I’ve been wanting to visit Japan for a long time. All of it. So when Tokyo came up in my husband’s work travel list, my only hesitation was that I’m on a sushi hiatus due to my pregnancy and I’m obsessed with sushi. Yes, I know people still have sushi while pregnant, but because it’s highlighted as a “risk”, I figure I might as well be careful. In any case, I was told that there are many amazing eats outside of sushi, so I consented and booked my first trip to Tokyo for mid-January.
When it came to packing, I was warned that unlike Hong Kong, Japan has a proper winter. So I pulled out the puffer that I had stowed away after moving here and dug out my hat and gloves. I figured that if I could wander around New York or Chicago in the cold, I’d be ok in Tokyo as well.
I boarded on a Wednesday afternoon, landed at the Narita International Airport by evening (a 4 hour flight + 1 hour time change from Hong Kong), and grabbed a cab to head to my hotel.
Now, my first instinct is to take a cab from the airport because of work trips, unless I’m already aware of public transportation options. So, I didn’t research the best ways to get to and from the airport like I should have. If I’m honest, I was also just too hungry so just wanted to get to my hotel ASAP.
Getting to Tokyo from Narita via cab can cost 18,000 – 28,000 yen… Yeah, super expensive. So, if you are ever flying to Tokyo, please look into public transportation options in advance. Most options – local train, Skyliner, Sky Access, Narita Express, etc. will get you to the Nippori or Tokyo station. From there, you can get to your final destination via train or cab.
We stayed at the Tokyo Marriott Shinagawa, a beautiful spacious hotel with an incredible staff. Shinagawa is, however, south of the city which I felt was a little far from the parts of Tokyo I wanted to see most. Thankfully, getting to those areas from Shinagawa is easy.
It’s a ~13 min walk from the Shinagawa Marriott to the Shinagawa station which is one of the main Tokyo stations. And Shinagawa in general is one of the more affordable areas to stay when visiting. So, if hotels closer to the main areas of Tokyo are out of budget, Shinagawa is a great option.
My rendezvous with Tokyo began on Thursday morning in Harajuku where I bounced around the following places:
And stopped at the following eateries along the way:
- Streamers Coffee
- Afuri Ramen – Amazing ramen, and they have a vegetarian option too!
- Totti Candy Factory – Recommended by a friend for hilariously large cotton candy (which I love)
It was cold, as expected, but thankfully sunny, so I felt fine so far.
With a massive cotton candy in hand from the Totti Candy Factory, I made my way through Omotesando to the Nezu Museum where I spent a little time in the garden and looked at various types of Japanese and Asian art.
While at the Nezu Museum, I remembered that I wanted to check out the Onitsuka Tiger store in Tokyo. By this time, my battery was low from mapping it everywhere (chargers are key!) so instead of researching where the store really was, I assumed that because they’re an Asics brand, you could find them at any Asics store in Tokyo.
Wrong. I ended up going from the Nezu, to an Asics store in Ginza, back to an Asics Tiger store in Harajuku, and then found out that the actual Onitsuka Tiger store was in Omotesando.
By the end of the day, I had literally chased my tail in a full circle, but came away with a fun day of exploration and some new silver sneaks. My day ended with a quick walk through with the crazy Shibuya Crossing and some spicy curry at Moyan Curry 246.
I woke up excited about another day of wandering, but as usual, the day took its own course. The initial plan was:
- Unlimited Coffee Bar
- Sumida River
- Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine
- Asakusa Markets
- Meet my husband at dinner somewhere of his choice because I didn’t want to decide
- Joker bar
It was another beautiful morning and as long as I was under the sunlight, it felt great to shed my hat and gloves. I had some really good coffee at the Unlimited Coffee Bar, toured the various sights of Asakusa, and decided to take my lunch break at an amazing soba place in Kanda called Kanda Matsuya. I was loving the day so far.
Then craving a donut, I found a little donut shop between Kanda and Akihabara called, Mister Donut. Perfect, I could grab a donut and walk through Akihabara while enjoying it.
But the donut was underwhelming (could have just been the one I picked), and Akihabara, for me, was interesting to see on the surface, but not worth spending time in because I’m not into Anime (with the exception of Death Note) and am not a gamer. I thought about popping into one of those maid cafes, but they were hard to find because it was too cold for the maids to actually stand outside and lure you in.
The cold started getting to me. So instead of walking to Ueno I decided to find immediate shelter and hide out until I met my husband for dinner. Then a thought popped in my head – check out the Yayoi Kusama Museum!
I love Kusama’s work so was super excited, but, another fail. I took a train to the museum and walked for another 10 minutes only to find that it was closed that day! Frustrated, I made my way to Satei Hato in Shibuya with the hopes of at least finding a tasty, soothing warm beverage.
And then the day started turning back around.
Satei Hato is an old cafe with beautiful little cups of various styles stacked up behind the bar. It was super warm and cozy, had delicious coffee, and delicious looking cakes made by a talented pastry chef who decorated them right in front of me. I made a note to bring my husband and get a slice over the weekend if we had time.
Dinner was at a tonkatsu restaurant in Ginza called Keitei, located on the top floor of the Matsuya building. The quality of the tonkatsu was great and food overall was very comforting.
We ended our night watching an entertaining magic show at the Joker bar. Sure, magic shows can be cheesy, but I promise you this one is not. The actual bar is super tiny so the hour-long performance can only be done for 6-12 people at a time (you need reservations), and the tricks were more than amusing. It was well worth it. But there’s almost no information about it online so if we weren’t told to go by a friend, we would have missed it.
Even though I was on a sushi hiatus, I had to go to Tsujiki Market.
Walking past the uni rolls and other sushi stands was very hard, but there were many other great eats: fresh tomago, strawberry daifuku, and our lunch destination – Tenfusa Tempura. There was a 30-40 min wait for the 8-10 person restaurant but it was completely worth it and satisfied my craving for fresh seafood.
Friends also recommended we visit an area called Daikanyama. It hadn’t really come up in my Tokyo research but our friends hadn’t steered us wrong yet.
Another great recommendation. Daikanyama is a lovely area that is not nearly as crowded as other areas in Tokyo. It’s filled with cute coffee shops, boutiques and book stores. I grabbed a coffee at Omnibus Coffee, we browsed the little boutiques and took a break in the massive Tsutaya bookstore in the Daikanyama T-site.
If you’re interested in Japanese brands, the Daikanyama boutiques are a perfect for finding brands that are only sold in Japan. I got a new backpack there 😊
We ended the day in Shinjuku where we stood in line for another amazing restaurant, Fuunji and had the best tsukemen ramen ever. I’m craving it now as I write about it! We were so sleepy after stuffing our faces but had one more destination in mind – the Golden Gai.
The Golden Gai is a grid-shaped area filled with rows of tiny bars, each slightly different but all with a capacity of 4-10 people max. We were both too tired to pop into one so instead walked around looking into as many as we could before calling it a night. I’d definitely go back to check it out again.
Day 4 – Last day
With no desire to plan the day, we allowed our stomachs to pick the first destination – Sakura Tei, an okonomiyaki restaurant in Harajuku.
I’ve heard okonomiyaki described in several ways – a Japanese savory pancake or a Japanese pizza. It was neither, but since I can’t give a better description, it’s best that you just give it a try. Now I’m craving that too.
After brunch, I took my husband down Takeshita Street since he had never been and there was a dessert spot that I wanted to try. But I regretted it as soon as we stepped onto the street.
It was crowded when I first went on Thursday but Sunday was WORSE. We bought a croquet cream pastry from Croquant Chou Zakuzaku and got out as fast as we could.
I then took my husband to the Onitsuka Tiger store so that he could take a look, but instead were drawn into the Nippon Made store next door to it. Nippon Made is a special brand of Onitsuka Tiger that is only manufactured in Japan. They’re pricier than your average sneaks, but the quality is amazing and so are the options. My husband bought his sneaks there and my jealousy made plans to buy some next time.
The side streets of Harajuku and Omotesando were so much more pleasant than the main streets as they were not nearly as crowded. Each side street was slightly different than the others, but all were lined with little shops and galleries that you could pop in and out of.
It was early evening by the time we headed out east to Tokyo station for our final meal.
San Marco is not the name of a restaurant that I would imagine having amazing Japanese curry, but it didn’t disappoint. Located at the bottom of the Takashimaya Department store in Nihonbashi, it was by far some of the best curry I’ve ever had. Most people only go there for lunch or take-away, but it was a great way to end the weekend.
We stopped back through Tokyo station to grab a few more delicious bites – fresh strawberries, an expensive green tea Kit-Kat, and a cheese tart from Bake – before heading back to the hotel to pack for our exit the next day.
Could I have been more ambitious and seen more museums, gardens, and tourist spots? Definitely. But I prefer digging into areas vs. just checking tourist spots off a list.
Also, it’s one thing to walk to a specific place in the cold, but spending an hour or more wandering around in it is difficult. So unless you truly love being in the cold, I’d recommend saving your trip for a warmer month.
By the time I landed in Hong Kong, I had already made a mental list of the places that I want to go back to as well as ones that I had missed.
I can’t wait to go back!
Blog edited by: Betty Ho