I don't even know where to start because this city means so much to me for so many reasons. I could write a whole book on it. I did many contracts there during my modelling days, and also more recently lived there for 3 years. There's something there for everyone, and it's constantly changing- therefore, I still feel like I haven't completed it (and never will). One of my favourite things about Tokyo is all of the limited edition items and pop-up shops that change with the seasons, they really know how to keep things exciting and new. They are also great at keeping traditions alive, which is apparent in the many temples and shrines you'll discover around the city, clothing, crafts, and food. This article will focus on my favourite things, either that made a good impression on me the first time, or kept me coming back often.
This is my favourite traditional area. Whenever someone visited me in Tokyo, it was the first place I brought them. The ancient Sensō-ji temple is breathtaking, and the streets lining up to it are full of delicious snacks and great souvenirs.
There's a lot to see in the main tourist area, but don't forget to wander down the side streets because there's a lot to discover there. You'll find Hanayashiki- Japan's oldest amusement park, Asakusa Shrine (to the right of the temple), a giant mysterious golden statue- that looks like flying poo (It's actually Asahi Super Dry Hall- but I never knew this until now as I'm writing this article because I did some research), and a lot of different food (bars, izakayas, ramen places, local snacks). There's also really good shopping arcades (Nishi Sando & Shin-Nakamise), where you can buy fairly priced homeware, sandals, food and Japanese crafts. *It's also really beautiful at night because they light up a lot of lanterns and there isn't as many people.
I love the fashion boutique shops and cafés here... OH AND THE BOOKSTORE! There is a massive bookstore called Tsutaya that I could spend hours in. It spans over 3 buildings, has 6 book departments, 2 cafés, movies (they claim they are Japan's unrivaled video department offering every movie- and if they don't have it they can burn it for you on the spot), Music- 120,000 albums precisely (that you can freely sample), a travel desk, and stationary shop. The architecture is also beautiful! Whether you're inside or outside Tsutaya Daikayama, there's a lot to look at.
Nearby the bookstore is one of my husband and I's favourite brunch spots, Ivy Place. The food there is great and they allow dogs on their terrace, so the whole fam spent a lot of Sunday's there!
Miranda nail salon is also there. This salon is really cute, clean, and they do great nail art. I loved the punky Barbie nails I did there.
There's a great mix of well-known fashion brands and new brands explore. As well as some really great sneaker shops.
The LUSH store in Daikanyama is my favourite location. They also have a spa attached to it (I got a chocolate covered massage once!).
Daikanyama a quieter area that takes a lot of walking and discovering, but it's definitely an area not to miss!
TEAMLAB BORDERLESS (various locations)
I went to my first TeamLab exhibition with my friend Micaela and was blown away. It's an immersive art experience that isn't like anything else I've seen. Your senses will be shook as you walk through different rooms not knowing what's to come (each one has different elements of texture, water, lights, sounds, etc). TeamLab now has permanent exhibitions (but you should buy your ticket and reserve your time slot online first- tickets are usually sold out the day of), so you can go anytime.
**TIP: book your tickets a online a week in advance & don't wear a skirt/dress (or just wear shorts under it) because there's often mirrors on the floor as part of the installation.
I debated on whether to put this in the shopping section or on it's own... this was my ultimate place to shop, especially in my dolly/lolita days.
However, it's much more than shopping. There's so much to do here, I couldn't possibly cover it all but I'll just scratch the surface and tell you my favourites- that is what this article is about after all.
If it's you're first time in this area, I'd begin at Harajuku JR station and walk to Meiji Jingu Shrine. It's a beautiful walk through a forest, then you'll see a wall of hundreds of old sake barrels, before reaching Tokyo's most famous Shinto shrine, that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife.
After exploring around the shrine (it's free, btw!), head back to the Harajuku JR station. From the entrance, if you look right across the street you will see Takeshita Dori, this is the main shopping street in Harajuku.
There's a lot of different shops on this street. Some notable ones are Bodyline (for Lolita outfits & cosplay costumes), WEGO (well-priced trendy fashion), StyleNanda (it's Korean but I love their fashion & makeup- this is their flagship store in Japan and the building is so pink & pretty), and Daiso (Japan's dollar store, this one is massive- 3 floors!)
Be sure to look upstairs and downstairs of the buildings because there's many hidden shops. Also, there's a lot of purikura shops downstairs, which is a must-do when in Tokyo.
Takeshita Dori has some of the most instagrammable snacks in Tokyo. For example, you can find the cutest ice cream cones, giant rainbow cotton candy, and tonnes of crepes.
Once you you get to the main road, Meiji-dori Ave, turn right and head down to Laforet. This place is packed with the latest fashion, accessories, makeup, and cosplay outfits. AND A PERMANENT SAILORMOON SHOP selling everything from fashion, to accessories, snacks toiletries and stationary.
Then head back towards Takeshita Dori, but across the street. In this area there's a lot of vintage/thrift shops (be sure to look up & down-not all are on the ground level), and really nice sneaker stores. As you head out more towards Omotesando/Aoyama area you'll see more local and international luxury designer shops.
You MUST see KIDDY LAND. It's a 5 story toy and character goods mecca, that was opened in 1950. Each floor is dedicated to different characters so you can easily find what you want, but there's also random things mixed in so I suggest you explore each level. *TIP: Be sure to check out the bathrooms on each floor, even they're cute.
If you're still able to walk/shop check out the area behind Kiddy Land called Cat Street. This area is described as "Tokyo's Hipster's Paradise", where you'll find some edgier fashion and stylish cafés.
Finally if you need a spot to refuel and relax for a bit, the Starbucks in Tokyu Plaza, Harajuku is the prettiest in Tokyo (in my opinion!). It has incredible views, cozy spots to sit (there's ever some swings for 2 :) ), and it's all lit up at night.
This is a doll shop specialising in the Japanese, realistic-looking Super Dollfie. I was brought here by my friend Venus, as she bought one, and was amazed at the dolls, their clothing, hairstyles and accessories (you build a fully customisable doll). The building is 3 floors, with the bottom floor reserved for ceremonies where customers meet their dolls for the first time. If you're into Lolita subculture, you'll love to see this shop.
One of my best friends, Sharla could almost always be found here. This was mostly because the biggest Pokémon Store was there in Sunshine City (now there's a bigger one in Nihombashi), a lot of arcades (she is a DDR fanatic), great restaurants, and karaoke. There's a lot to do in this area..but if you want to do something more... questionable, I suggest otonamaki.
OTONAMAKI- it's basically adult therapy wrapped up in a bag. This was one of the most unique. memorable experiences I have of Tokyo. They swaddle you, rock you, sing to you, and do chromotherapy (colour therapy).
You can book it here.
*To see my favourite things to do outside Tokyo (day/weekend trips) click here.
If you love to shop, Japan is your heaven (and subsequently your wallet's hell). Everywhere I looked I found something I liked because the Japanese make everything so perfect, cute, and well packaged. Besides the areas mentioned above, here's some of my other favourite areas, or just one-off shops in Tokyo.
This is one of Tokyo's trendiest neighbourhoods, filled with vintage shops, hipster coffee places, live music spots, and a very large Village Vanguard (one of my fav shops full of random things- snacks, toys, manga, CD's, books, fashion, incense, etc).
Tokyo is one of the best places in the world to thrift shop because they keep things in perfect condition, you can find really unique pieces, and the shops are organised well to find things easier. Shimokitazawa is a paradise of good finds because it has a variety of boutiques ranging from small affordable thrifts stores to high-end vintage shops. You can find anything; trendy items, vintage items, cosplay costumes, or you could even sell some of your own unwanted clothing.
Although there is great coffee and restaurants almost everywhere you look here, I also need to make you are aware that Totoro Cream puffs are nearby. In fact, Shirohige's Cream Puff Factory is just a 7 minute walk from the Shimokitazawa station. The bakery owner is Hayao Miyazaki's sister-in-law, which gave her the rights to produce these adorable, highly sought-after treats.
There's also a cafe on the second floor of Shirohige that makes homemade pasta and allegedly the best baked curry in Tokyo!
If you come to Tokyo during cherry blossom season (sakura), this is the ultimate place to go. It's where everyone takes those picturesque photos of the sakura trees with the river and lanterns (the flowers fall into the river and look so beautiful).
However, even if it's not sakura season, this area is worth a visit. Along the river there's many boutique shops and cafés. Cars also can't get into the sidewalks so it's a great place for dog walking, pushing a stroller, or running.
If you head down to Meguro Dori then walk to the right (away from Meguro station), straight up the hill you'll find a lot of furniture shops (modern, new, and vintage), and some really cool light shops. It's where you can find quality furniture without the high price tags (like in Shinjuku). This is where I bought almost all of the furniture and lighting for my home when I lived in Tokyo (some of the bigger pieces were just rented).
Before leaving Tokyo you must visit a department store because they are state of the art. Start in the basement and check out the extremely attractive food (with a pretty expensive price tag), and work your way up through the makeup (check out La Durée, RMK, & Jill Stuart- my fav Japanese makeup brands), accessories, fashion, and homeware/ stationary. Isetan is my personal favourite department store because their selection of clothing feels younger and trendier. They also have a lot of pop-ups shops and Japan-limited special crossovers. I love grabbing a fresh smoothie at sky high on the 2nd floor, then walking around just looking at all of the fashion. There's also some really good restaurants on the 7th floor. The sushi and eel restaurants were 2 of my favourite go-to restaurants when in the area.
*also nearby in Shinjuku is Takashimya department store. Inside that there's Tokyu Hands- which is an astonishing 7 level stationary shop- you can great souvenirs here too.
This is the best place to go for young, trendy Japanese fashion, beauty, and accessories. They have a lot of different local brands (120+ shops) with diverse styles, so there's something for everyone.
There's cafés on the top floor but if you're looking for a coffee/tea and some food I'd recommend either going to:
L'Occitane Café, Shibuya- sit near the window to get a great view of the famous Shibuya Crosswalk. The menu is quite healthy, fresh, and delicious and they have a great selection of teas (which comes with honey and a Winnie the Pooh like honey wand). OR
Starbucks (the one right in front of the crosswalk)- grab your drink and go upstairs to get a great view of people scrambling to cross the street.
Also known as 'Kitchen Town', is a street almost completely lined with kitchenware shops. I got most of my bowls, plates, cutlery, cups and vases there for my home. They're beautifully hand-made, unique, and this area much cheaper than most other homeware shops you'll find in Tokyo. If you don't want to carry your purchases around while you shop, you can arrange to have the shop deliver them your hotel.
SARASHINA HORII (Roppongi)- Tokyo's oldest soba restaurant (from 1789). All noodles are handmade in their shop and they have a great selection of tempura. Very foreigner friendly.
AOYAMA FLOWER MARKET TEAHOUSE (Aoyama/Omotesando)- A really popular flower shop with a café inside. The whole place is decorated in flowers, so it smells as great as it looks. They have a great selection of teas and desserts, and a small but healthy and delicious food menu. I always feel like I'm not in a city when I go there, more like a relaxing floral fairytale land.
NOBU (Toranomon)- My husband and I go back to Nobu every single time we are in Tokyo. It's slightly Americanized Japanese food (Robert De Niro part owns it with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa), but always an astounding meal. We always order the exact same things too. Those are; tuna lettuce wraps (I can down 6 of these tangy, fresh, fatty, delicious things), Tuna Tataki Salad with their homemade onion dressing, Tofu Sliders (choose from Wagu Beef, Seafood or Chicken, it's wrapped in tofu and has the yummiest sauce), Crispy Fried Rice with Spicy Tuna Dip, and The Black Cod with Miso (De Niro's personal favourite and the whole reason this restaurant was started). Oh and top it off with their omakase parfait, where the chef chooses from the fresh ingredients and homemade ice cream available that day to create you a delectable sundae.
OOTOYA (Various Locations)- A famous casual chain Japanese restaurant. It's fast, on the inexpensive side, but doesn't compromise taste (they strive to be like a Japanese Mom's home-cooking). There menu is really extensive, but everything I've tried was good. If you're looking for a quick, no-fuss, value for money lunch, this is your spot. They also have locations in New York and Hong Kong, I ate there the other day :)
FUKUSHIMA-YA (Azabujuban)- I lived in Azabujuban while I was on a 2 month contract, so I would walk around this area frequently to find food. One day I stumbled across this small shop of 2 older woman selling various ingredients in simmering soup (oden). When you go in, you instantly feel the cozy, family-like environment (this shop has been in the family and uses the same homemade broth for 90 years). You choose what you want and then you can take it away or head upstairs to sit and eat it. Oden is healthy, satisfying and really exciting.. there's so many different little things to try with different sauces to dip it into. This place was like my Grandma's kitchen while I was away from home.
KYUBEY (Ginza)- This restaurant will always have a special place in my heart. My first TV drama I did in Japan was shot here. For the show, we went around to see different masters in their craft, Kyubey's sushi chef was one of them. This was the restaurant where we finished shooting the drama, where I broke down crying with my manager because we couldn't believe we made it through (it was my first time acting and I didn't speak Japanese fluently so everything was memorised over sleepless nights), and where I got to witness and better understand the art of sushi making. Kyubey is also a favourite amongst locals. The chefs there are kind, talkative and create these morsels of deliciousness with things like yuzu or salt on top (which is quite unique and gives it unbelievable flavour).
TSUKADA NOJO (Shibuya)- This place was discovered by accident. My husband and I were in an argument one day while walking around Shibuya and he angrily (and very randomly) said "I want to eat here!" and went inside. The lively atmosphere, fresh farm-to-table always changing menu, and decor captivated us (and put us in a better mood). Sometimes they have an artist there making desserts. Look how happy we look (we did make up at this point)!
OMURICE (anywhere.. just find it!)- You can spot this simply delicious dish at many restaurants around Tokyo, and I've never really had a bad one. It's a Japanese homecooking staple that consists of some tangy tomatoey rice wrapped in a fluffy egg with sauce (usually a demiglaze) on top. There's so many different combinations, toppings, and sauces to try all around Japan. YOU WILL LOVE IT!
SOUP STOCK (Various Locations)- This was my favourite "fast food" place to eat, especially in the winter. Their selection of soups, stews, and curries is always changing and always tasty. I always ordered the 2 soup set with their whole grain rice (you can choose bread instead), with a glass of their refillable free water :) Anytime I was eating alone, this was my go-to place.
EXPENSIVE FRUIT- Hop into any grocery store or department store and check out the in-season fruit. The prices in department stores go up crazy high (USD$500+ melons) but it is the most perfect, juicy, sweet, fruit you will ever have. You can often buy small amounts (for example 3 grapes at USD$1 each to try).
711 (Everywhere you look)- This convenience store is my favourite. It used to be Family Mart but 711 has now taken the #1 spot. It is always my first stop after I get off the plane and check into my hotel because I love to see the latest limited edition snacks available (usually in the form of chips). Their oden is the best out of all the convenience stores for choice and taste, they also make a great egg salad sandwich, and really good salads. Another item I always have to grab is onigiri (tuna/mayonnaise and pickled plum are my favs) because I crave them instantly.
*FOR A LIST OF MY FAVOURITE VEGAN/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN TOKYO CLICK HERE.
Where I go when I'm in need of a little TLC in Tokyo.
HAIR: Gold Salon in Azabujuban (Australian-owned). If you have blonde hair and want to keep it that way- they've got you covered.
SPA: Oliva Spa (many locations)- they give you this foot bath before every massage that is so relaxing, and the therapists are well trained. I've never had a bad massage here.
MIRANDA SALON, Daikanyama
ERIKO NAILS (Various Locations- have some English speaking staff)
OKURA (Toranomon)- This is the hotel we stay most often in. Great location (near Roppongi), excellent service, and traditional nostalgic Japanese decor (from when it opened in the 1960's). The food is also great in the hotel (they have a small branch of Kyubey & their Camilia Café makes heavenly Omurice), and outside (Nobu is across the street). Both of their Japanese and Western breakfasts are really good. This was the hotel Steve Jobs always stayed at when he visited Tokyo, as well many celebrities (James Bond visited the Okura in Ian Flemming's Novel 'You Only Live Twice') and politicians (Presidents Richard Nixon and Barack Obama visited).
AMAN (Otemachi)- This is by far the best hotel I've ever been to, although I may be biased because it's the hotel that Tom proposed to me in. It's clear from the moment you walk in (the decor, a musician playing a traditional instrument, the welcome drinks, the friendly staff) that this hotel is on another level. The rooms are spacious, traditional yet modern, with the comfiest bed and spectacular views. The bathroom is insane. The design colour tones actually inspired me for my own home. Taking a bath (they leave bath salts each night) in the giant bathtub with a gorgeous view is the ultimate way to end the day. The gym is spectacular and the pool is even better (the views, the food/drink menu)..oh and the spa! My husband says the massage we had there was the best in his life (I say that all the time, so my comment isn't really valid). I'll never forget staying here for a couple of days, it was really the trip of a lifetime.
CAPITOL (Nagatacho)- This hotel reminds me a lot of Aman and Okura.. I think it's what you get if you mix the two. Someone is playing an instrument when you walk in, the staff are really kind and helpful, the rooms are well laid out and are traditional yet modern. The view is of the government buildings and imperial balance, so it's a quieter, greener area, but with a lot of stuff nearby.
ANDAZ Hotel (Toranomon)- This hotel is in a newer building called Toranomon Hills. It's a lifestyle boutique hotel from the Hyatt group, and has a great mix of casual and luxury. The view is one of the best in Tokyo, with the iconic Tokyo tower just outside your window. The pool and spa are also beautiful.
AIR BNB- Everyone that I know who has rented an Air bnb in Tokyo was extremely happy. They are always very clean, convenient, and often very stylish. If you're staying in Tokyo for a while, these or serviced apartments are probably your best option.
CAPSULE HOTEL (various locations)- They have so many to choose from at all different prices. This is an experience in Tokyo you have to do at least once. Many of my friends have made videos on them, showing just how convenient, comfortable, and well put together these little pods are.
- people do not accept tips in Japan (restaurants, hotels, taxis, anywhere)
- get a passmo card (can use it for the train, vending machines, convenience stores and in taxis)
- don't talk on the phone in the train
- don't touch the taxi doors, they will open automatically
*I also love to check different websites before I head to Tokyo to see what's going on while I'm there (or new foods to try/products to buy). Some good websites for that are:
I'm sure I'm missing a lot of stuff, but when I think of Tokyo, these are the things that come to mind first. I'd love to know any places/restaurants/shops/hotels that you love in Tokyo! Please share that in a comment below so we can make this list even better<3