See how locals in Tokyo took people from around the world on virtual tours of their favorite spots in the city, all through Microsoft Teams.
Ticket to Tokyo
The world may not be able to come to Tokyo this year, thanks to travel bans and Covid restrictions. But we helped five local hosts bring Tokyo to the world with Microsoft Teams, offering a virtual ticket to see the city up close and personal.
These off-the-beaten-path tours dove into the fabric and rhythm of the city, giving would-be visitors a chance to see what it’s like to dine at an underground izakaya, get an ikebana lesson, visit a cat café, and experience the deep-rooted culture of hospitality known as omotenashi.
See snapshots of the tours below, where the hosts shared what makes Tokyo unlike any other city in the world.
Where Tokyo trends are born
Our first host was Rikarin, born and raised in Tokyo. She works in fashion and does more than just dress the part—she lives it. Rikarin believes that style and color can bring happiness to the world.
Hypnotique is a vintage store in the Shibuya district of Tokyo that sells unique items from all over the world. The store has been compared to a treasure chest, full of rare and playful clothing and accessories. It’s the perfect place to find something “kawaii,” which means “cute” in Japanese.
COFFEE AND CATS @MOCHA
Cat Cafés have become popular in Tokyo since a lot of apartments don’t allow cats. Every cat café is unique and Mocha, the café we visited, had drinks, massage chairs, and lots of manga to thumb through while petting cats. You can even get cat ice cream to give your new furry friends a special treat.
Where every bite delights
Next up was Amy, a mother of three who was raised in the United States but moved back to Japan, where she works in the fashion industry across a variety of labels. She has a deep love of art, music, and culture in Tokyo.
Kon is a quaint kakigori shop in a revamped traditional Japanese house. Kakigori translates to “shaved ice” and is a popular summertime treat. Kon serves up seasonal flavors using fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices—flavors like corn, roasted almond and caramel, and tea were all on the menu when we visited.
Tatemichiya is a hidden punk-rock izakaya in the upscale area of Daikanyama. Popular with Tokyoites and visiting rock stars, this izakaya spot serves up some of the best yakitori skewers.
The space is decorated with band posters and even some graffiti scribbled on the wall by the famous artist Yoshitomo Nara.
Where art comes to life
Guiding us through the artistic side of Tokyo was Haruka, a lover of art and architecture who believes the first step to global peace is sharing culture beyond borders. She finds that the most interesting parts of Tokyo are tucked away in the places that people often ignore.
DIGITAL ART @TEAMLAB BORDERLESS
TeamLab Borderless is an interactive digital art museum located in Palette Town created by an art collective. Visitors can immerse themselves into a three-dimensional world where the artworks react with one another and the people viewing them.
CANDY ART @AMESHIN
Ameshin is a candy art studio in the Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi. Here you can watch artisans use tweezers, scissors, and even their hands to craft and mold tiny lifelike candy sculptures. Candy art, or amezaiku in Japanese, has been around since the Heian period when the sculptures were used as offerings at temples in Kyoto.
Where tradition meets today
We also got to see Tokyo through the eyes of Hiromi, an ikebana artist who’s been practicing and teaching the art of traditional Japanese flower arranging for over 17 years. She gets inspiration by visiting hidden green spaces within Tokyo.
Ikebana is the art of flower arranging and has been around since the Heian period, when monks created the arrangements as offerings at altars. The tradition has grown and evolved over time and is now a popular pastime throughout Tokyo.
Kimonos, known for their intricate embroidery, have been part of Japanese culture for centuries. Our host invited us into her studio, where she tried on a winter kimono with the help of a friend—putting it on isn’t a one person job. Nowadays, Kimonos aren’t worn very often, but they’re still used for special occasions.
Where hidden gems are found
Finally, our tour ended with Ko—a native of Japan who went to high school and college in the United States. A prominent casting director, he’s working to ensure greater Asian representation in film across the globe.
Shimayama Commerce is located in the district of Akihabara, which is full of shops selling electronics. The place we visited sold everything from cables and chargers to gadgets from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
There’s also a huge selection of anime, manga, and figurines—and you can even try out some of Tokyo’s famous quirky vending machines.
SANKAKU CHITAI @SANGENJAYA
Sankaku Chitai is a collection of hidden alleyways in Sangenjaya, a neighborhood just west of Shibuya. These alleys are filled with small restaurants where you can find some of the best traditional Japanese food around. As our host suggested, never ask for an English menu. Just say “omakase,” which means “surprise me.”
Beyond the places that define Tokyo, the hope is that these tours also helped to showcase the best of the human spirit: People celebrating other countries and cultures, stepping outside of their comfort zones, and showing that despite obstacles, we still have the power to truly connect.