The Perfect Weekend in Tokyo
Three days in Tokyo offers just enough time to give you a taste of the city’s range. Explore the Nezu Museum, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, and the Meiji Shrine to immerse yourself in Japanese history, art, and culture. Start one of your days early with a tuna auction at the Toyosu Market--formerly the Tsukiji Fish Market--before heading off do some shopping, head to the top of Roppongi Hills for a view of the city, or to taste your way around the world--without leaving Tokyo.
7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 106-8558, Japan
For some travelers, what comes to mind first when they think of Japan is tales of samurai and shoguns, centuries-old temples, and the tea ceremony and kabuki. For others, however, what makes the country most exciting is its contemporary art, fashion, and architecture. The National Art Center should be at the top of the list for anyone with an affinity for the latter. Designed by one of Japan‘s most interesting contemporary architects, Kisho Kurokawa, it is among the country’s largest exhibition spaces. There’s no permanent collection, but temporary exhibitions cover a variety of mediums and topics—photography, manga and anime, architecture, and fashion, among others. The exhibitions aren’t always limited to works by Japanese creators, with international museums lending pieces as well. If you are looking for gifts to take back home, the Souvenir from Tokyo shop in the basement has a delightful selection of Japanese products, both whimsical and elegant.
6-chōme-11-1 Roppongi, Minato City, Tōkyō-to 106-0032, Japan
In recent years the construction of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and Tokyo Midtown has made Roppongi a high end shopping destination. Tokyo Midtown and Mori Tower combine art and fashion. Tokyo Midtown tauts stores like Pleats Please Issey Miyake, Boss Orange and museums including 21_21 Design Sight and The Suntory Museum of Art. While Mori Tower has The Mori Art Museum, and designer shops including Alexander McQueen, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Kate Spade. Both complexes have a rich assortment of traditional Japanese restaurants and global cuisine. Sukiyabashi Jiro Sushi is the Roppongi Hills sushi restaurant run by the son of Takashi Jiro, Tokyo‘s famous sushi chef featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
6-chōme-5-1 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tōkyō-to 107-0062, Japan
Just down the street from fashionable Omotesando is the Nezu Museum, with an exquisite Japanese garden. Architect Kengo Kuma’s touches include a warm welcome with a bamboo wall at the entrance and rooms with picturesque views of the garden. The museum’s renowned permanent collection comprises a vast selection of Japanese and Asian pieces, including lacquerware, calligraphy, sculptures, and paintings. The Nezu Café has three walls of windows to enjoy the garden over a light meal, coffee and cake, or matcha and traditional wagashi sweets.
Far above the city streets on the 52nd and 53rd floors of the Roppongi Hills building, the Mori Art Museum houses contemporary works by primarily Japanese and East Asian artists in a range of mediums, including photography, design, fashion, architecture, and video installations. There’s also an observation deck on the 52nd floor with an open-air Sky Deck, a lounge, a café, and a restaurant with outstanding views of the city. Keep in mind, though, that there are a myriad other dining options as well on the lower floors of the Roppongi Hills building, one of the tallest in the city.
1-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-8557, Japan
The serenity of the Meiji Jingu Shrine is a notable contrast to the crowds of Harajuku hipsters just beyond the giant torii gates. The Shinto shrine complex, which was dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken in 1920, is inside a forest that shuts out the noise and energy of the city. This temple is a popular site for celebratory events such as weddings and children’s festivals, so chances are good that visitors will happen upon families dressed up in traditional kimonos.
Japan, 〒103-0022 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Nihonbashimuromachi, 2 Chome−2−１ コレド室町 １F
The historic Kiya shop specializing in cutlery has been in the Nihonbashi district since 1792. Come here for Japanese knives and traditional Japanese kitchenware, including donabe for cooking rice and hot pots, copper graters, and mortar and pestles. There are wooden boxes for making pressed sushi and wooden cutting boards that are gentle on the Japanese knives. Staff are friendly and helpful, guiding customers to the right knife or utensil. Beyond cutlery, Kiya also has other cutting tools that are worth checking out, including nail clippers, shaving gear, pruning shears, and scissors.
Japan, 〒150-0033 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Sarugakucho, 17−５ ＤＡＩＫＡＮＹＡＭＡ Ｔ－ＳＩＴＥ蔦屋書店 １号館、３号館、２号館１階
A short walk from Daikanyama Station is one of the metropolis’s iconic bookstores, Tsutaya at T-Site. Designed by Klein Dytham Architecture, the Tsutaya bookstore is celebrated not only for the beauty of its three buildings but also for the extensive selection of books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Tsutaya opens at 7 a.m., perfect for travelers who land before hotel check-in. You can have a coffee or a cocktail in the Anjin Lounge while perusing books. The concierges are specialists in a variety of topics to help guide consumers through the books, music, and movies.
The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a gorgeous park that’s just a short walk from Shinjuku Station. There are several gardens within the space, including a formal French one, an English landscape garden, and a traditional Japanese design. While the admission fee is nominal (about $2), it helps assure that it is surprisingly quiet, with fewer visitors than parks open to the public for free. If the weather is good, consider picking up a bento from nearby Takashimaya’s depachika. Convenience stores sell plastic “blue sheets” for impromptu picnics. The only downside to this park is that it is alcohol-free; if you want to drink sake at your picnic, head down the road to Yoyogi Park.
Japan, 〒151-8580 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya, 5 Chome−24−２ タカシマヤタイムズスクエア南館 2～8F
Tokyu Hands is a quintessential Japanese lifestyle shop designed to make your life more refined, or at least more fun. There are now branches throughout the country, as well as international ones in Taiwan and Singapore, but the Shibuya branch is the largest, with more than 20 floors of merchandise if you include the mezzanine levels. It is a treasure chest of items, practical and not, for home, travel, and garden. The select collection of luggage and bags, many made by Japanese craftsmen, is especially worth perusing. Each floor is themed, organized around subjects such as the kitchen, travel, health and beauty, DIY, and stationery. It’s easy to get lost, as there is so much to see, whether shopping for yourself or for gifts for friends.
13-9 Uenokōen, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 110-8712, Japan
Located in Ueno Park, the Tokyo National Museum is Japan‘s oldest museum, featuring an impressive collection of national treasures and important cultural properties. Aside from the permanent collection, there are special exhibitions with themes such as the tea ceremony, Japanese swords, and overseas treasures. Allow time to enjoy the expansive park, which blossoms in the spring and has gorgeous fall colors.
A visit to Japan would not be complete without a soak in an onsen hot spring. A fun choice in Tokyo is the Oedo Monogatari Onsen on Odaiba island in Tokyo Bay. This is not a small, traditional onsen but a “super onsen,” with a variety of tubs for soaking, both indoors and out. Plan on spending at least half a day here. Rent a colorful cotton yukata and, between soaks in the hot water, peruse the food stalls offering yakitori, sushi, ramen, and udon. Massages, reflexology, and spa treatments are available. Or join the locals who nestle into a lounge chair for a post-soak nap.
2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Occupying the top nine floors of the Cesar Pelli–designed Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower, the Mandarin Oriental was designed to evoke Japan’s relationship with nature. The property itself resembles a tree, with its entrance at the bottom of the tower representing the base; on the top floor, fabrics and carpets suggest leaves and branches, creating the feeling of a forest canopy. A water wall in the lobby symbolizes the many cataracts that cascade from the country’s mountains, while elevator interiors mimic falling rain. Rooms maintain an aura of serenity and build on the existing “Woods and Water” design theme with fabrics and furnishings representing the woodlands and changing seasons. Head to the spa and indulge in the signature “Totally Tokyo” treatment, which uses pine, bamboo, plum, green tea, and rice hulls to stimulate the senses and restore a sense of clarity, then choose between French, Cantonese, and Italian restaurants with views of Mount Fuji to the west, Tokyo Skytree and the Sumida River to the east, and Tokyo Bay to the south. Prefer to take your meal to go? Make a pit-stop at the hotel’s ground-level gourmet shop on your way to see the sights.
2 Chome-10 Sekiguchi, Bunkyō, Tokyo 112-0014, Japan
Despite its address in the bustling heart of Tokyo, Hotel Chinzanso feels like a remote retreat thanks to its location in a 17-acre oasis with historic pagodas, 1,000 camellia trees, and 120 cherry trees; even the locals take refuge in the garden’s leafy paths. Though the spacious Western-style rooms offer every kind of modern amenity, from free WiFi and 24-hour room service to babysitting services and a custom pillow menu, the hotel honors traditional Japanese design with Arita ceramics, nishijin-ori throws, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints, as well as customs such as tea ceremonies and kimono fittings. There are nine dining options but the best one is Mokushundo, where classic dishes are prepared on hot rocks sourced from Mount Fuji and kaiseki-style in iron kettles.
Japan, 〒107-0062 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Minamiaoyama, 2 Chome−6, 港区南青山２丁目６−１５
One of Japan‘s most talented chefs, Yoshihiro Narisawa presents Japanese ingredients in a style he calls “innovative Satoyama cuisine,” which highlights the country’s natural bounty. Narisawa works directly with purveyors to get the freshest seafood and produce. Bread is cooked on the table, there is soup made from soil (yes, literally dirt, along with burdock roots), and a forest-inspired dish that has a live audio feed from a forest in Japan. The exquisite meal is not gimmicky and involves a dizzying array of ingredients, and the wine-pairing option includes some very interesting, untraditional sakes, a great education in the spirit. Knowledgeable staff explain the provenance of each dish—it’s like an edible tour through Japan.
Afuri is a popular ramen chain with branches throughout the city in neighborhoods like Harajuku, Ebisu, Nakameguro, Roppongi, and Azabu-Juban. The signature bowl is chicken and dashi with yuzu shio, an aromatic citrus, and salt. Noodles are thin and straight, all the easier to slurp. After you’ve purchased your ticket from the vending machine, hand it over to the staff and they’ll ask if you want regular or extra fat. Afuri will also do limited-edition gentei (limited release) ramen, like a vegan or cold ramen in the summer.
Japan, 〒153-0051 Tōkyō-to, Meguro-ku, Kamimeguro, 1 Chome−26−１ １０８
Wagyu katsu sando (beef cutlet sandwiches) have been around for a long time, but under the able hands of Hisato Hamada, the dish is hip and cool. The sleek, Instagram-friendly, stand-and-eat shop is in the trendy Nakameguro area along the Meguro River. Diners select a cut of marbled beef, ranging in price from 2,000 to 20,000 yen ($19–$190), which is then breaded, deep-fried, and served as a sandwich. Truffle fries and salads round out the menu. Drinks include an impressive selection of craft beers, wine, and champagne.
2 Chome-4-１ Nihonbashi, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 103-8265, Japan
Near Shinjuku Station you’ll find Takashimaya Times Square, which includes the Takashimaya department store and a large branch of Tokyu Hands. The depachika, or basement food floor, at Takashimaya has some excellent food counters for sukiyaki and both Japanese and Western sweets. Home cooks can pick up all of their pantry staples at Kinokuniya supermarket, which also has a colorful variety of prepared foods and seafood counters with takeout sushi, and the wine and spirits department hosts jizake vendors who offer samples of local sake. The rooftop garden has seating for impromptu picnics, so you may want to pick up some sake—just remember to ask for a small cup.
3-7-1-2, ３丁目-７ 西新宿 新宿区 東京都 163-1055, Japan
Immortalized on celluloid in the film Lost in Translation, the modernist Park Hyatt may have the sexiest cocktail bar in all of Tokyo. The rest of the property—set on the upper floors of the three connecting columns of the 770-foot Shinjuku Park Tower—is just as attractive, with a bamboo garden, swimming pool, and restaurant seated high in the sky. The interiors are the work of Pritzker Prize–winning architect Kenzo Tange and designer John Morford, ornamented with wood, woven abaca, and granite to add warmth to the hotel’s sleek glass surfaces. Starting at just under 600 square feet, guest rooms are practically palatial and include glass knobs that let you control everything from the lights to the curtains right from your bed, as well as walls paneled with rare water elm from Hokkaido, some sourced from trees that were submerged in lakes for up to 2,000 years.
1 Chome-1-１ Uchisaiwaichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 100-8558, Japan
The Old Imperial Bar is an old-school Tokyo bar favored by some of Japan’s political and financial elite, who come for its demure and consistent service. The popular bar snack kaki pi—spicy rice crackers and peanuts—originated here and is still being served. Soak in the nods to Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the original hotel: the Hopi-inspired carpet design, the terra-cotta grillwork, and the polychrome and gold-leaf fresco on the wall in the back of the room. Classic cocktails reign, such as a gin and tonic made with the Kyoto-distilled gin Ki no Bi, with notes of yuzu, green tea, and ginger.