Some hardcore travelers want to sit in a hole-in-the-wall fish restaurant and stumble through basic Japanese to order the most obscure dish possible. These gem experiences should be embraced, but do you really want everything while in Japan to be so intense? What if you just want a cup of coffee with a view and a place to catch your breath and charge up that phone battery?
I have to take a second to confess that I am a bit of a Starbucks junkie. I’ve been to about 50 Starbucks stores in Tokyo alone. Every time I plan a trip to any notable location, I Google all nearby stores. But hear me out, there’s a method to my madness. Starbucks has an uncanny ability to find some of the coolest places to establish its stores. For that reason, Starbucks shops are very often at the epicenter of where you want to be.
I have to take a second to confess that I am a bit of a Starbucks junkie.
For travelers in Tokyo, Starbucks is just the kind of oasis that can provide that much-needed pause during travels. It’s one of the few cafes that offer free WiFi in Japan (something rare), plus the stores usually have outlets to charge devices, English-speaking staff and most importantly … restrooms and trash cans. Tokyo is notorious for its lack of these two things.
These 5 spots are for when you’re in need of a place to relax and the list focuses most heavily on two factors: location and the view — not particularly on seating, capacity or menu.
5. Starbucks Reserve at the Marui building (2F)
This spacious-yet-cozy store is one of my favorites. It’s located right next to an exit of Shinjuku-Sanchome station and about an 8-minute walk from Shinjuku Station’s Central East exit along route 430. It’s a good distance away from the chaos of Shinjuku station while remaining close to the action.
This store offers a snapshot of 1930s Tokyo and its skyline while being contrasted by the bustling sanchome underneath.
For those who love shopping, this store’s location is ideal. The Marui Building itself has great shopping and a rooftop garden, but why limit yourself? This store is a great starting point for an afternoon of shopping, or a quick break before exploring the rest of Shinjuku. Not only does it face the historic Isetan department store, but the Louis Vuitton and Burberry shops are right across the street.
This store offers a snapshot of 1930s Tokyo and its skyline while being contrasted by the bustling sanchome underneath. It truly is a microcosm of Tokyo, a modern metropolis soaked in rich history and elegance. My personal favorite is to sit along the massive street-facing window which brings you face to face with the Isetan building and its beautiful architecture.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
4. Starbucks at Ueno Oshi Park
This store is right in the middle of the action of Ueno — a must for anyone visiting Tokyo for the first time. It is divided into two main areas; the upper Ueno Onshi Park (West of Ueno Station) and the lower Shinobazu Pond area. The giant park has a zoo, a lake, temples, shrines, and a handful of museums.
One can easily spend a day exploring just Ueno and its surrounding streets. Starbucks is so close to the front gate of Ueno Zoo that you can sometimes hear the elephants and lions while sipping your cup. In spring, the Onshi Park area is a very popular cherry blossoms spot. There are about eight museums within a 5-minute walk including one of my favorite, the National Museum of Nature and Science. Once you have knocked back a few lattes, you can walk down to the Shinobazu Pond for a stroll. The pond area has traditional street food, paddle rentals, a temple and beautiful lotus and cherry blossoms during the spring.
Location aside, this store has extremely professional staff and most speak a bit of English. The store has a small van outside for anyone with a small (tall-sized) order to get in and out as fast as possible. There is plenty of outside seating and cozy couches inside. There you can take a rest and enjoy the occasional street performer or the symphony of kids losing their mind about Xiang Xiang the baby panda.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
3. Starbucks in Odaiba Aqua City
Chances are Odaiba is already on your Tokyo checklist because it’s one of the most scenic places in Tokyo. This store is located in an ideal spot to experience all that Odaiba has to offer within a walking distance or a quick monorail ride. Located inside the Aqua City shopping complex, the store faces Shinagawa and the famous Rainbow Bridge.
Like any other Starbucks store, its proximity to the center of the action makes it a haven for travelers looking for a break. Everything from the breathtaking architecture of the FujiTV building’s Hachitama sphere to the to the Statue of Liberty replica at Odaiba Seaside Park are within a quick five-minute walk. You can rest inside the cozy seating or make your way out to the patio and enjoy the breeze and scenery.
My favorite thing to do its sit out on the patio at sunset in the summer and enjoy a cool drink. It is easily one of the most romantic places to sit and enjoy the beautiful oranges and reds bouncing off the architecture and water in the evening. Once the sun is down, Odaiba comes alive with lights as Rainbow Bridge paints the night sky over the bay. Its a sight you have to see, and this Starbucks store is in a prime spot to do it.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
2. Starbucks Store at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando (6F)
If you want a great view in Tokyo, look no further. This store is located right by the Harajuku exit of Meji-jingumae station on the sixth floor of the Tokyu Plaza. You literally have to try to miss it. The entrance to Tokyu Plaza is a giant silver chasm with an elevator going right into it. Fear not, enter the beast and you will be rewarded.
When you manage to make it all the way up, you will find ample seating with couches, roundtables and counters which look out toward the street and the hoards of shoppers down them. By the time you have your drink, you will have seen the expansive rooftop garden directly behind you. Walk right out and enjoy the awesome outdoor deck area. The deck has some 200 square meters with a large illuminated tree and bar style seating around it. If you have children you will love the big steps leading out to the edge of the deck. There are sitting cushions and even beach style chairs. This is really one of the most relaxed and laid back places I have found in Tokyo.
But alas, we are here for the view. Walk right up to the steps and be amazed. The stunning view looks out on to Harajuku towards Yoyogi Park and Shibuya (above). Enjoy the shopping district rumbling beneath your feet. If you time it right, the sun paints Omotesando in breathtaking shades of orange and blue. Let little Jimmy play in the steps and make new friends while you take it all in. This is the perfect spot to breathe some “fresh” air and enjoy Tokyo in all its splendor from afar.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
1. Starbucks Tsutaya at Shibuya Crossing
This is it! The Starbucks store you have to go to when you come to Tokyo, and maybe, even Japan. The nearby Shibuya station is the second busiest train station in the world and sees about 3 million commuters a day. Let that sink in. This is the ultimate big-city experience for those looking for a taste of daily Tokyo. This store is across the street from the historic Hachiko exit edging on the iconic “Shibuya Scramble” crossing. Located on the first and second floor of a Tsutaya bookstore, you’ll get that perfect view of the scramble.
What I think is powerful is to see how Japanese people effortlessly maneuver this sea. Moving almost in synchrony, yielding and passing each other.
The Shibuya area is, of course, a must-see as a fashion mecca with some of the most exquisite boutiques of international designers and is another part of what makes this Starbucks special. Be aware that the store itself is super crowded. Always. There is usually waiting time to find somewhere to sit. You can only buy tall and grande size drinks there. So, why would anyone wait 20 minutes to sit and limit themselves to small drinks in a super crowded Starbucks?
It all hits you when you look out of the second story-window: A sea of people crosses in all directions. What I think is powerful is to see how Japanese people effortlessly maneuver this sea. Moving almost in synchrony, yielding and passing each other. They are masters of their domain. It’s a manifestation of what makes complex societies in the 21st Century work. It makes me feel small and at the same time proud of being a cog in that machine.
With that, we’ve come to the end of my list! Whether you enjoy Starbucks, just need to charge your phone or little Jimmy needs to pee (again), these shops are a must in Tokyo.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.