Tokyo: Shibuya, Daikanyama, Ebisu
Thriving nightlife, flashing neon, and trendy boutiques draw teens to Shibuya; Daikanyama has a quiet but hip vibe; Ebisu is known for museums and the Yebisu Garden Place entertainment complex.
SEE Meguro River
Shops line this shady stream running through the heart of Tokyo's hippest neighborhood. Competition is tough, and impossibly cool boutiques and cafés come and go in the blink of an eye. See it before the next high-rise giant goes up in their place. From the Naka-Meguro Station on the Hibiya or Tokyu lines, exit the station and walk straight ahead.
SEE Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Mita 1-13-3, 011-81-3/3280-0099, syabi.com
Rotating exhibits by influential photographers. There's always something worth seeing. Recent shows have included Mario Testino, Brassaï, and an exhibit on "How Photography Changed People's Viewpoint." Closed Mon. From $4, depending on the exhibit.
Shibuya 1-24-12 11F, 011-81-3/5468-6196, izakaya-en.com
Tatami mats complement the excellent modern Japanese flavors and decor at this popular casual izakaya (a Japanese pub with lots of beer and tasty eats). Try the succulent grilled tuna cheek with garlic.
EAT Luxis Aqua Restaurant and Bar
Ebisu Nishi 1-7-3 BF1, 011-81-3/5428-2288, luxis.co.jp
It's easy to let yourself be mesmerized by the two-story floor-to-ceiling aquarium and the fishy inhabitants who swim in blissful ignorance of what's consumed outside the tank. The Chardonnay-steamed mussels and the tuna and avocado tartare are both superb.
SPLURGE Maimon Oyster Bar and Charcoal Grill
Ebisu Minami 1-1-10, 011-81-3/3715-0303, maimon.jp
Handsome dark woods, modern blue spot lighting, and an impressive counter completely covered with ice combine to make an ideal setting for slurping oysters. A popular "shooters" order is three fresh oysters in individual shot glasses topped with Japanese seasonings, such as vinegary ponzu, raw sea urchin, or yama-imo (yam). Cold dry tenyuri sake goes nicely with the briny shellfish. The waitstaff know their stuff and are happy to make recommendations.
DRINK Starbucks Coffee
Opposite the Hachiko exit of JR Shibuya Station, 011-81-3/3770-2301
Not the most inspired venue for coffee in Tokyo, but the window seats have the best views of the famously chaotic Hachiko intersection. Sip a green tea Frappuccino, snap a few photos, and gaze at the throngs elbowing across.
Sarugaku-cho 24-1, 011-81-3/5784-5627, hanjiro.co.jp
The funkiest secondhand shop in town, and not just for its reasonably priced reworked vintage items. Decorative accents include religious icons, live parrots, and bathtubs filled with goldfish.
Sarugaku-cho 23-1, 011-81-3/3780-0182, kamawanu.com
A popular little store selling one of Tokyo's beloved collector's items--exquisitely hand-dyed tenugui (cotton handkerchiefs). The beautiful designs change by season--falling cherry blossoms in spring and vivid leaf patterns in fall. From $8.
Sarugaku-cho 20-11, 011-81-3/3461-8511, hrm.co.jp
Cooler-than-cool men and women buy indigo-dyed shirts with distinctive kimono-inspired designs from this unusual boutique, whose owners keep a pet chicken on the second-floor balcony of the old stone house.
Sarugakucho 2-11, 011-81-3/5784-3386, air-tokyo.com
Spare but trendy basement club hosting big name DJs from around the world. The laid-back Frames café upstairs serves lattes and cheesecake until dawn. Cover from $10, depending on DJ.
The yakuza are notorious Japanese gangsters whose history dates back to the Edo period (1603--1837). Proof of an individual's strength, elaborate tattoos are the nearly exclusive hallmark of members of this Japanese Mafia. Most swimming pools and onsens in Japan ban tattoos to keep out the yakuza and avoid trouble.
ESCAPE Shonan Beaches
The gray volcanic sand beaches of Shonan, to the southwest of Tokyo, turn into resorts in summer, with countless bars and cafés that cater to the thousands of vacationers. The swimming isn't so great, but the party atmosphere is fun. Check out the Little Thailand area of Thai-run food stalls and massage shacks on Yuigahama Beach. Not quite Southeast Asia, but not a bad antidote to the unbearable humidity of the Japanese summer. From Kamakura, hop the Enoden electric railway line. $1.50 each way from Kamakura. (See box on p. 1.)
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