Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2008
From bloggers to travel journalists to that annoying guy at the end of the bar, everyone has an opinion about what to see in Tokyo. Well, they’re wrong. For the real deal on can’t-miss urban attractions, check out our picks for having fun in the big city.
“Akiba is undergoing a bit of a facelift all around. Yodobashi Camera’s vast store and the terminus of the Tsukuba Express railway line have brought new life to the east side of Akihabara station.”—The Rough Guide to Tokyo, 4th edition
The gleaming Yodobashi Akiba certainly is stocked with the latest high-tech goodies. But for an authentic taste of Tokyo’s renowned electronics district, head to the backstreets of Soto-Kanda, where you’ll find maid cafes, otaku-friendly DVD stores and ramshackle shops brimming with piles of digital ephemera. Don’t miss retailer Thanko (www.thanko.jp; www.raremonoshop.com), whose two area shops offer such goodies as USB-powered microscopes and the “Magic Mirror Webcam.”
If you’re in the market for something a bit more mainstream, try the many outlets of Sofmap (www.sofmap.com), the leading dealer of discount and used computers, or stop by the duty free shops that line the main Chuo Dori drag.
“Early 20th-century Tokyo boasted a number of tramlines, of which only the 12km Toden-Arakawa line remains, running north from Waseda to Minowa-bashi.”—The Rough Guide to Tokyo, 4th edition
Try again—the two-car Setagaya Line is Tokyo’s other surviving tramline, taking passengers on a 17-minute trip through a sleepy stretch of the city from Sangenjaya to Shimo-Takaido. Forested areas, classic open-air markets, parks, museums and temples all await. At Miyanosaka station you’ll find the Setagaya Hachimangu shrine, which still has a sumo ring where professional matches were held in the 12th century. Make sure you get off to wander the Shoin Shrine
Though not a tram, the quaint three-car Ikegami line runs through the Shinagawa area from Gotanda to Kamata; alight at any station and check out the thriving shotengai, especially the Togoshi Ginza—at 1.6km, it’s the longest shopping street in Japan, with 400 shops and over one million customers visiting daily. A ten-minute walk from Ikegami Honganji station lies the Hongan temple. On the way, be sure to buy the area’s famous kuzumochi gelatin for a snack.
“[The New York Bar has] all the style you would expect of one of the city’s top hotels combined with superior views of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers and neon-lighted streets, [making] this one of the city’s premier nighttime venues.”—Fodor’s Tokyo, 1st edition
While the New York Bar & Grill (03-5323-3458) is a can’t-miss destination for Sofia Coppola fans, no one will want to overlook the Park Hyatt’s Japanese restaurant, Kozue, which serves up exquisite kaiseki cuisine to go with its stunning cityscapes. If you don’t have time (or cash) for a leisurely multi-course meal, Kozue (http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com, 03-5323-3460) offers an all-in-one bento lunch, served in a gorgeous multi-tiered lacquered box containing about a dozen wafu delicacies. If the weather is right, you can catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji while enjoying your meal.
For a unbeatable view of the iconic Tokyo Tower, head up to Erawan above the main Roppongi drag. Located on the 13th floor of the Roi Bldg, this Thai restaurant (03-3404-5741; www.erawan-jp.com) has a classy interior that belies its low cost—most dishes are in the ¥1,000-¥1,500 range.
“The Best Flea Market [at Yurakucho’s Tokyo International Forum] is a combination of a festival and market,… conveniently located within walking distance of Ginza and Marunouchi.”
—Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.tcvb.or.jp)
If you’re looking for a ground-central location to pick up eclectic, only-from-Japan souvenirs, head to the Togo Shrine market in Harajuku. Unlike the TIF’s flea markets, which take place in the shadow of the ultramodern, Rafael Vinoly-designed convention center, the wares at Togo are spread out in the leafy setting of a bucolic shrine. But not to worry: when you’re through, the best of hipster Tokyo—Harajuku—lies at your feet.
“Heartland is a chic, easygoing watering hole”
—Lonely Planet online
Chic and easygoing on Monday afternoons perhaps, Heartland (www.heartland.jp) is typically more of a rabid stampede than watering hole. Skip it and head upstairs to the much more civilized surrounds of The Oak Door Bar (6F Grand Hyatt, 6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 03-4333-8784; http://tinyurl.com/oakdoor), where the drinks are stiffer and the eye candy sweeter. Be warned, though, that your wallet may hurt even more than your head the next morning.
Another option, deep in the heart of Harajuku, is Costa Rica (2-23-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; no phone or website). Most nights find a mish-mash of local creative types spilling out the door and onto the street with cheap drinks in hand, engaging in friendly multilingual banter.
For a more accessible mingling-with-drinks option, turn to Café de Metro (03-5413-7287; www.tokyometro.jp/echika/shop/03) in Omotesando station’s Echika. Wine and beer start at just ¥350, and fashionable ladies flock. Reservations not required; wingman recommended.
“Ideally placed for those who want to be close to Roppongi nightlife, Hotel Ibis is a comfortable spot to settle in after a debauched night.”
—Lonely Planet online
Want to lay your head a little further away from the debauchery of High Touch Town? A moderately priced room a comfortable distance from the action can be had at Hotel Mets Shibuya (3-29-7 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; 03-3409-0011; www.hotelmets.jp/shibuya), which offers clean doubles for ¥18,000 and cozy singles from just ¥11,500. The hotel is actually attached to Shibuya station—albeit at the opposite end from Hachiko.
If you’re looking for even quieter surrounds, try b Ochanomizu (1-7-5 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku; 03-3254-2888; www.ishinhotels.com/theb-ochanomizu/en). Formerly the Hamilton Inn, this hotel features super stylish doubles from ¥18,000 and singles from ¥14,000. It just opened September 9, so get the jump on the crowds before the word is out.