It’s hard for Stephanie Chai to power down. Even when on work trips in Tokyo, the lady boss of luxury travel portal The Luxe Nomad sneaks in pockets of time to shop, sightsee and suss out amazing eats.
“I usually go to Tokyo once or twice a year. Sadly, it has always been for work,” says the half Italian, half Malaysian-Chinese, “It is an amazing city with various pockets to discover – the old and the new, the traditional and the slightly out of whack.”
Calling Tokyo “the Paris of the East”, she adds: “I love how much thought the Japanese put into anything they’re doing. Food is always tasty, presented perfectly, and a work of art on its own. Buying something from a store? Even if it is something small, they will take the time to wrap it in such a way you would think it was an art form.”
Stephanie joins our growing list of Keyyes Insiders like Satinder Garcha and Tetsuya Wakuda as she shares her favourite corners in Tokyo, what touristy spots are worth the hype, and where to find a good tipple after a hard day’s work.
Where’s your go-to in Tokyo?
I have to say, in my free time, I headed to Omotesando quite a bit. Omotesando is one of the shopping streets in Tokyo, akin to Fifth Avenue in New York if you will. It is lined with lush green trees with all the big luxury brand names and their uniquely designed stores framing the street. I find that the type of clothing in the Tokyo stores offer items that are always a little different from what you’ll find elsewhere.
Whether it’s an amazing pair of boots or a leather bag, I have found that they will have it in Tokyo but not in Hong Kong or Singapore. The neighbourhood has a cool vibe to it and the modern architecture is also a visual treat.
What’s your favourite place to stay in Tokyo?
I’ve stayed at some of the luxury hotels like the Ritz Carlton. But I’m particularly fond of the Ascott Marunouchi which only opened last year. It is right next to the famous Palace Hotel and situated in front of the Imperial Palace.
To me, the furnishings and interiors of the rooms and apartments are on par or even better than five-star hotels. It’s lovely to wake up and look at the Imperial Palace. Note that you can go for a walk in the palace, but you can’t jog!
Where are your favourite hangouts to go for a tipple in Tokyo?
Two Rooms Grill in Ometosando. It’s located on the fifth floor and with a bit of a view, it has a fun mixed crowd of expats and trendy Japanese. I once saw Japanese fashion model Jessica Michibata there.
For a signature cocktail, I still like going to the New York Grill Bar at the Park Hyatt, where they filmed the movie Lost in Translation. Whilst it might be a bit cheesy and a touristy thing to do, it does have a fantastic view and moody lighting that makes for great ambience. I usually order a Gin and Tonic.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Tokyo?
My favourite beef barbecue by far is Yakiniku Ushigoro in Roppongi. This outlet is the best but if it is full, head down to the Ginza outlet. You must try the oxtail soup, the salad, the beef udon. Their special beef just melts in your mouth. Every time I go to Tokyo, I head here!
Yakiniku Ushigoro serves up Wagyu A5, top grade beef from Japan’s domestic black cattle. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Chai
What’s your favourite shopping destination in Tokyo?
Ginza 6 is my favourite shopping centre. It’s possibly the most beautiful mall I’ve ever been to – it’s a mall that doesn’t feel like a mall. When it first opened, they had a collaboration with famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the interiors of the mall were adorned with her iconic bubble designs. The floor with restaurants is great, too – do stop by for high tea if you can!
Massive mall Ginza 6 exhibits artworks on rotation. On display now is French artist Daniel Buren art installation features1,500 of his trademark red and blue striped flags. Photo courtesy of Ginza 6
Where’s the one place to go to understand the locals?
Harajuku is particularly interesting. It’s a little more eclectic and gives one a deeper understanding of the youth culture. Japanese streetwear aficionados often find themselves here — it’s the type of style that is recognised in pop culture and adapted by international fashion brands. You will also find all things “kawaii” (cute) and vintage shops selling one-of-a-kind pieces.
Which tourist spots are worth the hype?
Go sightseeing. Take a trip to see the Tokyo Tower — it stands taller than the Eiffel Tower, which inspired its creation. Besides being a favourite among tourists for the stunning views, it’s also a communication antenna used for television broadcasting. It’s also worth visiting the Zozoji Temple and Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Garden while you’re at it as they are nearby. I still love going to these tourist spots!
What’s a memorable memory you made in Tokyo?
I was walking down Omotesando and came across a man with a pram and eight Persian cats inside! He was just sitting there chilling on a bench whilst everyone walked by and fawned over his cats. Tokyo, always a little quirky and different from the norm!