Anthony Bourdain’s warning about the biggest city in Japan rings true:
“What do you need to know about Tokyo? Deep, deep waters… The first time I came here was a transformative experience. It was a powerful and violent experience.”
from the Parts Unknown: Tokyo intro, sent to me by Dan Lerman
I feel well-equipped to handle large cities as an 11-year veteran resident of NYC.
But Tokyo is still a challenge for me.
There’s simply so much. So much people, restaurants, lights, sounds, trains, and more. It can be overwhelming for even the most experienced travelers.
My Favorite Photos from Tokyo
These are some of my favorite photos from my 48 hours in Tokyo over February 23, 24, and 25, 2019. It was my fourth visit to the city.
Capsule Hotel and Fancy Hotel
I stayed at the new-ish The Millennials Shibuya. I would not stay there again, but I would recommend it for one night. Here’s what my “room” looked like:
Cost: US$115 (Y12,500), which seemed expensive. Spacious, large capsule. Perhaps due to the winter, the air inside was very dry. Nice coworking space. Hip, friendly crowd and helpful staff. Great first time capsule experience for someone not ready to go full-salaryman.
The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo
For my second night, I splurged and blew 60,000 Marriott points on a room at the Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo. I would stay here again.
The room, lobby, breakfast, gym, and pool were fantastic. They even had buckwheat pillows available (my favorite type of pillows). I didn’t like the location.
Japanese food is famous. I had some good meals on this trip.
My Big Sushi Mistake
When I first arrived, I couldn’t wait to eat sushi. I found a nearby location for Standup Sushi which is one of my favorite spots for quick, high-quality sushi in Tokyo.
I got a little over-eager and ordered a LOT, including this crab on the bottom right of the picture:
I thought it was going to be blue crab like I get at Sugarfish.
But no. Wrong. It was crab intestines and crab guts. It was gross.
I still ate it.
I liked this restaurant, I recommend it, and I would definitely come back.
Pro tip: search for “uogashi nihon-ichi” on Google Maps to find their various locations throughout Tokyo.
Ramen Noodles from Ichiran
I would come back here and I recommend this place. I went early in the morning, at 7am, when there was no line. You order from a machine!
Katsu from Tonkatsu Maisen
This place is world famous for katsu. I would not come back here because it turns out that I don’t like katsu (too fatty / to much breading for my taste).
Both Jack and Andy are very involved in physical fitness, karate, and handstands (and related movements / acrobatics). It was fun for me to listen to them rap about stuff.
Doug Barber from Minaal
The next morning, I got a message from my friend Doug Barber who is the co-founder of the Minaal backpack company: he was staying in my same capsule hotel! So Doug and I met up for co-working.
Then we went for tea at Gen Gen An, visited the Tokyu Hands department store (he had never been), had lunch at Sushizanmai, then bought me a new jacket and windbreaker at Montbell that you can only get in Japan.
This exhibit / immersive digital art experience was cool and I recommend it.
- My favorite room was Light Sculpture Space.
- This was incredibly crowded, even on a Monday at 12pm. I waited 45 minutes to get inside, even after buying a ticket in advance the day prior.
- I wish I would have read about it more beforehand, so I could come up with a “plan of attack” to see special rooms such as the tea house.
- UPDATE: If you go all the way out to Odaiba for this exhibit, also check out The Miraikan museum and the onsen nearby. I have been to both on prior trips and recommend them.
I liked it enough that I would go back.
Thanks to Jonathan Wegener, Mark Fisher, Tina Yip, and others who suggested that I go check it out.
My friend Tynan (the guy who has a home museum) turned me on to Japanese green tea. He taught me about the quality umami flavor that is unique to this type of tea.
Sakurai Tea House in Tokyo
I did the Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience on the 5th floor of the Spiral building. There I ordered the Tea Course which included: Highest grade Gyokuro, Blended tea, Hojicha, Matcha, and Wagashi. It was pretty awesome!
This was just one of the eight or so courses:
Update: My friend Jack said that eating so much of the tea leaves may have contributed to my caffeine overdose. Next time I’ll eat less!
Green Tea at Gen Gen An
Earlier in the day, I visited Gen Gen An tea shop in Shibuya to try their tea. I recommend this place.
- Visit this Japanese onsen: Thermae Yu in Shinjuku, via Danielle Strle.
- Stay at a more authentic capsule hotel, maybe Anshin Oyado in Nishishinjuku.
- Use the local Japanese restaurant review app
whose name I’ve forgottencalled Tabelog to find restaurants (Eater article). It is like their local Yelp. Similar to how I used OpenRice in Hong Kong for better restaurant tips. I used Foursquare to help me find places to eat, and that was still great.
- Go to Higashiya Ginza for elegant green tea, especially their gyokuro. Tynan told me to go this time but I wanted to try something on my own.
- Eat some mochi!
- I would go back to teamLab Borderless. Ideally middle of the week, and right at 10am to skip the lines.
- Hang out with my friends Chris Poole and Elliot and Jonathan Siegel who live in Tokyo.
- Try the Matcha smoothie at Gen Gen An. It has matcha powder, bananas, and more. Looked delicious and made by an expert.
- Go to this Sushi Zanmai location near Tsukiji, via Tynan and Todd. Supposedly among the very best.
- SO MUCH MORE that I want to do. Reminder: watch this short clip by Anthony Bourdain that my friend Dan sent me, where he talks about Tokyo’s “deep, deep waters” as a warning.
I loved being back in Tokyo – and yet it also made me anxious.
I was ready to leave – and yet I can’t wait to go back.
Special thank you to everyone who sent me suggestions on Facebook, Instagram, text, Twitter, etc for what I should do on this spontaneous trip.
BONUS AIRPORT SUSHI TIP
I had legit delicious (if expensive) sushi inside Narita Airport, Terminal 1 near Gate 35, at Sushi Kuotatsu.
At around $5 per piece, it wasn’t cheap – but it was a delicious last taste of Tokyo before I boarded my flight home.