I think it’s best if you don’t use a tourist guide, it’s much more interesting to explore. Each station is a surprise to me.
It’s not easy knowing where to start in a city as large as Tokyo. Keita recommends ditching the guides and exploring the many neighbourhoods station by station. Between bullet trains, Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, there are a whopping 882 train stations in the Greater Tokyo Area. Each one opens its own micro-city that forms part of this sprawling ecosystem.
Sakura season in Japan however is definitely not overhyped. For Keita, it’s the most beautiful time of year. Visit in early spring to see the city’s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom. Nakameguro, Tokyo’s centre of cool, is a great neighbourhood to view the blossoms.
Meguro River in Nakameguro is a nice place for seeing cherry blossoms but if you hate extremely crowded places, head to Ueno Park.
The best thing about the Sakura season however is the weather. The city at the height of summer is unbearable, and the winters are chilly. If you do find yourself in Tokyo outside of this goldilocks zone, Keita recommends taking the train out of the city and into the nearby countryside.
Keita’s favourite getaway is Hakone, a thermal spring area two hours away from Tokyo. He spends a long weekend there every other month at $200-$300 per person all inclusive. For an affordable hotel, try Tenseien. Higher-end options include Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu or Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone.
While you’re there, hike Mount Fuji Otome Pass for breathtaking views. Keita also recommends Hakone Yumoto, Pola Museum, and Hakone Open-Air Museum.
When I want to unwind I usually go to a cafe in the Asakusa area to grab a cup of coffee and research.
Head to Asakusa and Ueno for a taste of the real Tokyo – order a melon soda float at Tomorrow Asakusa.
Dollar Sushi is a Tokyo staple. It’s cheap, quick and delicious. Keita once worked at one of the Sushiro restaurant chains. His insider perspective – “the sea urchin, red shrimp, and scallops are the best dishes there.”
At night, head to Kita-Senju “it’s underrated, but it has a happening bar scene and a lot of good local restaurants.”
While you’re eating your way through Tokyo be sure to try Monjayaki – the lesser known cousin of okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake.
It’s Keita’s go-to, here’s how he prepares it at the table:
Pour the batter, sauce and bonito flakes onto your hot plate. Wait for it to crisp up on the bottom but eat it while it’s still kind of gooey on top.
Keita recommends “Mentaiko Mochi Cheese Monja” and “Kimchi Pork Monja” at Okonomiyaki Monja.
In general, Keita avoids tourist areas like Harajuku and Shibuya. But he’ll brave the busy streets for amazing art galleries like Nanzuka, Gallery Target, and Perrotin.
If you want to see Keita’s work in person, your best chance is to visit his gallery Kotaro Nukaga in Roppongi.
Tennozu Isle is Tokyo’s hot new art district that Keita compares to Chelsea in New York. Arrive via the Rinkai line and discover the public art, and waterfront warehouses transformed into galleries and boutiques.
They are literally everywhere, every corner.
When Keita moved back to Japan after living overseas, he was struck by the city’s vending machines. They are a sure sign that Tokyo is a 24-hour city. Although he only gets iced tea and canned coffee, he sees them as glass-fronted doors into pure hedonism:
They have always struck me as these strange portals, almost like black holes, that I am drawn to in my day to day. Whatever you want, pretty much anything, you can get one in the machines.
Photographer: Niko Wu @nikoful