Some people are all about the sights, some people are all about the history, and some people are all about the food. If the last option sounds familiar, then this is the perfect Tokyo food guide for you: it’s time to explore the culinary capital of the world!
With over 160,000 restaurants and more Michelin stars than any city in the world, Tokyo is a Mecca for foodies, and rightly so. The best part though, is that anyone can enjoy amazing food without spending a fortune. Michelin-star food for ¥1,000? Easy. Fresh-from-the-market sushi sliced and served to you by world-class sushi masters? Done. Want to try freshly grown wasabi or expertly brewed sake? Come right this way! Tokyo does food, and it does it well, so with 3 days in the city and the goal to eat and drink as much as possible, here’s our idea of a good time in Tokyo.
Not every foodie is the same, and while there are some pretty common food-based bucket-list items (Michelin star meals, sushi and vending machines for example) everything isn’t for everyone—because that would be boring. This itinerary has crammed as wide a variety of culinary experiences into one trip as possible, but is by no means exhaustive and is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Have a read, see what you like, and adapt it to suit your pallet, wallet and time frame. We’ve split the days up into a simple framework, with morning for exploring, lunch, afternoon activity slot, dinner and evening wandering—so you can pick and choose from the suggestions or add in your own bits to create your perfect break.
Asakusa | Kitchen Town | Michelin Sushi | Tea Ceremony | Tsukishima Monjayaki
Morning sightseeing: Asakusa for snacks and Sensoji, then onto Kitchen Town
You can’t miss the most famous sight in Tokyo, but just as a little extra encouragement, Asakusa also has plenty of delicious sweet treats to try while you wander. Sensoji is impressive, there’s no denying it, and the view back down Nakamise Street towards Kaminarimon gate is possibly even better, with yukata-clad couples and brightly colored stalls selling delicious street food too.
As well as festival favorites you can try the traditional sweets such as ningyo-yaki—small cakes with red bean paste, custard or sweet potato inside.
There’s also the most delicious melon pan in Tokyo right around the corner at Kagetsudo, which has been serving freshly baked sweet bread (not a sweetbread, don’t panic, but not melon either) since 1945.
If you’re a matcha (green tea) lover, you can try the richest matcha in Japan over at Suzukien, a tea shop who have matcha-d up (sorrynotsorry) with gelato makers Nanaya from Shizuoka.
Once you’re done wandering and sating that sweet tooth, you can head up to Kappabashi Street—aka Kitchen Town. A shopping district between Asakusa and Ueno with everything you could even need for a kitchen, it is the home of high-quality Japanese knives and those famous plastic food models. You can pick up some souvenirs or gifts from the stores or make them yourself—food model store Ganso Shokuhin Sample has sessions where you can make your own wax display food (reservations required). For those with less time and smaller suitcases, there are great souvenirs to be had including chopsticks and bento boxes.
Lunch: It’s sushi time!
If you wanted to get fancy for lunch and Michelin-star sushi sounds appealing, then head to Tokami in Ginza. A 10-piece sushi set costs ¥5,000 and comes with an appetizer, soup, an egg roll and a tuna tossaki hand roll, so you are definitely getting your money’s worth! Alternatively, Iwa in Ginza also has a Michelin star and offers a lunch set for ¥4,860 per person.
Escape Tokyo for the day, see mountains, hot springs, the modern, the traditional, the old and the ancient!
If you aren’t that bothered about Michelin and want to have some fun with sushi or do a bit of taste-testing first, then take your pick from our top affordable sushi spots in Tokyo. Some are conveyor-belt sushi chains like Ganso and Genki who offer really good sushi from 108 yen—perfect for the chance to try a uniquely “Japanese” meal without breaking the bank. For the standing-sushi experience head to Sushi Katsura by Tsukiji and enjoy the freshest of fish with sets starting at ¥950.
Afternoon activity: Traditional tea ceremony
Nothing says Japan like matcha (green tea) and wagashi (Japanese sweets), the key elements of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. A delicate art of preparation, contemplation and presentation, it is a relaxing and intricate ceremony with separate schools and plenty to learn. You can either book a place to experience a full ceremony, or if your budget won’t stretch that far, you can enjoy the matcha and seasonal sweets at one the of the beautiful tea houses in Tokyo. We suggest paring it with one of the beautiful parks such as Shinjuku Gyoen which has two tea houses to choose from, or (Hamarikyu) which is one of the most famous in the capital. Take a look at this list to pick the right tea-house for you!
Dinner: Monja in Tsukishima
Monja is the slightly unattractive Kanto-cousin of Osaka’s much-loved okonomiyaki. Despite being some of the less famous dishes of Japan, both options are simple, delicious and customize-able, making them firm favorites with locals.
Tsukishima Monja Street has over 80 restaurants dedicated to the grilled delights of Japan, and is a great way to get a hands-on experience of what’s been nicknamed “Japan’s pizza”. Yaki means grilled, and thus you will find a grill plate in the center of your table, ready for you to cook (or be cooked for, depending on your delay and helpless vibes) your dinner. You can pick any fillings, and they will be delivered to you in a bowl (slightly too small for anyone but the most skilled of mixers) ready to be made fresh. Read our guide on what to order and how to cook it!
Evening options: Early night or onsen?
If you’re planning on hitting the tuna auction tomorrow morning you may want an early night to soften the blow of the very early morning. You can stay at a business hotel, manga cafe or capsule hotel near the fish market and get couple of hours kip(per) before you get up for either the tuna auction or just the market!
Or, if you’ve no interest in the market and wanted to try an onsen (especially for couples) head 20 minutes over to Oedo Onsen Mongatari for a relaxing soak with mixed outdoor footbaths! You could even hang out here, nap on the tatami and catch a taxi to the market feeling squeaky clean!
Tsukiji | Soba | Sake Brewery Tour | Ramen Street / Themed Cafe | Shibuya Crossing | Izakaya
Morning: Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
Probably the most famous food-related spot in Tokyo. The controversy surrounding the long-awaited and even longer-delayed move of the market is finally coming to an end, but you still have time to see the biggest fish market in the world. Whether you head in early for the tuna auction or a little less early for the sales area and outer market, you’ll get a slice of the bustling world that is Tsukiji. Our article (linked above) explains what to expect, and where to try some of the freshest fish in the world here too. The trick to getting into the inner market is to say you’re buying, and make sure you wear proper shoes, fish blood washing through your flip-flops is not a good look.
If you finish very early at the market and are keen to try Michelin-star ramen, head over to Tsuta in Sugamo and grab a ticket for later. Tickets become available from 7am on weekdays and 6:30am on weekends, so be there early!
Lunch: Sample some soba at Kyourakutei
The delightfully low-key Kyourakutei is a simple soba restaurant on the Bib Gourmand list from the Michelin guide (not quite a star, but recognized for very high quality at affordable prices).
Their tempura and curry soba is truly delicious, and especially warming in winter. Along a quiet backstreet in Kagurazaka (Iidabashi Station), there is often a queue but if you arrive a little early it doesn’t take long. We have a full foodie review on it here to convince you! Iidabashi Station is less than 15 minutes away from Tsukiji with one change and if you have more time to explore you can visit Akihabara along the way, which is ten minutes from both! Note: the restaurant previously held one Michelin star but is currently Bib Gourmand.
Afternoon activity: Sake tasting tour
Sake, aka nihonshu, is one of the must-tries in Japan, with a myriad of styles and flavors to experiment with. If you want to go further than just trying it at a bar though, why not learn about the fascinating process with a brewery tour and tasting? The Ishikawa Brewery in Fussa has been brewing Tama-Jiman Sake for over 120 years and the 18th-generation owner still lives on site. There are numerous Meiji and Edo-era buildings recognized as tangible cultural properties, and even a beer cauldron that was protected from war damage as it was neglected and buried for many years. They also brew beer here and offer tours of all facilities 3 times a day, for free but with prior reservation required. There is even a tasting, so you can see what the process yields for yourself.
Dinner: Themed Cafes or Ramen Alley
Take your pick from the slightly crazier side of Tokyo’s food scene or enjoy some top-class bowl(s) or Ramen down in Tokyo Station!
Nothing says Tokyo more than rainbow spaghetti slurped in a jellyfish bar as a procession of hallucinatory models dance on a spinning, demonic Pikachu-laden sweets-go-round—or so the saying goes. Ok, so there’s no saying, but it’s pretty insane. And if you’re looking for a slice of Tokyo’s very own brand of crazy, themed cafes are a great place to get it, with the Kawaii Monster Cafe offering a double serving. If you want crazy, but not that crazy, why not try an underworld-themed restaurant, or a cuter option like the myriad of Alice in Wonderland-themed eateries? There are a million options, so while it make not meet the dizzying heights of culinary perfection, it’s a foodie experience you won’t get anywhere else in the world.
Tokyo Ramen Street
In the maze that is Tokyo Station, you will find (eventually) a street filled with some of the best ramen joints in all of Japan, each carefully selected and invited to open a store in the prestigious lane. From modern vegan options at Soranoiro Nippon to beef tongue at Kizo, with some delicious tonkotsu from Oreshiki Jun in between, the only regrets are that you might not be able to try them all. For a full guide on the different shops and how to find them, read this!
Evening sights: The bright lights of Shibuya Crossing and izakaya fun
After you’ve filled up on dinner, why not head to Shibuya to see the bright lights and busy crossing that make it so famous. One of the best sights in Tokyo, the Shibuya Crossing is pretty impressive, with plenty of shops and bars around it to keep you busy. Make sure to visit the Tokyu Food Show in the basement of Tokyo Station for all things foodies, from sake to fresh fish and beautiful desserts! It’s also a great chance to grab cheapo bento for an evening snack or tomorrow’s breakfast! Have a wander around Shibuya 109 for fashion, or head to some of the cheap standing bars like Tasu Ichi.
If you find you’re a little peckish or in need of a sit-down, head to one of the many izakaya that line the streets: the home of all-you-can-drink, snack plates and a raucous atmosphere, izakaya are part bar/part pub part restaurant and are an un-missable Japanese experience.
Harajuku and Meiji Jingu | Tempura | Cooking Class | Shabu Shabu | Golden Gai | Yakitori
Morning: Breakfast before exploring Harajuku and Meiji Jingu
Harajuku and Meiji Jingu are worlds apart: one a bustling, kitten-T-shirt-filled street of sugar, and one a peaceful escape with forests and space to breathe. This morning, you can enjoy both—with the contrast working to bring out the best of them. Before you dive in though, enjoy a simple and traditional breakfast at Yoshinoya, a cheapo-friendly chain that serves up filling meals from 5am. With spots all over Tokyo including Harajuku—you can try the breakfast tradition of salmon, grilled beef, rice and soup. It may take a bit of getting used to so early in the morning, but you’ll be set up for the day, no doubt.
Takeshita Street is 400m of unadulterated fashion, fun and food—each of which are constantly changing to stay on trend. Here you can try the famous crepes filled with everything from strawberries to slices of cheesecake, the rainbow mountains of cotton candy and chou cream sticks filled with Hokkaido’s very best. Read up on all the treats here, and try not to make too many crazy purchases on a sugar high.
Meiji Jingu is one of the most visited spots in Tokyo, but still manages to feel like a peaceful escape (especially after fighting your way through Takeshita Street). Built for Emperor Meiji, you’ll see plenty of hints of his love for all things Western, including wine. Beside the traditional sake casks donated to the shrine, you’ll see barrels of wine donated from France after his death, as he was known to love wine and drink it with dinner.
Lunch: Tsunahachi Rin for tempura
For lunch, hop back on the JR line to Shinjuku and head to local favorite Tsunahachi Rin for some freshly made and delicious tempura. The restaurant once served the sumo players and entertainment elite of Tokyo in the glamorous 20s, and serves incredibly high-quality tempura with amazing attention to detail. Lunch sets start from ¥1,500.
Afternoon activity: Cooking classes
What better way to immerse yourself in Japanese food culture than learning to make it yourself! There’s a huge variety of cooking classes in the city, and a decent amount of options offered in English too. From sushi to bento classes, to wagashi and full meals—you can learn how to craft and create your favorite dishes so that you can continue your love of Japanese food at home. Check our list here for some of the options!
If you have a chance between classes and dinner, head to the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Observation Buildings for one of the best views of Japan, minus the sky-high prices of Skytree. Open until 10pm, the buildings have a great view of the sunset across the Tokyo Skyline as well as a chance to see Fuji (on a clear day).
Dinner: Sizzling shabu-shabu
If you would like try the wonderfully onomatopoeic shabu-shabu, then head over to Momo’s Paradise, only a few minutes walk from Godzilla himsef in the busy area of Kabukicho. Here you can try and all-you-can-eat dinner for beef which you cook yourself in the hot pot at your table.
The name comes from the sound of the meat as you swish it back and forth through the hot broth to cook it. Boxes of meat and a tray of vegetables, glass noodles and tofu will be brought to your table whenever you look like you might be running low—and you can try the sesame and ponzu dipping sauces too! Read more on the different types of nabe (hot pot dishes) here if it sounds like your kind of thing!
Alternatively, about 10 minutes away is Mentsudan Tokyo—an udon shop with bowls of delicious, handmade udon noodles with fresh tempura, all with change from 1,000-yen note!
Evening: Kabukicho and Golden Gai
Keeping things small, have a wander through Kabukicho, Tokyo’s biggest red-light district to see the bright and bizarre sights of the city—from robot displays to Godzilla, there’s plenty to see. Once you’re semi-blinded by the neon, head to Golden Gai, a ramshackle collection of over 200 bars crammed into 6 tiny alleys—all with their own unique twist. From Halloween to rock music to plush velvet with chandeliers and stag heads, there’s something for everyone here with themes being the name of the game. There are plenty of bars to choose from, although not all accept foreigners, preferring to keep space for regulars since most bars only have about 5 or 6 seats. There are cover charges in most bars, so keep an eye out for signs and find one you like—exploration is key.
If you’re still hungry and want to eat with the locals there’s no better place than the delightfully named Piss Alley (Omoide Yokocho) in Shinjuku. A very narrow street with countless yakitori shops, you can pick one you like the look of, take a seat and order as best you can. With every part of any animal on offer, you may not know what you’re eating, but at least the vegetables are pretty self-explanatory. You can drink beer, rub elbows with the salarymen and find a new love for grilled bone marrow—all while enjoying the fact that alternatively named “Memory Lane” now has actual toilets, and thus less of a piss aroma.
Bonus day trips: From wasabi to wine
If you have a little longer in the Kanto region, then you may want to take a trip out of Tokyo to enjoy some of the delights the countryside can offer.
The vineyards of Katsunuma, Yamanashi
A mere train ride away lies one of Japan’s best kept secrets: the wine producing heart of Japan, nestled in nearby Yamanashi Prefecture. With wine being produced in Japan since the Meiji period, albeit with a slightly different procedure due to the unusual humid conditions, there are plenty of delicious brands to try! There are numerous wineries and vineyards to visit, with some offering tastings and tours. For example there’s a 1,100-yen option at Budo no Oka where you can try as much as you like! The wine scene may not be very well known, but it’s worth checking out for sure!
The Wasabi farms of Nagano
Established in 1915, the Daio Wasabi Farm is a stunning day out with a foodie bonus: the chance to learn all about the unusual flavor of wasabi. Usually equated to a Japanese horseradish, wasabi is a polarizing flavor no doubt seen on your sushi platters and either scooped up with glee or eyed with horror. In foreign restaurants, what’s served up as ‘wasabi’ is often a mix of horseradish, mustard and food coloring, so while you’re here, you may want to give it a second chance. Since real wasabi loses its flavor after 15 minutes or so, here you can be sure you’re getting the real deal. At Daio, you can tour the fields of wasabi plants, see the waterwheels and enjoy wasabi ice cream, soba, crackers, beer, juice, curry, sausages and more. You can even take fresh wasabi home! Read more from Japan Cheapo on the farm here!
Final 5 foodie tips:
- Break the fast with bargain morning meals: Toast, egg and coffee for under ¥500 yen? Here’s more about these winning morning sets.
- Lunch sets all the way: Remember, in Tokyo, lunch sets are the best way to experience pricier places for cheap—so plan ahead and look up the different options for those restaurants you are desperate to visit, but would usually be out of your price range.
- If in doubt, head to the station: The best food can be found near train stations—unlike the Burger King domination of other nation’s transport hubs, here you can eat like a king without walking far.
- Take a risk: If you don’t know what to order and like a risk, ask for the chef’s recommendation: Osusume wa? is an easy way to get the best dish on the menu—and hopefully you’ll like it.
- Queues are normal: Expect to queue here, especially for popular places. Be it a genuine queue or a slow intake to create the illusion of exclusivity, this is part of Japan’s way.
- Depachika = heaven: In most large department stores, the basement floor is the food market floor. Head there and be in the midst of a food frenzy where you can wander and sample to your heart’s content. These floors, called depachika, are home to the hyper-expensive fruits of legends, beautiful gifts-wrapped sake, fresh fish, incredible salads, bentos-galore and basically anything you could ever want food-wise.
Pro tip: If you’re too full to walk or just need to sit for a bit, combine your postprandial rest with some sightseeing. A 24-hour ticket for the Hop on, Hop Off Tokyo Sky Bus serving some of the city’s main tourist areas is a great way to get off your feet without losing out on a second of Tokyo magic.