Experience Japan’s capital in a new way! Cool, affordable hotels, Michelin-starred noodle soup for under 10 euros, dizzling views, authentic neighborhoods and family insights. 16 insider tips
Tokyo is not just another tourist destination; it’s an experience that goes beyond its famous landmarks and is certainly among the five most fascinating cities. in the world. Venture off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the hidden gems this incredible city has to offer. From quaint streets lined with traditional shops to trendy districts buzzing with modern energy, there is something for everyone here.
#01 Hotel One@Tokyo: Small and Cool
This affordable hotel near the Skytree in Oshiage is chic, with small but very cozy rooms and a strong focus on design. The façade and interior bear the signature of Japanese star architect Kengo Kuma, who also designed the national stadium that opened on December 1, 2019.
Exposed concrete and plywood predominate, with curtains decorating the walls in the corridors. Guests can use the “cell phone” free of charge for surfing and making phone calls in Japan. From the @RoofTop with its “Sky Forest” you have a great view of the Skytree, which is colorfully illuminated at night until 10 pm. Good breakfast in the friendly @lobby café. The Sumida River with Skytree and the Solamachi Mall are only a five-minute walk from here. Double room from 110 euros.
onetokyo.com/en | Where: Oshiage Skytree Station
The new “Hotel Zen Tokyo” is a capsule hotel, but each capsule is designed in the style of traditional Japanese tea rooms. The “The Millenials” in Shibuya is a modern accommodation for a small budget. The “rooms”, here they are called Smart Pods, some with XXL screens, are three square meters in size.
#02 Nagomi Visit: Home Visit with Tokyo Families
What a great idea! You register online to visit a Tokyo family’s home and have dinner with them. As you cook and eat together, you will learn a lot about everyday life despite the language barrier. The cost is about 45 euros per person (5,500 yen).
Our hosts, Tadashi and Mayumi Takayanagi (photos below), work in the software industry. They live in a chic designer tiny house in a narrow alley in Oshiage, not far from Skytree.
The couple treats us to lots of fish sashimi they bought themselves at the fish market that morning, mizuna tofu salad, miso soup, sashimi and rice balls wrapped in tender meat – as well as cold beer and sake from Mayumi’s mother’s hometown. Dine with a view of the Skytree at the traditional “horikotatsu” table, where you sit on the floor with your feet disappearing under the table.
#03 Gado-shita: Feasting under Railroad Track Girders
Unfortunately, as part of Tokyo’s pre-Olympic makeover, many of the small, cheerful, loud and shabby sushi, gyoza, oyster, Korean BBQ and yakitori eateries under the Yamanote Line’s railway arches have been demolished.
Many traditional stores with the typical red lanterns between Shinbashi and Yurakucho have already been flattened and replaced by uniform facades and chic eateries.
Around Shimbashi, many of the old, smoky pubs on the west side are still below street level. But on the east side, gentrification is happening fast. The blocks to the southwest are a noisy, dirty world of cheap bars, “girl” bars and noisy pubs. It gets hellishly loud when the trains clatter over the tracks.
#04 Sushi Shin by Miyakawa: Paradise for gourmets
If you can get one of the eight seats at the counter at the Tokyo branch of Hokkaido’s three-Michelin-star “Sushi Miyakawa,” consider yourself lucky. Located on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental, with views of Tokyo as far as the Skytree, the gourmet restaurant serves unbelievably good sashimi, nigiri sushi, and a selection of exquisite sake to go with it. Depending on what is available at the fish market and what is in season, the chefs decide which courses to include in the omakase menu.
The nigiri are prepared à la minute by two sushi masters in front of the guests. They should be eaten immediately with the fingers, perfectly tempered and flavored with sauce. Chef Tetsuya Uno, who has been a sushi master for 22 years, delights us with appetizers such as torpedo perch with cod fish milk and rutabaga and filefish sashimi. The frogfish liver with freshly shaved wasabi and flakes of Japanese mandarin orange makes any foie gras look old.
This is followed by nigiri sushi edomae-style from (semi-fatty) chūtoro tuna and akami tuna, herring, mackerel, sea urchin and butter-tender unagi (freshwater eel). The whole thing is celebrated in a minimalist ambience in a reverent but humorous atmosphere at the long, 350-year-old cypress wood counter. The sake pairing is a real treat. Long-term reservation. No photos. Do not wear perfume!
#05 Tonkatsu Tonki: Japanese-Style Cutlets
Koki Yoshihara’s restaurant only serves one dish – and has been doing so since 1939: tonkatsu, i.e. breaded and deep-fried pork slices. A large store in true 1970s Resopal style with a long counter, behind which the strong team prepares tonkatsu after tonkatsu at lightning speed. We want to know from 47-year-old Izuhi Yoshihara what the secret of his particularly good tonkatsu is.
“We cover the meat three times in a row with flour and egg, then it is coated in breadcrumbs and cooked in lard for 20 minutes until not too hot. It is served with coleslaw and our homemade sauce, the recipe for which must remain a secret.”
The set meal costs 15 euros (1,900 yen) and includes the fattier rohsu-katsu or the low-fat hire-katsu and miso soup. The team serves around 450 portions every day between 4 and 10.45 pm. It remains a mystery how the team can remember who ordered what and when – no one takes notes. And the right dish always ends up in front of the guests in the order in which they ordered it. Behind them, the next hungry diners are already sitting on the long waiting bench against the wall. So bring some waiting time with you…
Auf Instagram | Where: Meguro Station. 1 Chome-1-2 Shimomeguro
#06 Yanaka & Nezu: Off through lower Tokyo
Shitamachi is the Japanese name for the small neighborhoods in Tokyo’s lower city, which stretches from Sumida via Ueno, Yanaka and Nezu to Sendagi. Small and tiny alleyways, modest houses, often very small. Craft businesses, nice restaurants and smart stores. Yanaka was largely spared from American bombs during the World War. You pass beautiful temples such as Choanji, Daiyuji, Zenshoan and Daienji almost every 15 or 20 metres.
The Yanaka Ginza shopping street below the Yuyake Dandan stairs is well known and popular. More curious is the winding Hebimechi (Snake Alley) in the neighboring Nezu district, with the traditional brush shop “Kamenoko Tawashi” and the beer and cafe “Bon Fire” behind a rustic wooden facade.
Also worth seeing in Yanaka: the crooked “Atari and Yanaka Beer Hall”, the gallery “SCAI The Bathhouse Galerie” in a former bathhouse and the doll’s house-like, crooked “Kayaba Coffee” opposite the Shitamachi Sake Museum on Kototoi-Dori.
Where: Between Nippori Station and Nezu Station
#07 Sen Na Ya: Tip for Eel Lovers!
Across from the Asakura Sculpture Museum in the Yanaka district is this small four-table restaurant that serves only eel dishes. We enjoyed the Edo-style unagi, for which the eel is grilled briefly, then cooked and grilled again. At Mamushiju, the eel is only grilled, so it is fatter. No English spoken…
Where: Nippori Station. Between Kyoojii Temple and Choanji-Temple
#8 Shibuya Scramble Sky: Dazzling views
230 meters and 47 floors above the legendary Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of modern, colorful and hectic Tokyo, the new rooftop observation deck Sky Stage beckons. It is located on the roof of the huge Shibuya Scramble Square shopping tower, which opened on November 1, 2019.
Absolutely stunning 360-degree views over Tokyo’s sea of buildings to Mt. Fuiji. Great sunsets, best visited in the evening when there is also a laser and light show. One floor below is the Sky Gallery, with video art and interactive installations, and the casual Paradise Lounge. An online ticket for a fixed time costs 2,200 yen.
shibuya-scramble-square.com/sky | Where: Shibuya Station
#9 Tsuta: Noodle soup with Michelin Star Qualities
Yuki Onishi had a Michelin star since December 2015, which he lost again in 2020. Tsuta was the first ramen restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star. By 2023, three more ramen restaurants had been awarded a Michelin star: “Nakiryu“, “Konjiki Hototogisu” and “Ginza Hachigou“. All three lost this star again in 2024. Tsuta’s signature dish is “Shoyu Soba” with soya sauce ramen, chicken and seafood broth with Hokkaido kelp and truffle oil.
tsuta.com | Where: 300 meters from Yoyogi-Uehara Station. Waiting time 45-60 minutes. Closed on Thursdays
#10 Nezu Shrine and Otome-inari Shrine: Code Red
Very beautiful Shinto shrine in a small garden in the Nezu district. The complex shines with the red tori arches of the neighboring Otome-inari-Jinja shrine, which is dedicated to the god of rice. The building dates back to the 17th century. The well-preserved main hall and the Karamon and Romon gates date from this period.
Where: Nezu Station
#11 Nakiryu: Nobel Noodles Again!
This ramen restaurant received its Michelin star for its “Tantanmen Noodles”. Here you can get a wonderful meal for only 7.50 euros. The Dan-Dan noodles with pork, Szechuan pepper and chili oil are inspired by Szechuan cuisine. Tantamen noodles are available in regular, spicy and tsukemen, where the broth and cold noodles are served separately. Orders are placed through a vending machine.
Where: Otsuka Station. Toshima, Minamiotsuka, 2 Chome−34−4 Waiting times 30 – 60 minutes
#12 Don Quijote: Tokyo Style Shopping Hell
Cosmetics, clothes, shoes, jewelry, baby supplies, household appliances, electronics and sex toys, but also genuine Rolexes for 15,000 euros and champagne magnums. In the brightly colored, noisy and packed stores of the country’s largest discounter, you can find everything, simply EVERYTHING. Worth seeing, even if you don’t want to buy anything. There are over 20 branches in Tokyo, including the “Ginza-Honkan” in the Ginza 9 complex under the Tokyo Expressway.
Where: Shinbashi Station
#13 Senchado: Tokoy’s Green Tea Nirvana
The small tea store in Ginza offers 44 selected green teas for tasting and purchase, in sachets and 50-gram tins (35 euros per 100 grams). It’s unbelievable how much the first, second and third infusions differ in color and taste.
The seller tells us: “The first infusion – four grams of tea to 120 milliliters of water – takes 80 seconds in 70-degree water, which produces a light green, very strong tea. The second infusion only takes 10 seconds in 80-degree water and is bitter. Infusion number three steeps for 15 seconds in 85-degree water with a few grains of rice in it, we call this tea genmai.”
#14 Kamachiku: Udon. Udon. Udon.
Handmade udon noodles to season yourself with scallions, tempura scraps, and ginger. Beware of the “shichimi togarashi” pepper mixture, which can be quite hot. The modern glass extension of “Kamachiku” offers a beautiful view of the small garden. The seating in the old, architecturally exciting 19th century brick building consists of traditional hori-gotatsu tables: you put your legs in the table recess and sit on the floor.
kamachiku.com | Where: Nezu Station
#15 Asakusa-dera: Tokyo’s Most Famous Temple
The largest and most famous Buddhist temple complex in Tokyo is also known as Senso-ji. The complex has been largely rebuilt since it was destroyed by U.S. bombs during the war. From Kaminarimon Street, Nakamise Lane, lined with souvenir shops, leads to the temple. There you must try ningyo-yaki, which are doll-shaped waffles filled with adzuki bean paste and are especially popular here.
Where: Asakusa Station
#16 UOBEI: Highspeed-Sushi
In the evening, we head through bustling Shibuya to “UOBEI Sushi”, where we don’t grab our appetizers from the conveyor belt. What you order two or three minutes earlier on your own touch screen is delivered to your seat in a flash on a small trolley. Operator Genki Sushi calls it “bullet train sushi” because of the high speed.
genkisushi.co.jp/en | Where: hidden behind Shibuya 109