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Tokyo city guide

Rokurinsha

For the ramen bowls

This busy noodle bar specializes in tsukemen, a popular style of ramen in Tokyo, where a bowl of plain noodles is served next to a rich soup. Dip your noodles in the broth, slurp, and repeat until you’re finished or ready for a noodle top up. This nondescript ramen shop, hidden in the basement of Tokyo station, is a local favourite so wait times can reach up to 40 minutes.

Sushisho Masa

For high-end sushi

There are seven seats and no menu (except for the sake list) at this restaurant in Roppongi. Let chef Masakatsu Oka and his apprentices guide you through an extensive tasting-menu featuring over 40 sushi pieces, such as thinly-sliced fatty tuna with wasabi and salt-grilled anago conger eel. Book reservations well in advance.

Fuglen Tokyo

For a coffee and afternoon snack

Fuglen stands out on the Tokyo coffee scene, thanks to its espresso and its decor, an eclectic mix of dark teak wood, mid-century furniture and vintage paraphernalia. It’s the perfect spot for an afternoon pick-me-up and a quick bite after visiting the nearby Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions.

Gen Yamamoto

For the cocktails

Presiding over a counter crafted from a 500-year-old slab of mizunara oak, Gen Yamamoto is one of Tokyo’s most famous bartenders. The cocktail menu at this eight-seat bar showcases national ingredients like Nagano quince, Shizuoka wasabi and Gunma strawberry.

Jomon Roppongi

For the grilled skewers

For killer kushiyaki, you can’t top Jomon (hint: their Roppongi outpost is easier to find than their semi-hidden location in Shibuya). Gizzards, tongues and tails are on offer here, but there is plenty of top-notch Japanese bar fare for the less adventurous. Wash it all down with shochu or sake.

Gonpachi

For the cocktails and Kill Bill vibes

The courtyard-style interior of this restaurant was the inspiration for the House of Blue Leaves, the fictional location where the Bride and the Crazy 88 (O Ren Ishii’s personal army) duke it out in *Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1*. The menu includes classics like grilled skewers and tempura – and affordable cocktails – with vegan and halal options available.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

For the best running route

The five-kilometre trail around the Imperial Palace is a favourite for runners from dawn to dusk. Soak in the views of Edo Castle before stopping at the Runbase, near the Takebashi subway station, where change rooms and showers are available.

Chidorigafuchi Park

For views of the cherry blossoms

Hanami, literally meaning “flower viewing,” refers to the period between March and April when people all over the nation stand in awe of Japan’s pink cherry blossoms. For a magical hanami experience, rent a boat at Chidorigafuchi Moat and paddle through the sakura-covered waters surrounding the Imperial Palace.

Nezu Museum

For art without the crowds

This gem in upscale Minami-Aoyama offers a quieter alternative to the bustling Ueno museum district. Nineteenth-century railway tycoon Nezu Kaichirō’s collection of premodern Japanese and East Asian art was unusually broad, ranging from sculpture and calligraphy to ceramics and armour. Architect Kuma Kengo’s building and pristine Japanese garden are worth the visit alone.

Robot Restaurant

For over-the-top entertainment

The draw here is the spectacle, not the food. Expect to see all the Japanese clichés in a 90-minute blast of pyrotechnic silliness: samurai swordplay, giant monster battles, taiko drumming and, of course, robots. With a pop and techno soundtrack, it’s an experience that plays to tourists but is nevertheless utterly Tokyo.

United Arrows

For the capsule collections

Known for its elegant take on wardrobe essentials, quality craftsmanship and collaborations with big names like Adidas, this Japanese retailer has over 35 stores nationwide.

Daikayana Tsutaya Books

For the literature and drinks

Browse books, magna and magazines in one of the city’s largest bookstores (it spans three buildings). The award-winning modernist complex is worth a trip just to see its basket-weave façade. The Anjin Library & Lounge offers an on-site cocktail bar and a dining menu.

Found Muji

For understated housewares

Muji’s creative team scoured the world, amassing mainstay housewares that fit the Muji philosophy of well-crafted minimalism. Recent examples include Terracotta dinnerware, glass sake bottles and Tokyo-grown cypress trays.

Harajuku

For a taste of kawaii

Make like a local in the kawaii mecca and enjoy a sweet crêpe from Marion Crêpes on Takeshita Dori, the neighbourhood’s main street. Then head to Kiddy Land, one of the city’s largest toy stores, and check out the floors that are dedicated to Hello Kitty and Snoopy.

Conrad Tokyo

For a luxury business trip

Overlooking the verdant Hamarikyu Gardens and Tokyo Bay beyond, this five-star gem mixes refined modern art with the crisp details. The hotel is located adjacent to the shopping hub of Ginza, but be sure to save a little energy at the end of the day for the spa and 25-metre swimming pool on the 29th floor.

Sadachiyo

For the tradition

One of the few remaining ryokans in central Tokyo, Sadachiyo is a quiet haven in the bustling metropolis. Furnished with tatami mats and traditional futons and equipped with Wi-Fi, the rooms let you experience the comfort and novelty of an Edo-period inn while allowing you to remain connected. If you want to check out completely, head for the communal Japanese baths for a blissfully relaxing experience.

Tokyu Stay Shinjuku

For the budget-friendly rates

Tokyu Stay offers comfortable rooms with minimalist decor that come with free WI-FI, a flat-screen TV and a trouser press. For long-term stays, the hotel offers rooms equipped with a washer-dryer combo, a microwave and a small kitchenette. Located only a few blocks from Shinjuku station, this fuss-free hotel the ideal starting point to explore historical landmarks like Meiji Shrine.

Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi

For the family-friendly perks

Connected to Tokyo’s central train station, the bellman of this 57-room property greets guests arriving by train and guides them to hotel’s entrance. A family-friendly haven, the Four Seasons helps reduce the stress of travelling with children by providing complimentary baby and children’s toiletries, child-size bathrobes and bedtime snacks and milk.

Trunk Hotel

For the co-working space

This boutique hotel offers a fashionable home base for modern business travellers. The 11 rooms and four suites – spread across two buildings – blend traditional Japanese craftmanship with trendy design. Don’t miss the property’s two restaurants – all-day dining at Trunk (Kitchen) and snacks and kushiyaki at Trunk (Kushi) – and a sprawling bar that doubles as a co-working space.

Info about getting from the airport, public transportation and more.

Getting from the Airport

From Narita International Airport (NRT)
The Narita Express will take you to Tokyo station in 60 minutes. If you don’t mind a longer ride, take one of the limousine buses that leave right outside the arrivals terminal. (The buses are orange, and you can buy a ticket at the counter inside.)

From Haneda Airport (HND)
Take the Tokyo Monorail or a Keikyu Line train for the 35-minute ride from Haneda Airport to Tokyo Station. Taxis to central Tokyo cost about $60 to $130 and can take 25 to 45 minutes, depending on your destination.

Public Transportation

Tokyo is rail and pedestrian heaven; there really is no need to rent a car. Even if you’re planning a one-day excursion as far as the mountain town of Nagano, the trains will get you there.

The subway can be intimidating at rush hour due to the amount of people. Otherwise, the train system is clean and always on time. Fares are calculated based on distance travelled on any given trip. Navigate most lines easily with the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway day pass which costs about $10.

Taxis

For late-night adventures, you can find a taxi just about anywhere, but they’re not cheap – even a short ride can cost you 870 ¥. Remember: no tipping, and don’t close the door on your way out of the car – it’s automatic.

An adventurous mom and her manga-loving son discover why Tokyo is made for kids.

By Sarah Musgrave / Photos by Alex Cretey Systermans

We invented a game shortly after arriving in Tokyo, and we’re calling it KawaiiQuest. The challenge: Be the first to spot an adorable cartoon animal, be it cat, bear, owl or undefined with ears. Call out "Kawaii! " and punch the other players on the arm (Punch Buggy, No Punch Backs-style). Dear reader, don’t initiate this game if you’re busy navigating the subway system or deciphering soba noodle menus – your arm will be sore.

At the entrance to the Ghibli Museum, a whimsical theme park on the west side of the city, I spot a massive Totoro behind the ticket counter. We expected to see fantastical creatures on this trip to the homeland of Pokémon – it’s a big reason my nine-year-old son Hank and I have come to Japan – but the apex is this mystical forest spirit created by Studio Ghibli. Director Hayao Miyazaki, whose supernatural tales offer eye-level environmentalism for kids and adults, is a hero of Japanese anime. He’s also a hero for many overseas parents obsessed with cult classics like My Neighbor Totoro and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away. Riding a steampunk elevator to the second floor, we get a peek at his creative process in a recreation of his office, where watercolours of Japanese landscapes are tacked up with push-pins above the ashtray on his desk. Downstairs, 3-D scenes come to life at the push of a button to reveal the secrets of film magic.

This city of more than 13 million is kid-friendly in the extreme, safe and fascinating, in part due to omotenashi, the Japanese word for hospitality, which is more than a warm welcome, it’s an anticipation of another person’s needs. Like other junior global citizens who have grown up eating ramen and reading manga (one of the fastest-growing book categories in North America), Hank is more interested in visiting the real world than Disney World. Other cultural forces, like a national obsession with animals (many residents can’t have pets due to tiny apartments and strict rental policies, so furry creatures are publicly adored) and a deep connection to nature even in the most urban of settings, give a visit here cross-generational appeal. Totoro is just one example. Cartoon characters are widely used as public signage for everything from the instructions for our in-room appliances to streetside cautions about local fauna, making it hard to tell if information is aimed at adults or children. (Do: Feed one cute cat in your garden with a handy little dustpan and a neighbour watching happily. Don’t: feed multiple cute cats in a park, leaving passersby horrified.)

In a week’s worth of Tokyo subway stations, there isn’t a stop that doesn’t intrigue or amaze us. “We’re in the future,” Hank says, as we alight at Shibuya, with its famously enormous intersection surrounded by sky-high LED screens and elevated walkways. At the Hachiko exit there’s a statue of a dog named Hachi, who waited here every day for his owner – now people wait to take selfies with him. We’re carried diagonally across the street with other molecules of humanity and deposited closer to some awesome shopping in Harajuku, a long-time hub for super-colourful street fashion and teenagers in cosplay outfits. We go from Kiddy Land, a six-storey toy store jam-packed with next-level origami and miniature models of noodle shops, to Tokyu Hands, with its crazy stationery section and rows of gachapon machines, named for the sound of the coin mechanism turning and plonking out a plastic-bubble prize that contains, perhaps, a cat shaped like sushi? Best rainy-day activity ever.

If the universe were run by kids, there would be more places like Kawaii Monster Cafe. The neon-rainbow interior is like the inside of a unicorn brain, or maybe a unicorn latte. This popular psychedelic hangout is the brainchild of artist Sebastian Masuda, an architect of Harajuku’s cute-as-cool style whose time-capsule project is currently travelling the world before returning to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. Under a mirrored ceiling hung with giant baby bottles, Hank gets busy with his order of candy fondue, dunking gummy bears into melted chocolate with a world-owning look on his face. The purpose of the carousel in the middle of the room becomes obvious at noon, when pink-wigged waitresses in crinolines and platform shoes start a song-and-dance routine to a soundtrack that knows only treble. “That was…” I say to Hank, gulping in the fresh air on the way out. No words. “The best!” he finishes my sentence.

On my first trip to Japan, back when Hank was just a gleam in his father’s eye, it was the countryside that really struck me. Japanese folklore is full of supernatural beings called yōkai that originate in rural places across the country – such as the froglike Kappa seen near rivers – and occupy a space somewhere between civilized and wild, spooky and cute. To get a feel for where they came from, we ride the train an hour and a half northwest of the city to spend a couple of days in the mountains.


It’s pure fairy tale at Hoshinoya Karuizawa, a posh resort in the form of a reimagined ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. The accommodations, including two hot springs and a dining hall (where the multi-course rice-fish-vegetable Japanese breakfast changed the way Hank and I think about our morning meal), are built into a landscaped hillside on the edge of a bird sanctuary forested with evergreens and larches. From our riverside villa, we can see candle-lit lanterns bobbing on the water while we eat pork shabu-shabu, a DIY hotpot named for the swishing sound of chopsticks in the bubbling broth.

Soon we’re wandering around in the cool alpine air wearing cushy robes and geta (wooden flip-flops). In a grey mist, we toddle over cobblestones and bridges to the humid tranquillity of the onsen. The volcanoes that shaped Japan’s islands also shaped its bathing rituals: We wash, slip into the naturally hot mineral water and try our inaugural mother-son meditation session. It goes down with some giggles, and some serene moments of just us, the light on the water and the silence of the air we breathe. There’s even a dark passageway at one end of the baths, fading to pitch-black, where, like a fairy-tale character, you overcome your fears. Spoiler alert: Almost!

At Picchio Wildlife Research Center, our guides Makoto and Yoshi are waiting in spotless hiking boots to introduce us to the musasabi, or Japanese giant flying squirrel. They explain that the wings are extensions of the cartilage from the paws. It’s basically a miniature superhero, complete with cape. “The OG of cute,” Hank whispers. Then they lead us into the woods with barely suppressed glee, as though they have a secret. Which they do: Infrared cameras in the nesting boxes allow us to watch the musasabi sleeping, waking up, peeking outside, grooming and… “sleeping again,” says Makoto. Finally, they’re scampering up tree trunks and gliding through the dusky sky like furry kites.

Back in Tokyo, I notice that Hank is placing his shoes by the door of our hotel room at the Peninsula, perfectly aligned, something I’ve done maybe twice in my life. We’ve abandoned Kawaii Quest by this point, having adapted to a life of constant cuteness, and my arm is recovering nicely. However, there is one last stop on the cat continuum, and it takes us to the older residential neighbourhood of Setagaya. The ward is home to almost a million people, but this quiet Sunday afternoon you’d never know it – on a sun-warmed street along the way, the takoyaki guy takes his time doling out hot, griddled balls of creamy octopus for us.

At Gōtokuji Temple, we wander past maple trees, pagodas and tombstones to see maneki-neko, the beckoning cat. Reading its origin story from a handout, we learn that back in the Edo period, some 400 years ago, a poor Buddhist monk and his cat were struggling to get by. One day, a feudal lord passed the temple during a thunderstorm and the cat motioned for him to take shelter inside, whereupon he saw the light and ensured the site became prosperous. Behind the gates, the grounds are swarming with cats, from teeny-tiny ones no bigger than a fingertip to foot-high figures. A canopy of white, pink and red. Seeing hundreds of them at once is a weirdly powerful experience: cuteness as a source of irrepressible hopefulness. As we’re leaving, a whole kawaii army of cats seems to be waving goodbye – which is when Hank remembers the game. “Kawaii a hundred times!” he shouts. And reader, I took it like a mom.

Weather in Tokyo

Friday overcast clouds
81°F Jul 10, 2020
Saturday moderate rain
90°F Jul 11, 2020
Sunday light rain
90°F Jul 12, 2020
Monday light rain
84°F Jul 13, 2020
Tuesday moderate rain
74°F Jul 14, 2020
Wednesday light rain
70°F Jul 15, 2020
Thursday light rain
74°F Jul 16, 2020
Powered by: OpenWeatherMap.org

Book today for the lowest fares to Tokyo

FromToDepartureFare TypePrice

Orlando (MCO)

Tokyo (NRT)

Apr 08, 2021-

Apr 15, 2021

Round-trip/Economy
USD499*
Viewed:5hoursago

Los Angeles (LAX)

Tokyo (NRT)

Apr 29, 2021-

May 06, 2021

Round-trip/Economy
USD457*
Viewed:23hoursago

New York (LGA)

Tokyo (HND)

Oct 11, 2020-

Oct 18, 2020

Round-trip/Economy
USD458*
Viewed:23hoursago

San Francisco (SFO)

Tokyo (NRT)

Feb 09, 2021-

Feb 16, 2021

Round-trip/Economy
USD518*
Viewed:16hoursago

Los Angeles (LAX)

Tokyo (TYO)

Dec 27, 2020-

Jan 10, 2021

Round-trip/Economy
USD459*
Viewed:22hoursago

Boston (BOS)

Tokyo (TYO)

Dec 08, 2020-

Dec 21, 2020

Round-trip/Economy
USD530*
Viewed:2hoursago

Seattle (SEA)

Tokyo (NRT)

Oct 22, 2020-

Oct 29, 2020

Round-trip/Economy
USD494*
Viewed:23hoursago

Chicago (ORD)

Tokyo (NRT)

Oct 25, 2020-

Nov 01, 2020

Round-trip/Economy
USD559*
Viewed:23hoursago

Houston (IAH)

Tokyo (NRT)

Oct 18, 2020-

Oct 25, 2020

Round-trip/Economy
USD532*
Viewed:23hoursago

Chicago (ORD)

Tokyo (HND)

Dec 24, 2020-

Jan 10, 2021

Round-trip/Economy
USD559*
Viewed:22hoursago

*Fares displayed have been collected within the last 48hrs and may no longer be available at time of booking. Learn more about this offer. Additional baggage fees and charges for optional products and services may apply.