Art & Lifestyle

An Insider’s Guide to the Hidden Gems of Tokyo

How to explore the Japanese capital like a true Tokyoite.

by James Wong

19 Feb 2019

With layers upon layers to peel back, Tokyo can overwhelm first-timers yet invaluably charm them into repeat visits to reveal local treasures. When you’ve trampled the beaten path, trail our insider’s route through the city.

Photo: James Wong

Photo: James Wong

Find your Zen at Gotokuji Temple

The world famous ‘beckoning cat’ is believed to have originated here in the quiet little neighbourhood of Setagaya. Within it sits a Buddhist temple where hundreds upon hundreds of white cat figurines stand sentinel. Sold on site, by tradition they are returned when they grant their owner’s wishes. Try your luck with one and hope that you’ll have to make a return visit one day.

 

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Experience ‘all you can drink’ at The Park Hyatt

Free flow deals are staple at izakayas all over Japan, but did you know five-star hotels host them too? The best is The Park Hyatt’s ‘Peak of Joy’ experience at The Peak Lounge. Each day between 5pm and 9pm, it offers a light sit-down meal with two hours of unlimited drinks for just ¥5,800 (HK$410) plus tax. This includes unlimited wine, cocktails, sake and beer, served with stunning views over the Shinjuku district.

 

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Shop in Tomigaya

It’s long been Tokyo’s best-kept secret, overshadowed by the chaos of adjoining Shibuya, but Tomigaya is gaining hipster status as the it-crowd flock to its cosy bars, artisanal coffee shops and, of course, locally-born designer boutiques and specialist stores. We adore the ultra-cute Tsutsumu Factory which contains two floors of gift wrap magic; Archivando, a handmade jewellery and homeware store; and Monocle – an outpost of the global lifestyle magazine that combines a storefront with its Tokyo bureau.

 

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Admire a rainbow from Daiba Park

No need to wait for a storm to pass – we’re talking about Odaiba Rainbow Bridge. The glowing wonder is usually enjoyed from the shores of Odaiba, but keep walking closer and you’ll run into an artificial island called Daiba Park. It stands between 5 and 7 metres tall and, back in the Edo period, it served as a military battery. Today it’s a little oasis to enjoy sunset views of the Rainbow Bridge, which is lit using energy-saving electrode-less lamps.

 

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Play old Nintendo games at 8bit Café

If Tokyo’s futuristic vibes are too much to get your head around then step back in time at 8bit Café, which is on the fifth floor of a shabby-looking Shinjuku-sanchome apartment building. Inside, it’s packed with consoles, video games and memorabilia, including a giant Game Boy. Cover charge applies, and food and drink are available.

 

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Make friends at Commune 2nd

Those that don’t speak fluent Japanese get very lost in translation in Tokyo. The international crowd therefore come together at Commune 2nd near Omotesando for drinks, food and live music. It’s also one of the few places in the city that really caters to the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free crowds with stalls such as Dote Café, a vegan Hawaiian eatery; and Cori, a vegan stand inspired by broccoli.

 

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Wander through bookstores in Jimbocho

Jimbocho is Tokyo’s bookstore district with over 150 varieties of book shops huddled together. Most line the south side of Yasukuni-dori, and the remainder on Hakusan-dori and Kandasuzuran-dori. You can spend hours browsing new, second-hand and rare books, and even vintage copies of Vogue. Sneak upstairs in the bigger stores and you’ll find cosy self-serve cafes for long uninterrupted browsing.

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