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.
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, 〒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.
Japan, 〒160-0022 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−1, 新宿区新宿３丁目１−２６
Competition among 100-yen shops, the Japanese equivalent to an American dollar store, is resulting in cool outlets filled with fun items for the home and office. Seria, in particular, has a surprising selection of tableware, kitchenware, stationery, and housewares. DIY fans will have a heyday carefully perusing the selection of things you didn’t know existed but now must have, and many items like the tableware items are surprisingly high quality and beautifully designed. Gifts that are easy on the wallet and cool for friends back home include kawaii (cute) washi tape in fun designs, organizers for home and for travel, and other souvenirs. This Seria shop is a short walk from Shinjuku Station, but there are branches throughout the city.
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.
2 Chome-7-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, Japan
The stationery shop Itoya resembles a museum, with its exquisite displays and handsome collection. The main shop on Chuo Dori has 12 floors of paper, stationery, pens, planners, and a café. The annex on the backstreet has seven floors of paints, colored pencils, notebooks, and more. Itoya is a great spot to pick up gifts for friends back home. It’s easy to find—just look for the giant red paper clip in front of the building.
2-1-1, ２丁目-１ 日本橋室町 中央区 東京都 103-8328, Japan
The views from the 37th-floor private spa suites at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Nihonbashi are unrivaled when it comes to a city spa. The menu is extensive, offering a wide range of treatments, including Japanese shiatsu, Thai massage, and Ayurveda. The facilities include an onsen-like infinity tub that overlooks the city for even more relaxation before or after your treatment, so be sure to add extra time to your schedule when booking an appointment.
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.
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.
1 Chome Sotokanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan
Long known as the neighborhood where consumers—both locals and visitors—come for electronics, Akihabara has evolved to include a manga and anime subculture, with anime character models roaming the streets and anime videos playing in stores and restaurants. Retro computer-game fans will not want to miss Super Potato Retro-kan for its selection of vintage and used games.
The colorful Asakusa district is a laid-back, fun, colorful neighborhood where you can buy crappy kitsch and kitschy crap (there are a lot of kitchenware shops, for some reason). Asakusa is also home to Tokyo‘s most well-known temples and 45 working geisha. The neighborhood has a more “Japanese” feel than many others in the city. It’s an short walk from Ueno and can be reached easily by subway or boat.
This glitzy shopping district in the city center is home to department stores and shopping malls like Ginza Six and Tokyu Ginza Plaza. There are many Michelin-starred restaurants for sushi, tempura, and kaiseki, as well as classic bars such as Star Bar and Bar High Five. Casual restaurants serving tonkatsu, Western-style yoshoku, and old-school kissaten cafés also pepper the area, offering something for everyone regardless of budget. The area is rich with so-called antenna shops (regional food shops), and fans of the lifestyle store Muji will not want to miss the flagship store. Ito-ya and Kyukyodo are must-shops for stationery, traditional washi paper, and pens.
Nakameguro, Meguro, Tokyo 153-0061, Japan
Nakameguro is a hip and trendy area with many restaurants and shops, especially under the train tracks in a complex called Kokashita. The Meguro River that runs through the residential area is lined with cherry trees for sakura-viewing in the spring. Small boutiques featuring local designers as well as imported clothes are concentrated in the Aobadai area between Nakameguro and Daikanyama. Nakameguro is also home to two of the city’s best pizza shops, Seirinkan and da ISA, and yakitori restaurants Iguchi and Toriyoshi. Popular coffee shops in the area include Onibus, Streamer, and Artless Craft Tea & Coffee.
Shibuya City, Tokyo, Japan
A visit to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without seeing the scramble of thousands of people at Shibuya Crossing, the city’s busiest intersection. It must be experienced, but also viewed from one of the nearby restaurants or cafés that overlook the space. A statue of the dog Hachiko, an Akita that famously returned to Shibuya Station daily to wait for his master long after he had died, is a popular meeting spot. Shibuya draws young Japanese with its many fashion shops and cheap eateries, while music fans come to check out the used-record shops. Coffee shops, including About Life Coffee Brewers, Fuglen, and Little Nap Stand, are good places for a rest from sightseeing.
Japan, 〒150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae, 4 Chome−12番10号
Tadao Ando’s mall on Omotesando Dori is an architectural delight. In an interior skylit atrium, a spiral walkway ascends from the basement up to the third floor. Most of the shops are high-end: fashion designers, jewelry stores, and cosmetics, while Pass the Baton is a secondhand shop of select clothes, antiques, jewelry, and housewares. Vegetable-focused restaurants include Yasaiya-Mei and Kyo-Oyasai-Bar Mei; though they are not strictly vegetarian, both offer seasonal and local produce. Chocolate aficionados can indulge at the Jean-Paul Hévin boutique.
Japan, 〒107-6290 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Akasaka, ９丁目7−６ 東京ミッドタウン・ガーデン内
21_21 Design Sight is a museum designed by one of Japan‘s most famous contemporary architects, Tadao Ando. The naturally lit space, of which some 80 percent is underground, is home to Japan’s first design museum. The simple lines of the building’s steel-and-concrete roof are typically Japanese in their emphasis on modesty. The museum is nestled in a green park, which softens the sharp exterior. Temporary exhibitions typically focus on the role design plays in daily life and how we interact with it. The museum is near the Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi, a short walk from Nogizaka Station.
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.