We love Tokyo—and its people—for their attention to detail, creativity of design, and of course, amazing food.
A note from the author: This guide is a short list of some of the best and most interesting places to eat, drink, shop, and visit in Tokyo, based on hundreds of hours of in-person research. Like all of our guides, the goal is to focus on a few great starting points. I’ve been to Tokyo seven times over the past decade, for work as a journalist, vacation, and visiting relatives. These are the places I tell friends to go. —Dan Frommer
1. Switch Coffee.
This is quintessential Tokyo. Excellent coffee and espresso prepared by someone who cares, in a small, nice-looking neighborhood shop, tucked away on a hard-to-find side street.
Owner Masahiro Onishi worked as a barista around Japan and in Melbourne, Australia, before opening Switch in Tokyo’s Meguro neighborhood. There’s not much room to sit here, and this isn’t the sort of café you’d bring a laptop and work. But it’s a nice—if long—walk along the Meguro river to Nakameguro, where there’s more going on (see below).
You’re also right around the corner from Beard, a cute Tokyo take on a French bistro that plays well in the pages of Kinfolk or Monocle. (Actually, Monocle had once named it the best restaurant in the world.) “Simple and casual French-based food, inspired by trips and encounters,” Beard describes itself on the web. It is, however, closing at the end of August as chef Shin Harakawa prepares for a new project and does “random service and popups.”
Harakawa—a great Tokyo Instagram follow—worked in France and as an intern at Chez Panisse in the Bay Area, and speaks often about his California inspiration. The brunch burger looks particularly delicious.
2. Harajuku Gyozaro.
Amazing gyoza and a captivating view of the open kitchen. A good, quick lunch or snack, solo or with a casual group. There is almost always a line—this is Tokyo—but it goes fast.
The menu is small: Two different kinds of dumplings, with scallions or without, each available fried or steamed. (My order: Fried, with scallions.) Don’t miss the cucumbers with miso dressing.
From here, you’re in the heart of the Harajuku/Omotesando area, whose winding streets are prime for exploring. Cat Street is a narrow, mostly car-free street that includes several international clothing and gear shops, plus a solid coffee shop, The Roastery by Nozy Coffee.
The nearby North Face Standard shop, featuring its more interesting, fashion-focused “Purple Label” line—a collaboration with Japan’s Nanamica—is a great stop for anyone remotely into outdoor gear or looking like they are.
Also nearby: Kiddy Land, which features several floors of the latest Japanese toys, plus some stationery and phone accessories. And the unbelievably posh dog-clothing store Hannari in the Omotesando Hills shopping mall.
3. Beams row.
Japan’s Beams fashion chain, nicer and preppier than Uniqlo, started in Harajuku in 1976. This stretch of Meiji Dori features the original store, Beams Boy (for women), the casual Beams Plus, Beams Records, a t-shirt bar, and a few other concepts.
A great hotel nearby
Dormy Inn Premium Jingumae.
The Dormy Inn is our go-to Tokyo hotel. New, clean, simple, quiet, and inexpensive, with reliable wifi. But most important, a perfect location halfway between Shibuya and Harajuku/Omotesando.
4. The Aoyama architecture walk.
This stretch between Omotesando and Aoyama features iconic retail architecture that screams early-21st-Century-Tokyo.
Prada (pictured) was designed by the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron, which notes: “Depending on where the viewer is standing, the body of the building will look more like a crystal or like an archaic type of building with a saddle roof.”
Comme des Garçons, Tod’s, and Louis Vuitton are also among the more ambitious examples.
5. Loft Shibuya.
No visit to Tokyo is complete without ogling aisles of stationery and pens and possibly bringing home a lifetime supply. That’s why Loft, Japan’s design-y home-goods store, is one of our first and last stops every visit.
Loft’s vast basement pen department—featuring hundreds of different Japanese pens, pencils, erasers, highlighters, decorative tape, stickers, and notepads—is our happy place. Take note of varieties like Pilot’s “Frixion” series, which are erasable using heat from friction.
Upstairs, there are wacky iPhone cases, neat kitchen gadgets, cute lunchboxes and thermoses, and an amazing variety of cosmetics.
Loft is a great, accessible start to your Tokyo stationery exploration, but there are also larger and more specialized stores.
Ito-ya in Ginza is an entire department store just devoted to stationery supplies. Kakimori in the Kuramae district is for the true enthusiast, offering custom, made-to-order notepads—a fun and easy experience. (A sister store, Ink Stand, does custom ink for pens.) The PostalCo shop in Shibuya features the Tokyo brand’s upscale stationery goods as well as wallets, backpacks, and tools. Papier Labo is at the top of our to-visit-next-trip list.
And the legendary Tokyu Hands hardware, crafts, and home-goods chain—most notably its Shibuya location—is another great option, with a similar selection as Loft.
Scandinavian café by day, cocktail bar by night. A nice place to chat, work for a bit, or unwind. (There’s also a location in Oslo, Norway.)
7. Tsutaya T-Site.
As Tokyo-based writer and designer Craig Mod likes to tell it, in 2011— the same year US bookstore chain Borders went bankrupt—Japan’s Tsutaya opened one of the greatest bookstores in the world.
Three buildings, “tied to the theme of ‘a library in the woods’,” include book, magazine, music, film, and stationery departments, two cafés, and a convenience store. “Magazine street” features Japanese and international titles, and special issues—pick up a few Popeyes for the road, or one of the hard-to-find Brand Balance books, such as the recent one about Tsutaya itself. The upstairs café and library is a great place for a nice meeting or simply to read from its collection of 30,000 vintage magazines.
Behind the T-Site, there’s a high-end camera shop, a posh pet grooming studio, and the preppy Ivy Place, which is open early for breakfast and overflows with brunch crowds on the weekend. Across the street, Saturdays Surf, the New York-based clothing shop and café, has its Tokyo location.
Nearby in Daikanyama, you’ll find B. Jirushi Yoshida, an interesting partnership between Porter, the legendary Japanese luggage company, and Beams. The team there are prolific Instagrammers. There’s also Bonjour Records (music, books), one of the cooler looking A.P.C. shops on the planet, and High Standard (vintage).
8. Afuri Ramen.
Afuri is a small chain of ramen restaurants that specializes in a unique style that’s lighter than most: A citrusy, yuzu-shio soup with grilled pork. The decor and branding feel similarly modern. (Like many ramen joints, you order and pay at a vending machine by the door.) This is our go-to location, but Afuri has locations in many Tokyo neighborhoods, including Harajuku, Ebisu (the original), and Roppongi.
Nearby in Nakameguro: Along the cherry tree-lined banks of the Meguro River, Vendor is a menswear shop that doesn’t drift off the deep end: Think t-shirts, plaid, solids, and stripes. Its labels include Japan’s Nonnative, New Balance, and its own Vendor Things.
Boutiques and cafés line the river for a few blocks in either direction. Cow Books is a little kiosk stocked with rare books. Similarly precious General Research carries clothing and gear for the discerning urban mountaineer. You’re also nearby the Tokyo offshoot of 0fr., our favorite Paris book shop and gallery, and the Kinfolk bicycles bar upstairs.
Our Favorite Splurge Hotel
Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Elegant, understated luxury with great views of Tokyo from the top of Shinjuku. Impeccable attention to detail, cocktails with a view at the New York Bar, Aesop amenities, and yes—that pool. A bit isolated, but you’ll love it.
9. Isana Sushi Bar.
Great sushi under $100. Chef Junichi Onuki returned to Tokyo after years in London and runs this small, excellent sushi bar in Nishi-Azabu. Isana‘s focus is on seasonal sushi and grilled dishes. And unlike some of Tokyo’s pricier sushi bars, the chef is happy to speak English.
Isana comes recommended by Tokyo food writer Melinda Joe, who wrote about Onuki and another recent sushi chef returning to Tokyo—Yasuda, who had been in New York for almost 30 years.
The new Sushi Bar Yasuda—in nearby Minami-Aoyama—is another excellent option if you’re looking to converse with the chef. Yasuda takes reservations online and offers omakase sushi or a 14-piece assortment for ¥7800 (~$65).
For something cheaper, we like the Midori chain.
10. Precce Tokyo Midtown.
You will, inevitably, walk around Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, which is a unique experience worth doing once. But we’ve had just as much fun trying to decode the massive selection of produce, groceries, sauces, and prepared foods at Precce, an amazing, 24-hour gourmet grocery store in the basement of the Tokyo Midtown complex. Also home to some of the best supermarket sushi you’ll ever find.
These modern, city-within-a-city mega-complexes—Tokyo Midtown and the nearby Roppongi Hills—are fascinating examples of Tokyo’s 21st century urbanism, each dominated by an office tower and an assortment of retail, entertainment, culture, garden-walking, and dining options. (Reminiscent of the arcology complexes in SimCity 2000, if you were as hooked as we were.) See the Mori Building company’s Roppongi Hills ad below.
Art Space Tokyo highlights the 21_21 Design Sight at Tokyo Midtown: “Directed by three of Japan’s most famous designers — Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa — its ambitious exhibitions, events and workshops strive to transcend preconceived categories of what design should be.”
11. Don Quijote.
The craziest store we’ve visited—anywhere, ever. Eight floors of everything you can imagine, from hardware and food to sex toys and designer handbags, with speakers blaring the unforgettable Don Quijote theme song, 24 hours a day. Locations across Japan, but this is the weirdest. There is even a half-pipe roller coaster on the roof that has never been operated. Look for the massive fish tanks.
12. Muji Yurakucho.
Japan’s minimalist design and home-goods chain—the name even means “without brand”—is expanding globally, with recent openings in Paris and California. But this particular store is the one to check out. Three floors of Muji, including the special Muji Labo clothing collection, a large café, a bicycle department, an large selection of snacks, a limited-time “Found Muji” section, home renovation consultancy, and an expanded design book department.
From here, you’re close to the Ginza shopping district, including classic department stores, a multi-floor Uniqlo flagship, Sony’s showroom, and a great Bic Camera.
13. Bar Track.
You will feel at home and relaxed at Bar Track, opposite the train tracks. Polished wood interior, a wall of vinyl, friendly bartenders, a large whiskey selection, and a lack of pretension. (Also, open until 5 a.m.)
If you’re in the mood for a fancier cocktail, Bar Trench nearby is a little more tucked-in and tie-wearing. Recent seasonal cocktails include a “ruccula smash,” which contains grape French gin, arugula, house blueberry purée, lemon, and bitters. (“Berry, greenish & sour.”) After that, you’re right by Ebisu Yokocho, a long alley of tiny, old-school bars and food stall that spill into the street. And the original Afuri ramen shop is also in Ebisu.
Other elevated cocktail choices in Tokyo include Bar Gen Yamamoto in Azabu-Juban, near Roppongi, and Bar High Five in Ginza. And the “Lost In Translation”-famous New York Bar, at the top of the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, is worth visiting at least once.
The best seats are at the bar, where you can watch the yakitori master perfectly grill skewers of delicious chicken, seafood, and vegetables over charcoal. Everything is great here, but our favorites include the wings, skin, cartilage, hearts, leg meat with leeks, and Hokkaido potatoes, which are finished with butter. There are English translations on the menu, and it’s a very good idea to make a reservation.
Yoyogi Uehara is a cute, quiet, residential neighborhood with narrow, winding streets. If you need to stall for a bit before dinner, the vintage magazine rack at nearby bookstore Los Papelotes is a good diversion.
You’re also a 12-minute walk from Fuglen if you’re in the mood for a nightcap.
15. Bear Pond Espresso.
Bear Pond is an excellent example of a man—barista and owner Katsuyuki Tanaka—truly obsessed with his craft.
“Watching Takana pull a shot from his La Marzocco is a bit like watching a pianist practice,” Adam Goldberg writes on A Life Worth Eating. “His voice goes silent, his hands run across dials and levers and his eyes never leave the twenty three gram basket. Any questions asked during this time are deferred until after the shot is extracted.”
Bear Pond’s espresso is unique in that its shots are tiny—barely a sip. But the chance to experience watching Tanaka at work—on display in this video by director Jake Davis—is worth the detour. And the coffee, of course.
You’ll Want These For The Plane
Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones.
You’ll fly more comfortably by cutting out the background noise with these excellent noise-cancelling headphones. We’ve flown dozens of hours with these exact headphones and they continue to work great.