Discovering Secret Bonsai Collections, Little-Known Antique Shops, and Other Tokyo Gems
Dandy Farmer is a Brooklyn-based bonsai studio run by two guys who make yearly pilgrimages to Tokyo. Their list of go-to spots in the city include a mix of small specialty shops, museums, and bonsai gardens (of course).
1-7-7 Torigoe, Taitō-ku
The impeccably curated antique studio is off-the-beaten-path and always one of our first stops. Like stumbling into a secret playhouse with old magical artifacts, the concept of Hakujitsu is all about hidden objects and people. It's a three-story shop (an old kura storehouse that previously stored dry goods) in old town Asakusa. Search every dark nook and you may be rewarded with the perfect relic; we fill our home and the Dandy Farmer shop with incredible finds from each and every visit.
2-7-4 Kichijōji Honchō, Musachino-shi; +81-422-27-7720
Shopowner Kobayashi-san is a master of curation and has edited the contents of his gallery to a level that feels almost spiritual. To hear him speak about his objects and what they mean to him might just bring you to tears. There are always several artists showing, but the work seamlessly comes together in the space. It's very easy to spend hours looking at each object and learning about its maker.
Omiya Bonsai Museum
2-24-3 Toro-cho, Kita-ku; +81-48-780-2091
A trip to Tokyo isn't complete without a visit to the bonsai museum for inspiration from perfect specimen bonsai trees. They have a stunning collection, some of which are hundreds of years old. The modern museum starts off in the interior gallery with rooms showing seasonal bonsai. It continues into the outside garden where the truly spectacular trees are shown. They are located in Omiya Village, a suburb of Tokyo known as the bonsai village, and a short distance from the heart of the city.
4-22-1 Kōenjiminami, Suginami-ku
Located in a part of Tokyo known for vintage clothing stores, the humble antique shop and bonsai studio is owned by a lovely old couple who display miniature shōhin bonsai amid old household objects. We like to stock up on unique and affordable finds like indigo fabrics — which served as mosquito nets in a former life and are now our placemats, and a cast-iron steak platter that we use as a planter dish in our shop. If you play your cards right, the owner may show you his private bonsai garden.
1-34-10 Naritahigashi, Suginami-ku; +81-3-6761-8880
Year after year we're drawn back for the traditional Japanese craft lessons and opportunity to spend time with Mr. and Mrs. Kuge, the inspiring owners. On our last visit, the Kuges taught us kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer resin and gold. They also teach raku pottery, painting, and jewelry making. Masters at hospitality, (they serve tea and homemade sweets after each lesson) we once gifted them Mast Brothers dark chocolate, which they turned into a chocolate cake to be shared with everyone the following day.
3-25-2 Uehara, Shibuya-ku; +81-3-3467-3933
A quirky gallery curated by an equally quirky gallery owner that exhibits highly-talented artists and makers from around Japan. The highlight of the gallery is not only the exhibitions of objects such as bonsai and unique pottery, but the gallery owner Yori-san, a tiny and exuberant grandmother who can probably outdrink anyone. Among the items we've found here: hand-thrown and painted porcelain planters that look like space ships, colorful ties made with recycled textiles, and carved wooden purses.
3-25-9 Uehara, Shibuya-ku; +81-3-3467-4734
Because of our busy schedule throughout the year, we only make it to Tokyo during the winter, when our bonsais are hibernating and life slows down. On these visits, our perfect cold-weather comfort food is oden, a dashi broth-based stew that contains fishcakes, vegetables, and mochi wrapped and tied in tofu pouches, among many other ingredients. Okame is an old-school establishment where you sit bar-style around the chef's kitchen while listening to oldies. It fits no more than thirty patrons comfortably, most of them regulars.
Shinjuku Gyōen National Garden
11 Naitōmachi, Shinjuku-ku; +81-3-335-0151
If you only have a short stay in the city and want to fit in a garden stroll, we highly recommend the centrally located, but easy-to-miss park. The small entry fee is worth the chance to see different garden styles and living sculptures made from manicured trees. For those visiting in the spring, keep an eye out for perfect azaleas that burst into mounds of pinks and reds and cherry blossom-viewing picnics. There are plenty of corners to enjoy a moment of reflection, but our favorite thing to do is discreetly enjoy a beer on one of the tended knolls of grass just steps away from the busy streets of Shinjuku station.