How to spend it in … Tokyo

I was born and raised in Taito-ku, near the old town of Asakusa, near the center of Tokyo. It was a lively place to grow up, full of wit and good energy – I loved attending events at the nearby Shinto shrine, and people always flocked to the flower markets at Senso-ji Temple.

As a teenager, I was heavily influenced by American culture – television programs like delighted, which took place every week, Peyton Square and The Andy Williams Show. And I was a huge fan of musicians Bill Evans and Miles Davis – the way they wore the costumes was impeccable.

I would describe Tokyo’s trendy sensibility as a bit like fusion cuisine – it’s made from different cooking methods and spices from all over the world. The United States also influenced the Japanese way of dressing – it’s the basis of fashion culture here, like the Ivy League style, which remains a big benchmark for me. Then there is the influence of France, UK and Italy, depending on what generation you are from. However, these elements are still interpreted Japanese style, such as adding soy sauce to international cuisine.

A metro tunnel in Ochanomizu © Alamy

Calligraphy at the Roppongi National Arts Center

Calligraphy at the Roppongi National Art Center © Alamy

In Tokyo, many of the best stores are a mishmash of different things, both classic and street, creating a scrambled style. The Japanese understand the rules of dress, but they intentionally break them to adapt them to their own personality. Ginza is well known as a Japanese shopping district, but I think the best places are all around Tokyo. I think of United Arrows in Roppongi Hills or Beams House in Marunouchi, which are multi-label and curate stores that offer sleek, classic fashion and streetwear.

For more casualwear, I like Silver and Gold, which is a small boutique in Shibuya; they don’t have super avant-garde brands, but the products they select and the way they organize have a different sensibility in other places. Originally they had a store in Osaka – maybe that’s what gives them a different point of view. And then there’s Godard Mercerie, also in Shibuya, which is fairly new and was founded by an ex-buyer at Dover Street Market.

Kamoshita in the Anjin lounge of the Tsutaya bookstore
Kamoshita in the Anjin lounge of the Tsutaya bookstore © Sybilla Patrizia
Kanda's Book City

Kanda’s Book City © Alamy

Tokyo is obviously famous for its vintage clothing – arguably the best known is Jantiques, for its items from the US, UK and France after the 1950s, which are still in good condition. Despite the higher prices, I always end up buying something from here. But the best area for secondhand shopping is Koenji – there are hundreds of vintage places out there. Like Anemone, which offers European clothing from the 80s and 90s; they have a lot of items that I myself sold when I was a young salesperson, which always makes me sentimental. And there’s Kissmet, which is known for its range of Japanese designer brands, like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and Comme des Garçons from the ’80s and’ 90s.

My favorite part of the city is the area around Jinbocho, where I spent time before college, prompting me to study interior design. It is a very quiet place to walk. The neighborhood is full of art supply shops and vintage bookstores specializing in photography, music, art and fashion. There is also a store which has a lot of used magazines, like Vogue, Squire and GQ. American magazines were always very expensive to buy new, so when I was in school I used to buy vintage ones for style inspiration. I also recently found a musical café there, Jazz Olympus, which focuses on jazz from the 50s and 60s, my favorite eras. Tokyo is very busy and there aren’t a lot of places to relax, but this place is quite cool. They have a great sound system and also serve delicious Japanese curry.

The main entrance of the Hoshinoya hotel

The main entrance of the Hoshinoya hotel

Vintage Anemone Clothing

Vintage Anemone Clothing

I also like to walk the streets near Shoin Shrine in Setagaya District, a local residential area. Near the temple there are a lot of interesting little accessory shops – which we call zakka – where they sell household items, stationery, fashion accessories and leather goods. The neighborhood itself is made up of many small shops that were once Japanese-style lodgings. It’s not upscale or shiny, it’s really low-key and relaxed.

For inspiration, I go to Daikanyama Hillside Terrace, which was designed by architect Fumihiko Maki; I love it for its distinct Tokyo building style. I will visit Tsutaya to find the latest books, then walk around the neighborhood to check out the fashion boutiques.

Prada Aoyama store

Prada’s Aoyama store © Alamy

Ceramics in Bingoya

Ceramics in Bingoya

In terms of food, Tokyo has the best examples of dishes in all of Japan. Soba noodles may have originated in Nagano, but they have excellent authentic versions at Muromachi Sunaba, the first place to offer tempura soba; or, although you can get fresher fish for sushi in Hokkaido, all the top chefs compete in Tokyo, so they have the best techniques and have access to the best ingredients.

I love restaurants that offer traditional cuisine with ambient interiors. For sushi, I used to eat at Kizushi (+81 33 666 1682) in Ningyocho or Sushi Teru (+81 35 379 8138) in Shinjuku, which I like because it still feels like Tokyo from the ‘Showa era. For unagi, which is a freshwater eel, I like to go to Myojinshita (+81 33 251 5031) in Chiyoda. The dish is served as rice with steamed and then grilled eel on top, and a sweet and savory sauce.

Kizushi Restaurant, Ningyocho

Kizushi Restaurant, Ningyocho

Sushi in Hoshinoya Tokyo

Sushi in Hoshinoya Tokyo

To visitors, I generally recommend a stay at the Hilltop Hotel in Ochanomizu, which has retro furnishings and a calm atmosphere. In addition, its tempura restaurant, Yamanoue, is one of the best in the area. Or there’s The Okura Tokyo, because it’s one of the city’s most iconic hotels, thanks to its mid-century interiors and impeccable hospitality, and Hoshinoya Tokyo in Chiyoda, because of the onsen – hot springs which are naturally heated from the basement.

When I want to get away from the city, I play golf; it forces you to spend the whole day in nature. I’ve been playing for over 30 years, usually once a week. I like that it can be a group activity, and that it’s not too hard, so I can play it until the very end.

I also like to visit Nihon Mingei-kan, the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum, because I like handy crafts that are close to everyday life. There is also the National Art Center in Roppongi and the museum in Roppongi Hills, which is located on the 53rd floor; the exhibits are always interesting and the views incredibly beautiful.

The most fascinating thing about Tokyo is that there are so many different areas, each with their own distinct characteristics. For example, in Asakusa or Kabukicho in Shinjuku, you can find a very authentic local vibe. Whereas if you go to Omotesando, or the Roppongi district, it seems more contemporary, even futuristic. It’s the same city, but depending on the region, it shows a completely different side. And that means you never get bored here.

About Elizabeth Smith

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