Here are some of my favorite memories from my trip to Japan in February 2018. I stayed for 10 nights: 5 in Tokyo, 3 in Kyoto, and 2 more back in Tokyo. Many of these places were recommended to me by my friend Laura and/or the Monocle Travel Guide to Tokyo.
Yanaka, Tokyo / I really loved staying in Yanaka and walking around all the little streets and seeing the interesting houses and gardens all pushed up against one another. I had first read about Yanaka in this article from Kinfolk. I stayed at Ryokan Sawanoya which was very simple and welcoming. The neighborhood has a 100 year old Himalayan cedar tree that you will come across as you walk around. For eating in the neighborhood I liked Tayori, Kayaba coffee, and Hagiso cafe. Isetatsu is a great little paper store. I also really enjoyed the Asakura Museum of Sculpture which is in a really cool Japanese house where the artist used to live.
Stationery and art stores / Itoya stationery store is actually two stores across the street from one another in Ginza. They have some really nice decorative papers. Gekkoso (also in Ginza) is a little art store that has its own paints and notebooks and unique hand-printed postcards. They have two stores one on top of the other. Another good place for stationery stuff is Tokyu Hands, and they have lots of locations throughout Japan.
Mingeikan Japan Folk Crafts Museum / The Japan Folk Crafts Museum was one of my favorite afternoons. It is small and digestible and has a nice assortment of textiles, pottery, paintings, and folding screens.
Ishikawa Coffee / If you go see Meigetsu-in temple in Kamakura (the temple with the circle window), walk up the hill to this coffee place. I had a coffee float — iced coffee with a scoop of ice cream!
Hotel Claska / The last two days of my trip I stayed at Hotel Claska in Meguro, Tokyo and it had a fun retro vibe [2022 update: Hotel Claska has unfortunately closed!]. I was in room 506 which has a great view of the city. The breakfasts were also really nice (one morning I had the Japanese breakfast which included fish, miso soup, pickled plum, and fermented beans). On the second floor they have a neat home goods and design shop. The neighborhood is also really nice to walk around. I would recommend Bigiya ramen and Switch Coffee.
Kahitsukan / Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art. The director writes, “I only hope that somehow it will make an original contribution to beauty.” It is a small museum and inside you have to take a little elevator between the exhibits.
Kitone / For lovely pottery… It is a little hidden on a small street.
D&Department Kyoto / A cool design shop and cafe in a temple. Everything in the shop is made in Japan. At the cafe I had a roasted green tea latte.
Ace Hotel Kyoto / Ace Hotel just announced a Kyoto location opening in 2019! If I go back to Kyoto I will check it out. On this trip I stayed at Hotel Ethnography which was very nice and had really good miso soup for breakfast.