In honor of our 50th anniversary, we launched the very first TW Readers’ Choice Awards earlier this year. To toast to this auspicious occasion, we wanted to pay homage to some of the top people, bars, restaurants, shops, art galleries, destinations and cultural experiences that have helped us come this far. And we wanted to give you, our loyal readers, the chance to get involved. So we rounded up a grand list of nominees and asked you to vote. Now, in our 50th anniversary issue, we bring you the full list of winners, plus a nod to all the runners-up.
Cozy bar with intimate ambiance and rare Japanese whisky
Opened in 2016 by American-Japanese brothers Yui and Lui Shirako, this riverside bar offers secluded dining with hearty meat dishes, including wagyu and homemade smoked bacon, and an impressive lineup of rare Japanese whisky – just to name a few: Hibiki (21 years), Yamazaki (18 years), Hakushu (18 years), and Taketsuru (21 years). Here’s how Yui describes the vibe: “With the fireplace, taxidermy art and rustic decorations on the wall, we wanted our customers to truly feel like they’re hanging out with their family and friends in a secluded cabin somewhere in the woods.”
A culinary and cultural escape that’s a perfect day trip
Situated in a dense, verdant forest close to Mt Takao, Ukai Toriyama is sprawled across a magnificent 20,000m² stretch of land and boasts a collection of quaint private tea houses with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a delightful manicured water garden. There are carp-filled ponds, pine trees, gentle streams, stone pathways, Japanese-style bridges, water wheels and thatched-roof buildings known as Gassho-zukuri, which have been imported from Gokayama. It truly is an idyllic setting that makes you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time to the Edo period.
A luxury shopper’s seventh heaven
Since the Meiji period, Ginza has been a place where trends launched and where Tokyo has put on its best. With the launch of the very grand Ginza Six in 2017, it became clear that the neighborhood has no plans to relinquish its title as Tokyo’s toniest district. This luxury shopping complex is billed as Ginza’s largest retail facility. With 241 stores, half of which are flagships, the shiny new building stretches for 115m along Chuo-dori and boasts luxury brands, a rooftop garden, restaurants, art installations and even a Noh theater.
Best Gallery or Museum
Mori Building Digital Art Museum TeamLab Borderless
The world’s first digital art museum
Launched in June 2018, the museum has just celebrated its second anniversary and attracted millions of visitors from more than 160 countries with its Instagenic, immersive projection artworks. With a mindfulness towards social issues raised, the museum focuses on educational projects based on the concept of “collaborative creativity and co-creation.” If you’ve spent some time wandering the spacious halls spanning 10,000m2, you may already have an idea of the overall concept: a world of art without boundaries. TeamLab, the international art collective behind the mind-bending displays, has always aimed to infuse the creativity with education, albeit not in strict instructional way.
It’s all about personal style
Known for combining sophistication with comfort, Andaz Tokyo is like a luxurious home away from home. With spectacular views over Tokyo, superb dining and one of the best spas we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, it’s no surprise TW readers voted this hotel best accommodation. Even if you’re not planning an overnight stay, we highly recommend visiting the restaurant Andaz Tavern. Perched on the 52nd floor, it offers an enticing blend of modern European cuisine, impressive design and a relaxed atmosphere.
One of Tokyo’s most scenic settings for hanami season
Aside from the increasingly popular stretch of sakura tree-lined Meguro River and the world’s largest Starbucks, Nakameguro has plenty more to offer. Its businesses cater to artists, designers and celebrities who have put down roots here, making for an eclectic mix of boutiques. Also, like any respectable Tokyo ’hood, Nakameguro is teeming with great restaurants – the selection increased with the 2016 opening of Nakameguro Koukashita, a 700m stretch of cafés, bars and eateries that runs underneath the raised railway tracks at Nakameguro Station. Our favorite spot in the area? Why, of course it’s got to be the winner of the Best Bar award: Cabin Nakameguro.
Best Cultural Experience
New National Theatre, Tokyo
Japan’s only national theater
Founded in 1997, NNTT is dedicated to the performing arts of opera, ballet, dance and drama. It has become known and loved not only for its world-class performances but also for its incredible architecture, courtesy of Takahiko Yanagisawa. It’s an honor to take a seat in the very grand Opera Palace hall and watch the esteemed National Ballet of Japan perform timeless classics. This season, don’t miss Don Quixote and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Put a visit on your Tokyo bucket list.
Best Japan Holiday Destination
A winter favorite for skiing, temple stays and snow monkeys
When a city is chosen to play host to the Winter Olympic Games, as Nagano was in 1998, you know you can expect some of the softest powder snow around. Located in the heart of the Chubu region and home to the majestic Northern Japan Alps, the prefecture has long been a must-visit for skiiers and snowboarders from around the world. But there’s also far more to the city and prefecture’s appeal. Offering a quintessential Japanese winter vacation experience, here you’ll find traditional ryokan (which also means revitalizing onsen bathing), restaurants serving superb local cuisine and plenty of other activities unique to the area. Don’t miss a visit to the famous snow monkeys!
Best Health or Wellness Facility
Carpe Diem Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
“We have a positive impact on people’s lives”
Earlier this year, TW met with Thomas Mietz, the head instructor at Carpe Diem Jiyugaoka school. As we watched instructors help a student master the shrimp – a hip escape – Mietz told us about Carpe Diem’s rise to success in Tokyo: “I started training at Carpe Diem in 2013. We have about 15 dojos now. When I arrived we only had two. It’s completely booming … You see someone who comes here and they can barely do a front roll and then a couple of months later they are kicking ass. They give really positive feedback, that jiu jitsu changed my life.”