A day for all senses in the Eastern metropolis
You’re in Tokyo, for Amaterasu’s sake—forget about having a normal breakfast. Japanese breakfasts of steamed fish, natto, rice, miso soup and pickles are to be had at home or at traditional ryokan inns in Kyoto. In Tokyo, best to have an early lunch instead. And my recommendation would be ramen.
Shibuya is a whirling maestrom of sights, colours, sounds and absurd crowds of people. But if you pick your spot, you’ll have no problems. Walk through Shibuya Mark City, all the way out the other side, and turn kind of left. You’ll come to a small ramen shop 俺流塩らーめん. That reads as “Oreyu Shio Ramen”—but forget it because nobody will know where you’re talking about anyway. Better to just use this map link. Outside on the street is a machine, where you put in your money and choose your food. Get the yuzu ramen. The light, fragrant broth is flavoured with that most Japanese of citrus fruits. The fried chicken in “special sauce” is ungreasily moist and delicious. Try with a bit of thick green “yuzu kosho”, or spicy yuzu paste, from one of the pots on the table.
Hands on deck
Work off some of your newly acquired calories by shouldering your way through the Shibuya madness and into the friendly green doorways of Tokyu Hands (map link). This is a spot to peruse creative Japanese retail design to your heart’s content. It’s like a museum of products, many useful, many desirable, and many whose purposes you wouldn’t be able to guess if you were left alone with them for six hours in a bare white room. Each floor (and that’s an “A”, “B” and “C” floor for each number) represents a different department, and a circulating staircase floats you through the different worlds. There’s a café up top with wi-fi, decent French press coffee and a balcony with a view. Take cash, bag space, and plenty of curiosity.
After the museum of consumerism, it’s time for an actual museum. From Shibuya it’s a 1,000 yen (about 8 euro) taxi ride to Roppongi Hills—there’s also a bus from the south exit of Shibuya station. In this glittering futuristic development—which by the way is also crammed with restaurants on floors above and below—you’ll find one of Tokyo’s cultural powerhouses, the Mori Art Museum (map link). On the menu until 11 June, 2017 is a rich and fascinating one-man show from South Indian artist N. S. Harsha. This is conceptual art, but the good kind, with pieces that have required an immense amount of skill and technique to put together. One installation features 193 sewing machines seemingly interrupted as they sew the flags of each UN member state. Coloured threads criss-cross the room and the feeling is a riff on craft, trade and exploitation; nationalism and globalisation. The final room contains a gigantic canvas with what looks like one momentous brushstroke, revealing the cosmos glittering behind. A transcendental show: but if you miss it don’t worry—the Mori’s offerings are always worth a trip. Especially as, at Tokyo City View next to the gallery, you can see the entire staggering urban sprawl from a 52nd-floor perspective.
From Roppongi station you can hop on the Hibiya line just two stops and emerge in Ebisu, just in time for dinner. Kannonzaka Toriko (map link) is yakitori—but with a difference. Originally these sticks of chicken pieces and other delights, cooked over coal, were served up at stations for sweaty salarymen to get their meat fix when carnivorous ways were still frowned upon in Japan. Though still mostly an ubiquitous, bargain-basement drinking snack, some restaurants have taken the food form into a more sophisticated realm. Sit at the exquisite counter here and either stay safe with choices like “negima”—chicken thigh and leek pieces—or go adventurous with items like the “uzura” or embryonic egg.
After such a strenuous day, you’re clearly in need of a drink. Fortunately Ebisu is packed with wonderful bars. Well, so is every other neighbourhood of Tokyo, but Ebisu has a particularly high-end glut of specialist waterholes. Trench (map link) is an elegant cocktail bar, where you can quaff all the classic cocktails, absinthe à la sugar cube, or try one of their revolutionary concoctions including all kinds of fresh herbs, of the legal variety. Otherwise, if you’re less about the extravagant beverages and more about unparalleled sound quality, round the corner is Bar Martha (map link). In a former recording studio, reminiscent of a concrete bunker, the vintage Tannoy Autograph speakers are so prized that loudly chatting punters might get thrown out. You have been warned.