Nakagin Capsule Tower- Built in 1972 by Kisho Kurokawa, it was the first capsule architecture design, created with the intention of housing traveling businessmen that worked in central Tokyo during the week. It is a prototype of sustainability and recyclability, as each module can be plugged in to the central core and replaced or exchanged when necessary. Some are plotting its demolition, but my hope is that they will realize the value of this building and update it as originally intended. You can rent a room on Airbnb (keep in mind that you won't have hot water), or you can take a tour. You are only allowed inside if you book a tour.
I know people say it's not as cool as it once was, but I still really enjoyed it. Make sure you give yourself a full day here, as there is much to see. The time to go is on a Sunday around 14:00 in order to see the most people in costume/outfits. Some of the top shops I checked out listed below:
6% Doki-doki- This is the store that you imagine in your mind of what Tokyo stores look like. It's filled with bright, cute items. You should buy something just so you can see the shop assistant enter the cash register area like it's his stage, and, yes, he does look fabulous!
Solakzade- Vintage frames that date from the 1800s-present time set in a beautiful interior.
Laforet- I am not a department store girl, but this one is truly amazing! You will not be disappointed, and even if you don't buy anything it's a great place for people watching. Everyone seems to end up here at some point or another, so you get to see some great style.
Dangerous Nude- A huge selection of fun tights (you look in a book to see them all), corsets, and other interesting items. It has a bit of a Steampunk vibe, but with its own style to make it cool. I felt like it was the type of place Mozart might shop at if he was a modern woman.
Desolation Row- If you are with a man or shopping for a man go to Desolation Row. They have vintage inspired clothing that is reproduced perfectly! The clothes are truly fantastic! *it's also beneath Big Love Records, which is known as one of the best record stores in Tokyo.
You come here to browse antique bookstores and stationary stores. Some places are tired of tourists and don't allow photos, but other places don't care. Regardless, streets lined with books is my type of place! My top places listed below:
Isseido BookSellers- A store started in 1903 (current location opened in 1930s), filled with beautiful rare and antique books.
Books Sanseido- This is a chain bookstore, but it was still lots of fun to walk around, because it's Japan! This location is their flagship store. The English section is on the fifth floor.
Bumpōdō- A stationary shop started over 100 years ago, this is where you go for incredible stationary, postcards, and art supplies. It is a magnificent store. I liked it so much I went back twice!
Nakano Broadway- A delightfully confusing shopping center with many Japanese treats including stationary, clothes (vintage & art), music, books, toys, and food.
Muryoku Muzenji- This is a bar that I really wanted to check out, but it was closed when I was there, and I later ran out of time (it happens often in Tokyo, because there is so much to see and do) so please go in my stead, and let me know if it really is the "weirdest" bar in Tokyo.
Punk Rock Izakaya- This place is 100% perfect! The food was delicious and the atmosphere was charming (in a punk rock kind of way). If you only go to one place on my list go to this place. Some foods I tried: fried tofu (best I've ever had), Meat on a stick (lots of pork options, but other choices too), gizzards, cartilage etc., and Japanese style beef stew. Of course I tried about 3 of their sakes, and I loved all of them too! I am not exaggerating when I say this place is perfect. The service was superb, but that is pretty much every single place you go to in Japan. *You walk downstairs to enter.
Kikanbo- The best devil ramen I've ever had. You order outside at the machine, and when you give them your ticket they ask you the level of spice. I did medium, which was perfect for me. The interior is decorated with devil masks, and they play ancient chanting music that makes you feel like you might be taken away to be sacrificed at any time, in a good way.
Naruto Taiyaki Honpo- This is the place for taiyaki, a Japanese fish shaped waffle cake. It's a chain, but that doesn't mean the taiyaki isn't delicious. I especially liked the location of the one in Tokyo that is beneath a train overpass. It felt like a dream place from a different time. I opted for the red bean traditional and it was warm, fresh, and delicious. It is cheap and you order and take it to-go.
Yamachan- A well-known chain for dry rub chicken wings, cooked with pepper and soy sauce. There is a reason this place is so popular; the wings are amazing! You order from a screen the amount of wings you want (order more than you think you want, because you will want more) and we opted for a pitcher of beer to go along with our wings, which was the perfect combination. The place is bright and fun with their cute logo on everything. You can definitely kill a few hours here chatting with friends about the amazing things you've experienced in Tokyo over some pitchers of beer and chicken wings. *There is a location in Jimbocho and others all over Tokyo.
GyozaRou or Gyoza Lou- We waited in line for about 20 minutes, and it was entirely worth the wait. I think they are the best gyoza I've ever had, and they are super cheap! We sat at the bar, which I would recommend because you get to watch the masters at work. Dang! This was yet another perfect meal in Tokyo! Make sure you get a plate all to yourself (I almost made the mistake of sharing). I got mine fried, because thats how I prefer them, but they offer them steamed too, and make sure you get the side of cucumbers to go with it. Yum! *This is located in Harajuku, so a perfect stop before your shopping frenzy.
Heiroku Sushi- An inexpensive, fun, fresh conveyer belt sushi restaurant that is in the Shibuya area. A great place to stop when you need a break from the hustle and bustle. I was not obsessed with getting sushi in Japan, and was more interested in trying their wide range of other styles of food, but I did want to get it at least once, so this is the place I chose.
Nantsuttei Ramen Shinagawa- This was my very first ramen in Japan, on my very first day in Tokyo, a cold and rainy day, and it was absolutely perfect. You order from the machine in the doorway first, and sit at the seat where the kind gentleman points at, while the sing-song ordering from the server to the chef and back to the server begins. The atmosphere is nothing special, a typical ramen restaurant where you sit at the bar close to everyone else, and yet somehow it feels special. The place was filled with locals only, and that is always good sign. *This restaurant is located in Ramen Alley right next to the Shinagawa station.
Sumatra Curry Kyoeido- "Our Sumatra curry exquisitely blends the spicy fragrance and pungent taste. We have received a reputation that if you eat once you become addictive." Quoted from their website, and after eating it I know that I could easily become addicted to this delicious and unique curry. This is an Indonesian curry that the Japanese have adapted to fit their tastes, and it's fantastic. The restaurant has a 70s decor, and even the servers have a quality that makes you feel like what it must have been like to eat out in the 70s. We got there towards the end of the shift, so we had to eat our food quickly, but they were kind enough to serve us. Make sure that when you are in Japan you remember that closing time is closing time. It's not the last time they serve it's that time they want you to, Get the Fuck Out! In the nicest way possible, of course, because everyone I met in Japan was super polite, but still just so you are prepared. *Located in Jimbocho, it's easy to pass up, make sure you walk downstairs.
7025 Franklin Ave- I know what you are thinking-A burger in Japan? Yes! This burger is worth sacrificing one of your authentic Japanese meals. It is made by a Japanese chef that lived in the states, tried his first burger from a grill by a pool in California, fell in love with the idea of the burger, and then he did what Japanese people do best; he studied the art of making a burger until at last he himself could make the perfect burger. Then he moved back to Japan, and opened up this restaurant about 20 years ago, and it has been thriving ever since. I had the burger with mushrooms and cheese, and I could feel the love that the chefs put in to making the food. Now, if you are a person coming from the States it might not be as important for you, because you can have perfect burgers all the time, but I am someone that lives in Spain right now, where they have not by any means perfected the burger, so for me it was a real treat. *It's near Shinagawa station where you take the train from to head to Kyoto, so it can be a good stop on your way there.
Sabouru Cafe- By this point in my trip, I am obsessed with kissaten, and this kissaten did not disappoint. Think kissaten meets tiki bar (they serve alcohol), and that is what you have with Sabouru. I might be here every day if I lived in Tokyo, but when you do go for the first time make sure you try their fresh strawberry juice, which is fabulous. They allow smoking inside, so be prepared for that if you are a non-smoker. Sabouru is an absolute dream of a place. *Located in Jimbocho.
Live Coffee Kimura- I was turned on to this cafe by a wonderful Japanese woman, Yuki, who now lives in New Orleans and owns N7, one of my favorite restaurants. The cafe in Tokyo is owned by her aunt, and let me just say that taste and good service certainly runs in the family. This is an old style cafe, perfect in it's design, where you can get a strong cup of coffee served by a delightful woman. I also recommend getting a snack to go along with your coffee or cappuccino. I was thrilled that I stopped off at this cafe.
C.O.D- This is a tiny bar with large windows that I just happened upon , because a place I was trying to check out was closed. It has a wonderful atmosphere, and I guess they serve hot dogs if you are in the mood for one. We just had a few drinks, and enjoyed our time here.
Bar Albatross- A tiny bar, located in Memory Lane aka Piss Alley, that is decorated like a 19th century bordello, in the best way. The bartender was super friendly, and when I ordered my sake he always overfilled it, which I later learned from the Japanese Times website about the overflow pour: "is generally referred to as “sosogi-koboshi.” That’s a noun cobbled together from the verbs “sosogu” (to pour) and “kobosu” (to spill over). It’s also sometimes called “mokkiri sake,” borrowed from a more general term for a single but generous serving of food or drink. There’s no special meaning or long tradition behind sosogi-koboshi, Hioki told me. It first became popular during the immediate postwar period, and was originally seen only in the drinking joints that sprang up under railway tracks and around stations in working-class neighborhoods during Japan’s period of high-economic growth. Gradually, and particularly in the last decade, the practice was picked up by a wider range of bars and restaurants, spreading with the increased popularity of drinking sake chilled rather than heated or at room temperature. Filling a glass until it overflows is just a form of service,” Hioki explained. It’s a gesture that makes the customer feel good because they think they’ve been given something extra."
It did make me feel good, but what made me feel better was the excellent service, and the fact that we grabbed a window seat in this tiny, tiny bar where we got to watch people walking down piss alley as we drank our delicious sake and shochu. *There are two other locations, and I can only vouch for this one, so make sure you check out the Piss Alley location, which is literally a tiny, almost hidden alley, so don't pass it up!
Golden Gai- If you are like me, you will feel like you must see Golden Gai, a small area in Shinjuku famous for its nightlife and artsy scene, but if you are truly like me, you will end up being extremely disappointed. I'm pretty certain you will have to see it for yourself, but I will still warn you that now it's just alleyways filled with tourists, and all of the bars charge a very high cover just to sit at the bar. It made me sad, because I'm sure it was once a really cool place.
If you still must go, check out Kenzos Bar, a bright light in the sadness of Golden Gai, what feels like a friendly musicians studio filled to the brim with leopard print. He will play you a fun video of his music, while you drink overpriced beer and attempt to talk to him in English. On my way out, a giant rat crossed my path, and I thought to myself, well that's my cue to leave Golden Gai forever.
SunnyHills Cake Shop- Taiwan's best pineapple cake served in an organic, calming atmosphere with a healthy side of fresh tea. I originally came here to see the design of the building, designed by Kengo Kuma with intricate timber lattice to look like a basket, but it ended up being a place of tranquility that I really enjoyed. It's set up like a tasting where you don't pay for anything unless you want to buy some cakes after your visit. I, of course, bought some of the fantastic cakes, which I loved. I enjoyed the entire experience.
I've already listed some shops in certain areas, but here are a few extras.
Shiseido Parlour- Founded in 1902, Shiseido Parlour, is a confectionary serving tasty, traditional sweets in wonderfully designed, old-fashioned packaging. If you fancy a drink during your visit they also have a bar, restaurant, and cafe on site. *Located in the upscale Ginza area where you can find many department stores, name brand shops, and other fancy stores.
Gekkoso- When I travel, I send people I love postcards, and Gekkoso, art store founded in 1917, has an entire wall filled with special, handmade postcards.
Itoya- People in Japan still write letters, and they still keep journals, and they still create art, which means that they have the most amazing stores for all of those things, and Itoya is one of them. It has floors and floors of anything you could want for your next art project, your next letter, or your next travel journal. They also have cute, random supplies like so many stores in Japan.
Unplan- A hip budget hotel with a welcoming English speaking staff. I chose the option of a private room ensuite, which was minimalist but clean, and totally functional. The neighborhood of Kagurazaka is cool with cafes, restaurants, and the metro all within a short walking distance from the hostel. My room also had a balcony with a view of Tokyo Tower.
I also stayed at an Airbnb during my stay, and I didn't like it very much. My tip would be to make certain that you are in the neighborhood you want to be in for what you want to see most, because Tokyo is like London, in that it can take you quite a bit of time to get from one neighborhood to the next. I also wasn't happy with my Airbnb, because I later learned that it was owned by a company and not a person so it was very sterile and had zero personality. It also had the worst toilet I had in Japan, which was sad, because the toilets are normally awesome in Japan! Even at hostels. My point is to be very choosy when you pick an Airbnb if you go that route.
Make sure you get a Pasmo Card. It's basically a card that you add money on, and then you can use it on all of the metros, so that you don't have to buy a new ticket each time, which believe me is a pain. You can buy it at any of the machines at the metro or train station. It's super easy, and it makes your life so much better! But remember that it is like having cash on a card so make sure you don't lose it. You can also use it at most vending machines in Japan.
Make sure you get a SIM card or Pocket wifi. You don't need to book it in advance, because it is super easy to get at the airport. Right when you arrive at the airport you go downstairs and there are tons of legit shops selling SIM cards for your phone. It's super easy and a lifesaver. You are going to need your map all the time in Japan! It can be tricky getting around, figuring out where you are, and what train to catch. Almost everyone has a pocket wifi or something similar in Japan, so even finding wifi at cafes can sometimes be difficult, so I repeat get a SIM card or Pocket Wifi upon arrival!
7-Eleven- 7-Eleven is actually your friend in Japan. This is where you get cash! Very important to know that many "normal" ATMS in Japan will reject your card, but at 7-Eleven it accepts it and gives you all the YEN you desire for the best shopping of your life. Good news is that 7-Elevens are EVERYWHERE! There is one right when you get to the airport.
Levis & Uniqlo- Many of the stores like Levis & Uniqlo offer tailoring and embroidery/patch application in store! So make sure you bring a pair of jeans or most likely buy a pair of jeans in Tokyo, because you can then personalize whatever you buy. It really is such a magical place.
Flight- Look out the window when you are landing you can see Mt. Fuji, and it's so cool to see as you arrive in Tokyo for the first time. You can see it on your train ride to Kyoto too.
Shibuya Crossing-When/if you do Shibuya Crossing there is a Starbucks right at the intersection that you can get a small cup of coffee (they only allow one size), and sit and people watch (especially people taking selfies and doing funny things at the crossing). It's very entertaining.
Aka Tako- I tend to like to consume all things about a country before I visit through reading books, listening to music, watching movies, and shopping for rare items in an attempt to prepare myself. Here is a fun site where you can shop for curiosity items and Japanese erotic art before you ever even step foot on Japanese soil, or when you get back and you are super depressed at the very thought of no longer being in Japan. This is a great store to remind you of the strangeness and awesomeness of Japan.
"Kafka on the Shore" by Murakami- I started reading this book on my flight to Tokyo and after traveling for 2 1/2 weeks through Japan I finished it in Tokyo, and I must say that it was the most perfect book to read while visiting Japan. I loved the book, and I loved it even more because I was reading it while experiencing the culture.
Yellow Magic Orchestra- I can't think of a better band to listen to than Yellow Magic Orchestra before, during, and after your visit to Japan.