I was already in my teens when I first went to Japan in the ’80s. I remember feeling very intimidated with the surroundings, I would hide behind my dad.
I felt like my clothes were baduy. I had a strong desire to fit in and be like them. There was this one shop girl whose look I really liked, so I copied her down to the long hair. The only way I can describe how she looked was when I tried to replicate that look in Muji show I styled back in 2012.
I’m so glad I have a three-year, multiple-entry Japan visa. Now that I’m older and can afford it, I try to go to Japan at least twice a year; three if I’m lucky. I’m also glad to have known Filipinos who feel the same passion for Japan.
My Tokyo is different from anyone’s Tokyo. I’m a creature of habit. Even though there are new places to discover, there are certain places I have to come back to, just because. And that’s what this post is all about.
I asked some hardcore Tokyo visitors to share what makes Tokyo their happy place.
Founder and CEO of BENCH
How often? Three to four times a year
How long? 5 days at least
Stay: Peninsula Hotel, Ritz Carlton
Shop: Comme des Garçons, Thom Browne, Dover Street Market, Visvim, Isetan Men’s
Eat: Maisen Tonkatsu, St. Marc Cafe, Kyubei Sushi, Marugame Udon. Across Isetan is a very traditional tempura place where the name is written in Kanji so I don’t know the name. All the seafood are alive before they are fried into tempura. It’s been there for over a hundred years.
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? Osaka
Pasalubong: Leaf Pie, Yoku Moku, Japanese roasted rice tea
How often? 2-3 times a year
How long? a week more or less
Transport: Uber or bike!
Stay: Hotel Cerulean or my friends’ (Argie Bucot & Jim Hough’s) house in Shibuya
Area: Aoyama, Shibuya, Daikanyama
Shop: Good Design Store, Comme des Garçons, MoMA, F.I.L. (Visvim)
Eat: Tamawarai, Dosanjin, Kakuro (my good friend Rene Domingo brought me here), the misono at The Hotel Okura
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? I’d like to go to Hokkaido
DR. GERARD HENSON AND FAMILY
L-R: Children Gabbie and Rafa, Gerard, and wife Tere in Tokyo
How often? Two to three times a year
How long? 9-10 days
Airport: Really prefer Haneda but flight schedules to and from Manila are not very favorable
Airline: Delta, ANA or JAL
Stay: Hotel within Shinjuku area
Areas: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotedando, Aoyama, Daikanyama, Marunouchi
Shop: Isetan, Isetan Mens, Hankyu Mens, Yohji Yamamoto, Sacai, Muveil Gallery, Comme des Garçons, The Pool, Blue Blue Japan, Beams, United Arrows, Beauty & Youth, Journal Standard, HeadPorter, Parco
Eat: Maisen, Tonkatsu Santa, Fukuzushi, Santouka, Tsunahachi, Tenichi, Rangetsu, Nabezu, Blacows Burger
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? Only other place we’ve been to is Kyoto
Pasalubong: Anything from Isetan Food Court
How often? There was a time when I used to do it yearly. The last time I was there was in 2012.
How long? 1-3 months
Airline: JAL. I like when they always mistake me for a Japanese.
Transport: Train! I love the Yamanote loop because it stops at my favorite stations. But nothing beats walking. I usually get off at Shibuya (or sometimes when I leave early I start in Ebisu/Daikanyama) and end my walk in Shinjuku (passing Harajuku, Omotesando, Aoyama, Yoyogi Koen). There’s always something new to discover and the things you expect to see are still as magical as before.
Stay: I stay at my mom’s
Harajuku—I like to sit on the railings in front of Laforet and people-watch and take it all in
Yoyogi on a Sunday
Ginza at dusk
Shinjuku at night
Halloween in Shibuya is an experience
Ueno Koen during cherry blossom season
Shop: DSM in Ginza, MMM in Ebisu, Laforet, Wut Berlin, Spiral & Dog in Harajuku, CDG in Aoyama, Candy in Shibuya
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? I have only been to Osaka and Yokohama. Tokyo pa rin!
Pasalubong: Any random, interesting stuff from Tokyu Hands and/or Loft (and sometimes Disneyland/Sea)
How often? Twice a year now, but hopefully more often
How long? 5 days
Airport: Narita, but if you can get a flight to Haneda, better, as it’s closer to the city
Transport: Taxi or train
Stay: If budget is not as issue then The Peninsula is the best.
Got cash to burn? Park Hyatt Shinjuku.
Want something central and reasonably priced? Then Century Southern Tower. It’s right across Takashimaya and the Shinjuku train station so it’s easy to get around the whole city
Shop: United Arrows and Sons in Harajuku, Isetan Shinjuku, Dover Street Market, Saturday Surf NYC in Daikanyama for casual clothes at great price points. Tsutaya / T site in Daikanyama.
Tempura at Tsunahanchi or Ten Ichi
Sushi at Fukusuzhi in Roponggi
Pastries and bread at Gontran Cherrier
Gyoza Harajuku on Cat street
Food hall of Isetan
If you have more budget, Ryugin for kaiseki
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? Kyoto—especially during the sakura season
Pasalubong: Any Pastry from the Isetan food Hall. We also bring home fruits. At the airport, Shiroi Kobito—think lengua de gato sandwich with chocolate.
How often? Once a year for a “pachinko junket” with mother and sister
How long? On average, 10 days
Airline: Delta, or any that gets me there in one piece
Stay: Prince Hotel, Shinjuku
Areas: Ueno, Akihabara, Shinjuku, Okachimachi, Shibuya, Ikebukuro
Shop: Isetan, GU, Project 1/6, Atmos and Windsor
Eat: Anything and everything
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? Have only been to Osaka, but plan to explore ALL of Japan. Maybe write A Gaijin’s Guide to Paching
Pasalubong: Goodies for my family (clothes, toys)
How often? Not as often as I wish. After leaving for good in 2011 (lived there for almost 7 years), I finally visited again last April. I hope to go at least once a year—it’s like my second home.
How long? I spent a week over Easter. I think a trip should be a minimum of 4 days. That being said, you cannot have enough days in Japan. There’s so much to do and discover!
Airport: I’m fine either way. Though Haneda is more convenient.
Airline: Being based in Hong Kong, I fly Cathay or ANA. For the full Japanese experience though, I’d go ANA.
Transport: Train – especially of you have the rail pass. Though I prefer the subway when going around Tokyo (compared to the JR lines).
Stay: It’s a bit of an open secret but Claska is a good option for those who don’t mind being further out. Not so great location-wise, but I find that it’s good value for money. It also allows you to have a more local experience. Really want to try Andaz the next time I visit.
Shimokitazawa and Daikanyama—Just a great place to window shop, find inspiration, and have coffee
Kagurazaka—I really love this area. So quaint and still quite local
Yoyogi / Shinjuku—Biased because this is where I lived when I was in Tokyo. Great parks that are perfect for hanami (and koyou—changing of leaves during the fall).
Shop: Beams, Tokyu Hands, Muji in Yurakucho. I also like going to random second hand shops in Shimokita and concept stores such as La Kagu in Kagurazaka.
Eat: I find following Robbie Swinnerton of Japan Times to be helpful
Besides Tokyo, where else is good to go? Close to Tokyo, I enjoy going to Nikko, Kamakura and Izu. Further away, I love Kyoto, Nara, and Sapporo. One of the more undiscovered regions in Kyushu—I think it’s really cool! I lived in Oita Prefecture during undergrad and I think the Japanese countryside (called inaka) shows a very different side of Japan.
Pasalubong Something at the depa chika for foodie friends (like Japanese sweets from Toraya). For those who prefer fashion, designer handkerchiefs (so nice and cheap in Isetan) or nice stockings / cool socks at Tabio (there’s one in Omotesando Hills).