On June 28, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:Tokyo is, without question, the world’s best city for drinkers. You could pick a drink and find a bar devoted to it. (Rum? Try Tafia in Nishi Azabu. Beer? Popeye, Craft Beer Market or Goodbeer Faucets. Vodka? Go to Bloody Doll. Absinthe? Bar Trench. Sherry? Sherry Club. Whisky or wine? There are hundreds of those.)
The Ginza district is home to the world’s most obsessive cocktail makers. They obsess about technique, move with precision, and favor classics over offbeat innovations. Star Bar, High Five, Little Smith and Mohri Bar are the cream of the crop.
For only-in-Tokyo experiences, try Kamiya Bar, the oldest western-style bar in the capital. It serves beers with a proprietary sweet liquor called Denki Bran. Or head to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai ditrict. It’s crammed with around 250 tiny, rickety bars, some seating less than a dozen customers. Of all the choices, Albatross and La Jetee are reliable for a warm welcome.
For creative bartending with a Western sense, head to Fuglen, Bar Trench or Bar Tram. All three serve cocktails you'll never see anywhere else.
And if you're looking for antique spirits, Kohaku in Yushima and Bar Odin in Ebisu are both stock bottles older than your grandfather.
And it would be wrong to miss Gen Yamamoto, a beautiful 8-seater bar that serves courses of ingeneous fruit cocktails.
On June 9, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:Ginza is the place for high-end eating, drinking and shopping. It's rarely cheap, but you usually get what you pay for.
The area’s unusually wide sidewalks lend the district a spacious feeling rarely found in Tokyo and gave rise to the term 'ginbura' (Ginza strolling). You could lose an afternoon strolling Ginza, watching people and taking in the architectural one-upmanship of the international megabrands’ stores.
In amongst the flashy flagships are little boutiques offering the same fine craftmanship they’ve been selling for decades. Try Natsuno for chopsticks, Kanameya for folding fans, and Kyukyudo for washi paper and other stationery.
Ginza is also home to some great art galleries. The Ginza Graphic Gallery has spent more than 25 years doing spotlighting fonts, graphics and advertising. The nearby Shiseido Gallery is arguably the highlight of the local art scene, with impressive photographic and video art shows. On a quirkier note, the Vanilla Gallery showcases all things erotic and is not the least bit family friendly.
On May 7, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:Napoli-style pizza rules in Tokyo, and though there are restaurants all over town, the four big names are Seirinkan, Savoy, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele and Pizzeria da Isa. All serve pizzas with charred, chewy crusts and a lovely sloppy topping. The former three go traditional and serve nothing but marinara or Margherita. Seirinkan’s marinara is a masterpiece, and da Michele probably wins the Margherita crown. Da Isa, run a multi-award winning pizzaioli Hisanori Yamamoto, offers a whopping 33 varieties, though most are just an ingredient or two away from the classics. It’s wise to book seats at Seirinkan, Savoy or da Isa. If you want to eat at da Michele, the sister of the Naples’ joint featured in Eat, Pray, Love, then you’ll have to be prepared to line up.
For a completely different kind of pie, try Devilcraft, a craft beer specialist in the Kanda district. The top floor of the multi-story pub is a kitchen that turns out great Chicago-style deep dish pizzas. Devilcraft has barely had a seat spare since opening day in late 2011, so be sure to call and reserve.
On May 7, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:Good news for herbivores: There’s been a boom in vegan-friendly restaurants in Tokyo over the past 5 years. And since dairy was never a major part of Japanese cuisine, vegetarian restaurants are usually also fully vegan. Most are casual, cafe-style eateries targeting health-conscious young women, though some offer gastronomic multi-course meals.
At the luxury end, the shojin ryori restaurants offer rarified zen-influenced cuisine. Itosho in Azabu Juban is the best place to try it. Many guidebooks also mention the Michelin-starred Daigo, but beware: the chefs there use fish stock.
Fucha ryori is a similar style of dining, but with a stronger Chinese influence. You can find that in the photogenic Bon restaurant in Iriya, northeast Tokyo.
Tokyo Station is home to T’s Tantan, a restaurant that specializes in a spicy vegan ramen with mock meat.
In the Omotesando region, both Brown Rice Cafe and Pure Cafe are fully vegan. The former serves Japanese-style meals, the latter offers multi-ethnic soups, salads and tapas. The Eat More Greens cafe in Azabu Juban is a spacious vegan cafe with a terrace that makes it ideal for summer evenings.
Falafel stores have been popping up recently. The best of the bunch is Kuumba du Falafel, near Shibuya, though Los Barbados in the same district also makes a great meze with falafel and vegan kibbeh (and offers about a dozen other vegan dishes, clearly marked with a green leaf).
And if you’re elsewhere, check www.vege-navi.jp for a comprehensive guide.
On April 30, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:It depends whether you want to relax or play. For relaxing, you’ll want an onsen. Tokyo’s best genuine hot spring is 15 minutes west of Shibuya in Futako Tamagawa. It goes by the official name Sanga-no-yu and the semi-official name Seta Onsen. It’s a large complex of baths, some indoor, some outdoor, some exclusively for male or female guests, and two communal baths (swimwear essential for those.) Posters on the wall list all the purported health benefits of the various minerals in the water, but it’s probably just the deep relaxation that does you the most good.
The Oedo Onsen Monogatari calls itself a hot spring theme park, and that’s a pretty good description. It’s set in a dining and entertainment complex built to resemble the Edo period (1603-1868). It has two baths of volcanically heated water, and five more that are artificially warmed. It also has unusually generous opening hours: 11am-9am.
For more excitement in the water, head north from Tokyo to the adrenaline-filled town of Minakami in Gumma Prefecture. In the warmer months you can go canyoning, white-water rafting or bungee jump over a lake. See www.canyons.jp
On April 30, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:Once you’ve crossed off Tsukiji fish market and the Sensoji shrine, take a train to the suburb of Futako Tamagawa. Sitting almost anonymously in a residential street is a tiny temple with a big secret. Enter Tamagawa Daishi, look to your left and you’ll see some stairs leading down. Put 100 yen on the wooden tray, grab a pair of brown plastic slippers and make your way down. Almost immediately you’ll find yourself in a pitch dark corridor, feeling your way along the stone walls. It’s not for the claustrophobic. The corridor twists and turns, symbolizing a journey through buddha’s intenstines, and eventually leads you to a subterranean room. I’d tell you what’s there, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. It’s not easy to find, and it looks minor league from the outside, but it’s well worth the effort. Address: Seta 4-13-3, Setagaya-ku.
When you’ve finished at the temple, the Seta Onsen is only a couple of blocks away, or head to the nearby bar Maruume, one of the highlights of Tokyo’s cocktail scene.
On April 29, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:The National Theater in the political heartland of Nagatacho stages periodic kabuki shows, as does the Embujo theater in Shimbashi, but there’s really only one place in Tokyo to see this traditional performance art : the Kabukiza. It’s been around in one form or another since 1889.
The current incarnation opened in April after builders spent three years razing and reconstructing. It’s now attached to a 34-story tower of shops, offices and restaurants. Kabuki’s biggest stars will be performing in a year-long series of shows to mark the reopening.
Kabuki shows can be 4 or 5 hours long, so unless you’re a die-hard fan, it’s best to buy tickets for a single act. They go on sale an hour before showtime. If you want to stay longer, you can pick up a maku-no-uchi (“between act”) bento box inside the theater.
You can rent English audio guides to explain what’s going on, though it’s easier than you might expect to follow the plots without following the words.
The Kabukiza is an easy walk from Ginza or Higashi-Ginza stations.
On April 29, 2013Nicholas Coldicott answered the question:There are some spectacular buildings in Ginza, where the world’s biggest luxury brands (and a few of the well-heeled budget brands) have the money to splash on architectural one-upmanship. Renzo Piano designed the Hermes store, Jun Mitsui made a wavy facade for de Beers, 2013 Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito riffed on jewels for the Mikimoto building, and Shigeru Ban made a truly innovative building for Swatch that uses elevators as showrooms.
The big brands are at it again on Omotesando. Look for Toyo Ito’s building for Tod’s, which gets its inspiration from the street’s elm trees, and SANAA’s Dior store. Herzog and de Meuron’s honeycomb Prada building popped up in 2003 and people have been paying more attention to the facade than the fashion ever since. And more bizarrely, Japan’s Nursing Association has a building by the late Kisho Kurokawa that now looks like a first draft of his must-see undulating glass creation for the National Art Center Tokyo in Roppongi.
Near the Art Center is one of Tadao Ando’s standout Tokyo creations: Design Sight 21_21. It appears to be just a sliver of concrete and glass in the garden of the Midtown complex, but most of the museum is buried underground.
And don’t miss the Aoyama Technical College near Shibuya. It looks like an oversized Transformer fell out of the sky and crashed onto a grey office building.