Any good trip needs a foil. After enjoying the wilds of Hokkaido, I was in need of a dose of urban inspiration, so I headed to Tokyo. Tokyo, like all mega-cities, can be anything you want it to be.
For me, this time I wanted Tokyo to be about shopping and food, so I spent much of my time in the ritzy neighborhood of Ginza. In Ginza you’ll find high-end department stores with buzzing food halls, incredible streetwear you can only find in Japan, and everything from delectable sushi to immaculate French pastries.
To get more out of Ginza, I booked a personal shopping tour with a local stylist named Hiro. Hiro took me and my tour companion, a young Canadian woman, on a tour of high-end Japanese style. At the Ginza Six mall, he introduced us to beautiful and bizarre Japanese brands. After gazing at Comme des Garçons duds we could never afford in a million years, our trio moved on to cute department stores that typical Japanese people love. I left with a pair of geometric gold earrings, the perfect Tokyo souvenir.
I also took time to check out Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the world’s largest fish markets and a popular tourist draw. The market will be moving to a new location in October 2018, so this is one of your last chances to check it out in this spot! Do note that the famed tuna auction has already moved to a different location.
I booked a tour with Ninja Food Tours to get a good introduction of what the market had to offer. This is a good activity to do with a guide — I would have been lost on my own. My guide Yuma fed me everything from baby octopus to white strawberries to Chinese pork dumplings. One surprise? Fishmongers are surrounded by fish all day — so they often avoid eating it! One popular dish is oyakodon, which translates to “parent and child” — it’s an omelet-like dish made of chicken and egg served over rice, and it’s the epitome of Japanese comfort food. Winter is strawberry season in Japan! Not only will you find the most perfect red strawberries for sale, you’ll also see WHITE strawberries. They aren’t as sweet or as juicy as their red counterparts, but Japanese people love to give them as gifts. And of course you need some fresh tuna! This tuna bowl is one of the tastiest, freshest seafood dishes I’ve ever eaten. Pro tip: start with the leaner, darker fish and finish with the fattier pieces. That’s the Japanese way.
If you’re a book lover like I am, you need to make a stop at the Book and Bed in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood. This is a capsule hotel where you’re surrounded by books! I dropped in for an hour, just long enough to get some photos among the stacks. Definitely a must for Instagram shots.
Finally, I finished my Japan sojourn with a final meal of yakitori at Bird Land in Marunouchi. Yakitori is Japanese-style meat skewers on sticks. While yakitori is usually consumed casually with a beer in hand, Bird Land is the first yakitori restaurant to earn a Michelin star!
Bird Land couldn’t have been easier for a foreigner to navigate — there are three tasting menus available, each featuring a variety of chicken dishes on sticks. Chicken livers, chicken and green onions, even chicken skin! The “dessert” was a piece of grilled gooey cheese on a stick.