Toranomon Yokocho1/8
Photo: Kisa ToyoshimaToranomon Yokocho
Saunachelin 20202/8
Photo: Yurika KonoKoganeyu
Switch Coffee Tokyo K53/8
Photo: ©K5Switch Coffee Tokyo at K5
Bonus Track4/8
Photo: Bonus TrackBonus Track
Eat Play Works5/8
Photo: Eat Play Works
The Toilet Toilet – close crop6/8
Photo: Satoshi Nagare; provided by Nippon FoundationThe Tokyo Toilet
7/8
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa | Miyashita Park
0% Non-alcohol Experience8/8
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima0% Non-Alcohol Experience

The 11 biggest Japanese trends in Tokyo in 2020

From low-alcohol drinks and vegan food to glamping and hip dining halls, here’s what we’ve loved in the city this year

By Jessica Thompson
Advertising

As 2020 draws to a close, we’re taking time to reflect on the year that was – and wasn’t. For Tokyoites who were looking forward to the much-anticipated Olympic Games, the year certainly didn’t play out as expected. But despite all the setbacks, 2020 still delivered some exciting food, drink, design and lifestyle trends. More than just fads from a very weird year, they’re a peek into the future – and while we don’t know which ones will make it through 2021, we’re hoping to see more of these sustainable, locally focussed movements.

Whether it’s Japanese craft beer, new green spaces in the city, or the newly cool Nihonbashi area, we’ve been loving these trends in 2020.

RECOMMENDED: The new restaurants, cafés and bars in Tokyo to try this month

Trends in Japan in 2020

Toranomon Yokocho
Toranomon Yokocho
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Hip dining halls

There’s a convivial feel to these food halls, which are popping up everywhere, from old banks to train stations. Filled with an array of small venues, they’ll spoil you for choice in drinking and dining options. Choose to eat from just one place, or do a hashigo and swap between several – perfect for chronic FOMO sufferers.

In Hiroo, there’s Eat Play Works, a complex of 17 restaurants spread over two floors, covering Mexican to Okinawan cuisine. In Nihonbashi, Commissary offers pizza, tacos, craft beer and more in a Brooklyn-inspired diner. Or go back to the future at the glitzy Toranomon Yokocho, featuring Tokyo’s first gin distillery and offshoots of Michelin-starred restaurants. At Harajuku’s new Jingumae Comichi, you’ll find 18 different bars and restaurants tucked into a two-floor food hall designed to feel like a mini neighbourhood.

Sakura Gose
Sakura Gose
Photo: fb.com/locobeer.inc

Japanese-flavoured craft beer

Although Japan may be a little late to the craft beer party, it’s making up for lost time with an exciting array of locally inspired brews. You’ll find classic European styles of beer made with distinctly Japanese flavour profiles like Rokko Beer's Akinashi Weiss, which uses three different Japanese nashi pear varieties, and Loco Beer’s cherry blossom-infused Sakura Gose. Or go for something more experimental like Yona Yona’s Yuzu x Arashio salt and yuzu-flavoured beer, or Nishijin Ale Project’s Kyoto Nakagawa Manma, infused with roasted tea leaves.

Advertising
The Tokyo Toilet
The Tokyo Toilet
Photo: Satoshi Nagare, provided by Nippon Foundation

Shibuya keeps shapeshifting

Walking through the construction mayhem in Shibuya for the last few years had us a little nervous about the outcome. Thankfully, the area hasn’t lost its rough-and-tumble charm – but it has gained some sophisticated new architecture and a dazzling array of shops and food.

There’s the stylish new Miyashita Park complex, a shopping mall filled with luxury stores, restaurants and cafés, with a popular neighbourhood park on the roof and a hotel beside it. With Harajuku is home to Japan’s first city-centre Ikea and a host of other shops. Jingumae Comichi is a new dining complex with 18 venues serving everything from ramen to sustainable seafood and craft tea.

As you wander through the neighbourhood’s new nooks and crannies, keep a lookout for these eye-catching public toilets designed by famous architects, cheeky structures that go far beyond purely functional. Once regarded as the centre for youth culture, Shibuya is growing up. 

K5 in Nihonbashi
K5 in Nihonbashi
Photo: K5 / Yikin Hyo

The rise of Nihonbashi

The former business centre and Wall Street of Japan is reinventing itself with a slew of cool, independent restaurants and bars. In early 2020, a renovated bank building from the 1920s reopened its doors as the stylish K5 hotel; in August, five more venues opened in Kabutocho, including a hundred-year-old eel restaurant that had transformed into a craft beer bar.

In October, Kabutocho was declared the coolest neighbourhood in Tokyo, and the month before that, Commissary dining hall opened in Nihonbashi Honcho. We have a feeling this is just the beginning for a neighbourhood that’s always been a vibrant mix of the traditional and the modern.

Advertising
Minato City Cultural Center
Minato City Cultural Center
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Heritage buildings given a new lease on life

We love Japanese architecture, from its bold, clean lines to its rustic, simple aesthetic – and something we’re following especially closely this year are all the restorations of traditional Tokyo buildings.

In Bunkyo ward, 88-year-old sento Koganeyu reopened in August after a crowdfunded renovation and now features a craft beer bar replete with a DJ booth. In Minato ward, a historical kenban (geisha assignation office) reopened as a cultural centre after two years of renovations at the expert hand of architect Shigeru Aoki.

In Nihonbashi, a 1920s bank is now home to a tea-inspired cocktail bar, a modern Japanese restaurant and 20 stylish hotel rooms featuring shibori-dyed bed nets draped over polished concrete floors.

Miyashita Park rooftop
Miyashita Park rooftop
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

More urban green spaces

Part of Tokyo’s charm is its tiny restaurants, underground bars and labyrinthine alleyways, but this year, we’ve seen a number of new venues with a focus on the open-air – well-timed, given how the year unfolded.

There’s the indoor-outdoor shopping centre Miyashita Park, where you can have a picnic on the expansive rooftop park. At Shimokitazawa’s Bonus Track, an open-air courtyard connects small shops, creating a laid-back village feel. And at Jinnan House in Jingumae, an inviting front yard is a great spot to spend an afternoon with a cup of tea or beer. Here’s hoping for some more outdoor venues in 2021!

Advertising
PICA Fujiyama, glamping, Mt Fuji
PICA Fujiyama, glamping, Mt Fuji
Photo: fb.com/PICAFujiyama

Glamping

Along with brunch and nominication (that’s nomu, Japanese for drinking, fused with communication), glamping is one of our favourite portmanteaus. And 2020 was a boon to lovers of glamourous camping in Japan, with exciting additions to the already impressive lineup of glamping options.

In Tochigi prefecture, you can now stay in an igloo tent overlooking the surrounding mountains, while enjoying hearty breakfasts and lakeside barbecues. In Karuizawa, you can rent a luxurious hibernation pod in a forest and dine on aged miso hamburg steak while you keep cosy. In Mie prefecture, Hygge Circles Ugakei is a Danish-style glamp-ground currently in development, set to open in 2021 surrounded by lush forest and waterfalls in the Uga Valley. 

shinkansen, bullet train
shinkansen, bullet train
Photo: Andy Leung/Pixabay

New rail and travel passes

For decades, we’ve ogled the Japan Rail Passes available exclusively to tourists, which offer heavily discounted train trips. Finally, the time for locals to get a better deal has come, with an exciting lineup of more affordable travel options.

There’s the JR East Welcome Pass, which gives residents unlimited three-day travel through Tokyo, Nagano, Niigata and Tohoku, while the JR East Tokyo Wide Pass offers unlimited rides on shinkansen and limited-express trains in the Kanto region, including Nikko, Mt Fuji and Izu.

If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, the JR East weekend pass lets you travel to Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka and more for just ¥8,800. Or stay in the city and pick up a Metro & Grutto pass, which gets you unlimited metro rides and discounts to 90 Tokyo attractions.

Advertising
SUPERIORITY BURGER
SUPERIORITY BURGER
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Vegan food

Although a typical Japanese diet isn’t especially meat-heavy, it’s often tricky to find meat-free options when dining out, especially since Japan’s ubiquitous dashi stock is often fish-based. Luckily, venues are responding to the increasing demand for plant-based dishes with a range of tasty new options.

There are vegan takes on traditional Japanese cuisine, like Komeda Is kissaten, Izakaya Masaka vegan izakaya and the Veggie Ramen Nana at Kagestu. You can try vegan sweets at patisserie Hal Okada Vegan Sweets Lab, and more upscale vegan cuisine at 8ablish in Aoyama. Plus, New York City’s famous vegan burger joint Superiority Burger even brought its plant-based patties to Shibuya this year.

0% Non-alcohol Experience
0% Non-alcohol Experience
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Low and non-alcohol drinking

The low- and non-alcohol (‘nolo’) trend has been picking up steam in the last few years, and for anyone wanting to balance out all those on-nomi gatherings and quarantinis, there’s an increasing range of options.

Japan’s first alcohol-free distilled liquor hit the shelves – Non-Al comes in two varieties distilled from botanicals like yuzu, sansho pepper and roasted tea. Then there’s Hirubi, a new alcohol-free craft beer.

And nolo doesn’t mean missing out on bars, either. You can enjoy a range of creative, expertly crafted low- and no-alcohol cocktails at 0% Non-Alcohol Experience bar in Roppongi, and Low-Non Bar in Nihonbashi. We love good drinks, so we’re relishing these lighter options.

Advertising
Kit Kat origami package
Kit Kat origami package
Photo: Nestle Group

Reducing plastic waste

This trend isn’t about something that’s on the rise, but on the way out: plastic waste. Last year, convenience stores introduced bioplastic onigiri wrappers, KitKat released recyclable origami wrappers, and MyMizu released an app that guides people to free water refill stations around the city, to combat the waste from single-use PET bottles.

This year, July 1 was a pivotal date, when the Japanese government rules came into force, ensuring shops must charge for plastic shopping bags. Almost instantly, it seemed like stores were awash with snazzy tote bags ready to replace those environmentally unfriendly white plastic ones.

More from Time Out Tokyo

Advertising
Recommended

    You may also like

      Advertising