Articles

The Insider Guide to Tokyo: AD Editor Gay Gassmann Shares Secrets for Exploring the Japanese Capital

As a decorative arts historian and an international contributing editor for Architectural Digest, Gay Gassmann is a professional expatriate who splits her time between Paris, New York, Tokyo and beyond. She has hosted many of Indagare’s most popular Insider Journeys—to Marrakech, Lisbon, Istanbul and Beirut—and this spring, she is leading another journey in partnership with Architectural Digest to Tokyo, where she will open doors to leading galleries and creative studios. Here, the design insider shares her favorite spots in the Japanese capital, how to tap into the hidden side of Japanese culture and style tips learned while on the road.

Gay Gassmann will co-host Tokyo and Kyoto Design, a group trip curated in partnership with Architectural Digest, offering behind-the-scenes access to cutting-edge galleries and museums, top restaurants and more (May 12 – 17 or 20, 2020). Click here to book your spot today—there are only a few left!

This is your second year of hosting AD x Indagare Insider Journeys. What has surprised you about the experience of traveling with a group of fellow design lovers?

GAY GASSMANN: We all travel for different reasons—sometimes it’s for business and, hopefully, always full of pleasure—but the one thing I have learned about AD x Indagare trips is that the experience really is all about the people. Hosting these journeys has given me the great pleasure of sharing some of my favorite places, and people, with the adventurous and wonderful guests who join us. Everyone has a story and a unique reason for joining the trips, and every single person I have traveled with has made a huge impression on me. Discovering the Hagia Sophia at night in Istanbul or wandering the gardens of Marrakech with these fellow travelers are experiences that I will treasure forever. The AD x Indagare family is growing, and I can’t wait to meet everyone who will be joining us in Tokyo.

Related: The Language of Style with Architectural Digest’s Mitchell Owens and Gay Gassmann

What makes Tokyo unique in terms of design, art and architecture? 

GG: Tokyo presents a constant juxtaposition of tradition with the future. You are confronted with a hyper-urban landscape and historical buildings—all things cutting-edge in terms of technology, design, architecture and fashion—and at the same time, you are witnessing the beauty of ladies in traditional kimonos, wearing wooden shoes. There are throbbing neon lights and paper lanterns. A trip to Tokyo is a journey to another time, both past and future.

What tours and visits are you most excited for on the upcoming Insider Journey to Tokyo?

GG: I am always happy to be in Tokyo. Everything is exciting, for all the senses. I am just as excited to be eating shaved ice with matcha as I am to be going to the Mori Museum, where we will be lucky enough to be there for the STARS: Six Contemporary Artists from Japan to the World show, featuring Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Hiroshi Sugimoto. I am also thrilled to share a few incredible studio visits with artists and craftsmen with the group in May—though I cannot announce who they will be just yet!

What draws you to Tokyo as a traveler?

GG: I have been going to Tokyo for years—for professional and personal reasons, including my honeymoon!—and it never disappoints. I was there last spring for the LOEWE Craft Prize, which was a thrilling and wonderful moment. Seeing the best in contemporary craftsmanship, from ceramics to traditional basket weaving, was such a treat. Again, this reinforced the importance of both the contemporary and the traditional in Japanese design.  

What are some of your top restaurant picks in Tokyo?

GG: I think superstar chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa is better placed to make a recommendation, and one of his favorites is Toryu in the Minato neighborhood—a small, local Chinese place with the best dumplings in town. He also recommends Tenko in the Kagurazaka neighborhood for tempura.   

Related: Why Go Now: Japan

What are your favorite Japanese dishes?  

GG: Anything with tofu…fried, cold, hot, with skin, syrupy.

Any places that you always make time for in Tokyo? 

GG: I always find it fun to take a peek into the train stations, just to get a glimpse of real Tokyo life. Also, I always go to the Takashimaya Department store for gifts—and anything else! It is the Japanese Harrods.

Do you have any favorite galleries in Tokyo?  

GG: SOMEWHERE TOKYO, a tiny but perfect design gallery, and Perrotin, who represents Takashi Murakami and my favorite, KAWS! 

Favorite item you’ve brought back from Tokyo?  

GG: Even though you can find this in other places, I never go to Tokyo without stocking up on all things Hello Kitty and friends. Paper products—not the toaster!

Related: 14 Insider Journeys to Book Now

Who are some of your favorite Japanese designers, artists or artisans?  

GG: My list is endless…but my current favorites are the young architect Junya Ishigami and, of course, anything by Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma. The last time that I was in Tokyo, I discovered the work of two LOEWE Prize finalists, ARKO and Koichi Io, to whom I hope to introduce the Tokyo Insider Journey group.

What is your favorite neighborhood to explore in Tokyo?  

GG: Every neighborhood in that city has its own unique charm. I’m just as happy walking around Omotesando to see all the architectural luxury stores as I am ducking into a tiny alleyway and discovering a hidden garden.

Do you have any secret spots or hidden gems that you love to visit in Tokyo? 

GG: This place is not so secret, but definitely a gem—I always go to the Sōgetsu headquarters, which was designed by Kenzō Tange and contains a beautiful stone garden by Isamu Noguchi. It is pure poetry made real by stone, water and a single tree.

Related: Niseko, Japan: The Ultimate Travel Guide

What are your must-pack items for a springtime trip to Tokyo?  

GG: Springtime weather in Tokyo is perfect—lovely during the day and slightly cooler in the evenings. I never go anywhere without a lightweight spring coat and a big cashmere scarf that serves as an evening wrap if necessary. Tokyo is a bustling urban city, so I will sadly have to leave all of my fun holiday caftans at home—but I will definitely bring something pink! The Japanese LOVE pink.

Are there any projects that you are working on this year that you are particularly excited about?

GG: One of the great joys of what I do is always following the thread of art and artists. Nothing makes me happier than spending time with artists, collectors, curators and designers. I am always working on a few art-driven features, all to be revealed in the pages of AD soon—so stay tuned! I also always like to have a book project simmering. I just had one come out in December with PHAIDON, and I am beginning a new project as we speak. Again, all will be revealed when the time comes.

Related: The Shopping Guide: Tokyo

Gay Gassmann will co-host Tokyo and Kyoto Design, a group trip curated in partnership with Architectural Digest, offering behind-the-scenes access to cutting-edge galleries and museums, top restaurants and more (May 12 – 17 or 20, 2020). Click here to book your spot today—there are only a few left!

You can follow Gay’s adventures at home in Paris and around the world on Instagram @gaygassmann.

– Elizabeth Harvey on February 18, 2020

Column

Related Hotels

Become an Indagare Member Today!

Join Indagare sign in