A Traveler’s Guide to Tokyo | Cooking With Jade Travel Blog
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A Traveler’s Guide to Tokyo

With a population of nearly 40 million, Greater Tokyo is the largest urban area in the world. It’s also one of the safest major cities in the world, so it’s the perfect city to explore and get lost in. However, if you need some direction while exploring this giant city, I am here to help. Here are some of my favorite spots and activities in Tokyo.

Traveler's Guide to Tokyo

Food

Did you know that Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city? Tokyo is one of the world’s culinary capitals. And being such a large, cosmopolitan city, Tokyo’s culinary offerings go way beyond Japanese food (though that should be your starting point). Here are some of the restaurants and markets I visited in this teeming city.

Toyosu Market

You have to wake up really early to get the most out your trip to Toyosu Market, but trust me, it’s worth it. You may have seen footage of fishermen dropping thousand-pound tunas on the floor, while auctioneers shout out prices. This wholesale market is where it all goes down. And you can witness the controlled chaos that is the tuna auction in person. It will require some planning: the tuna auction takes place between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning and reservations for the observation deck need to be made at least a month in advance. But it’s an experience that’s uniquely Tokyo.

 If waking up before the sun isn’t your thing, you can always stop by later and browse this massive, three-building complex. There are plenty of other seafood and produce auctions to see, as well as vendors selling some of the freshest fish around. Even though I don’t eat fish, I still made a pilgrimage to this famous market, just because I find it so energetic and fascinating.

Toyosu Market

Depachika

Mexico City has its mercados, Singapore has its “hawker markets,” and Tokyo has its depachika. The word is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “department store” (depato) and “basement” (chiku). As you may have guessed, these famed food markets are located below many of Tokyo’s major department stores.

 Here you will find prepackaged foods, bento boxes, and an array of tasty confections (known as wagashi). Shinjuku’s Isetan department store has a famous depachiku, known for its wagashi and patisseries. Pro tip: buy your food in the basement and eat it in the store’s beautiful rooftop garden. Shibuya Tokyu Foodshow, located below the Tokyu department store, was remodeled in 2021. This sprawling depachiku is broken up into three easy-to-navigate zones: a “sweets zone,” a “grocery zone,” and a zone for gourmet prepared food. You can’t go wrong with either. Chocolate lovers need to head to the basement of the glitzy Ginza department store, where you can find famed French chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin’s tasty confections inside a climate-controlled glass cube.

Depachika famed food markets are located below many of Tokyo’s major department stores.

Noodles, Noodles, and More Noodles

Whenever I’m in Tokyo, I have to get my noodle fix. Ramen is arguably the most famous variety and Tokyo has plenty of great ramen joints. Homemade Ramen Muginae on the south side of the city does everything right: the noodles are hand-pulled, the sauces are made from scratch, and the chicken is free-range. Ramen Ibuki, northwest of the city center, specializes in niboshi ramen, which uses a stock made from dried sardines. Nearby Kikanbo is known for its fiery “devil ramen,” which contains a secret spice blend.

But ramen isn’t the only great noodle in this town. The thicker, more vegan-friendly udon noodle is the specialty at Oniyanma, located just south of the city center. Here, hungry diners purchase a ticket from the vending machine outside the entrance, then head inside to exchange it for a delicious bowl of noodles. Soba noodles – made from buckwheat – are the specialty at Kanda Matsuya, located in the Kanda neighborhood. This iconic restaurant has been churning out hand-rolled, hand-cut soba noodles for over 130 years! They must be doing something right.

Oniyanma Noodles Store

Shopping

Tokyo has long been known as a shopper’s mecca—especially when it comes to funky fashions. Many of the biggest neighborhoods have their own bold style. Here are some of my favorites:

Ginza

Ginza is Tokyo’s high-end shopping district. If you’ve got a lot of yen burning a hole in your pocket, this is the place to spend it. Many of the world’s most famous luxury brands have stores here, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel. But more affordable fashion palaces can still be found in Ginza. UNIQLO – the popular Japanese clothing brand with several stores in the U.S. – has its flagship store in Ginza. UNIQLO’s original Ginza location is still the largest branch in the world. For a more varied shopping experience, check out Ginza SIX: a relatively new shopping center with over 240 trendy shops.

Ginza is Tokyo’s high-end shopping district.

Shibuya

Shibuya is widely known as Japan’s epicenter for youth fashion. Just about any look goes on the streets of Shibuya, and some of the quirkiest outfits imaginable can be found in its stores. Many of Shibuya’s most colorful shops can be found at Shibuya109, a towering shopping mall located at the notoriously busy Shibuya Crossing. Even if you’re not a budding fashionista like myself, you’re sure to find plenty of unique purchases in Shibuya. Don Quijote – a popular chain of discount stores – has its largest location in Shibuya. Known as “Mega Donki,” this massive store has everything from home goods to unique Japanese snacks. And music loves, take note: Shibuya is home to one of the world’s few remaining Tower Records.

Shibuya known for fashion

Harajuku

The Japanese concept of kawaii can best be described as a “fashionable cuteness.” Arguably, it’s best embodied in the iconic Hello Kitty brand. Inarguably, the best place to find this uniquely Japanese style is Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood. Stores like Pink-Latte, Honey and Cinnamon, 6 Percent Doki Doki, and Baby the Stars Shine Bright are some of the best places to check out Harajuku’s famous fashions. You can even take a guided “Kawaii tour” of the neighborhood.

Harajuku, he Japanese concept of kawaii.

Nihonbashi

This historic Tokyo neighborhood is named for its landmark bridge, completed in the 17th century. It is Tokyo’s go-to neighborhood for traditional Japanese clothing, such as kimonos. And the traditional wares in this neighborhood go beyond fashion: Haibara is a stationary store that has been around for over 200 years. This elegant store sells notebooks, letter sets, and uchiwa: the beautiful paper fans that have become such an integral part of Japanese culture.

The famouss bridge in Nihonbashi

Cultural Sites

Tokyo (originally called Edo) rose to prominence in the early 17th century. As you might expect in a city with this much history, historical and cultural sites abound. I made sure to hit up as many landmarks as I could during my second trip to this fascinating city.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

I visited Tokyo Imperial Palace during my first trip to Japan, and had to see it again on my second. The official home of the Japanese imperial family, this palace was constructed in 1888. The palace sits on the site of the old Edo Castle, which dates all the way back to the 15th century. While parts of the palace are understandably off-limits, many areas are open to tourists, including the tranquil Kokyo Gaien National Garden.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Sensoji Temple

Completed in 645 CE, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. This ancient Buddhist temple is open 24 hours a day, though the main hall is only open from 5 am to 6 pm.  You’ve likely seen pictures of the temple’s iconic red lantern (a popular spot for Instagrammers) or its famed five-story pagoda. Foodies, take note: the entrance to this historic temple is lined with vendors selling traditional Japanese foods. I somehow missed this world-famous destination on my first visit, so I made sure to stop there on my second.

Sensoji Temple

Shinjuku Garden

Located between the wards of Shinjuku and Shibuya, this massive park/garden is one of Tokyo’s most visited greenspaces. I loved coming here for a little peace and quiet in this hectic city. Originally a private residence for Samurai, Shinjuku Garden became a public park in 1949. Its design is a hodgepodge of styles, from traditional Japanese garden to English landscape. If you’re visiting Tokyo in the spring, this is the spot to see cherry blossoms. Word to the wise, though: it will get crowded.

Shinjuku Garden

Tokyo Skytree

Completed in 2012, Tokyo Skytree is a much more recent landmark. Still, it’s not to be missed. Standing at an astounding 2,227 ft, it literally towers over Tokyo. Its observation deck – which stands at nearly 1,500 feet – offers unparalleled views of the world’s largest urban area.

Tokyo Skytree

The Trip of a Lifetime

I love every country I visit, but going back to my birthplace is always extra-special. When I backpacked across Japan after graduating culinary school, I learned so much about myself and my roots. Now, on this second visit, I have learned even more about the place where I was born. And I know it has made me a better chef. I’m already looking forward to coming back.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.

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