Japan is known for its diverse and delicious food culture, and its capital Tokyo is no exception. Join us here at Eat Pro Japan as we highlight five areas around Tokyo that are serving up some of the hottest and tastiest foods on the market!
Ginza, a district of Chūō, Tokyo, is said to be the most luxurious street in the world. Ginza boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country and its luxury boutiques and department stores reflect this! The streets of Ginza are closed on weekend afternoons, clearing the way for patrons to shop to their heart’s content.
Ginza may be a modern centre of luxury, but this city had humble beginnings, being named after the establishment of a silver-coin mint from the 16th century. What was originally a swamp was burned down in 1872, allowing the Meiji government to recreate Ginza from the ground-up as a ‘model of modernisation’. The government created a construction plan of fireproof brick buildings and better streets connecting Ginza to Shimbashi Station and the now discontinued Tsukiji fish market. After a year, a Western-style shopping promenade and a plethora of brick buildings were finished, thanks also in part to newspapers and magazines advertising Ginza as a symbol of ‘civilization and enlightenment’, Ginza eventually grew into a large metropolitan shopping area.
The Ginza Food Scene
Because of its many high-end restaurants and amenities, the food in Ginza is always fresh, of high quality and delicious. Ginza is especially famous for its traditional sushi shops and coffeehouses, but it boasts a wide variety of foods from ramen to teppanyaki to international cuisine.
If you are looking for a high-end sushi experience, look no further than Japan’s most famous sushi restaurant: Sukiyabashi Jiro! This small, unassuming shop may not look worthy of three Michelin stars at first but looks can be deceiving. Chef Jiro and his team are famous for their attention to detail and the phenomenal flavour they bring to each bite of food.
The Mitsukoshi Food Hall shows the splendor of Giza’s luxurious department stores. On the second-floor basement of Mitsukoshi, patrons can find a wondrous array of food stalls that highlight the local food culture and seasonal ingredients of Japan. You will find bento shops, sake stores, and enough Japanese confectionaries to quell the hunger of any patron. Once you finish shopping and get your meal, relax on the rooftop garden of the department store for a quick, but still high-class, dining experience.
And your culinary journey does not end there. Ginza has a wealth of other luxury brand dining experiences just waiting to be explored! Armani Ristorante serves up an afternoon tea on top of lunch and dinner for the weary Ginza-street traveler. The open-air Bvlgari La Terrazza Lounge experience boasts the Bulgari Afternoon Tea Box, a three-decker box full of treats served with coffee. The Japanese Shiseido Parlour Salon de Café is famous for its signature, perfectly fried meat croquettes, but it also serves dishes ranging from omurice to strawberry parfaits.
Known as the most vibrant and busiest district of Tokyo, Shinjuku is a large commercial and administrative center in Tokyo. Shinjuku also houses the northern half of Shinjuku Station, the busiest railway station in the world, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Since the end of World War II, Shinjuku has risen along the cultural and societal ranks in Japan, even rivalling Marunouchi, the original center of Tokyo. Both tourists and locals alike flood the streets of Shinjuku to take advantage of the boutiques and brand name stores, as well as see Shinjuku’s signature neon lights come to life.
In 1698, the Shinjuku area started to take shape, as a new station was created on the Kōshū Kaidō highway, one of the major highways of the time. Shinjuku really started to develop in 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The area was largely spared from damage because it was a seismically stable area. In 1945, most of Tokyo was razed in the Tokyo air raids, but the roads and railways of Shinjuku remained, creating a roadmap to renew and rebuild. Today, Shinjuku is a famous and modern area of Tokyo, and West Shinjuku is one of the few areas with a sizable number of skyscrapers in Tokyo, due to its stable nature.
The Shinjuku Food Scene
The best part about the food in Shinjuku is the sheer diversity and scope of it. Shinjuku hosts thousands of eating establishments, with 36 Michelin-rated restaurants as of 2019. From famous luxury meals to smaller hidden gems, Shinjuku is a great district to explore and enjoy all that Tokyo has to offer.
For a classically Japanese meal, why not try Ichiran Ramen. Ichiran Ramen is one of the most famous tonkotsu ramen shops in all of Japan. It serves authentic creamy pork broth ramen, straight from Fukuoka City, and is also known for its unique personalized counter seats and ordering system.
A few minutes’ walk from the Eastern exit of Shinjuku Station rests another famous part of the Shinjuku distinct: Golden Gai. Golden Gai is a network of six alleyways further connected by even narrower passages just big enough for one person to walk through. These streets and alleyways are private roads, so photography is prohibited in most cases. Besides being known for its lively bars and nightlife, Golden Gai is also famous for its architecture, which acts as a microcosm of the narrow lanes and two-story buildings found in modern Tokyo. Other alleyways, such as Omoide Yokocho can be found in Shinjuku, allowing patrons to walk through a buffet of bars and restaurants, perfect for sampling the trendy nightlife of Shinjuku.
Asakusa is a neighborhood east of Tokyo. Famous for its Sensoji Buddhist temple devoted to Kannon and various festivals like the Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa is known for its traditional atmosphere.
Asakusa was formed because of neighboring Kuramae. Kuramae was a district that housed storehouses of rice that were used as payment to the feudal government. As keepers of those storehouses became more and more rich by selling rice to the local shopkeepers as well, theatres and geisha houses sprung up. Thus, Asakusa became a hub of the arts. Throughout the twentieth century, it remained a major entertainment district in Tokyo with the rokku (Sixth District) becoming especially renowned for its theatres and individual cinemas like the Denkikan. In 1947, Asakusa lost its status as a ward of Tokyo and was merged with Shitaya to form the Taito ward, encompassing 19 different neighborhoods!
The Asakusa Food Scene
Asakusa is steeped in the rich flavorful tradition of the time it was formed. With dishes and restaurants dating back generations, Asakusa offers a taste of the strong and proud traditions of Japan.
One of the first stops patrons should make is at Asakusa Mugitoro. Having first opened its doors in 1929, this restaurant is famous for the food that gave it its name: mugitoro. Mugitoro is a rich yam porridge blended with dashi and fish stock poured over a bed of rice. The Japanese yam used is known for its sticky consistency and sweetish taste. Accompanying the dish are appetizers such as sashimi and various deep-fried dishes. Asakusa Mugitoro gives you a unique taste of the strong traditions you will find in Japan, while also offering dishes many tourists may have never heard of before.
Even after you eat at Asakusa Mugitoro, there are still a large variety of wonderfully traditional food options available. With all these options, it may be hard to decide what to eat. So, while you are on the go, a perfect stop to make for is a Ningyo-yaki. These cakes filled with anko (sweet red bean) paste get their name from their doll-like shape, as ningyo means “doll” in Japanese. The best Ningyo-yaki are found in a traditional Japanese sweet shop established more than 120 years ago. This shop, named Kibundousouhonten, lets patrons see their Ningyo-yaki get formed and baked before eating them hot and fresh on the way to their next stop. The shop can make specially shaped cakes, with some even taking the form of Hello Kitty and Asakusa’s own Sensoji Temple.
Tokyo Station & the Imperial Palace
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is a large park-like area situated in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. The palace houses not only a museum, archives, and administrative offices, but it is also the usual residence of the Emperor of Japan and his family. During the Japanese property bubble of the 1980s, the entire imperial grounds were valued at a cost higher than the entire real estate value in the state of California! Not only is the area beautiful, but it is revered for housing the Emperor of Japan and provides a link to Japan’s colorful past.
Tokyo Station, a nine-minute walk from the Imperial Palace, is a railway station based in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Tokyo Station uses the speedy rail lines provided by the Shinkansen network, making it the main inter-city rail terminal in the Tokyo area as well as the busiest station in Japan. More than 4,000 trains arrive and depart from this station daily.
Tokyo Station & the Imperial Palace's Present History
The current imperial palace was built on the land once held by the old Edo Castle and even incorporates some of the former castle. While the Imperial Housing Agency and the East Gardens are typically open to the public, most of the grounds are not. However, both locals and tourists can visit the private areas of the garden under certain circumstances. Reserved guided tours from Tuesdays to Saturdays offer the public a chance to bask in the beauty of the gardens. And, on New Year (January 2nd) and the Emperor's Birthday (currently February 23rd, in honor of Emperor Naruhito), the public can enter the gates and gather to see the Emperor. During these celebrations, the Imperial family will appear on a balcony before the Emperor gives a short speech of greeting and well wishes for their visitors.
Tokyo Station was spearheaded in 1889, when the Tokyo municipal committee made plans for an elevated railway line connecting two older lines. Construction was completed in 1908 and opened on December 20th, 1914, with two lines for electric trains and two for non-electric trains. The site has since been damaged by bombing raids and fires but has always risen out of the ashes stronger and better designed than before. Currently, the station boasts the Marunouchi Central Plaza, which extends to the Imperial Palace as well as a variety of shopping areas and other amenities.
The Tokyo Station & the Imperial Palace Food Scene
The area around the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station is well travelled by locals and tourists alike, so the area has evolved to fit their many varied culinary demands. From international to experimental to traditional, this area has something for everyone.
For international cuisine, straight off the station, try Brasserie Paul Bocuse, known for its indulgent French cuisine. Located on the 12th floor of the Gran-Tokyo North Tower, this restaurant centers its dishes around the culinary works of French chef Paul Bocuse. Bocuse’s style comes through in the wonderful dishes prepared here, which turn simple ingredients into decadent culinary journeys.
For something more experimental and fun, try Kitte. A play on the Japanese words for postage stamps and come over, Kitte is a multilevel experience with each floor focusing on a different concept. From a free museum to a level focusing on the Japanese aesthetic, it is a real treat. The first floor is dedicated to popular local dishes across Japan, it is also where you can find the Amano Freeze-Dried Station. This shop offers patrons souvenirs in the form of popular Japanese foods, all in a unique dehydrated form! From miso soup to Japanese-style curry, this shop will excite both the mind and the stomach of those who enter.
But if dehydrated curry does not quite fit your fancy, why not try some more traditional curry from Bondy Jimbocho Honten. While curry shops may fiercely fight each other for patrons, Bondy Jimbocho Honten almost always fills up for lunch unfazed by the competition around it. It may not be the easiest to find or the cheapest, with a bowl of curry typically coming in around ¥1,480, but the flavored curries you will find here will make it worth the effort.
Roppongi is a sleek, modern playground for the overworked Japanese salaryman to relax and enjoy high-end amenities. This district of Minato in the center of Tokyo boasts arcades, gardens, Toho cinemas, the fifty-four-story Mori Tower, embassies, and the famous Roppongi Hills development area, which is said to have become the face of modern Japan. With the addition of its popular and beloved night club scene, Roppongi is a thriving, lively area ready for local businessmen and foreigners alike to let loose.
There have been a few legends about the origin of Rappongi’s name. One states that “Roppongi” means “six trees,” which referred to six large zelkova trees that marked the area. But regardless of its naming origins, historians agree that Roppongi had its real start in 1890, when the Third Imperial Guard of the Imperial Japanese Army moved to the area. The large number of soldiers caused a thriving nightlife district to spring up around them. After World War II, Allied troops occupied the area, creating an influx of foreigners. Once again, a thriving modern-day district grew to fit the demand of the new residents. Today, both foreigners and Japanese locals enjoy the restaurants and nightlife Roppongi has to offer.
The Roppongi Food Scene
The bars, nightclubs, host clubs, and more featured in Roppongi serve a wide range of customers, but are especially frequented by businesspeople, U.S. military personnel and young people. Roppongi has several clubs featuring both Japanese and foreign performers, as well as a growing number of art festivals, billiard tournaments, and beauty pageants. Restaurants, like all businesses in Roppongi, serve a wide variety of clientele and offer anything from upscale Japanese dishes to international cuisine.
To capture the seamless blending of Japanese and foreign cultures, look no further than Honmura-An. Chef and owner, Koichi Kobari, started a restaurant in Manhattan before moving to Tokyo to take over for his father. This bilingual chef has a healthy dose of both local and foreign customers and keeps them coming back with his handmade soba noodles. With a menu in English and Japanese, as well as stylish minimalist decor, this soba shop blends multiple cultures and creates an ideal space to come together and enjoy food.
With all these options, it is no wonder that Tokyo is a premier destination for foodies. Next time you plan on taking a trip, make sure to add a detour, or even a whole day or two, to one of these great areas!