A Design Lover's Guide to Tokyo

Apartment Therapy's Design Destination Guide

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If you love design, you will love Tokyo. Cutting edge architecture, outlandish fashion and futuristic technology mix easily with ancient temples, peaceful parks and elegant women wearing traditional kimono. Tokyo is the most populous city in the world. It’s fast-paced, neon-lit and crazy but also impossibly clean and well ordered. You will find it jam packed with museums, galleries, breath-taking architecture, chichi department stores, quirky vintage shops and of course incredible food. And the design whether it is old or new is impeccable. Read on for a few choice highlights of this amazing city…

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See:
  • Tsukiji fish market: A Blade Runner-eque experience. Dodge the tiny electric forklifts carrying great hulks of tuna as they zip around the neon-lit, water-soaked interior. Get there by 4am to catch the tuna auction. Then wander round the fish stalls before heading outside for a sushi breakfast.
  • Yoyogi park: A tranquil park where you can see Tokyo life in all its guises. Aging Rockabillies practice their dance moves, teenage girls walk miniature costumed-dogs, punk rock bands rehearse and kendoka wield their bamboo swords under the trees.
  • Meiji Shrine: This imposing and atmospheric Shinto shrine is set in 200 acres of woodland right in the heart of the city.
  • Street style: Cosplay, gothic Lolitas, Mori Kei, Kawaii. Young Tokyoites take their street style very seriously. Some of the most outlandish gather at Takeshita-dori, a pedestrianized street in Harajuku.

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Tour:

  • Okamoto Taro Memorial Museum: Visit the colourful house/ studio of the famous Japanese avant-guarde painter and sculptor. You can see his gigantic and disturbing masterpiece Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya station.
  • Mori Art Museum: This world-class gallery (top) is located at the top of a skyscraper in Roppongi. Once you’ve had your fix of contemporary art and culture, head out to the observation deck for magnificent views of the city.
  • 21­­_21 Design Sight: The low-rise concrete and glass structure of Tokyo’s first design museum is the work of celebrated Japanese architect Tadao Ando. (below)
  • Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum: A fascinating glimpse into the domestic life of Tokyo’s inhabitants over the centuries. Over 30 houses and shops including a former-prime minister’s residence, a noble lady’s mausoleum and a farmhouse have been meticulously rebuilt and refurnished in parkland west of the city.

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Eat and Drink:

  • Sushi Mizutani: Michelin starred sushi restaurant in the elegant Ginza district. So popular you need to book months in advance. The 10 seats are set around a counter so diners can watch the master chef at work.
  • Tofuya-Ukai: Exquisitely prepared tofu dishes in a converted sake factory at the foot of Tokyo Tower. The restaurant is set around an beautiful courtyard garden.
  • Sushi Dai: This outrageously popular sushi joint is slap bang next to the fish market. The queues start before 5am. If you can’t hack two-hour wait, go next door to Daiwazushi for equally fresh fish.
  • New York Bar in the Park Hyatt: Have a Lost in Translation moment at this stylish cocktail bar. There is live music every night and the view is spectacular.

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Shop:

Winged Wheel: Pick up beautifully designed stationary printed on handmade cotton paper.

J'Antiques: A quirky vintage store (below) in the Meguro district with a focus on American design stocking antique and mid-century furniture, menswear and womenswear. 

Prada: Why head to an Italian fashion house when you could go to Issey Miyake, Comme Des Garcons or Yohji Yamamoto? For the incredible architecture of course. The jewel-like Prada building designed by Herzog and DeMeuron is a six-story honeycomb of rippling glass and steel.

Flea markets: Tokyo’s flea markets are the perfect hunting ground if you want to pick up a vintage kimono, traditional woodblock print or Japanese pottery.

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Stay:

Claska: A boutique hotel in Meguro, a lively residential district away from the neon lights of the centre. It is perfectly placed for checking out the city’s best vintage furniture stores. Room 702 (below) has a bed made from stuffed toys and hand painted wallpaper.

Granbell Hotel Shibuya: A small comfortable design hotel in the bustling Shibuya district. Ask for an ‘artistic’ room where the style is minimalist contemporary Japanese meets neon-hued Lichtenstein-inspired pop art.

Andon Ryokan: A stylish budget choice. The glass and steel structure is an updated take on the traditional Japanese inn.

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(Images from top to bottom used with generous permission from: Mori Art Museum, Mark Bond, Rebecca Bond, Masaya Yoshimura, Mark Bond, Michael Williams, Claska)

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Rebecca Bond is a House Tour contributor at Apartment Therapy. She is an interiors-addicted, design-obsessed, Italian-speaking former TV producer director and mother of two gorgeous kids.