- Bills: there are a few locations - make reservations for the one in Ginza so you can go shopping after. Get the pancakes.
- Bloody Angle: look for the neon bar sign hanging from the fourth floor of what looks like an apartment building. Go to it like a moth to a flame. Except the flame is cocktails and hip hop vinyl.
- Blue Bottle Coffee Shinagawa Cafe: grab coffee at Shinagawa station before or after you hop on the subway.
- Harajuku: get cotton candy the size of your head and check out Daiso (basically a dollar store but not trash) to stock up on candy and face masks. Once you’ve passed the main street there are a lot of shops nearby.
- Kurasushi: go here right after you land because you’re a kitschy American who is easily delighted by a proper conveyor belt sushi restaurants (read: it moves so fast your scared to grab the sushi). Great value for good sushi. You can probably find better but most places need reservations and you’re jetlagged.
- Murakami @ Bar Zingaro: indulge your inner hypebeast.
- Passage Coffee: best coffee I had in Japan.
- Pivoine: clothing shop with solid linen options.
- Shibuya Crossing: go here after Bills to walk off the pancakes. Go to the Starbucks overlooking the crossing.
- Sushi Tatsunari: go here because you’ve wanted omakase in Japan since you watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi in 2011.
- Tare Katsu Shibuya: a cozy place for katsu.
- %Arabica Kyoto Higashiyama: go here every morning. Explore the surrounding area ripe with temples and tourists.
- Forever Modern Art Museum: stumble on this surprisingly insightful retrospective on Yayoi Kusama.
- Nishiki Market: walk to the fish market for snacks and souvenirs - get fresh uni!!
- Jam +Sake Bar: surprisingly no jam but surprisingly good sake.
- Ippudo Ramen: do not get the spiciest option unless you’re cool with obliterating your sense of taste and maybe crying a little. No reservation - just wait in line.
- Kishin Kitchen: truly amazing traditional Japanese breakfast. A peaceful way to start your day. Ask the staff for local recommendations in the area.
- Kinkaku-Ji: golden temple.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: walk toward the river, grab a couple of beers and take in the view. Walk along the river toward the town, there’s another %Arabica nearby if you need a pick-me-up.
- Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine: you will get lost. You will accidentally go on a hike. Go towards the end of the day so you can end your accidental hike with a view of the sunset.
- Premium Pound: you’ll need reservations but wow oh wow. It’s like Benihana but fancy. Check Kobe Beef off your food checklist.
- Wife&Husband: quaintest experience in Kyoto - a cafe that has a picnic option. You can order your coffee and snacks to go and rent stools and blankets. They’ll outfit you with a little basket of your food and direct you to a nearby river to sit near.
- Takamatsu: stay here because you didn’t plan far enough in advance to actually stay on the island of Naoshima.
- Transportation: take the ferry over from Takamatsu. Rent electric bicycles to explore most of the island and the free shuttle for the rest of the island where bikes aren’t allowed. They have spots to park your bike.
- Lee Ufan Museum: good intro museum.
- Chichu Museum: you will be in awe. The entire museum is underground and your led to each installation by the natural light strategically and geometrically seeping in.
- Benesse House Museum: get tickets online.
- JR Pass: get in advance if you plan to visit several cities to save $$$. The JR is like a futuristic Amtrak. (This is different from the subway.)
- 7-Eleven: dispel any of your preconceived notions about convenience stories. These have actual options for food.
- Pocket Wifi: rent (1-2 per persons) at the airport so you can navigate throughout the city.
- Toilets: super fancy. Some will even greet you. Some will serenade you.