There are two major things you should know about Tokyo: first, it’s not as expensive as you think it is, and second, you will try to prove that assertion wrong because you will want to buy everything.
While Japan’s reputation as a land of exorbitant real estate and $100 melons is well-earned, these days, thanks to a stagnant economy, it’s no more expensive to eat, stay and get around than London, New York or Paris. To the second point: the Japanese sweat the details of everything they do with a Rain Man-like obsessiveness. The results: sublime food, crazy technology, and a fashion scene that’s miles ahead of everyone else’s. To put it another way, there’s never been a better time to visit Tokyo. And you’re going to need a bigger suitcase.
Spending 12 hours in an airplane isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but an Executive Pod on one of Air Canada’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners is the best thing short of borrowing the company jet. Equipped with fold-flat massaging seats, massive 18-inch HD video screens and a menu featuring dishes by Vancouver chef David Hawskworth, International Business Class provides an oasis of comfort in the sky. Flying to Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports daily, the new planes also boast lower cabin pressure and higher humidity, easing jet-lag and leaving you fresh, rested and ready to hit the ground running. aircanada.com
Centrally located near Tokyo’s main transit hub and the high-end department stores of Ginza, the Shangri-La Tokyo is ideally placed for excursions throughout the city and beyond. With a full-service spa, panoramic views from the 29th-floor swimming pool, a piano bar, and some of the largest rooms in the city, this hotel deserves its reputation as one of Tokyo’s finest. shangri-la.com
At this 14-seat joint near Roppongi, second-generation sushi master Daisuke Shimazaki demonstrates that Jiro is by no means the only game in town. As comfortable discussing his daily trips to the Tsukiji fish market as his passion for rally cars, Daisuke is the personification of hospitality. Reserve well in advance, and be prepared for omakase, a tasting menu featuring the chef’s choice of whatever’s freshest that day. sushiyuu.com
Alongside ramen and tempura, tonkatsu — delicately breaded and fried pork cutlets served with finely shredded cabbage and rice — is one of Japan’s favourite comfort foods. At Maisen, the art of tonkatsu is elevated with the addition of heritage Kurobota pork and a delightfully savoury-sweet house-made dipping sauce. It’s perfectly crisp on the outside, moist and tender within. Maisen will leave you wondering why there isn’t a tonkatsu joint on every corner at home. mai-sen.com
Little Nap Coffee
In a quiet corner of trendy Shibuya this tiny local spot serves up macchiatos and americanos to a loyal regular crowd of Japanese hipsters and artsy expats. The Japanese were late adopters of coffee culture, but are well on their way to perfecting it. littlenap.jp
While ramen spots have been popping up on this side of the Pacific for a while now, even the best here can’t be compared with this one beneath Tokyo Station. Specializing in tsukemen, thick ramen noodles served with a gravy-like dipping sauce, Rokurinsha will change your life. The interior is pure Japanese minimalism, with simple wooden tables and a small counter, and is always crowded, especially at lunchtime. Do as the locals do here: accept the complimentary paper bib and get your slurp on. rokurinsha.com
You didn’t come to Tokyo to eat American food, right? Wrong. Located at the top of Tadao Ando’s stunning asymmetrical Omotesando Hills shopping mall in Harajuku, Golden Brown makes one of the best burgers you’ve ever tasted. Pair it with a Wilkinson’s ginger beer and peruse through their library of excellent vintage menswear books. goldenbrown.info
This labyrinthine neighbourhood of alleyways in the middle of high rise-filled Shinjuku, just east of Shinjuku metro station, is home to more than 200 bars, most with less than 10 seats. Many are themed, from heavy metal to rugby to classic literature. There’s truly something for everyone — provided you like to drink in a closet-sized tavern.
Bar High Five
Tokyo’s cocktail bars are legendary, and this one, in Ginza, is among its most renowned. Upon entering this temple of mixology, you’ll be offered a warm towel and asked what you like to drink. There is no menu here. Instead, High Five’s staff of suspender-and-necktie-clad bartenders can mix you something completely unique to your tastes, or just the best Manhattan you’ve ever had. barhighfive.com
Tsukiji Fish Market
The line to score a ringside seat at the world’s most famous tuna auction starts well before 3 a.m. Show up around 9 a.m., however, and there’s still plenty of action to be seen in this sprawling market complex, as fishmongers work to butcher the day’s catch with katana-sized knives. When you’re ready for breakfast, you’ll find the freshest tuna nigiri of your life at the nearby Takatoyo Maru No. 38. tsukiji-market.or.jp
Yakult Swallows Baseball
While the champion Yomiuri Giants are the best-loved baseball club in Japan, Tokyo’s ever-lagging Yakult Swallows are the better team to watch. Win or lose, the historic outdoor Meiji Jingu stadium combined with the Swallows’ zealous home-team cheering section (get seats in the outfield stands to be in the thick of the action) equals a great day at the ball game. yakult-swallows.co.jp
The Japanese have a long and storied tradition of beating the West at its own game (see: cars, denim, beer). Beams Plus is a familiar brand across Japan whose offerings include tweaked versions of American classics like sneakers, jeans, and baseball jackets, plus an expertly curated selection from Adidas, Champion, and other top global brands. Be prepared to blow your budget at their Harajuku men’s shop. beams.co.jp
The Japanese are expert collectors with a particular enthusiasm for fine timepieces. As a result, Tokyo is probably the best city in the world to buy a vintage watch in impeccable condition. Carese Co. is one of the top dealers in the city.
Tokyo is the city of shopping FOMO, and nowhere is this feeling more overwhelming than at the vast Mitsukoshi department store. The flagship location’s 12 floors cover everything from housewares to high-end fashion, but it’s the basement food hall that steals the show. Stop here to load up on beautifully-wrapped Japanese confectionery and hard-to-find bottles of sake while marvelling at the selection of wagyu beef, French cheeses and unimaginably perfect produce. mitsukoshi.mistore.jp