Tokyo, Tokyo… Oh my god. Where do I even begin? You guys can witness my traveling experiences all the time through social media but the fact is, I am very much used to business trips which trust me differ completely from leisure trips. When you travel with a brand for a project, every minute of your stay is scheduled and rythmed by activities evolving around a certain project. If you get lucky, you’ll have one or two afternoons off to rush out and hit some of the spots you’ve been wanting to go to but most of it is not much of you to decide. Don’t get me wrong, traveling for projects has been extremely inspiring and fun. Most of the time the activities h
ave been recommended by someone local and it’s always the most beautiful hotels and restaurants. But the trips are usually very short and not necessarily immersive into the actual culture of the city.
When I first opened my blog, Tokyo was my first ever big blog related trip. It was for the Vogue fashion night out and James and I thought we were dreaming. At the time, my experience of traveling without my parents was very little, if not almost inexistent. Yet all of a sudden there I was, surfing the streets of japan trying to document each and every little detail coming across. Our first stay in Tokyo only lasted 4 days and 3 nights, which makes it an unbelievably short stay for a city of such density. Plus we made the huge mistake of napping once we got to our hotel from the airport, the jet lag from Europe being brutal. And so, 15 minute ended up being 6 hours as we woke up in the middle of the night at 3am and had missed a full day of exploration.
Our second trip to Japan with Fay was even shorter, two nights only and 3 days completely dedicated to our activities with the brand. We still had the chance to sneak in a little sushi stop, but other than that, we didn’t have much time to blend into the Japanese culture. Our fascination for Japan though had remained. With the growth of the streetwear scene and rise of interest and visibility for small Japanese concept brands, Tokyo had always been a city I’ve been dying to explore for it’s fashion appeal. But not only that. It’s one of the most diversified places in the whole world, so culturally rich and so intense. They seem to be ten steps ahead in so many fields. So one day as we were planning our next couple of months, Fiona, James and I decided that once Paris fashion week was over, we were gonna hit it off and head to Tokyo for a full on experience of the city.
So of course, the first thing I did is research all of Tokyo’s must dos. And there are many. This took me about a week as I tried to gather as much information as possible, varying from fashion to food, to temples, night clubs, bars, beauty stops… And the list goes on. Believe me, you definitely want to make sure you do that because there’s SO much to do. If you don’t want to feel completely overwhelmed or feel like you might have missed on something, which you inevitably will because it’s impossible to see and do everything, you’ll need at least a few check points. The beauty of the city is definitely to get absorbed by it, walk around and get lost to find cute little shops and restaurants. And please save enough time to do that, don’t over plan everything otherwise you’ll miss on the beauty of spontaneously experiencing Tokyo which actually might be my favorite part of it. You want to make sure you visit all the different areas and avoid the tacky, overpriced, touristy things that will take away from the charm of your experience. I am so excited to share with you this Tokyo guide inspired by our experience in the city during this fall 2016. It is definitely a place where I’d like to go back each year at least to get my fix up whether it’s fashion, food, beauty or simply the vibe which is so tremendously inspiring. You’ll fall in love instantly and re-discover yourself like you never have before. Are you ready? Ok, let’s go.
1. The Stay
Number one thing to keep in mind when coming to Tokyo, if you’re looking for a comfortable, luxury oriented stay are the prices being quite extremely high. So, if you’re looking for a budget friendly experience, I’d definitely recommend finding a cozy Japanese style Air Bnb which will make you feel like you’re an actual local for a few days. Make sure to get your Air BnB in a cozy neighborhood as you’ll probably want some rest after the intense days of walking around you’ll experience. Also make sure to get something close to a subway station as you’ll want to get a Suica card as soon as you get to Tokyo. You’ll find out quick enough that taxis are quite expensive in Tokyo too and not always convenient. Although Uber exists, it is not as quick and efficient either as it is in New York, L.A or Paris. Uber X doesn’t even exist and it’ll take 15min more or less for your driver to pick you up. I recommend grabbing an Uber from the airport to your hotel/apartment only and enjoying the rest of the stay using the subway lines which are so good and quick. You can get the Suica card for about 10 dollars (1000 yen) at any main subway stations in Tokyo to be able to use all the lines freely. Definitely don’t forget to explore the subway stations when you’re taking a metro because some of them like the Tokyo station, Shinjuku or Shibuya ones have the most amazing little shops and even restaurants that are worth investigating.
For those of you who want a more elevated experience of Tokyo, during this trip we had the opportunity to enjoy a few stays in various hotels across the city, from Shibuya (The Cerulean Tower Hotel), Shinjuku (The Park Hyatt hotel) and Ginza (The Peninsula). All of them offered comfort and great service. My personal favorite was definitely the Peninsula for it’s modern design, in-cre-dible beds (you literally won’t be able to get out of bed I promise), delicious room service, stunning spa and above all, sweetest staff who will make sure your stay is extra special from the moment you set your foot on the hotel property and until you’re in your car on your way back to the airport. They are so warm, cheerful and sweet that this by it self was enough for me to love this hotel so much.
For a more Japanese oriented luxury hotel experience in Tokyo, I would definitely recommend the HOSHINOYA hotel which I haven’t had the chance to stay at but wanted to so bad. You have to make sure to make a reservation early on though as it is a highly in demand hotel with the most gorgeous Japanese inspired interiors and food.
The advantage of staying at a hotel is to benefit of concierge service which you’ll notice to be quite helpful as most of luxury hotel’s services have insider recommendations and priorities for reservations in certain restaurants. Also making a reservation yourself can be quite complicated as many places don’t really speak english. Once you arrive to your hotel, you’ll want to make sure to call your concierge to make a few reservations. There are a few places that you’ll need an early on booking as you’ll see they get fully booked very quickly. Trust me, we’ve experienced that and there’s nothing more frustrating when you’re in town for only a few days and can’t make one of your top “to do” spots happen. Don’t over book your schedule though, you definitely want to make sure to leave lots of room for spontaneous discoveries.
Last but not least, during your whole stay, make sure to always have cash on you as many places in Tokyo won’t accept cards. The easiest way to get cash is simply by stopping at a Seven Eleven which are literally located on every street corner. Some ATMS in Tokyo will only take Japanese/Chinese credit cards, but the Seven Elevens usually always have an international option.
Food in Tokyo is a curious affair. It can be either SOOO good, or so deceiving and over priced. It’s honestly all a matter of luck. If you’re not friends with any locals or know people who can indicate you which places to go to, it can be very easy to hit or miss. During this trip we had our up and downs. It’s not because you go to a fancy restaurant that you’ll have a good culinary experience and seeking restaurants in the street is honestly a matter of stumbling upon a good one. So definitely ask your concierge for recommendations, they always have good tips for what’s around.
If you have a preconception that Japanese food is all about sushis, then you are wrong. Also, if you think that all they do is drink matcha green tea, wrong again. When you arrive at the airport, stock up on matcha Kit Kats (you need to try the matcha sakura ones, they’re even better) because surprisingly enough, you won’t be able to find any in the city itself (only big jumbo packs but no individual tablets like the ones at the airport). More on matcha later though (if that’s your must, then skip to n°7 as we talk about Kyoto).
Japanese people actually eat very diversified food, like we do in Europe or America. For example, you’ll be surprised to see the amount of french restaurants and confiseries around the city. They absolutely love french deserts and everything that’s creamy or milky. So for sweet lovers, this’ll be your heaven. Many french pastry chefs actually have their own boutiques in Tokyo and create special deserts for the Tokyo market. For example Pierre Marcolini’s flagship in Tokyo is full of exclusive goods. Worth a visit. If you want a good Japanese confiserie I would recommend enjoying some tea rituals across the city. One of the most popular ones is Toraya, a tea and Japanese desert stop which actually also just opened in Paris. I also recommend Higashiya for a modern traditional Japanese tea ritual located on the 2nd floor of a shopping center in Ginza. It can be tricky to find, but it is a peace heaven in the middle of the city.
Here are a few restaurant names we’ve tried and approved :
One of our favorite things to do after dinner was to get snacks at 7/11’s, Lawsons or Family Marts that were on our way back to the hotel. And trust me, they are literally everywhere. Because I have this crazy obsession for matcha, I’ve been trying out all their matcha goodies, ice creams, pocky’s, chocolate… Everything is good. I highly recommend the now matcha ice cream and the Haagen Daz matcha ice cream sandwich which are only available in Japan and are so yummy.
Regarding street restaurants, it’s truly a hit or miss. But best chances are that it’ll be a hit if you develop a good radar because honestly the tiny little restaurants you’ll see everywhere are usually the ones that are family owned and that have the best food, by far better than anything fancy and usually they are super cheap too. Often little street restaurants can be very touristy depending on the ones you pick. You’ll notice that many Japanese folks eat at regular, not necessarily Japanese looking places. We noticed that the most crowded places were european restaurants. When you walk around and try to pick random street restaurants take a peak inside to see what the crowd looks like, take a look at the dishes before agreeing to sit down and don’t feel bad if you aren’t feeling it and decide to just leave. If you don’t have a lot of time in Tokyo, it definitely isn’t worth loosing time on a poor food experience. Most of the good, typical places, won’t have menus in english but if you’re lucky they will have pictures of the dishes which ends up being super practical. If you have any dietary restrictions such as gluten, lactose, or are vegan or vegetarian, make sure to learn how to say it in Japanese otherwise it might be challenging.
If you’re up for it, try a full day of just pure Japanese street food snacking without actually sitting down to eat. You’ll see the city offers so many quick and delicious options to snack along the way. You’ll be able to save up some time, try more food and save up some money. Don’t miss on Japan’s famous crêpes too! They are nothing like the french crêpes. They can vary from sweet to savory, although sweet ones are most common, filled with fruits and whipped cream and rolled into a cone so you don’t need no fork or knife while eating them. The Santa Monica ones might be the best and most popular ones. Don’t let the queue scare you off, it usually doesn’t take that long even if there are 20 people lined up. These fellas know how to make their crêpes in just a few seconds.
Before anything, when you come to Tokyo make sure to leave loots of room for new finds in your suitcase (or just get a new one) because Tokyo is literally shopping heaven. They are most definitely ten steps ahead of us when it comes to the style game. If you’re scared of dressing up, don’t be in Tokyo. You can wear the craziest outfit and no one will pay particular attention as they are so used to absolutely crazy personal styles. People watching in Tokyo is the most fascinating thing. Just head over to Harajuku and sit down somewhere to watch some Harajuku girls walk by. You’ll feel quite plain after witnessing the level of detailing in their way of dressing up. One thing I’ve particularly noticed is the excellence of menswear. Japanese guys really know how to dress like nowhere else. Brands like Off White, Undercover or Supreme are staples in the closets of hype Japanese dudes and they all have the dopest, most exclusive sneakers on their feet, collaborations between Adidas and Yoshi Yamamoto or Issey Miyake… the list goes on. Tokyo is the dream place for a fashion treasure hunt. If you want to bring back the dopest pieces, I definitely recommend stopping by several menswear shops. You’ll notice the tendency of unisex clothing and how girls also wear pieces from menswear collections. Get your hands on some sick caps, sweaters, bomber jackets, sunglasses, leather jackets. If you like street brands and artist’s merchandizing you’ll find yourself in heaven.
On the other hand the Kawaii, Harajuku style is definitely predominant in the womenswear style with lots of cute, girly things. You can go real crazy if you’re up for it. We’re talking pink velvet, mesh everything, glitters, bows, heart printed tights, pastel hats, tons of jewelry (like you’ve never seen before), backpacks, iPhone cases and the craziest sunglasses. Tokyo is the place to let your inner Lady Gaga out if you have any fashion fantasies. Think of the craziest thing you’d like to find and you’ll probably find it there.
Now be careful when shopping because you’ll notice that from store to store many sell somewhat the same type of pieces. If you go into tiny shady boutiques or vintage shops, the prices can really vary. The nicest the store looks, the more pricey it tends to get. But the products tend to be the same. Honestly, go for the shadiest boutiques, you’ll find real treasures for less than half the price and everyone will ask you where you got it.
Here are a few must do stops.
Rankin : One of my favorite vintage stops in Tokyo, they have several locations but my favorite one is in Shibuya. It’s a menswear store but they have the sickest, rarest finds. Think dope Saint Laurent jackets, Gucci blazers, Supreme rare sweaters and hats, Off White shirts and jackets, rare Vêtements hoodies. The prices are super high though because of their selection. Their buyers are probably the shit and manage to find the rarest items. This is a good stop if you want to bring back something really cool and exclusive. Sadly they don’t have many Japanese brands but around this area, you’ll be able to find lots of small Japanese concept stores with incredible pieces (all of them again quite pricey in this area but worth a stop).
Park-Ing : An absolutely sick store located in the parking of the Sony Building in Ginza that just recently opened. It’s a great concept store with many cool niche street brands and also an amazing record store with sick vinyls and old vintage magazines. There, you’ll be able to get your hands on some pretty dope sounds and maybe even discover some new artists. As a huge fan of David Lynch, I found the dopest disk with all the soundtracks of his movies and a magazine with an exclusive interview of Isabella Rossellini regarding Blue Velvet. Gem material.
Takeshita-dori Street / Omotesando : It’s hard to name just one or two great stores in Harajuku because they are all absolutely insane. The Takeshita street is definitely a must do in terms of shopping experience in Tokyo. I highly recommend not going there on a weekend (which we did) because the crowds are extremely overwhelming. I rarely experienced this amount of people rushing from one shop to another in such a tiny narrow street. You’ll want to get into every single shop and so you should because each one carries treasure finds, the dopest accessories and sickest sweaters, definitely designer worthy. There might be a point where you won’t be able to handle it anymore. But don’t loose your patience, keep going until you exit the street and continue your way straight up to the Omotesando area where there are fewer tourists, amazing shops, great concept stores and tiny little beauty stops. The prices there are higher than Takeshita, but you’ll be able to find more valuable, quality pieces as well.
Ginza: Make sure to explore properly the Ginza area which is full of tiny shops and hidden boutiques. When you see weird, shady looking shopping centers with many Japanese folks rushing through, don’t question it. Just go in. Follow the crowd, blend in, and you’ll usually find the most insane shops. Tokyo is full of department stores but the best ones aren’t the ones that carry all the brands that we have in Europe or America. It’s the ones with the weird shady brands and a crazy accumulation of products and choices. Another tip : always make sure to look up. Yes up, like in the air. Why? Well because you might think good boutiques are on a street level, but they’re not necessarily. Each shopping center indicates on the ground floor the shops they have on the various floors of the building. If there’s a certain place on your to do list that you can’t find, it’s probably located somewhere on a higher level in the building. Make a stop at the Sanrio World boutique where you’ll find the most insane Swarovski covered Hello Kitty iPhone cases (careful, prices go up to 500$) or head to Ginza Sembikiya to buy a melon that costs 140$… Yes you read correctly, 140$. It’s a special fruit shop that exists since 1894. All the staff team are wearing suits to serve you with the fanciest fruits ever. What is so special about them? The fact that each fruit has been meticulously grown, it won’t have a single bump, pesticide, with a perfect shape and color. They sell grapes for 14$ and these are the biggest, juiciest grapes I’ve ever seen in my life, packaged in individual Tiffany baby blue gift boxes. A must see. Head to the Tokyu Plaza for a Bon Marché like experience, where you’ll see cool Japanese folks getting their fashion fix with the cutest Japanese brands, amazing iPhone Covers and a great food market floor.
Tokyu Hands : No matter what, you can’t leave Tokyo without going to Tokyu hands. It is the wildest, most amazing department store ever. They have several locations across Tokyo and you’ll be able to get your hands on some of the sickest goodies that’ll make you wonder why we don’t have that in Europe or America. It’s 8 floors of pure magic. From make up with an enormous selection of Japanese brands, to a floor with thousands of pens and stickers (literally a waaaall of stickers, I got so crazy at that point) and electronic devices, iPhone cases, chargers, envelopes, notebooks. I mean, everything. You should stop there on the first or second day of your trip because many things you’ll find there will be cheaper that the rest of the shops you’ll see on your way in the followin
g days. It’s like molding 20 shops together. If you’re into customizing your clothing or like to create your own home made beauty products, you’ll be able to find everything for it, metal pieces, containers, empty bottles with golden, silver, transparent caps, beads, ribbons, paper.
Oh and don’t miss Kiddy Land to get your fill up on Japanese character toys and kawai goodies. I wanted to find cool Mangas during the whole stay but of course, they are only available in Japanese and it wouldn’t be as authentic to get the translated versions. You can however find some in random seven eleven’s or family mart’s.
Tokyo definitely got it’s hands on the beauty game and that’s a fact. If Korea is well known for it’s incredible beauty products, Japan for sure deserves some recognition too. Anything labeled made in Japan represents for me now a level of perfection in terms of manufacturing. Japanese people are extremely precise. You can get the cheapest eye liner form a drug store and it’ll still be the most precise tip you’ve ever had. Not to mention all the life goods shops that cary the tinniest q-tips (trust me, you’ll need to get your hands on the ones with the extra pointy tip to fix the occasional eye liner fails without wiping everything off or to fix little nail polish imperfections, one of my best buys), face razor blades (to have extra soft skin, Japanese girls often get rid of their facial baby hair), amazing make-up sponges, the largest diversity of travel bottles and containers and so on… At Tokyu Hands, the offering of make up products is definitely on the next level, so make sure to stop there first things first. You’ll also want to stop at pharmacies and even Lawson’s or Seven Eleven’s to get some small random beauty items. Don’t miss Demo, Cosme Kitchen (organic skin care and make-up products, with a healthy juice bar most of the time) and Etude House to fill up on products.
To me Japan is synonym of Nail Art. So of course, Fiona and I had to get some sort of crazy nail action going. I tried two different places with two completely different experiences. First thing you have to know : nail art in Japan is super expensive. I researched the thing meticulously and asked for recommendations and the prices were definitely higher than I expected. Worth it or not? I’d say yes for the experience. Plus, if you aren’t that much into dressing like a Japanese anime character, at least you can make your nails somewhat fantasy inspired, no? We tried Disco Nails for a crazy Japanese manicure. When you land in Tokyo, pick a day when you’d like to get your mani done and call them right away because it’s a tiny salon with only two seats. You’ll definitely want to have a reservation as there’s no walking in. Disco Nails specialize in nail art so if you want just a simple nail color and hand care treatment, it’s not the right place for you. The two girls who work there are real nail artists and can create a pure work of art on your nails. Think big, it can be a print, studs, symbols with mini metallic parts, holographic effects… Honestly anything you want. Expect at least 2 hours of work and minimum 100$ for the whole process. While you get your mani, you’ll be able to sip on tea and watch Sex & The City. It can hardly get any better after a super long day of walking around.
I then tried UKA Omotesando for a pedicure which I would highly recommend because the experience is extremely soothing and I don’t think you could get something like that anywhere else than Japan. The Uka pedicure ritual is very representative of the perfectionism of Japanese culture as it’s extremely precise and meticulous. It’s definitely an elevated luxury nail salon but with a pure, minimalistic approach and nothing over the top. The whole salon is white with transparencies and the only thing that separates it from the street is Japanese paper on glass, creating a very serene ambiance. Their nail polish selection is beyond impressive with several Japanese brands (I love the brand Three), Nars, Chanel, Dior, the newest Saint Laurent shades, O.P.I, Givenchy… They have salons all over Tokyo, some of them actually offering massages and facials too. The Omotesando salon is definitely the coziest one and specializes in mani-pedis but also eye lash extensions, neck massages and ear reflexology. Their pedicure is absolute heaven and trust me, you’ll 100% end up with baby feet. I get pedis quite often but my feet have never been softer than this. I don’t know what exactly they use, but it works. They definitely take a bit of time for the whole process (expect around an hour and a half), you might even melt into a nap but you’ll wake up with barbie feet. Before leaving, make sure to get their famous Uka nail oil which is now being exported all over the world. It’s their signature and comes in various delicious scents.
A few must buys of Japanese beauty now. Definitely get your hands on the baby Foot peel. I know it sounds weird but the company has won prices for how good their product is. It’s basically socks filled with some sort of cream that you put on and that’ll make your feet… peal, removing all your dead skins and leaving your feet soft like a peach. I know it sounds gross but trust me, it’s magic and you can only get it in Tokyo. Also, try their Lulu face masks, they come in packs for 7 days and are heaven when it comes to plumping, lifting and rejuvenating the skin. You can use it everyday as a moisturizing supplement before your night cream or just by itself before going to bed (keep it over night), in the morning to wake up, or from time to time for an extra boost.
As for a proper luxury spa experience, head to the Peninsula for the real deal. Honestly, it’s worth your time and money because the level of attention and quality is something I’ve rarely experienced in any other luxury hotel. I tried their signature Peninsula Massage which lasts for about 2 hours and is composed of several rituals, a foot bath, body brushing, a Japanese stretch, hot stones and then aromatherapy with oils chosen specifically depending on your needs, wether it’s to fight jet lag, detoxify, energize etc… The massage expert was so gentle, careful and attentive, with the kindest smile on her face throughout the whole experience. You really feel special and taken care of. There’s a beautiful feeling of really diving into the real art of their massage rituals. It is a wonderful experience that I couldn’t recommend more.
5. Extra Activities
While in Japan, there are several things you must do before leaving which are kind of out of category simply because, well, it’s hard to put them in a box as they are very much the definition of outside the box. We all know Japanese people are into some pretty wicked concepts, so if you really want to dive into the Tokyo culture, try these. First of all, head to a Cat Café or even an Owl Café. I recommend Mocha for cats, which is located in Shibuya. When you arrive you’ll need to remove your shoes and put on slippers. You can get yourself a warm latté or matcha, wear cat ear headbands which are at your disposal if you’re in the mood, work on your computer or read mangas while hanging out with well, tons of… cats. Kind of a weird dream come true. Hawkeye is an owl café which I haven’t been to due to a lack of time but that was recommended to me.
While exploring Shibuya you have to stop by Purikura no Mecca to try one of their Kawaii Photo Booth salons. It is the craziest thing ever. Make sure to have coins with you as you’ll need them to use the machines. You can’t go there by yourself as it’s supposed to be an experience to enjoy with a friend or two. You can even borrow costumes to truly get into the mood. Basically you have several photo booths with different themes and customization options. You step into it and it actually feels like a mini photo studio with an interactive screen and green background that can change into any delirious background you want afterwards in the customization part. You receive tips on how to pose like a proper Harajuku girl and once the images are taken, you’ll need to go into another booth to edit the pictures. When I say edit, I mean you can pretty much turn the image into an anime strip by making your eyes huge, changing your eye color, lip color, get eye lash extensions, add cat ears to your head, put hearts, cookies, stars, Japanese signs all around the picture and more… Your friend can even customize her own self too as there are two touchable screens for this part so that you both have something to edit at the same time. They really thought the whole thing through.
You can’t leave Japan without having tried their game arcades which are basically these huge gaming areas where you can play the weirdest games. For a full experience, head to Akihabara which is a tech oriented area of Tokyo. You can find there the weirdest goodies, play games all day, and even find a robot café.
James, Fiona and I also decided to take one full day out of our stay to head to Disney Land Tokyo which was definitely worth a trip. If you’re a lover of big roller coasters, this is not for you because most of the attractions are made for very young kids. We were pretty sure the park would be filled with tourists, but we were honestly the very little 1% of caucasians in there. Japanese people absolutely love Disney and their characters. So much that you can even find Snow White or Cinderella adult beauty products in any random drug store. Anyway, Disney Land Tokyo is very much the definition of Kawaii with Mickey shaped waffles, cute little roller coaster and toys. It’s a fun thing to do to diversify your trip. My main recommendation are :
1. Buy a speedy pass in advance, otherwise you’ll have to wait up to 1 hour for each attraction and you definitely don’t want that + it’s very hard to get one on the day off.
2. Don’t go during the week-end because it’ll be over packed and make sure to get there as early as the very opening because even if you go during the week, it’s still going to be jam packed. So if you want to have a few hours at least without having too many people in your way, you want to make sure to be amongst the firsts ones to enter the park
3. Make reservations if you want to try one of the restaurants. When we went, we were expecting to eat in one of their cute restaurants simply by picking one on the spot. Wrong and wrong. People book their Disney restaurants weeks in advance which is absolutely crazy, but they are super in demand as Disney characters walk around while you eat and all the food is Disney customized. So before you arrive in Tokyo, look it up and book a table. I’d definitely recommend doing that because the rest of the food offerings are all very much just pop corn, sweets, hot dogs and not very healthy or nutritious meals, especially if you’re not eating meat.
4. Don’t stay at the Disney Land resort. It’s way too expensive and you don’t need more than one day there to get it. Plus, Disney Land is super easy to access simply by taking the subway, so don’t let the one hour fare scare you off.
Back to the city. We haven’t discussed much about the temples which are staples in Tokyo. The reason is because we’ve saved the temples for our Kyoto trip (skip to n°7 to read more about it). Temples are definitely a must do. You can look them up and try the ones you like. Don’t forget to visit the Imperial Garden while you are in Tokyo itself, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place with great history. You might even want to pop in a little nap in their gigantic grass field. Absolute heaven.
Let’s not forget to mention that there are also so many museums worth stopping by. We went to the Watari contemporary art museum which was located along the Killer Dori street (amazing for shopping and tiny concept stores). What’s also so great about it is the amazing book shop that they have on the ground floor. You’ll find rare Japanese and international art books, magazines and even hand made jewelry with a little booth where you can even observe the jewelry being made. There’s also a coffee area where you can go during the day. Don’t forget to pay attention to the aquarium with the tv screen behind it, it looks like the fishes are swimming in a Tarantino movie.
6. Night life
Tokyo without a Karaoke experience is not really experiencing it properly. I can’t recommend one in specific as there are so many and all of them are so much fun. You want to make sure to go there with a bunch of friends after having drinks (pay attention to the plural use of drinks) somewhere before hand to be tipsy enough and really go for it. When you do Japanese Karaoke, you somehow need to give yourself to it. Try some sakes at any random little street bar or if you’re feeling like having a proper experience head to the Piano Bar around 11pm. The Piano bar is an absolutely delirious cocktail bar which you must try during your stay. It’s the size of a tiny closet with tiny stairs and a second floor just as small able to host maximum 10 guests and is located in what is called the Drinking Alley in Shibuya, which by the way is the sickest place ever. There you’ll find the tinniest, most narrow street ever that comes alive in the nighttime, with tons of little bars that also serve snacks. Don’t expect them to speak a word of english, the places get packed super quickly and make sure to have cash. The goal is to drink as much as possible. Every body ends up completely drunk by the end of the night and you’ll notice that Tokyo by night is a completely different city. From a bit of a stiffness during the day, Japanese people are all of a sudden delirious, wearing Dragon Ball Z costumes in the middle of the street and getting completely loose.
After a few drinks and a heated karaoke session, if you’re feeling like going out and dancing, there’s nothing like the Trump Room for a completely delirious experience. The whole interior looks very much like the Piano Bar, red velvet, golden chandeliers, but don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing fancy, it’s completely wicked and looks like it’s out of a David Lynch movie with a super twisted vibe. We went there for a Halloween night and the level of costume was out of this world. So if you’re feeling like sporting some of your best Harajuku finds, this is definitely the place to go absolutely fashion crazy.
Another great bar I’d recommend for a trippy non touristy experience is called Le Sang Des Poètes. Although the name is french, the actual owner is Japanese. It’s a little shoe box bar located on the top level of a random building on the Killer Dori street right after the Watari museum. The bar itself is so utterly freaky. If any of you guys have tried sleep no more in New York, it’s kind of the same vibe. It’s a black interior, tons of books, weird poems and only 2 mini couches in total to sit on. It can probably only fit 6 people but is definitely worth seeing as it looks like it’s out of a horror movie (in a good way though). The cocktails are exquisite, try their rum chai latte or Bloody Mary.
You might think Tokyo has so much to offer that there’s no need to go anywhere else. Very wrong. I enjoyed Kyoto just as much if not even a bit more than I enjoyed Tokyo itself. Kyoto is very much different. It’s much more traditional, less crowded and somewhat more spiritual. We took a bullet train from Tokyo to go there and stayed at the cutest little hotel near the train station called Sakura Gallery Terrace. It’s an adorable 3 star boutique hotel with honestly, by far, the best breakfast buffet, slaying most of the luxury hotel ones. Try their matcha french toasts and die. Because we spent so much money in Tokyo, we were kind of on a budget in Kyoto and didn’t want to do anything fancy, and honestly the Sakura hotel was a pure little gem, + really well located near the main train station. If you’d like though, Kyoto has an absolutely gorgeous Ritz Carlton hotel as well as a HOSHINOYA (I mentioned the Tokyo one in the n°1 Stay part) which I absolutely, highly recommend if you can afford it. It’s definitely super expensive and you have to book months in advance but you’ll make your trip to Kyoto truly unforgettable. To access the hotel you’ll have to take a tiny little boat through a river and the hotel itself seems like a Japanese serenity retreat with elevated traditional interiors and the most gorgeous restaurant which you can only access as a guest of the hotel or, if you book early enough in advance for dinner only.
Kyoto is very much the city of matcha. As soon as you arrive at the train station stock up on matcha goodies because the stuff you’ll get at the station is the best of it all with very good prices. This is why you’ll see tons of Japanese folks buying loads of boxes of matcha chocolates and other sweets. Kyoto is all about the Temples, we did 4 in total which were all absolutely amazing. On our first day we explored the Fushimi Inari Taisha temple which is known for it’s blood orange pillar pathway. Super iconic and breathtaking. You’ll notice that all temples are super touristy but definitely worth it.
While in Kyoto don’t even worry about booking restaurants because honestly, the street food is in-sane. After each temple, you’ll find lines and lines of little stands with matcha soft ice creams, rice cakes, fish sticks and everything so delicious. During your whole stay, make sure to have enough cash as all street food trucks or souvenir shops don’t accept cards and you’ll be so mad if you run out of money as there are very, very few ATMS around. Another temple which is a must do is the Kinkaku-ji temple also known as the Golden Temple. Go there early enough because the crowds can get quite overwhelming and don’t forget to buy some golden matcha powder. Yes you read correctly. It’s matcha powder with golden flakes in it, you can’t do more fab than that.
If you’re feeling like shopping which you should definitely experience in Kyoto, head over to the Shijo Dori street for cool shopping stops. Don’t miss the incredible Pontocho area which is a tiny narrow street FULL of the tiniest, most adorable little Japanese restaurants. Most of the best ones are hidden in perpendicular alleys and you’ll have to remove your shoes and sit on tatamis while eating the best Japanese food of your life. Try to pick restaurants on your right hand side to have a view of the Kamogawa river, reminding me of the Japanese version of La Seine in Paris and dividing Kyoto in two rives, very much à la française! Don’t forget to drink Sake. I forbid you to drink european wine during your whole stay. The Japanese sake is a pure work of art and you should try as many as possible to grow your knowledge of this delicious drink which is served in tiny little baby sip cups. After this you can cross the bridge and try another temple a little further up the street called Yasaka-jinja which is beautiful to wander around by night. There are very few chances you see a Geisha during your trip but if you have mon
ey to spend, you can actually book a whole ritual with a Geisha or two where they’ll serve you tea and practice some of their crafts just for you.
Another temple we tried is the Kiyomizudera which you’ll be able to access after going up the vivid Higashiyama street full of absolute shopping treasures. Save yourself at least 2 hours to properly explore this street and go in each shop because each one offers something different : from hand painted chop sticks, Japanese pottery and so many Japanese desert offerings… You’ll keep spending you money and snacking on so much food. The prices can go from reasonable to very expensive (up to 1’000$ for some hand painted Japanese porcelain) but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to get your hands on some real treasures. Again, don’t forget to get enough cash. Honestly. Because there are no ATMs and they don’t take credit cards at all. And trust me, you’ll want to purchase a thing or two as most of the items are things you can’t find anywhere else in the world but on this little street. Make sure to try their matcha langue de chat from the Okoicha boutique and also buy some little beauty goodies from the iconic, emblematic Yojiya shop which is one of the oldest, most reputable beauty brands from Kyoto. All their products are worth trying with the most exquisite craftsmanship and care of detail. The temple at the end of the street is absolutely magical with a little promenade in the forrest where you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view. Again, it’s super touristy, but don’t let it upset you. Once you’ve wrapped up the temple, take the parallel street and end your day with a few extra shops going down the hill. You’ll find cheaper but better pottery stops and a sake bar at the end called 336 which you’ll definitely want to try out.
This is without any doubt my longest city guide ever but it only shows how much I absolutely loved Tokyo with all my heart. It’s truly a city that never sleeps. You can just go on and on without ever taking a rest and you’ll barely notice your feet hurting because you spent your whole day walking around, loosing yourself in the endless possibilities the city has to offer. On a cultural level, you’ll definitely feel like you’re in a parallel universe but the kindness and perfectionism of Japanese people is so fascinating contagious. If you haven’t been to Tokyo, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s a trip that’ll definitely change you in the best way. If you go makes sure to stay for at least a week if not more (10 days is the perfect amount) and just allow the city to guide you through. Plan a few things ahead but let the city take you. There’s a sense of crazy freedom that you’ll experience there, that’ll inspire and empower you for the rest of your life. I hope this guide made you want to plan a trip right now because I am most definitely going back soon.
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