When a city is as vast and complex as Tokyo, it can be hard for first-time tourists and even regular visitors to feel like they’ve truly gotten to know the city’s best or most interesting places.
For those who’ve lived here for some time, daily routines can start to make city life feel stale and repetitive, and you can wake up one day and realize you’ve lost your sense of wide-eyed wonder for “the greatest city on Earth.” In addition, you can easily start to become annoyed by pesky e-mails asking you to provide sightseeing tips and recommendations to distant relatives and vacationing acquaintances.
Whether you’re looking to discover, rediscover, or recommend this sprawling metropolis, we’ve come up with seven top tips, from a new style of guide book and bespoke tours to puzzle games and digital apps.
The Experience-Based Guide Book
Soul of Tokyo – a Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences
Many guide books’ biggest mistake is perhaps concentrating on facts over feelings. Of course it’s handy to know locations and opening times, but these days almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. What we really want is someone to capture a candid slice of the essence and atmosphere.
Part of a new series of global guides, Soul of Tokyo: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences was published in November 2018 and takes a deeper look at the city, uncovering some of its greatest offerings while offering a glimpse of the real people who make up the thriving capital. The book is written by sisters Fany and Amandine Péchiodat, the founders of lifestyle newsletter My Little Paris, who fell in love with Tokyo from the moment they arrived.
“I spent my time exploring the streets and testing as many restaurants as possible, sometimes having three dinners on the same night!” says Fany. “The Japanese are obsessed with the details, which is why, no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’re often going to find whatever you’re eating to be as good or better than its equivalent elsewhere.”
The book narrows down the duo’s findings to present the 30 best experiences, alongside interviews with locals and charming illustrations. Fany’s personal favorite Tokyo spot is cocktail bar Gen Yamamoto: “It changed my perception of cocktails … Sit in monastic silence on one of only eight seats at this tiny bar and witness a unique mixology ceremony: a subtle procession of meticulous gestures, during which Yamamoto slices a yuzu with religious devotion, disrobes a tomato, and metes out gin and sake with the precision of a mad scientist. Mandarin, milk vodka, and Japanese beans. Kiwi and Normandy gin. Unexpected and memorable.”
Memorable is what this guidebook is all about: “It’s really focused on exceptional experiences. It can be a cheap sandwich or a luxury experience, we don’t care. The most important thing is that you will still remember this experience in the years to come.”
Soul of Tokyo: A Guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences is available on Amazon for about ¥2,000.
An Arty Insider Tour
If you’re looking for something more specific and attentive than a guide book, Australian-Lithuanian artist, art director and photographer Ebony Bizys – who works under the name Hello Sandwich – can take you on a one-of-kind Tokyo city tour.
Not your typical tour guide, Bizys worked for Vogue magazines for 11 years and has been based in Tokyo for over eight years, publishing several books featuring her Tokyo lifestyle and inspired craft ideas. She has amassed an impressive global following through her blog and Instagram account which offer colorful snapshots of daily Tokyo life from cinematic breakfast spreads to charming retro details, all delivered in her distinct cute and fresh Hello Sandwich-style.
With her self-published Hello Sandwich Tokyo Guide zine in high demand and relentless requests for location tips and recommendations, Bizys decided to start offering her services to create bespoke custom tours. Her personal approach treats her customers as friends, taking into account your profession and interests. Armed with this information, she curates your perfect day in the city. The added benefit of being accompanied by a true Tokyo insider is making the most of the ever-changing cultural landscape, including pop-up events, temporary exhibitions and the latest little-known hotspots. www.hellosandwich.jp
The Underground Mysteries
Avid explorers currently have the chance to try out a playful way to uncover the city if they choose to tackle Tokyo Metro’s “The Underground Mysteries 2018.” The interactive puzzle-solving game invites you to hop on the metro and search for clues around Tokyo. A full English version of the game kit is available to purchase daily until January 31, 2019 from Ueno Station (and at Shinjuku, Tokyo and Kita Senju on weekends) and includes a 24-hour metro ticket. realdgame.jp/chikanazo/5/en/
Tokyo Mystery Circus
Also by the creators of “The Underground Mysteries,” this is a permanent puzzle theme park in the heart of Kabukicho. Visitors can play a variety of games and solve puzzles including thrilling “escape rooms,” with both Japanese and English options available. In addition to the revolving event schedule, “A Mystery at Magic Academy” is a field-type game where after purchasing your game kit you set out onto the streets of Shinjuku to look for hints and clues. Whether you’re going solo or with a team of family and friends, this makes for an ingenious and fun way to “investigate” the city.
PLUS: For more escape room games, read our roundup at hyperurl.co/TWescapegames
GPS My City App
Like the idea of walking in someone else’s shoes, but prefer to go solo? The GPS My City App has a great selection of Tokyo walking tours that include niche areas. Once maps have been purchased they are available to view both on and offline, providing curated routes comprising various points of interests from historical statues to shops and attractions.
Luxe City Guides
Although this guide series is available in print too, we highly recommend their fashionable mobile app. The design is super sleek and simple, and the app is bursting with top quality content focusing on luxury fashion, culture and dining. Also includes handy customizable itineraries.
People Make Places
Founded in 2016, People Make Places has all bases covered: a beautiful hardback book, convenient app and even a full-service concierge to arrange custom trips. The Tokyo specialists welcome not only tourists, but residents looking to explore. The stylish app is set out like a digital magazine, giving you an intuitive and informative directory, including bookmarks and navigation features, as well as tips from locals.