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Off the Beaten Path in Tokyo

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 22/02/2016 Dave Holtz
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Last August, my girlfriend and I went on a nine day-long trip to Japan. Although we made excursions to Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, and Hakone, we mainly spent our time in Japan's capital. Since this was my first visit to Japan, once we booked our plane tickets I hopped online to identify Tokyo's best accommodations, restaurants, cafes, bars, and attractions. I'm not going to lie - I was pretty disappointed with what I found. Most of what you'll read online about Tokyo is focused on the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, the eccentric fashions of Harajuku, and the insane number of people you'll see at Shibuya Crossing or on Tokyo's public transportation system.
After hours of research, I think we were able to identify some amazing and authentic spots in Tokyo that are off the beaten tourist path. I've collected some of our favorites in the list below - with Cherry Blossom Season coming up, it seemed like a good time to share them. If you visit some of these spots, hopefully you'll get a taste of the amazing food, drink, culture, and hospitality that Tokyo has to offer.
Where to Stay
On our trip to Tokyo, we opted to stay in Airbnb listings rather than hotels (Full disclosure: at the time, I was an Airbnb employee). This was a great way to spend time in neighborhoods that may not index heavily on hotels, and to interact with locals (and get their recommendations).
Quiet House w/ Free Mobile WiFi - This private room in Shibuya is located on a quiet residential street. Ryoma and his wife are amazing hosts who made sure we felt welcome while in Tokyo. They also taught us a bunch about Japanese culture!
The Center of Tokyo - Shinjuku - This entire apartment was located just a few blocks from Shinjuku station, although you'd never know it given how serene the street is outside. The hosts are incredibly hospitable, and the apartment has a pleasant, minimalist aesthetic.
What to EatAFURI 原宿 (千駄ヶ谷3-63-1 (グランデフォレスタ 1F), Shibuya, Tōkyō, 151-0051, Japan) - There are a number of amazing ramen joints in Tokyo, including Ichiran and 五行 西麻布店. What makes AFURI stand out from the others is its broth, which is citrusy and light, unlike any ramen I'd ever had before. The donburi side bowls are also delicious. There are a number of AFURI located all over Tokyo.
慎 (Shin) (代々木2-20-16 (相馬ビル1F), Shibuya, Tōkyō, 151-0053, Japan) - The udon at Shin is probably the best udon I've ever had in my life, exhibiting a variety of flavors I didn't know udon was supposed to have. The kitchen team at this hip eatery turn noodle making into an art.
かつどん屋 瑞兆 (ずいちょう) (宇田川町41-26 (パピエビル 1F), Shibuya, Shibuya, Tōkyō, 150-0042, Japan) - The first time we tried to go to this place, we walked past it without even seeing it. When we finally made our way inside, it was lined wall to wall with Tokyo businessmen grabbing a quick bite. With only about 10 seats, this restaurant serves only one dish - katsudon. The katsudon blends the chicken, egg, rice, and sauce together perfectly. The katsudon comes in three sizes, so there's something for people with appetites of all sizes.
天ぷら 新宿つな八 総本店 (新宿3-31-8, Shinjuku, Tōkyō, 160-0022, Japan) - Tempura Tsunahachi makes some of the best tempura in Tokyo. Not only is it delicious, but you can also watch the tempura chefs prepare and deep fry your food right in front of you at the counter.
What to DrinkDUG (新宿3-15-12, Shinjuku, Tōkyō, Japan) - Historically, Japanese tea and coffee houses (kissaten) were designed to serve specific purposes (such as holding business meetings, making phone calls, and listening to music). DUG is a kissaten in Shinjuku that is dedicated to jazz music. The vibe is incredibly cool, and literature fans might be interested to know that the joint is mentioned in Murakami's Norwegian Wood.
名曲喫茶ライオン (道玄坂2-19-13, Dōgenzaka, Shibuya, Tōkyō, 150-0043, Japan) - Meikyoku Kissa Lion, which was founded in 1926, is another of Tokyo's remaining kissaten. Stepping into Lion is like entering an alternate dimension. Tucked away amid the love hotels of Dogenzaka, Lion feels like a cathedral erected to the gods of classical lmusic. The cafe is often occupied by a handful of older Tokyoites, silently smoking and sipping on matcha, as Beethoven pumps out of the monolithic stereo system.
カラオケ館 歌舞伎町本店 (歌舞伎町1-17-10, Shinjuku, Tōkyō, 160-0021, Japan) - It's hard to visit Tokyo and not go out for karaoke at least once. This multi-story karaoke complex offers a huge catalog of songs in both English and Japanese, and provides outlandish costumes for you and your friends to wear as you belt out the classics.
BAR たちばな診察室 (歌舞伎町1-1-8 (あかるい花園三番街 2F), Shinjuku, Tōkyō, 160-0021, Japan) - The Golden Gai area of Shinjuku is full of shanty-style bars, some of which can only accommodate a handful of people at a time. Bar Tachibana Sin is one of the more eccentric bars you'll find in Golden Gai - bartenders dressed as nurses will serve you drinks made to look like the bodily fluids of patients. You only live once, right?
Where to Go東京ドーム (Tokyo Dome) (後楽1-3-61, Koishikawa, Bunkyō, Tōkyō, 112-8575, Japan) - You may have attended baseball games in the U.S., but going to a game at the Tokyo Dome will be unlike anything you've ever seen before. The stadium is filled with cheering sections that have a unique chant for every single player. Cheerleaders man the sidelines, and the stadium food barely marked up!
新宿御苑 (Shinjuku Gyoen) (内藤町11, Shinjuku, Tōkyō, 160-0014, Japan) - Shinjuku Gyoen is a beautiful park just on the border of Shinjuku. The park is packed with beautiful gardens, and the Tokyo skyline peeks through the trees. This is one of the prime spots for cherry blossom viewing.
21_21 DESIGN SIGHT (赤坂9-7-6 (東京ミッドタウン ガーデン内), Roppongi, Minato, Tōkyō, , Japan) - 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT is a design museum in Tokyo's Minato district. Exhibits tend to be interactive and family-friendly, and the museum houses an amazing gift shop.
増上寺 (Zojoji Temple) (芝公園4-7-35, Shibadaimon, Minato, Tōkyō, 105-0011, Japan) - Not only is Zojoji Temple itself beautiful, but the temple also houses a stunning collection of Ojizo-san, small statues meant to protect the spirits of deceased children. The temple is made particularly picturesque by the looming presence of the Tokyo Tower in the background.
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