tips from Monocle on Tokyo

#23 – The MONOCLE Travel Guide Series 3 – Tokyo

I’m on vacation in Tokyo and took some notes from this book on the way here. I like the Monocle series which I bought from Kinokuniya Bangkok last week. It’s cheaper there than Singapore.

 

Black taxis cost the same as ordinary taxis but are driven by drivers who earned elite status.

Nodogoshi – “the sensation as the strands (of noodles) wiggle and slide down your throat”.

Yuuyake Koyake – a 30 seconds tune that is played in the evening and functions as a daily test of the emergency PA system. It is a sign that children at parks and playgrounds should go home.

Ichi-go Ichi-e: being attuned to the moment – treasuring that one opportunity

“It has been said that the Japanese are sensitive to small-scale beauty but insensitive to large-scale ugliness; the streets of their capital epitomise this.”

(In Japan) “Meticulous attention is given to road design and getting the right dips and rises: the correct gradients for water run-off.”

“International airline pilots swear that the views of Tokyo city lights at night are the best in the world… Each and every streetlight shines bright and strong… the Tokyo city landscape from the Rainbow Bridge… is to be especially recommended”.

Japanese art – visit Nezu Museum in Aoyama, check out the garden.

Photography – “Gallery 916 in Takeshiba is the place for interesting, off-centre photography exhibits.”

The staff at Takashimaya would not hesitate to send you to another store, even a rival, if they do not stock an item. Their thinking is that “winning loyal customers matters more in the long term”.

Tokyo Metro employees would take the stairs, because escalators are for customers. If they are in uniform, they would not sit on trains.

“Department stores gift wrap with a single sheet of paper.”

“A Japanese meal traditionally wraps up with something starchy. (at the izakaya) You may consider zosui (a sort of porridge of eggs and rice) or perhaps a refreshing serve of chilled noodles.”

“European cooks, or those from other Asian countries, emphasise the addition of flavor. The Japanese cook, on the other hand, aims to find the freshest ingredient, remove any bitterness and present it as it is. For example, the popular izakaya dish Onion Slice is exactly that: finely sliced raw onions, quickly refreshed in vinegar and sprinkled with soy sauce. Japanese food is more about subtraction.”

“But Japanese food is not a knockout experience; if there is anything about it that is sublime it may come from the bigger picture. How this food gently fits the environment; how, through the essence of konbu seaweed broth, wild mushrooms, or ayu river fish you are eating the sea, the forests or the streams.”

“How to explain the phenomenon that is Takarazuka? Essentially it is an all-female theatrical company that performs over-the-top Broadway-style musicals to an audience that is made up almost entirely of women… Crowds gather… at the start of the day as the stars arrive and wait patiently to hand over the gifts to their favorite performers.”

Magazines – Brutus – design, fashion, dining; Popeye – fashion-conscious young men (clothes, culture, food); Kunel – bento-box recipes and homeware.

Roof garden – Sky Junction at Ohashi Junction

Synchronized exercises – rajio taiso – can join groups at Setagaya Park, 630 am

Zen meditation classes – Kourin-in at Hiroo – weekday hour long sessions starting from 7 am, walk-ins ok; Choukoku-ji at Azabu – Monday, arrive at 6 pm, end at 8.30 pm

Hotels

The Peninsula Tokyo has a “much-loved delivery-hatch system where guests can pile up dished, unpolished shoes and laundry to be removed from the outside without the need to open their doors”.

The Grand Hyatt at Roppongi has a Presidential Suite that “occupies the entire 21st floor and is the only one in Tokyo to have its own private outdoor swimming pool”.

Food

Coffee – Cafe del l’Ambre in Ginza – “one of Tokyo’s oldest (and best) coffee shops”.

Bar with good music – JBS (Jazz, Blues, Soul) at Shibuya – 10,000 records with vintage music equipment

Beef – Ningyocho Imahan – classic sukiyaki restaurant

Fish – Yanmo at Aoyama for seasonal fish

Steak – Chaco Amemiya sells “sensational steaks” at Sendagaya – charcoal grill

Traditional Japanese Breakfast – “There is no better place for a Japanese traditional breakfast” – Yakumo Saryo at Meguro

Tempura – Miyakawa at Aoyama – batter thin and crunchy; they recommend customers use salt for seasoning – Osaka style

Izakaya – Namikibashi Nakamura at Shibuya – seasonal menu changes every month

Sweet gifts – okashi (sweets and rice crackers) – kurimonaka wagashi sweets – “filled with candied chestnut and sweet bean paste” and rice cracker box sets – Ginza Akebono at Ginza. CEOs buy gifts from there.

Burgers – Arms Burger by Yoyogi Park.

Sushi chain – Umegaoka Sushi no Midori in Shibuya and 9 other locations – lunchtime has a Ultimate Sushi assortment

Soba – Tamawarai at Jingumae (“one of the cities most revered artisans of soba”) – zaru soba (cold) with tsuyu broth made from shaved bonito; try the kuruma-ebi and dashi-maki tamago.

Tonkatsu – Butagami at Nishi Azabu – there’s a butagumi-zen, a sampler set; hakkinton from Iwate

Milkshake – Lawn at Yotsuya – “made the old way with raw egg and fresh lemon”

Tea – Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience at Nishi Azabu

Retail

Monocle recommends these “perfect gifts” including Hanatsubaki biscuits from Shiseido Parlour; Junmai-shu sake from Matsunami brewery; Baumkuchen from Club Harie; Cedar lunchbox by Shibata Yoshinobu Shoten; Yuzu pepper from Tokyu Honten; Japanese knife by Kiya; Frying pan from Kama Asa Shoten; Wind-up radio by Muji; Heiwa slippers; Eye cream by Fujifilm; Wet face towels by Biore; Socks by Tabio

Bookshops – Tsutaya Books at Daikanyama T-site – check out Anjin lounge there; Aoyama Book Centre at Aoyama with a wide range of magazines

Music – Beams Records at Harajuku

Jazz records – Disk Union at Shinjuku

Custom-made Yukatas – Ginza Motoji at Ginza

Shoes – FIL at Omotesando – “much loved FBT shoes that combine a suede upper with a trainer sole”

Homeware – Matsuya department store at Ginza

Japanese design – Matsuya department store at Ginza, 7th floor

Boots – Goro at Honkomagome – “People come from all over Japan to buy walking boots from Goro”; Bootie-L is a good all-round boot; next door Grand Route 66 has good curry rice

Towels – Imabari Towel Shop at Aoyama

Kids – Kodoma Beams at Daikanyama; “one of the best kids’ shops in Tokyo”

Flower bouquets – Fuga at Gaienmae; “always ablaze with colour”.

Isetan at Shinjuku has a rooftop golf school.

Check out Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi (near Akihabara), a former rail station transformed into a retail and exhibition space. Fukumori for lunch and N331 for coffee with a view.


I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.

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