the showroom of a fancy winery, but the bottles here are smaller and filled with this 100-year-old company’s superlative shoyu sauces. The big draw for me, however, is the packaged soup stock powder (made from seaweed, fish or vegetable base) that can be used to make a multitude of savory soups and dishes. I always stash several packages in my suitcase before heading home.
Address: Muromachi 1-5-5 Coredo Muromachi 1F, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, +81-3-6262-3170
On the sweeter side of things, (and conveniently located in the same building as Kayanoya) this traditional wagashi emporium is a true delight. The setting is modern, but the nerikiri (confections made of bean paste, sugar and flour) are made by artisans as they have been for centuries. The setting is modern, but the seasonal treats are traditionally shaped by hand, right in front of your table.
Address: Muromachi Nihonbashi 1-5-5, Coredo Muromachi 3 1F Chūō, Tokyo Yubinbango 103-0022. +81 3 3243 0551
Where to go
This beautiful park, next to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, is a wonderful place for a relaxing stroll in any season. But if you’re lucky enough to be there in late March or April, when the thousands of sakura (cherry blossom) trees bloom, it is a truly spectacular sight. You can even rent a rowboat and gently make your way along the moat, enjoying the pink-tinted shade beneath the trees. At night, the trees are illuminated creating a mirror-like reflection of the cherry blossoms—a truly magnificent view of these botanical wonders that feels like a fairytale come to life.
Address: 02-0091 Tokyo, Chiyoda, Kitanomarukoen, 1−1 Kitanomaru Park. +81 3-3264-2111
The assortment of shops in this building give a wonderful glance at Japanese textiles and fashions, a great place to find special souvenirs or objets. The top floor hosts the Suntory Museum of Art, a mix of modern and traditional Japanese pieces. The museum store has some beautiful Japanese artisan items which are quite expensive, but truly stunning.
Address: 107-0052 Tokyo, Minato, 9−7−1 +81 3-3475-3100
Tokyo National Museum
Japan’s largest and oldest museum is a treasure itself, and counts nearly 100 national treasures as part of its vast collection of more than 110,000 items. The exhibitions are always exquisite, and there is lots of information and audio guides in English. Comprised of six architecturally striking buildings, the gardens and tea houses always bring a sense of relief after strolling busy city streets.
Address: 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-8712, Japan, +81-(3)-5405-8686
Park Hyatt Tokyo
If you want to treat yourself to amazing nighttime view of Tokyo, head here. A one-stop shop for a good time with delicious food, a relaxed atmosphere and live music at the bar. Famously featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film “Lost in Translation.”
Address: 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, 163-1055 Tel: +81 3 5322 1234
There are several locations of this hard-to-describe specialty store, but the one in Shibuya is the largest and my favorite by far. A multi-level wonderland, each floor has a different theme and a dizzying array of options foreach: crafting, beauty, cooking, travel gear, housewares, accessories, stationery and decor. Being here is like going to 20 other stores all at once, and it never fails to surprise and delight me. Don’t miss the chance to head to Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection where thousands of pedestrians fill the crossroad, then disperse at once as the light changes and cars fill the road once again.
Address: 12-18 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Harajuku / Aoyama
You can stroll from Harajuku all the way down to Aoyama, window-shopping along the way with some of the world’s most luxurious brands. You can also wind through the backstreets and alleyways for a taste of Harajuku’s famously colorful and trendy street fashion. The many crepe stands nestled between the storefronts often have long lines, but the wait is worth it. When you reach Omotesando, you will see an array of the world’s most fashionable boutiques that are architectural wonders with gallery-like interiors: Comme des Garcons, Prada and more.
When Nami lived in Tokyo, she was fortunate enough to live next door to this museum famed for its collection of bronzes, calligraphy and textiles. The museum is nestled in a traditional Japanese tea garden, with several teahouses surrounding it making it a lovely hidden oasis in the middle of Tokyo.
Address: 6-5-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato, Tokyo 107-0062, Japan, +81 3-3400-25
Irrefutably the best place to discover beautiful Japanese stationery. Located in Tokyo’s Ginza district, this flagship store just underwent a multi-million dollar makeover to make it even more spectacular. You’ll spend far longer looking at pens and paper than you think you will, I promise, and the tea lounge is a wonderful place when your feet get tired. It's easy to find too, just look for the two-story red paperclip attached to the side of the building.
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 2 Chome−7-15, +81 3-3561-8311
One of the largest green areas in Tokyo, you stroll through a veritable forest in the middle of a city before arriving at a peaceful Shinto shrine. If you are lucky, you may see little children dressed in beautiful kimonos for their “coming of age” festival, or a gorgeous wedding, or the stunning iris garden in full bloom.
Address: 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-8557