Having watched Sofia Coppola’s homage to the city (over and over and over again), this Scouter felt sure she knew what Tokyo was all about. But sitting in Narita Airport after spending four days in this city, she has discovered that nothing can prepare you for the pretty-progressive-pornographic-polite-prohibitively expensive land of the rising sun, not even this postcard. Lost in translation? Come and see for yourself.
Things to know: if you can’t read or write Japanese, independently navigating the roads and subways of Tokyo is virtually impossible. The only way to get around is to ask lots of questions, so it’s lucky that the locals here are so damn nice. They’ve accompanied this Scouter down several blocks, volunteered GPS systems and even altered evening plans to help discover a new bar. And no, they don’t try and steal your wallet at the end.
Also, make sure you have plenty of cash, because most establishments in Tokyo don’t accept plastic, and many ATMs don’t process internationally issued cards. All toilet seats, however, will warm at the press of a button, offer three kinds of flushes and release vapors of “strong deodorant”. Bizarre, maybe, but it makes using public restrooms a lot more pleasant.
Like everyone else with a cuisine-crazy friend, we too watched this video, which inspired us to beg and plead for a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny, three Michelin starred sushi restaurant in Ginza’s subway station even before our passage to Tokyo was booked. We went, we ate, and now we’ll have to sell our firstborn kids into ten years of manual labor to foot the bill but it was a worthwhile experience. In a city where there seem to be seven sushi restaurants on every block, this one stands out.
But because this Scouter’s sibling is a sushi-averse, seafood-allergic fusspot, we did plenty of other eating as well. All you vegetarians, listen up: go to Sicilia outside Roppongi Station for really great, pesto-topped thin-crust pizzas; Fonda de la Madrugada for huge helpings of awesome guacamole and nachos; Ban Thai in Shinjuku for spicy green curry.
Endings should always be at Quil Fait Bon in Ginza, a bakery that serves the prettiest, fanciest, yummiest pies on the planet. There’s banana cream, grape, apple, kumquat, chocolate. The wait (there’s always a line to enter) will only make your strawberry-and-mascarpone tart sweeter.
Sukiyabashi Jiro, Chuo-Ko, Ginza; Sicilia, 6-1-26, Roppongi, Minato-Ku; Fonda de la Madrugada, 2-33-12, Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku; Ban Thai, Dai-ichi Metro Building, 1-23-14 Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku-Ku.
Tokyo has some of the best bartenders ever and luckily for drinkers, many of them choose to operate out of unpretentious, tiny hole-in-the-walls that do little more than serve perfectly mixed cocktails. The best of these is Star Bar, a twenty-seating basement establishment in Ginza where one of the city’s top mixologists makes the best Sidecars and seasonal drinks, served up by old school wait staff in white shirts and suspenders. If dive bars are your thing, also try The Loft in Shinjuku, complete with dingy blue lighting and a dilapidated stage that hosts bands of questionable talent during the weekend.
More swank is the Mado Lounge in Roppongi (terrace observatory attached) with panoramic views of the city and R2 Supperclub, a jazz lounge in one of the city’s buzziest areas that’s great for people-watching and sipping on pitch-perfect raspberry cocktails.
That said, walk around ten minutes in Tokyo, and you’re bound to trip on an awesome place to imbibe. Tip: pay special attention to basements.
Star Bar, Sankusha Building, 1-5-3 Ginza; The Loft, Tatehana Building, 1-12-9 Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku-Ku; Mado Lounge, Mori Tower, 52nd floor, 6-10-1, Roppongi, Minato-Ku; R2 Supperclub, 7-14-23 Roppongi, Minato-Ku.
Like most other activities in Tokyo, shopping is wincingly expensive, with international designers like Louis Vuitton and Alexander Wang selling at almost 35% above what they cost elsewhere. But what the hell, you’re on vacation and you’ll never find such a yummy collection of Commes des Garcia and Maison Martin Margiela ever again. Don’t miss Dover Street Market, Commes des Garcia’s ahead-of-it’s-time, highly curated department store in Ginza; branches of Shel’TTer; and The Wall at La Foret for little-known designers from Argentina, Germany and Korea. The current aesthetic in Japan is unfortunately similar to that of a Midwestern farm girl, but learn to look past the frumpy skirts and lace smocks, and you’ll score some cool stuff in the swath that stretches all the way from Harajuku to Shibuya.
Guys, check out Muji branches for cool linen shirts and berets; and Edifice in Shibuya for the sharpest patent leather loafers and blazers you’ll ever see – expensive, though. Plus, the sales staff here is super helpful; ask for Daisuke, and tell him we said hello!
The tech-crazy should go to Akihabara, a psychedelic neighbourhood lined with futuristic and anachronistic electronics – here, you can score a used iPhone 4 for under Rs 24,000, or play with cameras your friends’ grandkids will be using 20 years from now. Also rampant are maid cafes, featuring scantily-clad girls and fully loaded gadgets – go on, we know you want to.
Dover Street Market, 5-12-3 Minami-Aoyama, Ginza, Minato-Ku; La Foret, 1-11-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku; Shel’TTer, 4-30-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku; Edifice, 6-23-3, Jingumae.
Considering Tokyo’s paucity of space – apartments here make Mumbai and Delhi homes seem like mansions – the city’s parks are a true luxury. Ueno Park in the center of the city is best in the cherry blossom season (most of April), but pretty even otherwise, especially now that it has a new café serving a great selection of wine and super spaghetti at surprisingly reasonable prices. Walk here from the station, and soak in the carnival atmosphere of the streets on the way (you can stop by one of the many “love hotels” that rent rooms by the hour). Also nice is the Meiji Shrine north of Shibuya if you need a break from the fast-paced shopping.
The city has plenty of culture, and although the main Kabuki theater in Ginza is closed for renovation until 2013 (bummer!), the National Museum of Modern Art has a super Japan-centric permanent collection, as well as some jaw-dropping traveling shows - we caught an awesome Jackson Pollock retrospective, showcasing over 70 works as well as his art supplies. Still not satisfied? Across the street is the moat-encircled, decadent Imperial Palace. Would that be all, my highness?
Meiji Shrine, Meiji Jingumae subway stop; National Museum of Modern Art, 3-1 Kitanomaru Koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
For more on what to do, check out CNNGo.com’s Japan section, a Tokyo resource we found extremely helpful; and special thanks to Akshat Poddar for being the best travel companion ever.
Gotta go, our flight just got called – ‘bye, Tokyo, we’ll be back!
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