Trip Duration: 6 days, 5 nights
Flight Plan: I flew out of Singapore on a 09:20AM Singapore Airlines flight. The Boeing-777 plane came retrofitted with the airline’s new seats, and it goes without saying then that it was a very, very, very comfortable journey. Any aviation geek will tell you that bulkhead seats (sans baby) are the best—I was allocated one on my flight up and it made all the difference.
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Where I Stayed: I spent two nights at a friend’s place in the quaint district of Higashi-Azabu. Her apartment is a couple of streets away from Tokyo Tower, about a 15 minute walk to Roppongi Hills, and the area sits in the middle of two train stations on the Toei Oedo line: Akanebashi and Azabu Juban.
The remaining nights were spent at Shibuya’s Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel. This 40-storey establishment is one of Shibuya’s most famous, and depending on which side of the building you’re on, you either get a view of the oft-Instagrammed Shibuya crossing or the rest of Tokyo.
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And if you’re lucky (like I was on my last morning in Tokyo), you can also see the snow-capped peaks of Mount Fuji looming over the densely packed city in the distance!
Best Thing I Ate: It’s so hard to pick one dish because seriously, Japanese cuisine can do no wrong. During my first night in Tokyo, I was introduced to Afuri, a chain that specialises in ramen served with yuzu-tinged broth. It sounds like a weird combination, but the result was surprisingly refreshing and unforgettable. I can still taste the soup in my mouth until this day!
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A stop at Grand Hyatt’s Shunbou was especially memorable, too. Their exquisite lunch sets looked and tasted divine.
Dinner at Shokkan, a washoku-style restaurant in Shibuya, also filled my stomach with contentment. I remember digging into an appetiser dish of vegetable sticks that came with a mouthwatering tomato miso dip. Simple, but oh-so-good. Tip: You can purchase jars of the dip to bring home. A clay pot rice dish served with shredded lobster also made me a very happy tourist.
Best Hang Out Spot: The Japanese convenience stores get my vote. I know it’s a weird pick, but these 24-hour havens come stocked with a dizzying array of food and drink choices.
Some of the bigger ones even have a dedicated seating area where you can recharge over an onigiri (rice ball) and a bottle of sweet milk tea. So many options, so little time.
Best Daytime Activity: If you’re on the prowl for branded goods that cost a fraction of the original price, then make sure you pencil in a trip to one of the many stores that peddle second-hand designer clothes. These are kept in pristine condition, and they’ve all been thoroughly checked to ensure their authenticity and quality. Ragtag is easily one of the most famous of the lot, with outlets littered across Tokyo’s major shopping districts such as Shinjuku and Omotesando.
Another must-visit? Kindal. Expect to sift through racks of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Prada, Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Givenchy, Dior Homme… the list goes on!
I chanced upon a beautiful orange coat from Dries Van Noten’s exceptional fall/winter 2012 collection going for less than SG$500. What a steal.
However, if clothes aren’t your thing, then head to Book-Off, Japan’s most extensive chain of used bookstores. It’s not just books you can find here—there are shelves upon shelves of used CDs and DVDs going at wallet-friendly prices, too. And if you’re like me, who spent a good part of his teens listening to Japanese pop music, then Book-Off is a goldmine if you want to start collecting music singles and albums from your favourite J-pop artistes. Another tip: Go straight to Book-Off’s outlet in Akihabara—it’s apparently the largest in Tokyo.
Best Night Out: It’s been said that the Japanese practically invented karaoke, so no trip to the country is complete without a visit to the many colourful karaoke establishments that dot the neon-lit streets. You don’t have to worry about not being able to read a word of Japanese—the machines now come with handy remote controls that allow you to select a wide range of songs in other languages. Time to unleash your inner Beyoncé.
Trip Highlight: I scored a full Comme des Garçons suit for about $120. Enough said.
Could Not Leave Home Without: Winter air is notoriously dry, and it doesn’t help that I’ve dry skin either. Which is why I always pack some super moisturising and nourishing products for the face and body whenever I head to winter climes. My arsenal contains La Mer’s Moisturising Soft Cream, Mediheal N.M.F Aquaring Ampoule Mask (I discovered this Korean face mask during a recent trip to Seoul and it’s a lifesaver!) plus Nivea Crème.
Why Tokyo? So many people have fallen in love with the city, and it’s not difficult to see why. I’m someone who prefers the hustle and bustle of Seoul, but the impeccable standards of service and the immense pride the Japanese have for their food are reasons for me to head back soon.
By Gerald Tan