Japan: The Full Guide
SO here we go with the final post, something very practical for you all. I will list some specific places here (the absolute highlights, as it were), but here is my Google Maps list for the trip, which I feel is the most efficient way to actually use someones recommendations when you are somewhere new. Of course I was very forunate to have so much recommended to me from you guys, so there is a lot on there I didn't even get chance to see. The places I did see, I have added a comment underneath about what I thought about it, those places without a comment are the ones I didn't get around to seeing. I think in the New Year I will make sure to share my Maps for any place I travel, and will start building one up for London too that you can all access. It really feels like the most practical way to share things. I just pinned everything on my list the night before I flew, then it was so much easier to plan what I wanted to do by area. Or if I had visited somewhere and then wanted to get lunch, I just used Maps to see what was in the area that I had saved.
WHERE I STAYED:
The Knot Hotel, Shinjuku - the lobby and restaurant were super nice, the rooms a little less so but still perfectly comfortable! I like the location (although Shinjuku wasn't my favourite area, the hotel isn't in the heart of it at all and felt quite well connected for public transport). I really recommend going for the B&B option, it was such a godsend for me to be able to wake up and just have my first meal without having to make any decisions about where to go when I the jet lag was leaving me feeling very groggy first thing in the morning.
The other hotel that was HUGELY recommended was Trunk Hotel. This is based in Shibuya, which I would say would be an even better place to stay! It was fully booked for the dates I wanted to go, otherwise I would have gone for it.
My favourite were Nakamagero and Daikanyama (although I would still say finding a hotel in the Shibuya area would be preferable). Nakameguro is the hot spot for the cherry blossom in the spring, but was equally gorgeous to roam around in the winter too. There were gorgeous coffee shops here, lots of lovely Japanese brands, and it felt very much like an area for the locals.
Shinjuku is definitely worth a visit and felt like the most Bladerunner-esque area, but also the most full on and touristy. Shibuya I still got that postmodern vibe from all the high rise buildings and neon-lined streets, but it felt a little more manageable than Shinjuku. Also I had a lot more recommendations from you guys (again, see the maps) in Shibuya.
Ginza was amazing and felt super posh. The architeture in the city is just gorgeous and you just get the most of it by walking around the main streets. Very good for luxury shopping too.
WHERE I ATE:
Now the food took me a while to get to grips with. There are so many places to eat around the city that I felt totally overwhelmed of where to actually choose. I had a western meal at the Park Hyatt which was lovely, but I mostly wanted to make sure I was eating Japanese food. The long and short of it is; the bar is SO high for Japanese cuisine, you can go in almost anywhere and you will be fine. It was the only aspect where I felt out of my depth (lots of places didn't have any English menus, or the menus are almost like a vending machine with pictures, so the whole experience is very different), but once I relaxed with it and accepted I could go in almost anywhere and get a good meal, it got a whole lot easier.
I had some lovely ramen at Icheran in Shibuya, and Afuri in Harajuku. If I was craving something specific like gyoza, I would just search that food in my maps and TONNES of options would pop up. Choose the closest one, and I promise you will have a good meal. It's very hard to get it wrong.
I LOVED all the coffee shops in Tokyo!! There were so many to choose from and they were all gorgeous! My favourite was Shozo Coffee Store in Aoyama, but all the ones on the map list were brilliant. I also recommend Chop Coffee in Harujuku, and Camelback in Shibuya.
There are a lot of galleries on the maps list. I just visited TeamLab Borderless which I LOVED, get there early though as it's crazy busy. And Kusama which I was hugely underwhelmed by as it was tiny. I had wanted to do a lot more, but as I was rapidly running out of time, I decided I would rather spend the time being on the street and exploring the city rather than in a gallery. But I know the city has so many amazing ones on offer.
Kyoto stole my heart. If, like me, you're just there for a week then I really do recommend take whatever time you can spend in Kyoto. I only had half a day which was no where near enough, but I am still so glad I went, even for that short stint. It was beautiful, like it embodied the most chic part of Tokyo and really ran with it. I used the Haarkon book for the recommendation I needed for Kyoto.
Please feel free to leave anything else in the comments and I can add it to our Google Maps! As I work on them for different cities I will create a tab on here so we can all access them too.