Karaoke, go karts and barbecued spleen on stick… yes it’s your next long-haul city break. Granted, Tokyo can be chaotic and overwhelming, but it’s also one flipping cool. I’ve rounded up the best bits, to ease you into a few days of eating, drinking and SINGING. Sing. Those. (Springsteen.) Songs.
Do not go to Tokyo without indulging in a a bit of karaoke! Big Echo is the main chain in Japan, they have a good selection of songs with English versions and prices are OK (you pay per person and it’s more after 11pm). You’ll have to buy a drink (not that you’ll need it, it’s great sober…) and I’d recommend staying at least an hour – 30 mins isn’t enough. Time flies when you’re having ridiculous amounts of fun, etc.
Tip: good artists/songs for karaoke include the Beach Boys (Get Around), Cher (Turn Back Time), Def Leppard (Sugar), Billy Idol (Rebel Yell) and Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Impossible songs are Toto’s Africa, all Bruce Springsteen (I ruined Thunder Road) and Bon Jovi’s Always. You think it’s gonna work but it doesn’t. The Big Echo in Shinduku provides props (hello tambourine!) while the one in Ginza is a bit more polished with no props. Your call.
Dress up as the Mario Brothers and drive a pimped road-safe go kart around Tokyo. DO IT. This will require some organisation ahead of the trip, and save time before you set off from Akihabara (known as the geeky part of town) to wander around the shops.
There’s a rollercoaster in the Tokyo Dome (on top of the buidlings!); tickets are around 1,000 yen and it’s great, obviously.
Have a wander through the Yoyogi Park (I walked through from Shinjuku to Harajaku and then Shibuya) and check out the Meiji Shrine.
People rave about this but tbh I can’t think of much worse than looking at fish at 5am.
There are 226 Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo (that’s more than London, Paris and NYC combined), but TBC that’s not all my bag. A lot of the less expensive restaurants have pictures on their menu, which sounds kind of naff, but in country where you can order bumhole on stick alongside your beer, it’s actually kinda handy. For budget eats, try the below.
Numazuko Sushi, Shinjuku
Right in the thick of it in cool Shinjuku, this brightly lit place does conveyor belt sushi for a smidge of the price you’d pay back home. Pick plates from the moving table top (they are all colour coded) or ask the chef to prep some stuff on the spot. It’s all freshly made because of the amount of traffic coming through, but you can get it extra fresh if you ask – ie without it having done two rounds on the belt. I ate A LOT here and spent less than a tenner. Don’t leave without trying the seared eel and the medium fatty tuna.
Bairin Tonkatsu, Ginza
Tonkatsu – or breaded pork – is a Japanese staple and it’s as niiiice as it sounds. This place is in Ginza, a slightly more upmarket part of Tokyo, and the restaurant is full of locals who sit on stools along the counter and watch the chefs in full-on meat-frying action. I went for one with the rice in the bowl with some sort of onion egg. Delish. Despite always being busy it feels really calm in here.
Yasubee Ramen, Shinjuku
Slurp up HUGE bowls of delicious ramen in this wallet-friendly slimline joint in Shinduku. The done thing in Tokyo is to slurp your noodle, and people here really go for it. You order at a ticket machine on the way in and pick what you want by pressing a button on the pictures. Large bowls of noodles are the same price as small bowls, but just to warn you they are MASSIVE. I was defeated and couldn’t recover for several hours. I really did think it was game over. You can get your noodles in the ramen bowl or cold on the side on the plate. I like them in, but that’s just personal preference.
Sushi Sora, Mandarin Oriental Hotel
“You’re eating better sushi than Obama!” That’s what one diner told me when I went here for dinner. It IS expensive, but it’s a fantastic experience – just 8 diners sit around a wooden counter, one eye on the incredible chefs doing their fish and rice prep and another on the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows 38 floors above Tokyo. Admire their work while sipping your paired sake, then every few minutes little morsels of fish will be placed placed on your plate along with an explanation on what you’re about to put in your mouth. If you’re looking for a special dining experience I’d say this is up there as the best. Book ahead and save up.
Random Yakitoria, Shinjuku
I wondered across this place on the way back to my airbnb. At the end of the day in Tokyo you’ll see loads of men in suits standing in little bars eating and drinking. This is an on-street bar with standing tables and a menu of little sticks of meat (or yakitorie). About that meat – it’s pretty unusual stuff by our standards, but it’s def worth trying. I asked the chef to choose five for me because I couldn’t handle choosing between uterus and heart. You know how it is. Grab a table and stand outside and try a stick or two, too. There are loads of places like this, so don’t worry if you can’t find this one.
Tsunahachi Tempura, Shinjuku
This is a really peaceful little tempura restaurant that’s a great escape from the noise of Shinjuku. You’ll find plenty of locals tucking into big portions of battered veg and fish; we shared a tempura lunch because that’s a lot of food and we had other stuff to eat. It’s some of the best tempura in the city fo’sure.
Omoide Yokocho, Shinjuku backstreets (under the traintracks)
Underneath the railway lines you’ll find little street stalls/ restaurants that seat around 10 or so people each. Have a wander down the sweaty, smoke-filled alleys and pick what you fancy. I went for gyoza and ramen which we ate while sitting around a sticky counter and drinking Asihi beer. It feels pretty far removed from the rest of the city and is fun, if a little cramped.
Yep, that’s right! They are everywhere and worth going into for snacks. I liked ‘The Boss’ iced coffee cans (CAN’T THINK WHY), choc croissants (good for hangovers) and the little sushi triangles which are a bit odd but good if you’re on the go.
You’ll also find loads of odd snacks and mags, always good for a browse! Also good for a nap.
Anywhere, honestly. Just wander around and see what you fancy.
Get to Ishibashi for Fenders galore, there are loads all over the city. Around Ochanomizu station you’ll find loooooads of guitar shops. I’ve never seen so many in one city (new and pre-loved versions) and I honestly think I visited every single damn shop. You can pick up a nice Japanese Strat/Tele/Jag for £500 or so.
For CDs – I found some rare Bruce and loads of other artists for decent prices.
Harjuku is the best place or vintage gear. It’s quite expensive over there (they import everything from America apparently) but you’ll find some cool stuff – loads of t-shirts, leather jackets. It’s a fashonista part of town with designer shops and little grungy boutiques and good fun to wander.
Head to the Kappabashi district for amazing Japanese knife shops – you’ll pay a slice of the price you’d pay back home. You can get them engraved on the day, which is pretty special. I bought some in a shop called Kamata on Kappabashi Kitchen Town. Another recommended shop was called Union Commerce – they also had a great coffee hardware shop attached.
Airbnb is a great option in a city like Tokyo as you’ll hardly be in. I also booked one night at the Andaz which is located in an a fairly quiet but up-and-coming part of the city. Really great rooms views and buffet breakfast. Mmmmm.
Things I love
The loos – they are everywhere and clean.
Lockers – for storing your stuff in all the train stations.
Racks – for your umbrellas (in the loos and outside shops!).
Vending machines – everywhere on the street for if you’re feeling thirsty.
Wifi – hot spots are everywhere. I went to a tourist office, showed my passport and was given a log in for seven days.
There are a number of companies running train/metro travel in the city, meaning it’s not as simple as buying a pass. But ticket machines are really simple to use and everyone is very helpful. Trains are punctual. Best bet is to use City Mapper and it’ll get you around super easily.
Things to keep in mind
Tipping is not the norm in Tokyo – so don’t, you’re likely to get someone chasing you down the street to give you your change back.
Google Translate will be your friend – English isn’t that commonly spoken. The best phrases are Arigato (thank you) and Oishi (delicious). I just said everything was delicious for eight days, which was handy because I wasn’t even fibbing.
Loads of ATMs close in the evening and weekends, any many don’t take English debit cards. Try to find a 7Eleven with an ATM with a cash machine as they are 24 hours and work with our cards.
Slurp your food.
Need to know
Flying indirect will save you a hell of a lot of money – I’m talking half the price. Head here for more info.