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Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

A vast, sprawling city, Tokyo lies at the heart of the world’s largest metropolitan area, home to 38 million people. For all its overlay of modernity, Tokyo is really a collection of distinctive neighborhoods linked by its amazingly extensive and efficient public transportation system ...

A vast, sprawling city, Tokyo lies at the heart of the world’s largest metropolitan area, home to 38 million people. For all its overlay of modernity, Tokyo is really a collection of distinctive neighborhoods linked by its amazingly extensive and efficient public transportation system. In these neighborhoods, you will find the city’s heart and soul. Venture to the Sensoji temple in Asakusa (the oldest in Tokyo), and you will encounter throngs of people clamoring for good-luck charms at wayside stalls, a scene that, aside from the contemporary clothing, might come from a 19th-century woodblock print. The Roppongi district, home to distinctive contemporary art museums including 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT and the Mori Art Museum, is ideal for an afternoon of art appreciation.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Tokyo

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Tokyo

Awarded two Michelin stars only five months after its opening in 2012, this gourmet kaiseki restaurant has only eight counter seats and one four-person table. Owner/ chef Hidetsugu Okamoto trained at two-star Wakuden in Kyoto and three-star Yukimura in Tokyo and offers unconventional dishes that combine unexpected ingredients, textures and flavors. Ever-changing menus may include abalone accompanied by grilled vegetables and fish roe sauce; fresh mackerel with sea bream roe, purple cabbage mousse and fragrant maitake mushroom; and thin turnip noodles in a light cod milt soup. Dessert could be a refreshing grapefruit and coconut sorbet with red beans, or a ginger warabi-mochi (a jelly-like confection) wrapped in bamboo leaf. 

5F Daini Ginza Column Building 8-3-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku Tokyo US$180.

Tempura requires real finesse to be successful. It is deceptively simple — batter-dipped pieces of meat, fish and vegetable are deep-fried — but the batter must be made so that it branches out and creates a filigree of lacy strands. Tenmatsu has proved over many decades that it has mastered the formula to perfection. 

1-8-2 Muromachi Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku Tokyo Set menus, US$45-US$80

The Tokyo branch of a classic Kyoto restaurant (which is more than 100 years old), this enchanting place brings a taste of the ancient capital to the modern metropolis with stone paths, bamboo groves and glowing lanterns. The cuisine comes from the classic tradition of kaiseki, small courses presented on exquisite serving pieces. The menu is wholly dependent on the availability of ingredients. To dine here is a complete gastronomic and aesthetic experience. 

6-13-8 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo US$125-US$165

If there is such a thing as pedigreed tofu, this is where to find it. The restaurant opened in 1691, since when it has supplied tofu to the Imperial Family. Try dishes such as hiryozu, deep-fried tofu mixed with roasted sesame seeds and chopped vegetables; or kake-joyu-dofu, tofu served in a soy broth with chicken and shiitake mushrooms. There is a limited number of non-tofu dishes such as sashimi, and yakitori skewers of chicken. The setting is lovely, with a tranquil garden and small waterfall. Closed Monday.

2-15-10 Negishi Taito-ku Tokyo US$60

In a city that abounds with great sushi restaurants, this is arguably the best. (There are several branches of Kyubey in Tokyo, but this, the original, is the place to go.) Diners sit at a magnificent counter hewn from a single piece of hinoki (Japanese cypress) and order the world’s most pristine seafood: tuna belly, mackerel, prawns, yellowtail, eel and sea urchin. Don’t miss the house specialty, chirashi, which is vinegar-seasoned rice topped with two layers of fish. Closed Sunday.

8-7-6 Ginza Chuo-ku Tokyo US$125-US$250.

This contemporary restaurant with a streamlined modern décor and traditional woodwork design is set on the 31st floor of a new commercial complex in the Oshiage district. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with natural light and offer dramatic views of the world’s largest communications tower, the Tokyo Skytree. Creative Italian multicourse menus created by chef Masayuki Okuda employ fresh organic ingredients primarily from nearby farms. Expect starters such as crisp white asparagus with a squid, garlic and tomato ratatouille; sweet tomatoes with dollops of house-made ricotta cheese over a bed of angel hair pasta; and foie gras with raw onions drizzled with olive oil over a pea purée. Main courses run to dishes such as Hokkaido shrimp with sea bream roe, and roasted lamb paired with a layered potato cake.

31st Floor, Tokyo Solamachi 1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku Tokyo

Numerous Tokyo chefs have taken on the challenge of molecular cooking — a food science that tries to make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients — not always with happy results. Here is one who has succeeded. Seiji Yamamoto trained in classical Japanese cuisine, but then branched out into more modern techniques. The result is exquisite food offered in the traditional kaiseki style. Closed Sunday.

7-17-24 Roppongi Minato-ku Tokyo US$225.
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