Things to do in Tokyo, Japan: Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and attractions
It probably isn't your first, or even second time to Tokyo. Japan's capital is a popular hotspot amongst travellers worldwide, for its stellar cuisine, cherry blossoms, and an electrifying vibe that penetrates the city from day to night. There's an endless amount of things to do and see, but we've narrowed it down to 24 hours in Tokyo's coolest neighbourhoods. If you're in Tokyo for a stopover, or simply want a day planned out for you, this guide is it.
Hardly anything is open before 10am in Tokyo, which isn't surprising given the fact that the city has partied colourfully all night long. If you're an early riser, try visiting a shrine or Shinagawa Station just to watch the maddening crowds pour out like sardines en route to work.
But if a warm cup of coffee and bagels sounds like a plan for the late morning, make your way to Sidewalk Stand Baisen & Bagel in the charming Nakameguro neighbourhood. Keep your eyes peeled, because it's easy to miss the leafy, green building which the café is housed in. Order a bagel sandwich — the smoked salmon and cream cheese is a winner — and spend your morning people-watching. The peaceful streets pack in hip hairdressers, cutting-edge designer boutiques, and a large number of well-groomed dogs prancing along the main canal.
Tokyo is a fabulous walking city, boasting clean pavements, fresh air, and a refreshing number of things to look at. Head over to Daikanyama, a hidden gem that is placed a short 10-minute walk from Nakameguro. It's long been touted the Brooklyn of the Japanese capital, as you'll find an obvious artsy scene, some of the city's best brunch spots, and a smattering of mid-range to high-end boutiques. My favourite spot? Daikanyama T-Site, an elegant complex which houses the best bookstore I've ever seen. In my fantasy world, all bookstores should look like this Tsutaya branch — a decent range of English books, coffee table treasures, art, music, and antique tomes. There's even a Starbucks bathed in dappled natural light, and a Family Mart for all your snack needs and more. Upstairs, the sophisticated Anjin Lounge awaits. Order a cocktail or wine, and sit amongst back issues of the world's best magazines. Night owls, rejoice, because Daikanyama T-Site is open till 2am daily.
If you're famished by this point, check in at Ivy Place, a popular spot for fluffy buttermilk pancakes and other brunch delights. It's also wonderfully kid-friendly, so parents, this could be your big break.
Omotesando is a short train ride away from Daikanyama, but a vast difference a bit of distance makes. Its main street is flanked by every major brand name you can think of — Apple, Rimowa, Valentino, and Harry Winston, to name a few — but weaving into its back streets is just as fascinating. Check out Cat Street, a thoroughfare made for the cool kids of Tokyo. The four-storey Opening Ceremony is a must-visit, but don't miss the MoMA Design Store, United Arrows, and second-hand designer store, RAGTAG.
Food options are aplenty in this area. Ramen lovers can join the queue at renowned chains Afuri and Ichiran — although an hour-long wait is expected at either. Otherwise, there's the legendary soufflé pancakes at Flipper's and crowd favourite Maisen Tonkatsu (located a stone's throw away in Aoyama).
Yes, it's time for a much-needed break after all that shopping. Coffee fiends and scenesters should drop by Café Kitsune in Aoyama. While prices are a tad inflated, the hip-as-heck space and brand cred should do more than enough to make up for it. The fashion crowd flock here like bees to nectar, so if you're into a trendy, slightly pretentious place to hang out, this definitely is it.
Otherwise, Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is a universally pretty hotspot. Expect a bit of a wait, but the idea of fusing tea and flowers is a winner in this secret garden.
Whether you're a self-confessed Aman junkie or not, Aman Tokyo is definitely worth a visit for dinner. True to signature Aman spirit, there's no signage leading up to the hotel, which is located in the top six floors of the nondescript Otemachi Tower. What makes Aman Tokyo unique is that it is Aman's first city hotel, and the only one that opens its restaurants to outside guests.
Aman Tokyo's lobby is the veritable standout of the hotel — designed by Kerry Hill Architects, the 30-metre high ceiling will draw you right in. Created with textured Washi paper and stretched with a Shoji frame, the feature is expansive, impressive, and majestic all at once, and resembles a Japanese paper lantern. Light streams in during the day, while a series of orchestrated lighting scenes punctuate the space in the evening.
There are four restaurants to pick from, but Arva, their Italian concept, is excellent. Chef Masakazu Hiraki has 17 years of culinary experience in Italy, and serves up bold and creative Itaiian dishes that are refined and comforting at the same time. Call for the agnolotti cacio e pepe, topped with black pepper and pecorino romano, for melt-in-your-mouth morsels of pasta that are mindblowingly moreish. Pair it with a tender roasted Spanish Iberico pork Bellota and sautéed flatfish with cauliflower and truffle. The yuzu tart with kumquat compote, meringue, and almond milk gelato is the perfect finish.
My tip? Book a seat by the window for one of the best dining experiences in all of Tokyo. Arva is easily one of the most spacious restaurants in a city known for its notoriously cramped fit outs, so soak in the fact that it is quiet — with so much of a hushed buzz — as the city shimmers beautifully outside.
If your night is still young, make your way to Ben Fiddich, one of Tokyo's most respectable bars. Bartender Hiroyasu Kayama employs a large selection of herbs, spices, plants, and roots grown on his family farm in the outskirts of Tokyo to create his groundbreaking cocktails. Cocktails are made on the fly, and are always remarkably pleasing.
7-11 in Japan is probably the nation's best-kept secret. From katsu sandos to egg mayo sandwiches and onigiri (Japanese rice balls) of all flavours, filling up at a convenience store can actually be extremely satisfying. The staff also offer to heat up whatever you wish, so there you go — breakfast every morning, sorted.