First-time visitors to the big T seem to follow the exact same checklist no matter where they hail from. Elevator up Tokyo Tower? Check. Sake in the Golden Gai? Check. Wander around the Edo-Tokyo museum? Check And, Genki Sushi in Shibuya? Double check. But for second-time visitors, it’s time to scratch below the surface and uncover a Tokyo that the locals know, love, but refrain from telling tourists all about. Here is our guide to the Japanese city, for those in chapter two;
Stay at the Keio Plaza, Shinjuku
Business folk immediately turn to Roppongi and tourist newbies assume that the best accommodation is at the noisy Shibuya crossing—wrong. The savvy traveller stays in Shinjuku, right the heart of all the action, frequented by Tokyoites but tourist friendly too. We recommend the beautiful Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo. It’s not only home to some of the city’s finest eateries, but it is also the place to experience Japanese culture, with optional tea ceremony and kimono fitting experiences offered. The hotel recently renovated its 111 rooms and suites on the Premier Grand Club Floors located between floors 37 to 41 of the main towers. They are sharply designed by G.A Design International with a modern minimalist style, carry L’Occitane bath products, and have ultra comfortable Sealy mattresses covered in Antonietti bedding. The mini bar is stocked with Japanese whiskeys and sake rice wines, but Premier Grand Club guests have access to enjoy more beverages in the swanky Club Lounge, the largest in Tokyo, with panoramic views of the glittering city, the Tokyo Skytree, and even Mount Fuji on a clear day.
Start your day in Tomigaya
It’s the hipster neighbourhood and home to the city’s best coffee shops. Fuglen Tokyo (fuglen.no) has a vintage Scandinavian feel infused with minimalist Japanese design, while the uber trendy Camelback Coffee sees queues on weekends, so head there early. Tomigaya is a wonderfully tourist-free zone packed with awesome boutiques and stores such as Monocle which stocks apparel, books and homewares, and Project 1/6 a fandom toy store for every ‘big kid at heart’ gent.
Admire Yayoi Kusama
Fans are flocking to Yayoi Kusama’s first museum, which houses a collection of paintings, sculptures and of course a room of polka dot pumpkins. Entry is by time slot and tickets are not sold on the door, and rather, reserved via the museum website. The current exhibit runs until 31 August, and details on the next exhibition will be announced on the official website accordingly.
Play games at Nakano Broadway
Nakano is the low key Akihabara; it has the same bonkers manga stores, maid cafes and gaming arcades, but on a more local level. Nakano Broadway is the giant complex next to Nakano station and provides for hours and hours of nerdy entertainment. It’s also home to a stall on the basement floor called Daily Chico which serves a mammoth eight layered soft serve ice cream for less than SGD5.
Escape to the hills
It’s all about retreating to the hills of Japan, which boasts some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Nikko is a short bullet train ride away, and it is one of the go-to spots for locals to get a bit of much needed Zen. There’s also Hakone, a hot spring destination, and some gorgeous temples reside in Kamakura. It’s worth investing in a JR pass from Japan Experience before you travel—you’ll choose from a variety of rail passes at special tourist-only rates. Pick up a Nomad charger kit while you’re at it too, since you’ll be in the wilderness away from the electricity of Tokyo city.
Get merry in style
Forget the Golden Gai for it now has as many foreign customers as it does Japanese. Head to hangouts of the smart and trendy, including the Ginza Music Bar where hotshot local DJs play vinyl from the 3000-strong collection on the shelf, and Oak Tokyo is one of the most gorgeous lounges we’ve ever seen.
Eat really, really good Sushi
When in Tokyo, aim to stomach the best. There are some wonderful hole-in-the-wall-type sushi joints, with no websites, and no English written names, but for a sit-down fish extravaganza, look no further than Kagari back at the Keio Plaza. It is number one for Sushi in the Shinjuku area, especially sashimi. The menu includes Shabu-shabu (hotpot), tempura and more. Taste a bit of it all with the amazing Sakura dinner course menu.