24 Hours in Tokyo
This week we bring you GO Tokyo, replete with our food/hotel tips, adventures, some great stores and beautiful photos. As incredible as Japan is, it’s a world away from English speaking culture and getting on the subway can be crazy intimidating, so we relied on an awesome travel agency, Black Tomato, to tell us how to do it right.
Getting There & Travel Notes
When making restaurant reservations, and for many of the temples, you almost always have to go through a travel agent or hotel concierge. Also, for many of the more coveted seats, like a few of the restaurants we list below, it’s best to book pretty well in advance.
Black Tomato’s Japan experts were super helpful with everything from getting reservations, to advance temple authorization, and more—we’d totally recommend them if you’re planning a trip to Japan or elsewhere in the world. We also love that they send you a Japan-related novel to read on the plane.
Start the day at…
The whole ocean is here at Tsukiji Fish Market. This is where the best sushi-ya’s in town come to auction for the highest-quality cuts of fish each morning, and after that locals and other restaurateurs come to see what’s fresh in for dinner. Here’s what we saw:
After the market, we went to a nearby sushi school to learn how to make sushi—from fileting the fish, to forming the rice for the nigiri, to putting it all together.
We used in-season horse mackerel. First, slice off the head. Then, make a clean slice along the belly and wash away the blood and guts. Dry the fish and place back down on a clean, dry cutting board.
Holding the fish steady with one hand, use the knife to slice the top half away from the bone. Then, place the half (with bone still attached) flesh side down on the cutting board. Starting from the top, slice the fish away from the bone.
Place both halves flesh side up and run your fingers along the top to feel for any extra bones—remove with tweezers.
To remove the skin, lift up the filet by the skin, and push back on it with your thumb to loosen away from the flesh. Then, lay it skin side down back on the cutting board and slide the dull part of the knife in between the skin and the flesh to remove, pulling the skin off with your hands when you near the tail.
Slice the fish into small pieces for the nigiri.
Wet your hands slightly with a mixture containing one part water and one part rice vinegar. Grab a small amount of rice. Place a slice of fish onto the fingers of your other hand (this won’t work if you place the fish on your palm). Dip your finger in a small amount of wasabi and smear onto the fish. Then, place the rice onto the piece of fish, pushing down with your index and middle fingers to secure the union. Flip the sushi into your other hand so it’s now right side up. Using your index and middle fingers, pat down on the nigiri while making a box with the hand the sushi is in by curling your fingers toward your palm. Do this gently until the nigiri is formed.
Since mackerel goes quite well with ginger, we grated a little and placed in on top of the fish with some finely sliced scallion. Otherwise, serve with soy sauce.
Grab a mid-morning coffee and browse books and shops in Daikanyama
Tsutaya is a Japanese DVD rental chain, but what makes this bookstore remarkable is that it’s housed in the architecturally-stunning Daikanyama T-Site, spread across three interlinked buildings. The store itself is prolific, with everything from art books, hoards of magazines, antique periodicals, English-language titles, music, DVD’s and more with high-tech features like browsing for titles on tablets. The lounge/café upstairs, Anjin, opens early and closes late and is as cool looking as everything else, with beautiful couches, lamps and furnishings, including the bar, which is made out of stacked books.
Daikanyama Shopping District
After coffee, walk just behind the T-site for a quick stroll through the hip Daikayama shopping streets, which includes bigger names, like A.P.C. (with a very cool entryway) and small boutiques like the beautiful Okura, which specializes in clothing dyed in pure indigo. It’s pretty stunning, and very Japanese.
Lunch at Ramen Street
Inside the maze that is Tokyo Station is this little alley with a few special shops, invited to be part of this much-frequented (by locals and tourists alike) ramen destination. You’ll find the longest line at Rokurinsha where people wait up to an hour for their signature thick noodles. If you don’t have the time to wait, you’ll do well at any of the others, as the quality has to be high to stay in this alley. You order at the vending machine in the front of each shop and present your ticket to the attendant who brings you your noodles once you’ve sat down. They bring you a cup of water and most places don’t really offer much else in terms of drink, as it’s all about the noodles. Remember to slurp—biting your noodles as you go is often seen as breaking the relationship…
Next, see some art at
This gallery, featuring some of the best contemporary art in Tokyo, is housed in this former bathhouse. The venue is almost as impressive as the work.
Heading back towards the hotel, stop along the way for some specialty shopping
The just few months old Akomeya, by rice retailer Sazaby League, is like a Japanese Dean & Deluca on steroids, in the best possible way. With thousands of rice-related products, including wooden boxes used for measuring rice and sake, rice pots and beautiful utensils, food products such as crackers, and much more, the shop celebrates the elegant simplicity of the food that is so characteristic of Japan. The rice bar in front of the store allows you to choose the grade of brown rice you want before choosing how much you’d like it polished, which they do on the spot—the highest level removes the entire hull, leaving you with white rice (which most Japanese customers prefer) while a lighter polish will leave a bit more fiber. This shop is a must for the food lover while in Tokyo.
Time to check in, regroup and refresh before going out again for the evening. A couple of our choices include the Peninsula Hotel and The Palace Hotel, just a few blocks apart. Both are stand-alone luxury hotels (a rarity in Tokyo where most hotels occupy the top floors of other buildings), which overlook the Imperial Palace. The Peninsula’s rooms are particularly luxurious, yet still maintain a distinct Japanese feel.
Pre-dinner drinks at
Gen is bringing serious mixology to town. Having started at Bar Totto in NYC’s little Tokyo and then at the bar at Brushstroke, he’s returned to Tokyo to open up his namesake where he serves an innovative cocktail tasting menu, which includes his (amazing) signature sweet tomato cocktail. Not your typical bar, there’s no music and little talking, just the sound of really well made cocktails being shaken and stirred in the minimally-decorated, handsome room, which is dominated by a long wooden bar.
Kasumicho Suetomi is located on the third floor of a random building on a street full of much more obvious restaurants—you will never find it if you don’t know about it. Take a dingy elevator up to be greeted by the kimono-clad hostess who guides you into the tiny dining room with only about 10 seats. The clean, white decor is minimal almost to a point—the simplicity emphasizes the importance of the food. You have a choice between two set menus, which you choose when you make the reservation. Each one includes multiple courses of amazingly fresh, seasonal, and delicious food with an emphasis on fish and vegetables prepared simply but meticulously. It’s very inventive: Be prepared to taste something you’ve never tried before. There’s a grill behind the bar where some of the fish is prepared and immediately brought to your table. There’s little to no English spoken here and not one other foreigner was present while we were there, but the chef/owner is super friendly and will be happy to host anyone interested in a serious dining experience, whether you speak Japanese or not. Nice touch: Guests are given a bag of onigiri on their way out. It’s pricey, but you’re paying for the ingredients and the culinary journey.
We are sure that this recently opened sushi-ya (that you can’t even find on the internet, until now) is about to seriously contend with some of the city’s most venerable names. The friendly master Shingo Takahashi was the apprentice for Chef Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho before opening his own place behind this discreet sliding bamboo door on a small street near Aoyama Park. It’s omakase only here, and does not disappoint, from fresh as possible cuts of more familiar fish to creamy baby shrimp, sweet uni, the intense flavor of in-season horse mackerel, and sea eel. There are also offerings you rarely see like caviar seaweed to start (the seaweed has little bubbles on the outside that pop when you crunch down), whole baby octopus heads, raw eggplant (ever-so-slightly pickled though you can’t really tell), and so much more. Shingo kindly requests no snaps inside the small, pale, minimal space so that you may focus and enjoy your meal. This place is a serious discovery.
If you’re still feeling lively, go for drinks and dancing at
First in Paris and now in NYC as well, Le Baron in Tokyo has its own unique scene and a nice change up from the foreigner-heavy nightlife in Roppongi. A great place to dance.
Snaps from Around Town
Special thanks to Black Tomato for flying us over and hosting us on a few of the activities. We’d also like to thank the hotels listed in this issue for kindly hosting us on our trip.