Heading to Japan's capital? Our travel correspondent Adina Laura-Achim covers all your must-visit restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops in this insider guide
I'm the type of person who loves narrow cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture, and the Italian "dolce far niente" lifestyle or the relaxed Caribbean vibe — so Tokyo didn't really seem like my cup of tea with its contemporary architecture, futuristic fashion, and trendy inhabitants. I convinced myself that old souls can't come to terms with modernity but I was wrong on every level. As with many tourists before me, I expected to find a lacklustre city; a place where rampant consumerism and eccentricity would torture my sensory functions but instead I got the finest experience and a culturally stimulating trip.
Tokyo's raw appeal comes from its contrasts. The leading edge of the city is indisputable but there's also a more traditional Tokyo which is found in Yanaka and in the city's temples and shrines. The constant juxtaposition of old and new, classic and hype, organised and chaotic, creates an intriguing and occasionally overwhelming picture of a world-class metropolis capable of defining the limits of our imagination.
In a city well known for its world class hotels hidden in high rising towers, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo stands out with its luxurious suites, fine-dining options and award-winning spa. Situated in the historic Nihonbashi district, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo offers stunning views over this vertically constructed city. All 157 rooms and 22 suites define the concept of contemporary Japanese luxury. The rooms are aesthetically pleasing, with floor-to-ceiling windows creating an optical illusion of wider, unrestricted spaces. The dining options are unbeatable and the Michelin-starred Tapas Molecular Bar is probably the most popular after-work spot for the rich, single and socialites.
Hilton's high-end property is located close to Ginza and it offers some of the most splendid views over Tokyo Bay. With 290 rooms and suites, exquisite dining options and state of the art spa facilities, Conrad becomes the epitome of extravagance. The décor in the rooms redefine the notes of sophisticated simplicity and capture the essence of Japanese luxury. Hungry? Kazahana Restaurant offers the full Japanese culinary experience, delighting guests with gourmet Sushi, Teppan and Kaiseki.
The Michelin-starred restaurant is located in the chic neighborhood of Ginza and offers one of the most exquisite culinary experiences in Tokyo. Its design fuses elements of Japanese and European culture as well as Art Nouveau components, creating a style as unique as its dining options. Ukai-Tei also offers private dining options where the chef prepares the dishes in front of the guests. If you're a wagyu beef steak lover, this one is a must-try.
This is the place where you should go for your first Shabu Shabu experience. Shabu Shabu is a traditional Japanese dish where slices of meat and pieces of vegetables are boiled at the table and served with various dipping sauces. Seryna offers private dining options and full discretion for those who care about privacy. Situated in the lively district of Roppongi, make sure you spend time navigating the bustling night club scene after.
Bar High Five is an archetypal Ginza bar boasting sleek design, hoards of local and international customers, and killer cocktails. Don't expect menus as experimentation is the rule in here. Mixologist-owner Hidetsugu Ueno knows what his clienteles want, as he's the Master when it comes to anticipating their needs.
As many customers point out, a visit to Gen Yamamoto becomes the quintessential Japanese experience — walking into this bar feels like a futuristic movie or a parallel reality. There's only one person sitting behind the counter, dressed in a white coat. He looks more like a doctor or chemist experimenting with chemicals in a secret laboratory than a bartender preparing drinks. Watch as your bartender uses each ingredient to perfection, mixing them until he gets the freshest cocktails. The cocktail tasting menu incorporates local liquors combined with seasonal ingredients.
If you are a fan of the Yohji Yamamoto aesthetic, there's no better place for you than Tokyo. The Tokyo boutique has a wider range of products while the inventory is more impressive than in Paris. Prices are in the same range as in Europe.
If you want to acquire a Chanel or Hermes bag without breaking the bank, the numerous shops and boutiques that sell pre-owned designer pieces might be the answer. Ragtag is a pre-loved designer apparel boutique which sells only genuine products that have been verified by experts and have passed quality controls. Ragtag covers various brands, starting with the classics (such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel) and ending with more local, avant-garde designers.
This is the largest department store in Japan that sells only pre-loved items. Considered by many the best second-hand shop in Japan, Komehyo offers a variety of products that rangefrom designer jewellery to apparel. With over 30,000 products spread over eight floors, the product selection is truly remarkable. Komehyo has three locations in Tokyo: Aoyama, Ginza and Shinjuku.
About Adina Laura-Achim Adina became a storyteller after a 10-year PR and marketing career. Today, she spends her time between writing books, freelancing for magazines and travelling to distant corners of the world. She's a polka dot and stripes aficionado who can't live without red lipstick, silk pajamas and her Audrey Hepburn movie collection.