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The Tokyo Travel Guide

A guide to one of my all-time favourite cities

WHERE — Tokyo, Japan
PHOTOGRAPHY — Jessie Bush

Japan was one of those countries that I had always desperately wanted to visit. And over the years I built it up so much in my mind (romanticising everything from the people to the ramen) that I figured there would be no way reality could meet my expectations. And yet it did. I spent two weeks in Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto) exploring by myself, and every single day I was constantly blown away by the kindness of the people, the rich culture, the beautiful landscapes, and of course the impossibly delicious food.

To say my maiden visit to Japan was undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite trips is putting it lightly. So I guess what I’m saying is, if you can, go. I should warn you in advance – I love Japanese food – so this city guide is essentially just a list of some of the best eats in the city.

WHEN TO GO

Obviously Japan is famed for it’s cherry blossom season. Which is as picture-perfect as Instagram will have you believe. However the issue is that cherry blossom season differs from year to year, and across different parts of the country. I managed to catch cherry blossom season in April which was amazing, but you do pay the price (and by that I mean quite literally, prices increase due to demand around cherry blossom season).

GETTING AROUND

The only Uber here is black (aka the pricey one) but it doesn’t matter because the metro is efficient and super easy to use provided you have access to google maps. I used it constantly from the moment I arrived and never had an issue.

Walk everywhere. Okay obviously you’ll need to take the metro as well, but when you can, go by foot. Tokyo is a tightly packed city meaning even on the shortest walk you’ll pass somewhere interesting.

On the note of getting around, it’s also worth mentioning that as a single female I felt completely safe walking throughout the city and taking the metro alone, both day and night. Tokyo would definitely be a great city to break your solo-traveler cherry (so to speak).

ETIQUETTE

Obviously it’s necessary to be aware of and respectful of different cultures when we travel. But sometimes social norms and expectations can be a little less obvious (than say, what to wear in public) and I was extremely thankful that a couple friends sent over their advice before I arrived.

Don’t eat on the go

You can drink your coffee on the go, but don’t walk down the street snacking on a sandwhich. If you buy takeaway food, sit down and eat it in one spot.

Don’t have loud conversations on your mobile

One of the first things you notice in Tokyo is just how quiet it is! Millions of people, and yet no-one is shouting into their phone or calling to their friend across the street. It’s bliss. It’s all about treating the entire community as equals – why should one loud person disrupt everyone else? If you get a call, find a quiet corner to have your chat in peace.

Only cross at the crossing

So obviously this isn’t Japan-specific, you’re supposed to only cross at the crossing in most countries around the world. However here they actually abide by this rule (law) to the letter. No jay-walking. No quickly dashing across the road when no cars are in sight.

Remove your shoes

A lot of places will require you to take off your shoes – so it definitely makes life easier to wear shoes you can easily slip off and on.

STAY

Hotel Allamanda Aoyama, 2 Chome-7-13 Kitaaoyama, Minato-ku

I opted for Allamanda Aoyama simply because it’s location – and in all honestly – you couldn’t get much better. Aoyama was one of my favourite neighborhoods (the best food, craft coffee and boutique shopping hands down), plus it’s a great central base; Shibuya and Harajuku are just walking distance away.

The rooms were luxe, the cotton PJ sets (in lieu of the usual robe) were so good, plus be prepared to get really enjoy Japanese toilets (which greet you with an open lid and warm seat when you walk in).

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, 1 Chome-23-4 Toranomon

If you’re after a hotel with understated luxury and an impeccable eye for service, Tokyo is your city. I stayed at the Andaz for a few nights at the end of my trip and it was everything a 5 star hotel should be. If you can request a room with an (epic) view.

SHOP

H – beauty and youth, 3 Chome-14-17 Minamiaoyama

A thoughtful curated concept store packed with super cool pieces from all over the globe. Side step (their extremely tempting) selection of international designers and pick up a few pieces from local designers instead.

Klo ceramics

Disclaimer: shopping for ceramics is my weakness. I’ll take a cool bowl or one-off mug over a dress any day. But even if you’re ho-hum about homewares, Japanese will make you want to begin your collection.

Fog linen, 5 Chome-35-1 Daita, Setagaya

Fog linen is a super sweet concept store carefully filled with homewares (including more ceramics, obv), skincare and a small selection of clothing. The perfect place to buy a thoughtful memento from your trip.

EAT

Afuri ramen, 1-1-7 Ebisu | 117 Bldg.1F, Shibuya

You order via a vending machine. Service is quick and straightforward. It’s downright delicious. And they do vegan ramen. One of my favourites of the week – extremely flavoursome yet the broth still feels light.

Commune 2nd, 3 Chome-13 Minamiaoyama

Is an open air food court with a focus on organic, local cuisine. Food carts are dotted around the picnic style seating area with cover to p

T’s Tan Tan, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Inside JR Tokyo station

This vege ramen joint takes some dedication to find – although to be fair being vegetarian in Tokyo takes some dedication. It’s actually inside Tokyo station, so I recommend taking the metro there, as you’ll have to buy a subway ticket to get in anyway.

100% free on animal products and 100% delicious – I got the golden sesame & peanut ramen and given my obsession for peanut butter it was truly next level. 10/10

CAFFEINATE

Blue Bottle Coffee, 3-13-14 Minamiaoyama

Their iced coffee hits the spot like no-one else. And strangely – the coffee is a whole lot more delicious (read: strong) than any of their American locations. Plus it’s located up a set of stairs amongst the cherry blossom trees which means you kind of feel as though you’re enjoying your coffee in the park, rather than at a cafe, which is nice.

Streamer Coffee Company, 1-20-28, Shibuya,Shibuya-ku

Excellent at their craft, and the industrial crate style building is super cool. Order downstairs then head upstairs to find leather couches, concrete interiors and a balcony overlooking the streets below.

EAT

Tonakatsu Maisen Aoyama Honten, 4-8-5 Jingumae, Shibuya

If you love tonkatsu (and let’s be fair – who doesn’t), be prepared to have your mind blown. Be prepared to come here more than once.

Sincere Garden, 3-5-4 Aoyama | 2F Aoyama Takano Bldg, Minato 1

This unlikely spot is an organic spa with vegetarian cafe above. Ideal if your craving some fresh veg or just want a menu with multiple vegetarian options – they do soy cutlets, Japanese salads and curries so there’s no need to feel like your missing out on Japanese cuisine just because you’re plant-based.

Shokurakusaisai Sobadokoro Miyota, 1-22-6 Minamichitose | Midori Nagano 3F, Nagano

This soba spot is a local favourite, meaning it can get pretty busy (read there’s often a line). Although I went at 9:30pm on a Monday and walked right in – I found the Japanese tend to eat early. The menu is both simple and extensive – soba (hot or cold) every which way.

But the best part is that your seated facing the chefs, giving you an ideal view to watch your meal being made. That it’s excellent bang for your buck. Expect to be filled up for around 900 yen (£6.50).

Harajuku Gyoza-ro, 6-2-4 Jingumae, Shibuya

A favourite gyoza spot for both locals and tourists – so expect at least a small wait. Traditional Japanese style bar facing inwards towards the only kitchen – this place is delicious, quick and cheap. Only down side is this place isn’t vege friendly, so I looked like a massive nerd lunching on only cucumber & miso sauce (which is next level) and cabbage.

Ipuddo ramen (there are spots throughout the city)

Expect a queue (like most popular spots in Tokyo) – plus slight more expensive prices – but this place delivers. The ramen gets rave reviews (although vege options are limied). Interiors, service and side dishes are all 10/10.

Kawakamian Aoyama, 3 Chome-14-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato

I almost didn’t make it to this hidden spot (aka google can’t help you) but I’m so glad I did. One of the few epic places I went without a line – presumably because it’s a bit more expensive than other spots. Inside it’s intimate and lively, with food that tastes lovingly homemade.

Imakatsu, 4-12-5 Roppongi, Minato

Rated no1 for katsu in Tokyo and for good reason. This spot is vege/pescatarian friendly menu, and they serve real pints. They also have traditional Japanese seating for groups – although I was flying solo so sat at the bar table.

DO

The National Art Center, Tokyo, 7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, Minato

The National Art Center is constant hosting new exhibitions, so make sure to check out what’s happening whilst your in town. The space is futuristic (and massive) and the exhibitions are carefully curated; undoubtedly a must visit when in Tokyo.

Wired Tokyo, 21-6 Udagawacho, Shibuya

An incredible bookshop/cafe/wine bar above the tourist-laden Starbucks that overlooks the infamous Shibuya ‘scramble’ crossing. Cross the crossing with thousands of others (seven crossroads come together and the lights all turn red at the same time), then head up to the Starbucks to take in the ariel view. Then take another floor up to Wired for a little peace and quiet, and perhaps a sophisticated drink or two.

Nezu Museum, 6-5-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato

Nezu Museum is unique; indoors it’s dark, moody and rich in centuries worth of Japanese history. An outside is a lush, expansive garden complete with it’s own waterway that will may you feel as though you’re miles from the city.

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