We get it: Tokyo can be overwhelming. From the observatories, the city seems to go on forever, and to make things more confusing, there isn't a discernible centre for Tokyo. So where do one even start exploring? We say, start with this ultimate checklist, where we have compiled the best things to see, do and eat in one of the world's greatest cities.
Whether you're into Tokyo's robot citizens, cutting-edge architecture, sensational art scene or world-famous restaurants that would make any chef weak in the knees, there's always something going on in the city. So get out there and enjoy them.
Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere.
You can also find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world, or take a look at our list of the 50 best things to do in the world right now.
What is it? December 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of Tokyo Station, whose distinctive red-brick facade is a prominent reminder of Japan’s rush to modernisation in the early 20th century.
Why go? There’s no better place to admire a historic icon of the capital. The station has been looking particularly spiffy after an extensive restoration a few years back. A major spot for many travellers passing in and out of the city, the sprawling station is also home to an overwhelming selection of restaurants and shops. If you’re short on time, this is a one-stop centre to sample popular Japanese dishes and stock up on souvenirs.
Don’t miss: Tokyo Ramen Street inside the station features outposts from some of the country’s most revered noodle joints. You can try many different variations of ramen all in one convenient location.
What is it? The stylish home of kabuki, this main theatre in Ginza has stood on the same spot for over 120 years, but its present incarnation is rather newer than that – it only opened in April 2013.
Why go? The Kabukizaka Theatre has been an icon of Ginza since it opened in 1889: fires and airborne wartime attacks damaged and almost destroyed it, but it was rebuilt every time. Performances are held most days of the month, and if you aren’t sure about committing to an entire show, there are single-act tickets available at the door.
Don’t miss: The souvenir shop onsite is worth a look for nifty gifts and fun trinkets. There’s also a gallery on the fifth floor, which displays kabuki costumes and other cultural exhibitions.
What is it? Looking for an omakase sushi meal that won’t break the bank? Edo-style sushi specialist Sushi Tokyo Ten, located in the super central Shibuya Stream complex, has one of the best deals in town.
Why go? Don’t be put off by its classy décor; dinner omakase is just ¥7,000 a person and you’ll be treated to more than your fair share of seasonal fish plus plenty of additional items including side dishes and miso soup.
Don’t miss: The lunch set is an even bigger steal, coming in at just ¥3,500 a person.
What is it? Located just minutes’ from Harajuku Station, this serene shrine is home to lush greenery and a tranquil environment where the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken, are enshrined.
Why go? The stroll through the sacred grounds feels both refreshing and enlightening. Plus, it’s the perfect place to get away from the overwhelming madness of the neighbouring Harajuku. Exceedingly popular, especially at New Year when it draws crowds of a million-plus, the shrine hosts numerous festivals throughout the year.
Don’t miss: The Inner Garden, located just off the main path to the shrine, is exceptionally quiet, and boasts a colourful iris field in early summer around June.
What is it? This kilometre of lush towpath stretches from Todoroki Station all the way towards Todoroki Children’s Park. It’s a popular nature walk that’s never too crowded.
Why go? When the weather is good, it’s hard to find more refreshing spots in the city than this. Head here for some peace of mind, all the while exploring Todoroki Valley’s lush nature. It’s an ideal spot to bring your family where you can set up a picnic and let the kids run free.
Don’t miss: The tolling of the Todoroki Fudo Temple bell adds to area’s meditative, restful nature.
What is it? The haute cuisine of Japan, kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal showcasing the textures and flavours of the season – and you can experience the meal of your life at Kudan Otsuka.
Why go? Run by a husband-wife duo, this quaint restaurant serves up impressive kaiseki creations that are current yet still staying true to tradition. Unlike most dinner-only kaiseki restaurants, Kudan Otsuka is open for lunch as well.
Don’t miss: If you’re not keen on shelling out ¥7,000 (at least) for a dinner course, you can still sample the chef ’s ingenuity with the special weekday lunch of oyakodon (egg and chicken over rice) for an easy ¥1,080. Who says Tokyo is expensive?
What is it? There are currently only two Michelin-starred ramen restaurants in the world – and they’re all in Tokyo.
Why go? The most recent entry in this noodle hall of fame, Sobahouse Konjiki Hototogisu has won over critics with a complex broth that tastes of the ocean, made by boiling down hamaguri clam and red sea bream, and seasoned with Mongolian rock salt and Okinawan sea salt. The noodles are then finished with Italian white truffle oil, porcini mushroom sauce, pancetta bacon bits and inca berry sauce.
Don’t miss: You can’t go wrong with either the signature shouyu soba or the recommended shio soba. They are both next-level ramen, and you’ll be compelled to finish the soup till the last drop.
What is it? Cute, kitschy and invariably crowded, Harajuku is the street fashion capital of Tokyo – but it’s also a great place to go on a street food binge.
Why go? This is where you’ll discover the latest food trends in Tokyo. Head to the neighbourhood’s main street, Takeshita-dori, and start your eating with a rainbow cotton candy at Momi & Toys, then move on to Eiswelt Gelato’s animal-shaped ice cream cone before digging into a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich at Le Shiner and one of Harajuku’s famous crêpes.
Don’t miss: Don’t forget the crunchy stick-type cream puff at Croquant Chou Zakuzaku, and finish off with a kawaii 3D latte art at Reissue. Your Instagram feed, sorted.
What is it? These three traditional houses in Yanaka were renovated into one multi-venue complex of workshops, stores and residences.
Why go? This complex is home to some pretty interesting venues including a craft beer bar which feels like the set of an old Japanese film, a store that specialises in salt and olives, and a stunning bakery. You’ll discover more eclectic spaces as you make your way through its nook and crannies.
Don’t miss: The seasonal events; they’ve had tea ceremonies, mini beer festivals and the likes in the past. Keep up-to-date on the monthly events via their website.
What is it? A same-day and overnight bicycle rental service in Tokyo’s super-cool Yanaka neighbourhood.
Why go? It could be said that Tokyobike is the design embodiment of the Yanaka mindset. The company have been known for its simple yet attractive bicycles ever since they opened in 2002. The concept is simple: comfort above speed, ideally put together for the local life. The minimalist Tokyobike brand’s outpost here offers both same-day and overnight rentals but requires advance bookings (which can be made in English on their website). A one-day rental costs ¥3,000, with a ¥1,500 surcharge for every additional day.
Don’t miss: Tokyobike Rentals’ city guide. Based on the owner’s favourite spots in and around Yanaka, it tells you the cycling duration to each destination.
What is it? Experience French cabaret in Tokyo at this self-styled bar located just minutes away from Otsuka Station.
Why go? Ever been to a French cabaret? How about a Japanese version of a cabaret? This spot is the perfect place to let loose and spice up your day with some musical theatre. The space itself is transformed into a very Japanese version of a French cabaret, complete with energetic dancers and more.
Don’t miss: The weekly Tuesday night can-can shows feature lively dancers, music and more.
What is it? The city’s most famous bridge which crosses Tokyo Bay and is shaped like a rainbow – obviously. It connects Shibaura pier with Odaiba and carries the Metropolitan Expressway, a public highway and the Yurikamome line, plus a pedestrian walkway.
Why go? Looking to go on a walk with a view? You can access the pedestrian walkway through the gates near Shibaura-Futo Station and Odaiba-Kaihinkoen Station, just be warned there are no toilets up on the bridge. But the panorama is stunning – you get to look out across the different parts of the city segmented by the waters of Tokyo Bay.
Don’t miss: Come evening, the bridge is lit up with a spectrum of rainbow lights, making it even more fitting to its name.
What is it? As Japan’s first department store – established in 1904 – the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store is an architectural timeline and a must-visit for eager shoppers.
Why go? It showcases an eclectic mix of era-defining building styles through the years: from the classical columns and the art-deco tower to the vaulted stained-glass ceiling and, most recently, a futuristic addition by the country’s top architect, Kengo Kuma.
Don’t miss: Kuma’s revamped space-age, all-white reception area sets off the lobby centrepiece, a jaw-droppingly grand, antique statue of the Goddess of Sincerity. It’s no wonder this department store is designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
What is it? Japanese lifestyle brand Muji is worshipped for its clean, functional design, and the fandom just reached feverish pitch with the opening of its global flagship store and first hotel in Japan in April this year.
Why go? This new Ginza landmark offers the complete Muji lifestyle; aside from two restaurants, a bakery, a bar and two galleries, the retail space stretches five floors, stocked with swoon-worthy stationery, clothes, furniture, kitchenware and home accessories, plus a fresh food section offering bento boxes, a custom tea-blending station and a juice bar.
Don’t miss: Stay the night and check in to one of Muji Hotel Ginza’s gorgeous rooms, which are the perfect embodiment of Muji’s sleek, minimal aesthetic.
What is it? This tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) restaurant is set in a beautiful traditional Japanese house and offers an encyclopedia-like menu of brand pork.
Why go? Butagumi elevates this classic Japanese comfort food to new heights with a menu that categorises its tonkatsu by animal breed and cuts. Don’t know where to start? Try out their entry-level Ryuka-ton from Okinawa which offers a lean fillet and crisp exterior.
Don’t miss: Extra servings of cabbage and rice. As you’ll find at most tonkatsu restaurants, you can usually ask for refills of rice and the thinly shaved cabbage salad that come as accompaniments to the pork.
What is it? Once a classic summer dessert, kakigori (shaved ice) has become a year-round Instagram-friendly treat – and this small café's version is almost too pretty to eat.
Why go? Each bowl’s quirky name like ‘Paper Moon’ or ‘Mother Goose’ gives no hint to what’s inside the dessert, but expect shaved ice creations doused in earl grey and lychee syrups, topped with sakura, strawberry, white chocolate and more.
Don’t miss: What sets this spot apart is its colourful and dramatic presentation, and the seasonal menu offers some of the wackiest flavour combos in town. Your Insta-feed will thank you.
What is it? This culture school offers various traditional Japanese experiences including tea ceremony, calligraphy and kimono lessons.
Why go? Hisui Tokyo is becoming increasingly popular amongst visitors looking to have an authentic taste of Japanese culture. Whether you’re into physical activities like a bout in a dojo ring, a more refined experience with kimono dressing or attending a tea ceremony, there’s something for everyone.
Don’t miss: Batto, the art of swordsmanship. With the help of the instructors here, you’ll be swordsman in no time…
What is it? This DJ bar on the top floor of a multi-purpose building in front of Shibuya Station boasts spectacular views and great music.
Why go? The bar often hosts Tokyo scene veterans such as DJ Nori and Toshiyuki Goto, and offers a top-grade sound system courtesy of domestic maker Rey Audio. Audio aficionados shouldn’t have anything to complain about here, while laymen will at least appreciate the reasonably priced drinks.
Don’t miss: The music lineup changes daily. Check the website for its roster of DJs and artists.
What is it? A classic Japanese kissaten (traditional coffee shop), Café de l’Ambre has been in business since 1948.
Why go? This coffee shop is dependable for seriously good coffee, including brews made from aged coffee beans. Grab a seat at the bar counter to watch the coffee-making in action, particularly the way they chill cold beverages on a block of ice in the freezer.
Don’t miss: Buy some beans on your way out. For something more special, get the aged coffee beans, which is their speciality found nowhere else in the area.
What is it? Step into sneaker heaven at this Kichijoji store which offers an exhaustive range of sneakers from big brands.
Why go? They deal in everything from the latest model to ‘dead stock’ while also carrying limited-edition releases. Brands range from Adidas and Nike to Puma, Reebok and Japanese cult favourite, Onitsuka Tiger. The store also offers a selection of children’s shoes as well.
Don’t miss: Their Twitter updates, which avid shoe collectors tend to check on regularly for news on the latest drops.
What is it? The in-house shop at the National Art Center, Tokyo does a lot more than sell postcards: it also stocks an array of Tokyo- and Japan-themed goods.
Why go? Make your way over after touring the exhibition and you’ll find great souvenirs, gifts and Japanese items like manga and art books. The store lives up to its name with a diverse selection of Japanese-style accessories, clothes, crockery and pieces by feted local designers like Mina Perhonen and Anrealage.
Don’t miss: The in-store gallery features a different artist or exhibition every few months or so. There are even talks with artists, depending on the exhibition at that time.
What is it? Looking like an outlet store, the expansive Sippo will delight bargain hunters with a wide range of reasonably priced goods. The selection may seem random but everything is either made in Japan or features Japanese aesthetics.
Why go? Shop for homeware, fashion, jewellery, accessories, gourmet food items and even antique furnishings all at this one-stop shop. You could easily lose an entire day browsing, so it’s a good thing there’s an in-house café serving teishoku (set meals), desserts and coffee.
Don’t miss: The outside shelves are filled with discount tableware, pottery and other home items – some of them even go for as low as ¥100.
What is it? If you’re looking for the next fashion sensation, you’ll probably find it at the landmark Shibuya store 109, the domain for teenage girls and women in their twenties who don’t just follow trends but start them.
Why go? For the fashion-obsessed, this place is inspiring. Other than fashion and accessories, 109 is also home to renowned beauty brands including Korean beauty giants Etude House and Innisfree. The mall also hosts frequent pop-up stores offering pop idol merchandise and cute characters from the likes of Sanrio and more.
Don’t miss: The nearby men’s department is called ‘Magnet by Shibuya 109’ and it’s essentially the male version of this mega-mall. The seventh floor features a fancy food court and there’s a rooftop park where you look down at the famous Shibuya crossing.
What is it? This long-established Japanese-style Chinese restaurant in Jinbocho is known as the birthplace of hiyashi chuka (cold ramen noodles) in Japan.
Why go? Usually known as a summer dish, hiyashi chuka is served here year-round as loyal patrons can’t get enough of these addictive noodles. The classic ‘Gomoku Hiyashi Soba’ is piled high with various toppings and is shaped to emulate the silhouette of Mt Fuji.
Don’t miss: The vinegar and mustard found on each table. The noodles are dressed with a slightly sweet sauce, but you can adjust the taste to your preference by adding these two condiments.
What is it? A stationery shop in Kuramae showcasing the traditional crafts of Tokyo’s shitamachi (an old name referring to the city’s former working-area in the east) neighbourhoods.
Why go? You might find yourself falling in love with the art of writing again after a visit to this specialist stationery shop. Kakimori’s range of pens, inks and letter sets are chosen on the basis of how comfortable they are to use, and you're welcome to try them out in-store.
Don’t miss: The made-to-order notebooks. They are prepared in five to ten minutes, and are customisable through a large selection of covers, paper and bindings
What is it? Tokyo's hottest art opening of 2018, teamLab Borderless is an unprecedented digital art museum on Odaiba, created by the self-styled 'ultra-technologists' teamLab.
Why go? A good 60 artworks are on display, divided into five sections across 10,000sqm, which are all interactive. You're encouraged to touch, follow, disrupt or add to them. It's truly immersive, 'borderless' art.
Don’t miss: The ‘Sketch Aquarium’. Draw your own fish-inspired image on a piece of paper, scan it, and it’ll start swimming on the walls before you know it.
What is it? The age-old aizome-dyeing technique is woven into Japan’s traditional crafts and indigo is used in everything from kimono to noren curtains.
Why go? Today there are still a few studios practicing this unique art. In Asakusa, Wanariya is where you’ll find indigo-dyed garments and accessories including bags and scarves.
Don’t miss: Walk in on one of the shop’s dye classes to make a handkerchief or tenugui hand towel for just ¥1,920.
What is it? The hyper-modern store may look like a gallery but you can actually shop from its treasure trove of Japanese and international cult labels such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Maison Margiela and Raf Simons.
Why go? The clothes are edgy and fashion-forward, mostly vintage or rare collectibles from past seasons – and they are one of a kind.
Don’t miss: Check its website regularly as the shop often hosts exhibitions featuring signature pieces from a designer’s oeuvre.
What is it? Sample the Instagram-famous souffle pancakes at one of Flipper’s many locations throughout the city.
Why go? The pancake specialist’s airy, wobbly goodies are made from premium ingredients including eggs from local farms, and are known for their melt-in-the-mouth texture. Appropriately named the kiseki (miracle) pancakes, they come in two types: the plain version is served with a dollop of house-made maple butter cream, while the other is topped with seasonal fruit.
Don’t miss: The chain’s takeaway stands sell cutesy little miracle pancake pudding, which is like a shot of custard topped with a mini souffle pancake.
What is it? A cooking school in Asakusa offering a wide variety of Japanese cooking classes in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Why go? Taught by professionals in English, classes here will teach you how to make all the classic Japanese foods: ramen, okonomiyaki and more, plus their vegetarian versions too. Although the price tag is rather steep, the courses are worth it – they steamroll you through a series of easy-to-understand recipes so you can recreate the magic at home.
Don’t miss: The add-on options for a rickshaw ride or a traditional kimono dressing experience after your class. Make sure to book in advance (on the English website).
What is it? A cozy restaurant and café located in a tranquil neighbourhood offering adorable Totoro-shaped cream puffs.
Why go? The highlight of this place are by far the choux cream pastries styled on Totoro, the beloved character from Studio Ghibli's hit film ‘My Neighbour Totoro’. You’ll find it hard cutting into these cuties as they really do look too good to eat.
Don’t miss: The different limited-edition flavours, which range from strawberry to peach and chocolate. Check their website to find out which flavours are in season.
What is it? This ‘amphibious’ sightseeing bus plies the streets around Tokyo Skytree and Odaiba before going for a swim in the nearby river.
Why go? When a conventional tour just won’t do, the Sky Duck is your best sightseeing tour option. Three different daytime tours take you on an exciting journey both at land and sea, around the neighbourhoods of Tokyo Skytree and Odaiba.
Don’t miss: The Odaiba twilight course. Watch the sunset over Tokyo Bay and enjoy the sparkling night scenery.
What is it? A ramshackle but atmospheric alleyway crammed full of tiny bars – some so small that they only fit four or five people at a time.
Why go? Dating back to the early 1950s, Nonbei Yokocho ('Drunkard's Alley’) once hosted the Tokyu railway corporation's head office, but things changed drastically in the early postwar years. Now, popular yakitori shops and similar eateries rule the alley, and you'll also find bars, bistros and quirky shops here, conveniently located right by the bustling Shibuya Station.
Don’t miss: A meal at Okasan ('mother'). This no-frills joint is immensely popular and has been serving hungry patrons for three generations.
What is it? An Israeli restaurant on a backstreet near Ekoda Station, which boasts one of the best dinner deals in Tokyo.
Why go? Shamaim's all-you-can-eat course gets you a generous spread of hummus, falafel, schnitzel, chicken shishlik kebab, pita bread, soup and a variety of small dishes for a wallet-friendly ¥2,400 per person (there's a meat-free version available for vegetarians, too).
Don’t miss: The belly dance shows at the end of each month performed by professional international dancers.
What is it? A bistro-café-bakery opened by famous chef Taichi Hara and pâtissier Yuichi Goto in Shibuya’s Tomigaya area.
Why go? The perfect hangout before or after a day out in Yoyogi Park, Path serves great breakfast and brunch from 8am to 2pm, and beautifully plated French cuisine later on, all in a delightfully laid-back atmosphere.
Don’t miss: Their famous, super-fluffy dutch pancakes. This oven-baked delicacy is topped with uncured ham, burrata and copious amounts of maple syrup. Their croissant is also one of the best in Tokyo.
What is it? A temple hidden out deep in Setagaya, thought to be the origin of maneki neko, Japan’s famous ‘beckoning cat’ that serves as a symbol of good luck.
Why go? Gotokuji may seem ordinary at first glance – until you see the army of cat figurines sitting in the corner next to one of the temple halls. These figurines are sold at the administration building and customarily returned to the shelf after wishes are granted. See how many hidden feline motifs you can spot across the site.
Don’t miss: The three-storey pagoda and the tomb of Ii Naosuke, a high-ranking member of the Tokugawa Shogunate back in the mid 19th century.
What is it? A folk music bar that hosts live performances featuring the Tsugaru shamisen, a traditional banjo-like instrument.
Why go? Oiwake has the longest history of any folk music bar in Tokyo and it hosts three performances a day featuring around ten professional shamisen players. It’s definitely worth seeing and hearing the happi coat-clad performers playing together, thus making it a popular place for overseas visitors to experience traditional Japanese music.
Don’t miss: The izakaya-style grub such as sashimi, grilled meat and chanko nabe stew. This is one ‘live house’ where you can enjoy performances while sipping on sake and shochu.
What is it? A textile shop which upcycles vintage fabrics into trendy fashion items.
Why go? Located in Kagurazaka, an area famed for its picturesque cobblestone streets, this shop sells things like scarves and handbags made with woven fabric sourced from production regions throughout the country. These precious and sometimes century-old fabric are then hand-dyed and redesigned into stylish new products.
Don’t miss: Get one of the tote bags made from kendo and judo uniforms, or the silk scarves crafted from high-quality meisen kimono fabric.
What is it? By far the most scenic skatepark in the city, it commands breathtaking views of Tokyo Bay.
Why go? Located on the roof of the DiverCity Tokyo Plaza mall in Odaiba, the park is well equipped with a variety of obstacles including quarter pipes, a decent-sized mini half pipe and several stair sets with handrails. It also offers lessons for beginners and advanced skaters taught by Tokyo’s pros.
Don’t miss: The fish tacos or ‘wet’ burritos sold at on-site eatery Wahoo’s Tacos. The portion is generous enough to get even a banged-up boarder back on his or her feet after a tough morning session.
What is it? A cozy bar run by one of Japan’s most popular sake brands, Dassai.
Why go? Located on the first basement floor of Tokyo Square Garden, Dassai Bar 23 lets you sample the brand’s various types of sake, including sparkling and nigori. Plus, you get to choose from five sake tasting sets, most notably the exclusive Dassai Beyond. You can also buy your favourite bottle from the in-house store.
Don’t miss: Ask the bartender for more information about the sake. He will show you samples of rice used for each of their signature beverages, complete with detailed descriptions.
What is it? A laid-back music bar with an eclectic playlist (everything from jazz to Brazilian music) and a great selection of wine.
Why go? Owned by DJ Tomoaki Nakamura, this bar is perfect for whiling away the hours. The owner's aim was to create a place where you'd be able to listen to both new faves and golden oldies that both feel just as relevant. Order an Espresso Cooler, sit back, relax to the eclectic but well-curated range of tunes and browse the myriad of records – if you find an album that tickles your fancy, you can buy it too.
Don’t miss: The event nights when a guest spinner, or Nakamura himself, is spinning the decks.
What is it? An adorable store in Minami-Aoyama selling one-of-a-kind gifts, homewares and sundry goods.
Why go? Coto Mono Michi at Tokyo gives young, creative craftsmen a chance to showcase and sell their unique products in the shop’s gallery space. The shop takes care of promotional activities in return and runs a well-stocked online shop.
Don’t miss: Take part in one of the regular workshops, which you get to meet and learn from the craftsmen.
What is it? This traditional Japanese garden is popular year-round, but you’ll find the most magnificent views in spring and autumn.
Why go? The garden’s intricate details and harmonious atmosphere are best enjoyed at a slow pace. Covering approximately 89,000 square metres, Rikugien’s landscape reflects traditional Edo kaiyu style, with winding paths set around a central pond and miniature hills built on level grounds.
Don’t miss: The elegant recreation of 88 beautiful landscapes from famous waka poetry anthologies such as the ‘Man’yoshu.’ Also, the cascading blossoms of the shidarezakura (weeping cherry) in spring, which are particularly magnificent.
What it is? A family-style fugu (blowfish) specialist restaurant located between Asakusa and Ueno.
Why go? Fugu is poisonous and lethal if not prepared properly, but the cluster of food safety certificates on the walls should assuage the fears of even the most ardent fuguphobes. The menu is short: fugu six ways (jellied, raw, grilled, deep-fried, soup, hot pot) plus Makino’s blowfish-free signature dish – a colossal hot pot of crab, daikon and melting butter, to be topped up with rice, cod roe and egg when you’ve polished off the seafood.
Don’t miss: After eating a mustard-flecked cube of wobbly nikogori, boiled fugu in its own jelly, you’ll have a spring in your step, and not only because you successfully ate the hardest food in the world to negotiate with chopsticks.
What is it? A lifestyle shop focusing on the two defining techniques of Japanese cuisine: fermentation and pickling.
Why go? With a well-curated selection that includes soy sauce, miso, amazake, bread and much more, 85 deals in items for daily use that are both good for your health and the environment. They also stock hard-to-get types of miso, vinegar and soy sauce – so if you're into cooking, do stop by.
Don’t miss: My Nuka Service: this monthly plan is for the dedicated fans of fermentation. They'll store your personal nuka (rice bran used for pickling) for you in a temperature-controlled room – and no one else is allowed to touch your box of bran.
What is it? A ‘ramen izakaya’ in quiet Mukojima
Why go? Located on a sleepy residential street not far from the Sumida River, Mukojima's top ramen joint is a little tricky to find but rewards with back-to-basics chuka soba, available in four flavours.
Don’t miss: The standard salt (shio) option: the slippery noodles and strong-flavoured soup make for an ideal conclusion to a night of boozing and snacking on seafood.
What is it? Tokyo’s premier bookshop district
Why go? It’s a bibliophile nirvana that’s home to some 180 second-hand bookshops – it’s easy to lose a few hours (if only that) rummaging around.
Don’t miss: The annual book festival, held in late October each year, when over a hundred local stores erect stalls on the streets.
What is it? A take-out specialising in that ultimate Portuguese treat: pastel de nata
Why go? It’s possibly Tokyo’s best version of the egg tart. It’s also an offshoot of Yoyogi restaurant Cristiano’s, known for their expert take on Portuguese cuisine.
Don’t miss: Well, the pastel de nata. If we really have to recommend anything else, look out for the changing line-up of seasonal baked goods, and take them to nearby Yoyogi Park on a sunny day for the ultimate picnic.
What is it? A shop specialising in tenugui (traditional Japanese hand towels made from dyed cotton cloth)
Why go? Tenugui are back in vogue and here you'll find classic patterns and seasonal motifs such as flying carp streamers and fireworks. Wear one as an accessory or hang it up on the wall as part of your room decor.
Don’t miss: Their occasional in-store exhibitions by a range of textile artists.
What is it? A relaxed florist-café meets social enterprise: it’s staffed by people with mental health issues and disorders.
Why go? One of the most progressive cafés in town, Lorans is decorated with lush plants and specialises in vibrant flowers and veg-heavy food, all sold by people who are often marginalised here in Japan.
Don’t miss: Their smoothies, which are based on floral themes.
What is it? One of Tokyo’s best udon restaurants, serving freshly made noodles in traditional as well as new, inventive styles.
Why go? Don’t be put off by the long lines at Shin. The laborious work and artistry that go into the making of the fat wheat noodles will make it worth your time. The dough is aged overnight to achieve its optimal moisture and salt levels before being cut and cooked upon order to maintain the noodles’ signature springy, chewy texture.
Don’t miss: You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, really, but we recommend the inventive ‘carbonara udon’, where you toss the noodles in a mixture of raw egg, parmesan cheese, butter and pepper, and – get this – it’s served with a slab of bacon tempura.
What is it? Tokyo’s historic Ryogoku neighbourhood is famous for its sumo culture. It’s home to many venues championing and preserving Japan’s most traditional sport.
Why go? Start at sumo’s spiritual home, the Ekoin Temple, which hosted matches in the sport’s early days. Catch a fight (in May and September) at the current sumo stadium Kokugikan; even if you can’t get a ticket, the adjoining sumo museum is free to enter (on non-match days). On the nearby Kokugikan Street, you’ll also find a host of rikishi (sumo wrestler) statues.
Don’t miss: Try the chanko nabe, a sumo wrestler’s daily meal. This meaty stew is done particularly well at Tomoegata
What is it? ‘Under the Wave off Kanagawa’ (part of the print series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’) is to Japanese art just as ‘Mona Lisa’ is to Italian Renaissance art.
Why go? Explore this iconic print while learning about its creator, the famous Edo-era (1603-1868) artist Katsushika Hokusai, and his other original works and hi-res reproductions at his eponymous museum.
Don’t miss: The permanent exhibition’s multilingual touch-screen panels and videos provide explanations of his art, while a life-size diorama of his atelier will shed some insight into his creative process.
What is it? This theatre restaurant in Nihonbashi offers a daily roster of beginner-friendly noh and kyogen (traditional comic theatre) performances.
Why go? Compared to the usual two-and-a-half-hour long performance, the shows at Suigian are just 40-minutes short and therefore easier to digest. The plays come complete with an English explanation booklet, plus you may even get to try on a noh mask during selected sessions.
Don’t miss: Enjoy a traditional Japanese meal, or an afternoon tea with classic Kyoto-style confectionery, while taking in the engaging show.
What is it? This futuristic structure towering over Ryogoku provides a glimpse into the Tokyo of yore with the city’s largest collection of exhibits covering the capital’s history throughout the Edo period (1603-1868).
Why go? Stroll across a life-size model of the former Nihonbashi bridge, admire a replica of the Nakamura-za kabuki theatre facade, and peer into large dioramas of city quarters detailing the lifestyles of the city’s former residents.
Don’t miss: Sign up for a multilingual guided tour (daily between 10am and 3pm) to make the most of your visit.
What is it? Sakurai is a cool and modern interpretation of a Japanese teahouse, where you’ll experience an almost meditative tea session, complete with some dainty Japanese sweets known as wagashi.
Why go? You can choose a tea course (from ¥4,800) to sample the different types of Japanese tea, or pick from a selection of green tea grown across the country to have it freshly roasted into hojicha (from ¥1,700).
Don’t miss: If you really want to fully appreciate the creativity of the tea masters here, ask for the house-infused tea liquor: sencha-infused gin, hojicha-infused rum, or beer with matcha.
What is it? The most unusual of Tokyo’s urban oases, the Meguro Sky Garden is built on the roof of a circular loop junction on the Metropolitan Expressway.
Why go? The 400m-long green lung is home to 1,000 trees – including cherry and pine – a Japanese garden and bamboo grove. It’s a ‘jungle’ amongst the city concrete, and a perfect place to catch the sunset over a picnic.
Don’t miss: Grab some baked goodies from the nearby Italian pastry shop L’atelier Motozo and watch out for Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day.
What is it? The Tokyo outpost of famed Dover Street Market, set in upmarket Ginza.
Why go? Embodying 'beautiful chaos', Ginza's Dover Street Market is a multi-brand concept store offering a truly unique shopping experience. Plus, it was created by a Tokyoite extraordinaire: Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons.
Don’t miss: The one-off designer collabs, and the often creative window displays.
What is it? Free observatories inside both the North and South towers of Shinjuku’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Why go? Free. Observation. Decks. In. Tokyo. Need we say more? Plus, Kenzo Tange's domineering building is worth visiting purely to have a good look at its spectacular edifice.
Don’t miss: Sunset, when you can see the sun setting over Mt Fuji in the distance – if the weather is clear.
What is it? The flagship store of Elle Café right on the main road in Aoyama, which hosts both a take-out, a café and a restaurant.
Why go? The menu is chock-full of healthy(ish) things, including freshly baked organic loaves. The restaurant upstairs serves prix fixe meals produced by super chef Melissa King, a favourite of Madonna and the Obama family.
Don’t miss: Their range of gluten-free sweets – Tokyo’s celiacs collectively did a little dance when the café opened, and the goodies are non-celiac taste-approved as well.
What is it? Freeze-dried food manufacturer Amano Jitsugyo's physical shop
Why go? They carry everything from miso soup to Japanese-style curry, all in rock-hard, moisture-free form. Perfect for emergency supplies.
Don’t miss: The store’s free hot water supply, so you can 'cook' your space food right then and there.
What is it? A small joint near Ebisu dealing in a rarity for Tokyo: falafel, hummus and more Middle Eastern staples.
Why go? Run by an affable Israeli, it’s one of the better options for Middle Eastern fare in the city – and it’s priced pretty competitively too.
Don’t miss: Their lunch deals. That includes the falafel set lunch, which starts with a small cup of soup and moves on to Israeli salad, hummus, tehina, falafel, pita and fries.
What is it? A multi-storied arcade full of everything Tokyo’s otaku could wish for – and more.
Why go? These days, the diehard otaku prefer Nakano Broadway to Akihabara for their fix – whether that involves manga, collectible figurines, video games or, er, replica machine guns.
Don’t miss: The shop on the fourth floor selling original sketches. Also, the non-otaku offerings, such as artist Takashi Murakami’s cafe and bar Zingaro, and the entire basement food section.
What is it? A public bathhouse in offbeat Uguisudani.
Why go? Occupying four storeys, this next-generation public bathhouse opened in May 2017 and has already become a hot property among the capital's bathing aficionados. Note no tattoos are allowed, though.
Don’t miss: The in-house restaurant, which serves excellent post-bathing fodder.
What is it? The world's first yakitori restaurant to earn a Michelin star.
Why go? Toriki is renowned for letting only the freshest product touch its charcoal grill. Reservations are hard to come by, but seats sometimes open up on weekdays after 9pm.
Don’t miss: The ultra-moreish ‘chigimo’ liver, which is hard to find even at other poultry-based establishments.
What is it? Traditional amezaiku maker Ameshin’s branch inside the Tokyo Skytree complex.
Why go? One of Japan’s traditional crafts, Amezaiku is the art of making tiny candy sculptures from hot, molten sugar. The results are both very intricate and adorable.
Don’t miss: The artisans at work. Using a special pair of tiny scissors, craftsmen produce detailed chiselled treats, often in the shape of animals, right in front of your eyes.
What is it? A folk toy shop, which sells traditional souvenirs with a trendy edge.
Why go? Atelier Gangu sells everything from maneki-neko to kites and papier-mâché animals, all made by veteran craftsmen and sold in a stylish space – it’s a traditional toy lover’s dream.
Don’t miss: The selection of original postcards, printed with designs of the toys.
What is it? Run by the affable Kaneko-san, Savoy is a local pizza institution that arguably rivals many a pizza place in Italy.
Why go? Savoy was originally started by the owner of Seirinkan, another one of Tokyo’s top pizza restaurants. The pizzas (margherita and marinara) at Savoy, however, have less cornicione, while the marinara is notable for its use of garlic: thinly sliced and distributed just right.
Don’t miss: Go for the lunch set, where you get a pizza, a salad and a drink for only ¥1,000.
What is it? It’s a library all right, but instead of books, you get a stunning collection of more than 1,200 different whiskies.
Why go? Aiming to help newbies learn more about the overwhelming variety of fine malts, this bar has none of that ‘connoisseurs only’ attitude sometimes evident at other Tokyo whisky bars, and provides a simple menu of standard options to get your sipping started.
Don’t miss: Stop by for a tasting set, accompanied by a sweet treat from Tomigaya's bean to bar chocolate
What is it? One of Tokyo’s best brewpubs, TY Harbor produces a range of Californian-style ales and porters, and the attached restaurant serves up commendable diner fare.
Why go? The canalside location is one of the few places where you can sit outside and drink on the waterfront. TY Harbor also underwent a significant facelift a few years back, adding seats in the upstairs area and beefing up the food menu.
Don’t miss: Their seasonal brews. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with their flagship pale ale, which is malty and rich with a refreshing citrus-floral aroma.
What is it? This shop specialises in a type of wagashi (Japanese sweets) known as ohagi, which is rice cake covered in red bean paste/jam.
Why go? Takeno to Ohagi Meguro has a creative flair when it comes to unusual and seasonal ohagi flavours. In the past, we’ve had coconut and lemon peel, amaou strawberries, and nuts.
Don’t miss: The Ohagi here can be packaged in beautiful wooden boxes, which make for a perfect gift.
What is it? Named after the 1987 movie, this bar serves cocktails themed on films.
Why go? Each mixture is made based on the content of a specific flick, so expect a (very) strong drink if you order one named after a horror movie. The selection is too extensive to fit on a menu, so feel free to make requests: the owner claimed to have watched around 20,000 movies, so he'll probably be able to accommodate you.
Don’t miss: Get the Titanic, which wows with a deep blue liqueur base – not representing the freezing ocean, apparently, but another central element of the 1997 blockbuster.
What is it? A bookstore has never been as one-stop as this: Tsutaya Book Apartment & Book Lounge has got to be one of the most unique places to stay (and do some reading) in Tokyo.
Why go? Occupying three floors in the Shinjuku Minim building, it houses a sake bar in the basement, a co-working space on the fourth floor, and private sleeping booths complete with shower facilities on the fifth and sixth (women only) floors.
Don’t miss: It’s the perfect crash pad if you missed your last train back after a night of bar-hopping.
What is it? The second floor of Kiha, the after-work hangout of Tokyo’s toritetsu (train geeks), is decked out like the inside of a Tokyo subway car, down to the minute detail.
Why go? The luggage racks, handles, ads, station signs and route maps are all authentic and combine to recreate an environment so real that your brain might be tricked into thinking the carriage is moving on occasion, especially if you’ve had a few drinks.
Don’t miss: Instead of the usual pub grub, Kiha serves up a variety of canned food – nostalgic snacks eaten on trains before bento boxes became the norm. You can even try on some of the stationmaster uniforms.
What is it? A small, highly respected bar hidden in the residential neighbourhood of Azabu, led by famed bartender Akiyoshi Kawase.
Why go? This is a classic Tokyo bar, where the atmosphere is serene and quiet, more closely resembling a tea ceremony than a rowdy watering hole.
Don’t miss: The cosy space is perfect for lone drinkers and there are no menu – Akiyoshi will ask for your preference and create a drink to suit your palate.
What is it? Out late but don’t feel like drinking? Parfaiteria Bel specialises in one of Tokyo’s quintessential desserts, parfait, and is open until the wee hours of the morning.
Why go? The menu changes seasonally, and details the many components that go into each indulgent parfait. We’ve seen creations made with 17 ingredients including sake jelly, strawberry gelato, matcha mochi and sakura mousse.
Don’t miss: Add on a drink such as coffee, tea or cocktail to make it a set, and get there early to grab a number as the café can get pretty packed. Otherwise, it has a second location called Parfaiteria Momobukuro in Ikebukuro.
What is it? This northwest moat of the Imperial Palace is lined with around 200 somei-yoshino and yamazakura cherry blossom trees.
Why go? Come springtime, the sakura trees are in full bloom, with the flowering branches stretching over the moat to form a sort of floral passage, creating a fairy tale-like scene. The view is one of the best in the city, and paddling under the white and pink flowers is a quintessential Tokyo experience.
Don’t miss: The boathouse stays open until 8pm during the cherry blossoms season. This makes for a particularly scenic photo op.
What is it? This venerable eatery has been in Koenji for 30 years and is recognised as a pioneer of Okinawan food in Tokyo.
Why go? Hailing from Ishigaki Island, owner Junko Takahashi feels it is her mission to faithfully reproduce the flavours enjoyed by Okinawan people at a reasonable price. The ingredients are brought in from Okinawa, there's Orion Beer on tap and a copious variety of awamori. Plus, the cheerful service is almost disarming.
Don’t miss: The restaurant has been hosting a monthly Okinawan shamisen concert every month for more than 20 years.
What is it? This renovated traditional house in Yanaka, which used to be an apartment in the ‘50s, bills itself as Tokyo’s smallest cultural institution.
Why go? Hagiso features a café and exhibition space, and also hosts occasional gigs and dance performances.
Don’t miss: The onsite cafe, which also doubles as a community art project, serves a Japanese-style breakfast in the morning between 8am to 10.30am (last order at 10am).
What is it? One of the few foreigner-friendly traditional ryokan in Tokyo, located in the cool and atmospheric neighbourhood of Yanaka.
Why go? You’ll be staying in a private Japanese house. Plus, Sawanoya provides its own map of the old-school Yanaka area, does cheap bicycle rentals, and even has a small, guest-only coffee lounge. Rooms are small but comfortable, and there are signs in English reminding you about local etiquette.
Don’t miss: The more expensive rooms have ensuite bathrooms. But don’t worry if you’re not planning to splurge as the cheaper ones have access to the communal Japanese-style baths and shower.
What is it? This self-styled tandoor bar in Kiba specialises in South Indian-style curries, grilled meats and kulcha (a form of slightly leavened Indian flatbread)
Why go? While many Indian restaurants in Tokyo tend to adapt the level of spiciness to local taste, Kamarupuru sticks to the original recipes. More importantly, they have a deft hand in balancing the spices; the dishes showcase a complexity of flavours rather than just heat.
Don’t miss: Try their lamb mint curry, the cheese kulcha, or bhuna oysters.
What is it? The F&B outpost of Time Out Tokyo's media empire brings a dash of cosmopolitan class to the Ebisu area – and it's a great hangout, too
Why go? The interior is cool but laidback, and has seating for group gatherings. Order up some international grub – especially the mouth-watering Yatsugatake Premium Burger – and browse the library of Time Out books and magazines from around the globe. And did we mention free wi-fi?
Don’t miss: Check out the latest exhibition in the adjacent Kata gallery, or live gigs at Liquidroom downstairs.
What is it? Hidden underneath Tokyo Station, this entire pathway is dedicated to cute characters native to Japan. There’s everything from all-time favourite Pokémon's official store to outlets for Ultraman, Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Rilakkuma.
Why go? As Japan is known for its myriad of mascots and characters, this street acts like a crash course on Japanese pop culture. Plus it’s a one-stop shop to pick up all the plush toys and merchandise of your favourite fictional Japanese.
Don’t miss: Ichiban Plaza is an event space within the Character Street; it features pop-up shops which often offer limited edition merchandise.
What is it? Former arthouse theatre turned music venue. It is one of the best places in Tokyo to catch a live gig.
Why go? The tiered floor and high ceiling ensures that even the shortest audience members can see what's happening on the stage, and the Funktion One sound system packs a serious punch. Programming is varied, and occasionally experimental: you might catch indie rock or abstract electronica, depending on when you go.
Don’t miss: The subterranean WWW B space is the place to get jiggy to the weirdest new dancefloor mutations – producers such as Klein, DJ Nigga Fox and M.E.S.H. have all played there.
What is it? The first photography and moving image museum in Japan, it brings in leading lights of the photography world (both local and international) for regular shows.
Why go? The museum boasts an impressive permanent collection of over 34,000 works. It is the institution for everything photography-related, and on top of regular exhibitions, it also organises lectures, workshops and events.
Don’t miss: The small Images & Technology Gallery in the basement hosts a multimedia presentation on the history of optics, featuring tricks such as morphing, and the occasional media art exhibition.
What is it? A fish and seafood burger specialist run by a former sushi chef who has worked in some of the city’s top sushi temples.
Why go? When a sushi chef switches his attention to burgers, you get some of the best fish burgers around, executed with premium seafood and perfected using insider techniques from the sushi world.
Don’t miss: If you’re going for the crab and potato cream croquette burger, always add on the rich, dark and delicious kani-miso (crab tomalley) – a condiment seldom served outside sushi restaurants.