9 August, 2011

The ULTIMATE Insider Guide: A Long Weekend in Tokyo

9 August, 2011

The land of the rising sun boasts one of the most elegant, clean, and safe societies, and has some of the best food on earth.  Tokyo is constantly entertaining, and as with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Tokyo is not cheap. This is not your “Tokyo on a shoestring” guide.  This is 72 hours of phenomenal experiences, exquisite food, and a party for the history books!

Getting There
Fly direct from Hong Kong on JAL, ANA, or Cathay. There are two airports in Tokyo: Haneda and Narita. Haneda is 40 minutes by train from the city, and Narita is over an hour. It is best to travel by train or airport bus from the airport to your hotel. Alternatively, a taxi ride will run you about 3000HKD for an hour ride from Narita airport. If you are going to opt for a taxi, you could look into taking a helicopter instead.

Where to Stay
The Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Roppongi Hills.

Friday Night: Out in Roppongi
Hope you saved your appetite on the plane! Head to Jomon to remove your shoes for skewers of ozabuton (AAAAA Supreme loin), camembert, shishito, and ginko nuts at this yakitori joint. Didn’t grow up riding Mister Ed? Then maybe you have the stomach for the toro basasi, a sashimi dish that would offend a rancher, complete with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. Jomon is walking distance from The Grand Hyatt and open until 4 a.m.

After dinner, have a swanky cocktail at Amrta nicknamed ‘The Secret Bar’ by local expats, and sip away to live music and provocative art-adorned walls. Or if you are in the mood for more of a fiesta, try Agave, with 350 kinds of tequila. Curious to see what happens when you mix beautiful Japanese women, local expat men, and Eastern European models? Go dancing to the Top 100 at Feria, and check out all five floors.


Saturday Day: Asakusa Buddhist temple and a Maid Café


Grab a quick breakfast and go read your fortune at Sensoji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, open from 6 am to 5 pm, about a 30-minute subway ride from Roppongi. If you get a fortune that is titled ‘bad’, stop reading, and tie it up and leave it there. Phew! The rest of the weekend should be scot-free. Need to bring home a few goodies? Check out the stalls around the temple. Most are kitschy, but there are goodies to be found. If a Japanese knife or sake cup is on your list, take a 10-minute walk to Kappabashi, the wholesale kitchen supply district. Look for a building with a giant chef’s hat, and you are on the right street. In addition to cutlery and pottery, plastic food, like sushi, used for restaurant displays are found here. Perfect for a play kitchen!

Maid Café

Hop back on the subway for a 15-minute ride to Akihabara, “Electric Town”. Here, step into the eccentric fetishes of the Japanese salary men, and have lunch while playing tic-tac-toe and rock, paper, scissors with giggling Japanese women donning French maid outfits. Try @home café, a short walk from the subway. After lunch, you can wander through the electronic stalls, anime stores, and pachinko parlors.

Head back to the hotel to rest a bit.  You will need it for Saturday night in Tokyo!


Saturday Night: Dinner, Sake, Karaoke, and Dancing

Dinner Options

Kanda: For amazing kaiseki sit at one of the 10 seats at Kanda, 3 Michelin Stars. HK2000 per person
Sushi Saito
: 6 counter seats available for this 3 star Michelin sushi joint.  Book in advance and make sure to order sake for the sushi chef. HK2500 per person
: A glitzy Italian/French fusion restaurant, appropriately located at the top of the Mikimoto buildling. HK1700 per person
: An izakaya in Ebisu for a fun, relaxed Saturday night dinner. HK300 per person
Andy’s Izakaya
: Have your hotel order today’s fresh crab for your table in advance. Convivial and casual. HK350 per person.
: Iron Chef Kobe’s Italian venture. He is in the restaurant almost nightly and will come talk to your table. HK950 per person
Mario Frittoli’s I Sentieri
: A delicious Italian option. Order the pappardelle. Mario competed on iron chef against Chef Kobe. HK800 per person.

Sake Bar

After dinner, meet some locals at the “Standing Sake Bar” in Ebisu, a 12-minute taxi from Roppongi. Try the frozen sake in the cup with your favorite cartoon, and play Sherlock by finding the secret loo. Up for another drink? Hit the seductive “Shark Bar” just a 10-minute walk away from the sake bar, where you can lounge with the floor to ceiling aquarium full of exotic tropical fish.


Time for karaoke! After some sake, you are ready to sing, my tomodachi.  There are thousands of karaoke rooms all over the city in chains such as Big Echo, and you can wander into one if you stumble upon it. Have the staff help you set up the screen and tell you how to use the remote, which will most likely be in Japanese.  From Ebisu, take a taxi to Shibuya, the young Japanese going out hotspot, and hit up either Shidax or Big Echo.  You can also head back towards the Grand Hyatt and go to Love Net Karaoke in Roppongi, a popular destination with themed rooms, like one with a Jacuzzi.


If you want to take the night to another level, take a shuttle bus from Shibuya or taxi to Ageha, the largest club in Asia, and watch the sunrise dancing by the outdoor pool. It is a little hike, a 45-minute drive, but worth it.  If you have a group, have your hotel order a van taxi to pick you up. Check out the ‘pleasure chest’ in the ladies bathroom, and dance around the many different rooms and outdoor space.

Late Night Snack

Hungry in the early morning after dancing ‘til dawn? Try a late night ramen place, Sushizenmai for 24 hour sushi on Roppongi-dori, or Café Eight across from The Grand Hyattfor all-night Peking duck plus some predawn sizzle with its erotic artwork.


Sunday Day: Harajuku Girls, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya


Good morning sunshine! Or it might be afternoon if you decided to go to Ageha last night. Put your comfortable walking shoes on, and hop on the subway to Omotesando for lunch, a 15-minute subway ride from Roppongi. For oishii gyoza, go to Gyoza Rou or for a more western traditional brunch go to Beacon (reservation needed).

After lunch, walk over to Harajuku, specifically Takeshita Dori, for shopping and people watching. On the weekends, teenage girls dress up here in gothic Lolita or ‘super cute’ doll dresses with petticoats, hair and makeup to match. The girls love to pose for pictures. There are also photo booth arcades, where you can put yourself in anime. Smile!

Meiji Shrine

From Harajuku, walk to Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park. Built for rulers of Japan who led its modernization in the 19th century, it is probably the most famous shrine in Tokyo, highly popular for weddings, and has a very different feel than Sensoji in Asakusa. The entrance to the park is close to the Harajuku subway station. At the entrance look for more costume surprises, then go into the park where there is a long, but pretty walk down a pathway to the shrine. On Sunday afternoon, you will most likely see a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, which is quite a beautiful sight.


Still have a bit of energy? Hop on the JR line at Harajuku station and take the subway to Shibuya station, about a 3-minute ride away. Exit Shibuya station on the Shibuya crossing side of the station, and admire the neon lights and massive television screens. Head for the 2nd floor Starbucks looming above the crossing, and grab a window seat to watch the never ending hoards of people cross only when the light turns in five different directions below.

Get back on the subway and go to Roppongi to get refreshed before pre-dinner cocktails.


Sunday Night: Cocktails with a view and Wagyu dinner


To see the sprawling city from above, watch the sunset over the capital in the posh setting of the 52nd floor bar at the Park Hyatt Shinjuku, made famous by Scarlett Johansson and Lost in Translation. Get there an hour or so before 7 p.m., when the bar will charge a table fee of about HK220 person.

Wagyu Dinner

Wagyu/kobe beef in Japan is in a league of its own. Drool while marbled Japanese beef is cooked in front of you, teppanyaki style. If you order seafood, be prepared for it to be alive when put on the iron griddle. Ask for counter seating to interact with the chef. After your main course is finished, dessert and your aperitif will be served in a separate lounge area. Head to either Omae XEX with its sexy setting (about HK1250 per person) or Ukai-Tei which has a Michelin star and matching opulent atmosphere (around HK2000 pp).

It is time to crash. Get a good night sleep before an early morning at the fish market.


Monday: Breakfast at Tsukiji, shopping in Ginza, and the Imperial Palace


Tsukiji is the biggest fish market in the world, where a bluefin tuna can go for HK195,000. Ask your hotel what the current regulations are for tourists at the market; the rules change fairly frequently for the tuna auction that takes place between 4.30 am. and 6 am. The fish market is about a 20-minute taxi ride from The Grand Hyatt. If you are taking the airport bus back to Narita for an evening flight, book a departure from the ANA hotel, where there are more options and you can squeeze another hour in Tokyo, and drop off your luggage at the ANA on your way to Tsukiji.

While the tuna auction is fascinating, if you opt not to deal with a before-dawn morning, there are lots of sea-life stalls and other market happenings to enjoy at Tsukiji. The market is hub of flatbed cruisers going every which way, and thus not suitable for strollers or small children unless they are strapped onto you. Have a late breakfast or early lunch at any one of the sushi stands or restaurants that line the market. Sushi Dai (green awning, building no. 6 in the 3rd alley) or down a few stalls, Dawai Sushi are good options, and do not forget your nama biiru (draft beer) for a complete authentic sushi breakfast.


Hop back on the subway and take the 4-minute ride to Ginza, the most upscale and famous shopping district in Tokyo.  If you got an early start, try to make it to Ginza by 10 am, and have one hundred Japanese store employees bow to you when the store opens its doors. Try Mitsukoshi, a Japanese department store at the Ginza crossing, and don’t miss the ornate food court downstairs. A hubby-friendly store is Sony, not far from Mitsukoshi, where he can play with all sorts of dancing gadgets, while you slip out for some more shopping. Other shops to see include Ito-ya, a 7 story Japanese paper/stationery store and great for souvenirs and gifts, and Mikimoto.

Have a quick lunch in the area, before heading to the Imperial Palace. For lunch try Bulgari Café in the Bulgari building. Sit outside (HK180 p.p).

Imperial Palace

After lunch, take a taxi to the Imperial Palace, a 5-minute drive away. The East Gardens are closed on Friday and Monday, but there is plenty to see otherwise. The interior is not open to the public, so just enjoy the views from the 5 km path that surrounds the palace. Allow 20 minutes here, and then it should be time to make your way to the airport.  Sayonara!

Sassy Tips:
(1) Language: English is not prevalent; have your hotel print out maps to everywhere. Outside of most subway stations, there are maps to help you get your bearings.
(2) Transportation: Tokyo taxis might be the most expensive in the world, and will probably not be able to communicate at all with you.  Have your map ready. Fare begins at 70HKD, and will run you 250HKD for a 20-25minute ride. As the city is spread out, the subway can be convenient and an economical transportation option.
(3) Food: The following types of restaurants are recommended in this guide: Sushi; Teppanyaki, food cooked on an iron plate, great for trying wagyu/kobe beef; Kaiseki, traditional multi-course Japanese dinner, plan on seven courses. These courses are chosen by the chef, a method called omakase style.  Have the hotel notify the restaurant of food allergies; Izakaya, a Japanese pub, where sake overflows the cups as a sign of generosity, the atmosphere is boisterous, and there is a wide variety of food, including yakitori (grilled skewers of meat, vegetables, and cheese), to sashimi, to tempura. Book restaurants in advance through your hotel, especially if you want a nice sushi restaurant or a kaiseki meal.

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