I'm Going to Tokyo...
Last week, Geotourist, a travel app company, asked me to put together a proposal for theme-based locations to visit in Tokyo.
Since I wrote it all out on spec, and always has friends who ask (and even more who don't, but should),I decided to share what I wrote with you here. If you have more recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments!
As on of the largest metropolis in the world, Tokyo is a city with every cuisine imaginable. To make the most out of your time in Japan, here are a few places for foodies, and casual adventure seekers:
Sukiyabashi Jiro: The rare and highly-coveted 3 Michelin-star rating has been awarded to this sushi bar, that was also the subject of a documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Then sitting-heads-of-state President Obama and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dined here. The Omakase (chef's tasting) menu is about $300 per person, for lunch or dinner. Alcohol is extra. As with any Michelin-starred restaurant, advanced reservations are a must.
The Lockup: This chain of fun Izakaya-dining has one location in Shinjuku. What makes this tapas-style restaurant memorable is the "haunted prison" theme! Waitresses, dressed in "sexy police officer" Halloween costumes, escort you to private tables decorated with fake prison bars. The tasty food and drinks have a "mad scientist" aspect to their presentation, and occasionally the power goes out, leading to murderers and monsters escaping from their cells and possibly visiting yours! It is a perfect place to go with friends, reservations are usually not necessary, and everything is very photogenic!
Spring Valley Brewery:This microbrewery in Shibuya's upscale neighborhood of Daikanyama offers a selection of foreign and domestic craft beer, including several brewed on-premise. The two floors and patio dining, offer charcuterie boards, as well as gourmet pub fair, such as burgers, steaks, fish and chips, individual pizzas, and salads.
Japanese culture has been influencing the world of fashion since the days of Monet and Van Gogh. Tokyo, like NYC in America, has long been at the forefront of fashion trends and accessories, attracting the best and brightest in the country, and creating a shopper's Mecca.
Takeshita Street: This is the famous garment district in Harajuku -- the Shibuya neighborhood whose name has become synonymous with the bleeding edge of young adult fashion. This is a fun place to stop in at a Kimono store, where you can pay for several hours to rent a kimono - elaborate, multi-layered, traditional Japanese clothing, that requires special training to dress into (the staff will help you put it on).
Don Quijote: For the quintessential Japanese shopping experience, no trip is complete without stopping into one of the hundreds of Don Quijote, located throughout Japan. These massive, multi-story eclectic stores offer the lowest prices available on everything from jewelry, electronics, makeup, clothing, and snacks. But perhaps one of the best thing they are known for in terms of fashion and cultural impact, are the one-piece pajama jumpsuits they offer in different animals and characters, such as Care Bears, Pikachu, and other famous, Japanese, cartoon figures. Even if you don't want to buy anything, these stores are fun just to look around!
Maker's Shirt Kamakura: For men's dress clothes, visit one of the 6 locations spread across Tokyo. Kamakura is an internationally recognized designer label, and their stores offer the finest off-the-rack dress shirts in the latest fashion, as well as in-store tailoring, and individual attention. Their clothing is not just high quality, they actually invented their own high-compression technology for one-of-kind manufacturing, and designers constantly work to rotate in new colors, patterns, and cuts, to make the shirts you buy more unique and distinguished.
SHIBUYA109 (Ichi Maru Kyu): An iconic cylindrical building designed to house small clothing stores and create a "fashion community". Mainly geared toward 20 - 40 year old women, who can spend all day in this multi-floored fashion mall. It is located a short walk from Shibuya Station, where it is easily visible from the iconic "Scramble" street-crossing intersection, and is often used itself as a landmark for meeting people. The surrounding area is also full of shoe stores, department stores, electronics and consumer goods stores, as well as other small clothing shops.
"Only In Japan"
The news loves to highlight crazy, one-off stories of some eccentric person in Japan letting their freaky side out, and to hear it, you would think the entire country is some anime toon-town with giant robot sculptures and previously-worn underwear vending machines for perverts. In reality, most everyone who visits will find fun or bizarre things that make them laugh and scratch their head in confusion, but it is never for those things you expect. Literally 99% of the country consists of decent people living similar lives to any other developed country, and most commuting to 9 - 5 jobs (plus lots of overtime), and catching up with friends and family in the evening and on weekends. That is not to say things don't get crazy. Here are some solid spots, you can always count on to inspire awe and disbelief:
Metal Bar GODZ: Do they speak English? No. Do they love Heavy Metal? HELL YES. Located in the heart of Tokyo's red-light district (read: leave the kids at home), this bar is devoted to all things heavy metal. You don't need to waste any yen on a jukebox, the walls are stacked tall with every heavy metal record ever, and while you're at the bar ordering a drink, if you can name the artist and song, they will put it on for you. This is an unexpected alcove for those who pray to the gods of Rock (and just a fun place to check out, for the rest of us)!
Robot Restaurant: Just a block away, and deep underground is this cultural eye-gasm of a dinner-theater. Cute, bedazzled-bikini-clad young woman actually do pilot giant robots, pound Taiko drums, and "defend the forest" against evil monsters, robots and scientists with -- what else? -- more, remote controlled robots. Save about $5 by booking online and pick up your convenience store-quality (optional) bento dinners across the street at the sign in counter. Drinks can be purchased inside, and are surprisingly, not overpriced. The whole night might cost you around $100, but it is absolutely, positively WORTH IT. Anthony Bourdain called this, "The greatest show in the history of entertainment".
Owl Cafe: That's not just a name. This is just one of several cafes and bars in Tokyo, that allow you to pay for the luxury of enjoying an owl's company while you sip drinks and admire their majesty. This is based on the previous, and still popular concept of a Cat Cafe, which has since spread internationally.
The Ghibli Museum: An absolute must for any Hayao Miyazaki fan. It is a shrine to all of the lovable character from his films, including My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle. This isn't funky and in fact very family friendly, but you can only see this: in Japan.
Kaminari-mon (Lightning Gate): This might sound strange, but I have a "favorite Buddhist temple", in Tokyo: Sensoji, in Asakusa. At the southern entrance is a gorgeous and massive, red lantern with the character for Lightning, flanked on either side by intimidating statues of Bodhisattva, standing guard. Cheerful young men in old-timey rickshaw outfits offer to take you on a loop around the temple, or, passing under the lantern and through the gate, you can walk toward the temple. The few blocks you have to walk are lined with stalls selling souvenirs, children's toys, shoes, and even vintage leather jackets! It is a very intimate space that will make you forget you're in a big, modern city, and transport you back in time to an older Japan.