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Bars, bikes and a dapper Murakami – recapping the Love Tokyo Awards ceremony
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Bars, bikes and a dapper Murakami – recapping the Love Tokyo Awards ceremony

On the evening of December 21, a packed Hikarie Hall in Shibuya played host to the inaugural Love Tokyo Awards ceremony, which saw winners crowned in a total of seven categories: Restaurant, Café, Bar, Shop, Product, Activity and Face of Tokyo. Over the past few months, local experts from across the global Time Out network descended on Tokyo and joined our own ace team in picking out the very best of the capital. After countless sleepless nights and heated debates, our judges finally decided on the winners in the five major categories, while we here at Time Out Tokyo narrowed down the Activity and Face of Tokyo lists to, respectively, five and six final picks. Once the criteria had been made clear, it was at last time to announce the award recipients. Read on for a recap of all those who triumphed, complete with comments from the winners themselves.     Higashiya's Shizu Sakihama   First up was Best Café, which was awarded to green tea and wagashi specialist Higashiya. A tea salon that puts a fresh twist on traditional Japanese confectionery, it’s a spot relaxing enough for hours of lingering in busy Ginza. Accepting the award, Higashiya representative Shizu Sakihama said her team, who also run a shop in Aoyama, were honoured to win and hope to continue pushing their vision of fusing traditional Japanese culture with modern lifestyles.     Presenter Misha Janette (left) and Tokyo Station Hotel rep Junko Hama   Next, the coveted Best Bar award was picked u

Michelin Guide 2017 in 3 minutes
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Michelin Guide 2017 in 3 minutes

December is almost here, and with it the commotion that always surrounds the unveiling of the Michelin Guide. Published annually since 2008, the gourmet bible's Tokyo edition has rightfully ranked our dear city as the food capital of the world every year from 2009 onwards, so it's hardly news that Tokyo still stands high above the competition in 2017. Unveiled on November 29, the latest version of Michelin Tokyo lists 12 three-star restaurants – two more than the 10 found in Paris – 54 two-star joints (up from 51 last year) and 161 one-star places (153 in 2016), giving Tokyo a total of 227 starred restaurants. That's far more than double the number of closest challengers Kyoto (96) and Paris (92). However, the gap between Paris and Tokyo at the very top is closing at an alarming rate: Tokyo again dropped one three-star, and the heady heights of 17 back in 2012 are looking more and more like an anomaly. The unlucky loser was Aoyama's Esaki, which for some reason fell to two stars – while the likes of Sukiyabashi Jiro and Kanda maintained top marks despite predictions to the contrary.  Although the three-star list appears to be turning into a victim of conservatism and comfort, Michelin Tokyo 2017 is admittedly packed with interesting details in the less flashy categories. For one, Sugamo's Tsuta was joined by Minami-Otsuka shop Nakiryu in the hallowed hall of Michelin-starred ramen, with the innovative tantanmen specialist blindsiding most of the capital's eager slurpers (i

Create your own fancy bento at Chagohan Tokyo and ride a rickshaw while you're there
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Create your own fancy bento at Chagohan Tokyo and ride a rickshaw while you're there

We've all eaten our fair share of bento (damn you, ever-so-convenient convenience stores and end-of-day sales at depachika), but it may have been, well, a while since you actually tried to make one – let alone one that actually looks nice and fancy like the ones sold at department stores during New Year's. Instead of diving into the kitchen armed only with a printout from Cookpad, we thought we'd try out some training wheels in the shape of Chagohan Tokyo, who run a variety of cooking classes from their base in Asakusa.  We were kindly welcomed by Inoue-san, Hirano-san and our instructor for the day, Hiroko (Note: if you happen to be Dutch, Hiroko will be very excited, as she's spent some time on exchange there). But first we had the option of riding around town for a bit in a rickshaw – and not the motorised variety. Fun fact: the English word 'rickshaw' is derived from the Japanese 人力車 jinrikisha, or rikisha for short.    'Go forth, to Asakusa!'       This one was hand-pulled by our 'driver', Taira-san, who apparently had only just started working for the company. He was happy to answer all the questions we bombarded him with – no it's actually not too heavy, he could probably carry it for quite some time, most people take tours that last half an hour max, and the foreign/Japanese customer split is about 50-50 – after which we rode around very briefly. After all, we mainly came for the food.      Our cool driver Taira-san   Once back inside, Hiroko sta

We checked out Panda Express Kawasaki (so you don't have to)
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We checked out Panda Express Kawasaki (so you don't have to)

Oh Panda Express – who isn't familiar with the Chinese-American comfort food behemoth that's been going strong for nearly three and a half decades, currently operates over 1,900 outposts across the world and reliably supplies homesick Americans with shockingly orange chicken? Apparently said institution has plenty of fans on these shores, too (we blame the American bases and an abnormal obsession with California) – or at least enough to have warranted the opening of Japan's first Panda Express in the middle of the Lazona Kawasaki shopping complex's food court on November 25. A couple of days before that, we headed down south for a sneaky pre-open look.    Panda's main menu consists of nine options, including String Bean Chicken, Broccoli Beef, Grilled Chashu Salmon and old favourite Kung Pao Chicken, while the sides range from chow mein and fried rice to spring rolls and fried gyoza. And of course, the ubiquitous Orange Chicken makes an appearance as well. The sauces and flavours are definitely something that you'd probably only find back in the US, so for those needing a taste of home instead of Japanese-style Chinese food, this is the place to be.    The rather addictive Orange Chicken, drenched in a sweet orange sauce         You can order items separately, but mixing and matching the mains and sides makes more sense. Go down this road and they'll all come served on one plate, so you can compare flavours and see which ones blend together well. We'd say the

Watch a sumo wrestling practice and meet the stable cats
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Watch a sumo wrestling practice and meet the stable cats

Finding tickets to see the big guys in action at the Ryogoku Kokugikan can be a bit of a wrestle, so here’s an alternative: the Arashio-Beya sumo stable in Hamacho lets anyone watch an asageiko (morning practice) for free. Located not far from Ryogoku, the traditional heart of the sport in Tokyo, Arashio-Beya boasts a practice ring with large streetside windows that provide a clear view of the battling rikishi (wrestlers), who descend from their living quarters to start their morning routine around 6.30am. After warming up, the wrestlers start to break a sweat with some light sparring, followed by no-holds-barred brawls. The waft of incense carrying the heavy breathing outside will make you forget about the physical barrier separating you from the wrestlers and you’ll soon find yourself flinching at the impact with which they collide – a visceral experience to behold. When the oyakata (stable master) walks into the room and takes his place on the dais to watch his pupils, the rikishi clash with ever more fervour under the hawkish gaze of the master, employing their entire repertoire of thrusts, grips and throws to force each other out of the dohyo (sumo ring). Even as the scuffles get more scruffy and the chonmage (topknots) start to come undone, the wrestlers show no signs of breaking with the etiquette of respect or easing off on each other in the slightest. When the gruelling training ends around 8am, the wrestlers ceremoniously sweep the sand ring before coming ou

Five things you need to know about pets in Tokyo
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Five things you need to know about pets in Tokyo

By Benjamin Boas Tokyo is a wonderful city to live in but it can be tough for pet owners. Occasionally it feels like there’s barely enough room for humans, and finding places to live where pets are allowed can be problematic. But despite all the kawaii in popular culture, for some there’s no substitute for a real-life furry clump of cuteness in their home, and not having enough room to swing a cat doesn’t stop Tokyoites from idolising their pets... 1. PUPS WEAR DESIGNER CLOTHES What could be better than chasing your own tail? Chasing your own tail in a designer bone-motif gilet, a diamanté-trimmed collar and a pair of fierce doggie aviators, of course – the very pinnacle of canine élan. They don’t often express it, but deep down every dog wants to be fabulous. And if you’ve ever walked down the streets of Ginza, you’ll already be familiar with the ultimate accessory: the dog-stroller, in which owners parade their pets in cushioned splendour. Walkies is so last season. 2. PETS ARE CARRIED AROUND INSIDE HANDBAGS So the lease on your apartment doesn’t allow pets. But ‘pet’ is such an outmoded and condescending term – and the tenancy contract doesn’t specifically refer to ‘non-human dependent companions’, so technically you’re in the clear. But to be on the safe side, it’s still a good idea to keep it on the down low from your landlady: invest in a supply of fragrant air-fresheners; obtain a spacious handbag with air-holes; and train your quadrupedal flatmate to respect lo

Meet Dobolo: Tokyoite, Nigerian factory worker and aspiring pop star
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Meet Dobolo: Tokyoite, Nigerian factory worker and aspiring pop star

During the day, factory worker Benjamin Odabi, one of more than 2,500 Nigerians who call Japan home, toils away in a Tokyo plant recycling printing equipment; at night, he pursues a more glamorous career as Dobolo, aiming to become 'the greatest music act in the world'. When Tokyo-based Canadian filmmaker Jeremy Rubier heard Odabi’s inspiring story, he decided to direct a pro bono music video to accompany Dobolo’s catchy dancehall tune ‘I’m About to Blow’. With several successful music videos already under his belt – made with minuscule budgets to boot – Rubier channels his DIY ethos into another polished and entertaining clip shot with the little money Odabi had saved aside. The video, filmed over a single day in four locations, reveals Odabi’s competing identities as we see him lift boxes in his factory overalls, swagger down a Tokyo street flanked by his flamboyant posse and kick it back with low-riders by the Shonan seaside. Like the upbeat notes of his song, Dobolo exudes a positive energy that's hard not to like – and boy does he clean up good. Watch the clip below:

Meet Ginza's 'coffee godfather'
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Meet Ginza's 'coffee godfather'

‘Coffee only’ reads the sign outside Café de l’Ambre, which has been keeping the Ginza hordes well caffeinated since 1948. Remarkably, it’s still run by the same man – Ichiro Sekiguchi, who turned 102 this May. A living legend in Japan’s coffee community, Mr Sekiguchi named his shop after the colour amber because ‘it’s the ideal shade of coffee, of course’. Working as a sound engineer in the pre-war movie industry, Sekiguchi used to casually treat his colleagues to home-brewed coffee. His blends turned out to be fine enough to both charm his co-workers and make their creator reconsider his career path. A coffee nerd during his student years, Sekiguchi tells us he often visited bean wholesalers for fun, gradually picking up the knowledge that would become the basis of his business. But setting up a coffee shop was no simple task after the war: Sekiguchi long struggled to obtain a license for his place, eventually securing the right to open an ‘alkaloid laboratory’ – which, after some wheeling and dealing, he transformed into Café de l’Ambre. Now, this venerable establishment offers almost 50 different varieties of Joe, including brews made of aged beans that have been left to mature for at least a decade. And although beans are his true passion – ‘Make no mistake: how they are roasted is what determines a coffee’s flavour,’ he stresses – Sekiguchi thinks of coffee-sipping as a comprehensive experience. This attitude is what drove him to design his own roaster, mill, pots an

How to pay out like a Tokyoite
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How to pay out like a Tokyoite

Japan is an etiquette-driven society from the cradle to the grave and paying for things is no exception. To keep your zen while spending the yen, check out our list of dos and don’ts.   DO: PLACE IT IN THE TRAY What Tokyo’s restaurants, shops and taxis all have in common – aside from a drunken salaryman zonked out in one corner after dark – is the ubiquitous tray next to the till, usually referred to as koin torei (the Japanese transliteration of coin tray) or simply torei. The official use is to maintain a desirable distance between you and the cashier – nobody in Japan wants to be seen grabbing your money – but you can also use it to avoid dropping your change and keeping the line waiting while you scrabble awkwardly after a ¥1 coin. DO: RELY ON YOUR FLEXIBLE FRIEND Despite the cavalcade of bullet trains, intelligent robots and high-tech toilets, Japan is still pretty analogue when it comes to money and cash invariably beats cards. So if you’re not too keen on leaving your watch – or worse, washing the dishes – as payment, then we suggest carrying hard currency with you at all times. DO: PAY WITH YOUR PREPAID IC CARD Although cash remains king, you can also pay using prepaid IC (integrated circuit) cards like Pasmo and Suica in almost every konbini and taxi, and even in some restaurants. Simply tap your card on the reader and hope that the Yamanote line hasn’t drained out your balance. DON'T: TIP Japan is perhaps the only country where tipping can unwittingly turn i

Kanda's Canteen Station is the ideal after-work hangout
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Kanda's Canteen Station is the ideal after-work hangout

Early this summer, a nondescript parking lot a stone’s throw from Kanda Station was transformed into a colourful commune of food trucks. Known as Canteen Station, it soon became the hottest hangout in the neighbourhood, with patrons popping by for delicious truck grub and to knock back a few beers after work. The man behind this popular operation is Luuvu Hoang, who worked as a food photographer for various restaurants and magazines in his native Seattle before settling in Tokyo. A self-taught cook, Hoang bore witness to the birth of the food truck movement that has taken the American West Coast by storm, and saw untapped potential in Tokyo, which he says now has more than 400 trucks roaming its streets. Luuvu Hoang Having partnered with a real estate company, which helped him locate the Kanda spot, Hoang is constantly on the lookout for unused land in the capital to save from the cruel fate of being turned into dull car parks. Instead, Hoang wants to transform these empty lots into community spaces like Canteen Station, where people can come together over food and drinks. Canteen Station is open all day from Monday to Saturday and features an ever-changing array of half a dozen trucks, with previous lodgers including a chicken rice purveyor, a Belgian-style frites shop, an Argentinian grill, a hot dog specialist and an eclectic 'mobile izakaya'.  Canadian chef Dexter Greenwood Hoang’s own truck +84 Banh Mi & Vietnam Coffee by Mobile Canteen is the only permanent 

Eight things to do in Okutama, Tokyo's hidden oasis
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Eight things to do in Okutama, Tokyo's hidden oasis

You might know Tokyo for its bizarre robot themed restaurant, plethora of animal cafés and kawaii culture, but there’s more to the capital than its weird, modern side. What if we told you that you could explore beautiful lakes and picturesque mountains without leaving Tokyo? Just a short train ride from the city centre lies Okutama, offering majestic natural sites within the bounds of Tokyo. To get there, hop on the JR Ome line from Tokyo or Shinjuku station to Ome station, which should take no more than an hour and 35 minutes. Plan your trip for the second or third weekends of August and reserve your seat aboard the ‘Ozashiki Train’, which boasts Japanese-style tatami seating and only runs for those two weekends. Prices aren't exactly cheap for this one, but the experience is definitely worth the extra dosh.               There’s a lot to see around Okutama and the range of activities can get overwhelming for some of us city people, so we’ve rounded up a list of things to do while you’re there. 1) Dip your feet in Hatonosu Ravine Gaze down at Tokyo's clearest and bluest river from the 40m tall cliff, or get wet and dip your feet in the cold water after a long hike in the surrounding forest. Walk further upstream and you’ll find Shiromaru Dam, which is a great location to watch pools of fish jump over to the Kazuma gorge river.       2) Explore an underground world of mysteries Discovered in 1962, the 250-million year-old Nippara Limestone Cave – the big

How to queue in line like a Tokyoite
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How to queue in line like a Tokyoite

Queuing in Japan is an art form. Everyone says ‘the Japanese just love queuing,’ but it is more than that. There’s a beauty in the order. Picture the trains at rush hour: well-mannered travellers wait in perfectly formed lines for the train carriage to open. And when the doors part, the queuers wait for the last passenger to disembark before they file in, until they are pressed against the glass (still in order, of course). No matter what time it is, there are very few line jumpers, complainers or people breaking rank. If you want to line up like a pro, here are the essentials. DO: LEARN HOW TO ENJOY IT You’ve got to go zen. There’s no point fighting the time-suck of queuing in Tokyo, so see it as a form of delayed gratification. Time pressed against a random stranger in the rain builds anticipation of the meal, gadget, fukubukuro (‘lucky bag’), concert or commute that will follow. You’ve invested precious time in this, so you’d better enjoy it. DON’T: FORGET YOUR NEIGHBOURS A discreet chat with your friend is okay. Loudly Facetiming your grandmother on your phone is not. You’re going to be spending the next 30 minutes with your line-mates: they don’t need to know about nana’s bunions. DO: LINE UP SOME ROMANCE True love waits. Queuing can be a surprisingly fun date: it’s just you, them, 20 minutes to an hour of awkward small-talk and an assortment of eavesdropping strangers. Plus if things go badly, you can turn and run knowing they’ll be loath to give up their place in

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