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Updated September 2023

This alternative guide to Tokyo is a list of some of our favorite coffee shops, local restaurants, and hidden gems. If you read the first Tokyo travel guide produced from a previous trip then this one has a few more spots we discovered on our second Tokyo round. 

The Alternative Guide to Tokyo

One thing I love about Tokyo is the endless places to discover. It’s a city you could go to a hundred times and still find something new. These hidden restaurants, small boutiques, and thimble-sized coffee shops pouring incredible coffee are incredible. The city can be overwhelming and so challenging to make sense of, but that for me is what makes it one of a kind.

Anthony Bourdain once said, “For those with restless, curious minds, fascinated by layer upon layer of things, flavors, tastes, and customs, which we will never fully be able to understand, Tokyo is deliciously unknowable. I’m sure I could spend the rest of my life there, learn the language, and still die happily ignorant.” I couldn’t agree more.

So here it is, an alternative guide to Tokyo. Yes, I included three to four of our tried and true from the original guide. Just this one has a bit more, a deeper dive to places we didn’t know about last time, and some great spots not to miss.

Planning a Trip to Tokyo? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Tokyo:

  1. JR-East Hotel Mets Shibuya, for the best location
  2. Shibuya Granbell Hotel, for the best location
  3. Hotel Emit, for the best boutique hotel
  4. Mustard Hotel, for the best modern hotel

Looking for some itinerary inspiration? Check out my 5-day Tokyo itinerary and 2-week Japan itinerary.

Lastly, don’t forget to book your Japan Rail Pass before you arrive!

The Alternative Guide to Tokyo

What to Know Before Traveling to Tokyo

I know planning a trip to Japan is strenuous, at least we found it very challenging on our first trip. I want to encourage you that though it is overwhelming beforehand, once you’re there, it’s easy to get the hang of it.

To make it easier, I’d encourage reading these posts BEFORE planning:

I’ve included some additional Tokyo travel tips below:

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Tokyo?

The fall or spring are lovely there. I’d avoid the summer heat and crowds if possible.

How Much Time Should I Spend in Tokyo?

I could easily do 5 nights here every trip, so it truly depends on how much you want to see. You could do 2-3 nights and get a good sense of the city.

What’s the Best Way to Get to Tokyo from Narita International Airport?

The Narita Express is the best way to access the city from Narita International Airport (seat reservations to/from the airport are required). The JR Rail Pass covers this line (around $30 USD a person one way). Expect at least an hour to an hour and a half to Shinjuku/Shibuya area.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around Tokyo?

The entire city is easily traversed by foot, train, or bus.

The Suica card is helpful for using the bus and local train. You can get one at the main stations and, with a small deposit, have access to reloading this card or optionally buy individual train tickets (there’s also a Suica mobile app that enable you to use your phone to scan at turnstiles). If you have a JR Rail Pass, this is also applicable for certain lines in Tokyo.

Travel Tip: Be sure to apply and purchase your JR Rail Pass before arrival in Japan.

Are Credit Cards Accepted in Tokyo?

Japan is a primarily cash-only country, though many place do also accept credit cards. Carry Yen on you at all times to cover meals, shopping, and transportation. The best place to withdraw cash is at a Seven-Eleven ATM’s.

Are Restaurant Reservations Required in Tokyo?

Most restaurants need reservations far in advance. The best way to handle any restaurant reservation is to have your local accommodations call and reserve.

Where to Stay in Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo

Tokyo is a vast city and where to stay has a big influence on the experience you’ll have. For an in-depth guide to Tokyo’s neighborhoods and my recommendations for the best hotels in each, read my 5-day Tokyo itinerary.

If you’re short on time, here are my top picks from that post:

  1. JR-East Hotel Mets Shibuya, for the best location
  2. Shibuya Granbell Hotel, for the best location
  3. Hotel Emit, for the best boutique hotel
  4. Mustard Hotel, for the best modern hotel

For the full list of recommendations, read the full post here.

Where to Eat in Tokyo

Let’s be honest, one of our biggest motivations in Tokyo is food-based. We come to eat. We’re not ashamed about it and yes sometimes we choose outfits accordingly (I have a “ramen” outfit, no high-waisted jeans for me!). Restaurants in Japan are interesting, and most are dedicated to a single style of cuisine — see this post on dining in Japan. Tokyo is a food lover’s paradise, having endless restaurants and foods to try. 

Here’s our list, the places we’ve been to 2+ times (some of them 4 times) as we love them that much. It also includes some new alternatives to the places we’ve been to, and you may have tried too. 

Our Tried and True

Fuku Yakitori

We always book a table here for the beginning and the ending of our time in Japan. Dedicated to yakitori cuisine, Fuku is single-handedly our most memorable meal in Japan, even on the second trip. Have your accommodations call in a booking. Request bar seating if possible. Any single vegetable ingredient is delicious (especially the green onions and mushrooms). We also love the smoked cheese, stuffed peppers, and gingko nuts. 

Sakura Tei

Okonomiyaki is one of our favorites in Japan and this spot you can cook it yourself. These cabbage, batter, and meat/fish pancake-style thing is delicious and perfect on a cold day. 

New Spots We Loved

CAMELBACK sandwich&espresso

This was a new spot for us and we headed here for a breakfast sandwich. The prosciutto with ooba leaf was out of this world and served on a crunchy baguette.

Sagatani Shibuya Dogenzaka

Soba noodles are one of our favorites as well in Japan and we discovered this gem sandwiched next to a Starbucks in the heart of Shibuya. Walk-in, use the ticket machine and give your ticket to the bar. The fresh noodles are delicious!


One of the best meals we had in Tokyo was at this tonkatsu-dedicated restaurant. As we’re fairly new to the world of tonkatsu, the lightly breaded and fried pork is a delicacy in Japan. They have multiple kinds of pork to choose from, ranging from least to high fat. Be sure to reserve in advance here and I’d recommend lunch hour. 

Itadori Sushi Bar (築地虎杖 別館) at Tsukiji Market

We always head to the market at least one morning in Tokyo and this time stumbled into this sushi bar. It’s delicious, it’s bizarre to eat sushi before 9am, and it’s wonderfully great. Pull up a seat here, the price is worth it. 

ØL by Oslo Brewing Co.

Great spot to grab a beer and check out the food truck if you need a bite. 

If You’ve Been to Ippudo Ramen, Try…

Ramen Jiro Mita Honten

This spot we failed to get into last time as the line as too long so we dedicated more time to wait it out. Around 35 minutes to get in, this king of pork ramen won us both over. Topped with raw garlic and only a few stools at the counter, we slurped down noodles with the locals.

AFURI (Shinjuku Lumine)

Another Tokyo staple for ramen, they have a few locations throughout the city. The broth is refined and the dish an elegant take on street-style ramen.

Fūunji (Shibuya City)

Another cash-only local spot for hearty ramen.

The Alternative Guide to Tokyo
Ramen Jiro Mita Honten

Where to Grab a Coffee in Tokyo

A full coffee shop guide to Tokyo can be found here. The two spots I’d add to the list that we loved are:

Onibus (Nakameguro)

We made the trek here twice we loved it so much. 

Coffee Supreme (Near Yoyogi Park)

A great espresso and hot cheese bread are delicious.

Alternative Things to Do in Tokyo

There is a lot to discover in Tokyo and somehow we always end up finding something to do. Here are a few new things we loved in addition to what is listed on the first Tokyo Guide

Visit the Nezu Museum

If you’ve been to the Tokyo National Museum, check out the Nezu Museum

The Nezu Museum blew us away. Not only is it a stunning building with a hidden garden in the back, but it also boasts some incredible ancient Japanese art. We spent a few hours here exploring the grounds and loved this zen-oasis in the heart of the city.

Explore Nakameguro

If you’ve been to Shibuya neighborhood, check out Nakameguro.

This neighborhood really delighted us to discover. We hadn’t been this way yet and after wandering around the first time up the iconic Meguro Riverwalk, we came back again. The neighborhood is quite large, most of the shops are on the river but the street called Kamimeguro (just look up Tokyobikes) has some wonderful shops. I’d stop in for coffee at Onibus and then go out and explore. Over on the river, there are wonderful shops and Sidewalk Stand for food.

Visit teamLab Borderless

The Alternative Guide to Tokyo

If you need to be indoors, book tickets for teamLab Borderless.

This art exhibit blew our minds. It’s out of this world, it’s beautiful and interactive. You need to book in advance for here and it’s well worth the price point. I’d recommend arriving early as well. 

Travel Tip: The original exhibit we visited closed in August 2022 and is relocating to a new venue that is set to open in January 2024.

Walk Through Yoyogi Park

If you need a break from the city, head to Yoyogi Park.

This is listed from the last trip but wanted to include it again. We walked into the park about an hour before sunset and felt like we had most of it to ourselves. It was so peaceful and loved how quiet it is even though you’re right in the heart of the city. The Meiji Shrine is also here and worth a stroll through as well. 

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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


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