Where to go in Tokyo
Our exclusive insider’s guide to the best of Tokyo’s bars and restaurants.
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Given the sheer size of extended Tokyo, with a population of almost 36m, the city has plenty to offer to hungry and thirsty visitors. After all, one of its prides is the highest number of Michelin-rated restaurants in the world. To begin with, a visitor needs to know that Tokyo has many centres. Therefore, the definitive start of this guide has to be from Otemachi – the financial district.
The larger Otemachi area is where the Japanese megabanks reside. Most major securities houses, Japanese and foreign, several policy-based banks and trading houses are all located here. Nearly a quarter of Japan’s GDP is generated here, although the business buildings hide a great variety of places in their basement floors.
Drunk bears: Rumour has it that the bar’s clientele is rotated on daily basis between the European and the Japanese house located in the same building, so as to avoid clashes of interest, arguments or flying beer glasses. But with foreign banks in retreat IFR has had difficulty in ascertaining whether this routine is still followed.
Grand Central: If you want to avoid Nomura bankers, do not go to this place. However, the beer and its many varieties are worth a visit. It is located on the rear of the ground floor of the Nomura stronghold.
This area is inside the financial circle, which was once also within the Edo castle’s outer moat. This area is colloquially referred to as Mitsubishi Village; a subtle hint as to who owns the land and glittering high-rise buildings. While the nearby establishments offer plenty of alternatives, the two stand-outs where you can easily come across financial and legal practitioners are in the Marunouchi and Shin Marunouchi Buildings.
Stand T: T for Tokyo, is on the corner of the first floor of Shin Maru facing the renovated facade of the Tokyo station. Do not be fooled by the wooden furniture, reminiscent of a sauna. The customers here are all suit-clad spotlessly dressed professionals. There are least two more similarly themed bars – Stand G(inza) and Stand S(hibuya).
Salt: This Australian restaurant at the Shin-Maru building has spacious table areas so that bankers and lawyers can rest assured their conversations will not be overheard by rivals.
So Tired: We would like to advise bankers to be cautious of their beaten down colleagues, swamped from hard underwriting deals, when they approach the somewhat hidden terrace of this restaurant serving mainly Chinese cuisine.
PCM: This used to be the epitome of capital markets, until a sister bar distorted the naming. Origination bankers were all over the venue as the joke in town was “You either work at DCM, ECM or PCM.” But with the change of times the venue now attracts a crowd of traders as well as accountants.
Struggling with a destination to match the glitzy Marunouchi, a slight detour back towards Otemachi comes to mind, in the interests of safe-haven appeal, passing by quasi-sovereign agencies. Jimbocho, named after a real Samurai and not an epoch-making bond, might be worth a quick stop as the most liquid secondary market for books in Tokyo. The U-turn is well worth it, if only for the sake of a stroll through the Imperial Garden.
There are key financial institutions near the remarkable Japan Bridge (or Nihonbashi), with the unremarkable highway passing over it. Everything started from here, including the ancient Tokaido route, the central bank and the Mitsukoshi high-class department store. On the location of the former gold mint stands the Bank of Japan’s neo-baroque building in an odd contrast with surrounding modern buildings. The towering Mandarin Oriental behind is a popular venue with issuers on the road. Another building that has a historical value is Nomura Securities’ headquarters, referred to as the “military ship”. There are plenty of small brokerages clustered between the BoJ and the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and despite their weather-worn buildings crying for a renovation, they often feature as Uridashi selling agents.
Get off here for the Kanda/Hongokucho bars and izakayas – Japanese pubs – if you are looking to overhear something about BoJ’s policy, this is the area to intercept the central bank officials out for a drink.
XEX Nihonbashi: Somewhat of an exception to the more traditional surroundings, this is a glitzy bar/club frequented by a wide variety of market players.
The “other” side of the Tokyo Station features more reasonably priced venues. The Irish pub Celts is popular with locals as well as foreigners from the nearby securities houses.
If you are struggling on that govvie auction, you might be inspired by the auctions at the largest fish market in the world. A bluefin tuna this year fetched the record ¥56.49m (over US$730,000 at the current high price of the yen). Popular spot with issuers.
This is the place to do the real business in Japan outside of business hours. No words are enough to describe Ginza’s undying attachment to high-quality, Triple A rated services and attention to fine detail. You might be forgiven for thinking the asset price bubble is still inflated.
Follow the elevated railway tracks from Tokyo Station on the Marunouchi side for a curious selections of bars and restaurants under the tracks.
Andy’s: For some reasons all manner of foreigners in Tokyo like this eponymous Japanese-style bar under the tracks. The rattling from the passing trains overhead add a unique feeling. Watch your head when you go to the toilet.
Approaching the government buildings. This is where the IMF and the World Bank are located.
One of Tokyo’s main entertainment areas – offering bars, restaurants and more for those who do not mind staying past midnight. Despite only a few banks being located nearby – and personnel-cutting foreign ones – the area is popular with current and past bankers from across asset classes. Popular venues include the British pub Mermaid and the standing bar Joe’s.
PCA: Sister bar of PCM. Having opened in the dusk of the bull market days, as ECM desks largely scaled back and DCM fees being so meagre, a variety of clientele ranging from traders, brokers, sales, research, issuers, and dare we say journalists can now be spotted here.
Much has been written on and spent in Roppongi but in a nutshell this is the quintessential place where most Westerners tend to go for a drink or two. Do pay a visit, however, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which was located nearby, and the departure of many Roppongi patrons has wittled away at the customer base.
Roppongi bar street: Westerners can be forgiven for thinking they have teleported back to their own country once they step into the Roppongi bar street. Despite the financial crisis, the best information on the Street can be extracted from traders and sales. Some of the most popular places to get an off-market quote seem to be Propaganda, Geronimo, Mogambo, the sports bars Legends and Tokyo Sports Café, the good old Hobgoblin and the German pub Ex.
If you feel the other side of the street is a bit too young for you, head towards the tall building for something (a little more) mature. Enhanced by the Ritz-Carlton inside, there are several other pricey venues. Outside is the A971, which is not an odd Airbus model, although on Fridays it feels as packed as economy class and as easy to start a conversation. Do not forget to add a zero to any estimates of how much you aim to spend.
Barclays and Goldman Sachs (in alphabetical order) look over the rest of the world from this bastion of modern Japanese high-rise architecture.
Heartland bar: Based at the corner of the Hills, this bar is still known to occasionally attract certain people with a weak spot for investment bankers, some of whom may still think Lehman exists. A mini revival seems to have taken place since the summer of 2008.
Oak Door: Deeper into the ivory tower on the hill, based at the Grand Hyatt, it may not be surprising to see several masters of the universe relaxing after extensive deal making during the second week of October.
A little down the road but considered an extension of Roppongi.
Festa: A little pricey karaoke place for people below managing directors. If you are a respected MD, find a more genteel establishment.
Gonpachi: Bill Clinton, Junichiro Koizumi, The Bride (Black Mamba, aka Uma Thurman) and Gogo Yubari all met here. Probably not at the same time.
Fashionable area, though more for shopping than dining. However, there are a few swanky places for those with longer titles on their business cards. Two Rooms and Beacon are favoured by those who are still receiving bonuses.
If Morgan Stanley invites you to their Japan HQ be mindful given the distance from the rest of the street. If you are into beer or beer factory touring, then this area could be just for you. The home of premium priced Yebisu beer and the acclaimed Joel Robuchon restaurant.
A trendy district. The Ivy at Daikanyama is a new flashy restaurant popular with some brokers. Too fashionable for the IFR reporter to be able to find his way in, bar a one-off excursion.
The world’s crossroads. Yes, it is that busy and boiling crossroads you have seen on the big screen. But what you may have missed is that “no self-respecting Shibuya aficionado goes there in a suit”, said one equity fund manager.
Shibuya 109:Lately flourishing with gigantic posters of Korean girl bands. Perhaps an alternative destination to take out Korean issuers instead of the tired routine in the Akasaka Korean district.
Part of it is full of dodgy places where one can reminisce about the long-gone Japan bubble days. Stepping on the edge, a taste of a bygone era of Tokyo before the economic miracle is the Golden Gai (town/city) – a popular network of narrow alleys with artistic bars. On the brighter side of Shinjuku, are the skyscrapers where the top Japanese muni credit – Tokyo Metropolitan Government is situated.
Unless you have a thing for Japanese residential areas or Shingon Buddhist temples, there are few places to go out dining. However, Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities do have a presence.
This used to be the district to shop for electronics but as, perhaps not coincidentally, the CDS of local consumer electronics makers are soaring well into four digits it has turned into a bizarre collection of pop cultures. Now it is the home of AKB48; this is not some kind of a Soviet era weapon but a vast girl band based in the district.
This where the sumo championships take place. For microbrewery aficionados Popeye offers numerous local treats.
Ageha: A night club, built on an artificial island, of large proportions (for Japan at least) where technology meets entertainment. A few traders raised eyebrows at the mention of this club so we thought of highlighting this attraction for the more adventurous supranationals.
Once you feel it is time for touring more distinct areas of Tokyo, hit the older districts, the Japanese version of “downtown”.