Rina Sawayama Tokyo

Meet Rina Sawayama, 22-year-old pop princess, avid nail artist, ramen fanatic and your go-to-girl for quirky Tokyo tips.

Born in Niigata, Japan, Rina moved to London at the age of five and after studying at Cambridge, she became the vocalist of Lazy Lion Band and signed to Anti-Agency, the new cult model collective. This year will see Rina setting out on her own with a solo EP, with a track ‘Tokyo Takeover’ dedicated to her birthplace.

Despite growing up in the UK, Rina’s connection to Japan has remained strong. She grew up listening to J-Pop – the likes of Utada, Ayumi Hamasaki, Speed, and MAX – and returns to Tokyo to see family and “have a really sweaty summer when I need one.” Japan, she says, has made her more playful. She’s never grown out of Kawaii, Sanrio stuff or cute stationary and is still 100 per cent a computer game nerd.

Here Rina gives us a quick-fire guide to Tokyo:

First place you go to eat:

As soon as I get off the plane I go anywhere on Ramen Yokocho, a narrow lane filled with little ramen shops. The cheaper the better.

Best sushi in the city:

Sushi Dai in Tsukiji market – you have to go there at 4AM. Or Midori Sushi.

Best breakfast in Tokyo: 

Well it’s technically not breakfast but I’ve frequented a 24-hour restaurant in Shibuya that people go to at 6AM after the clubs have closed, before the first train. I’ve fallen asleep in a bowl of ramen there.

Where to go for a girl’s night out: 

Its not really girly but I love going to Golden Gai (a small area in Shinjuku) for a drink. I heard it’s got the most number of bars per sq km in the whole world, and each of them has its own character. Most bars only have around seven seats so its really intimate. You get to chat to the Mama of the bar and get wasted with the other patrons who are all very interesting characters.

Best cocktail in Tokyo?

Bar Orchard in Ginza – the bartender shows you a basket of fresh fruit, you pick a couple out and they make a bespoke cocktail on the spot. It’s the tastiest cocktail I’ve ever had. Also, the bar on the 52nd floor in Park Hyatt Tokyo is where Lost in Translation was filmed, so that’s great for the view.

Where do you go for crazy accessories?

GR8 in Harajuku Laforet or Shibuya 109.

Where would you go for shopping on a budget?

Takeshita Dori (a pedestrian street in Harajuku) and Shimokitazawa (a cool neighbourhood on the western side of Tokyo) is fairly cheap, but for the real bargains I go to Mode Off (Ueno station). Its a chain second hand clothing store that has an inhouse team that cleans and restores the clothes. It’s super clean so it doesn’t smell all mouldy like your usual vintage store.

What must a tourist never do in Japan?

DON’T SPIT OUT FOOD. Once a guy at a sushi counter got the death stare from the sushi chef because he ate some sort of slimy fish he wasn’t used to, and then spat it out. It was super awkward. Oh, and also don’t say you’re vegetarian or intolerant to anything because people probably won’t understand what you mean.

Walk or public transport?

Public transport – it’s air conditioned, clean and lovely.

Nighttime or daytime?

Nighttime. Japan is the safest place to go out. Once a bunch of us decided to take a two-hour drunk nap on a busy pavement in Shinjuku with our passports, wallets, everything and no one stole anything or pissed on us. Japanese businessmen sleep like this all the time, it’s like a really normal thing to do when you’re drunk over there.

What to wear in Tokyo?

Go as wild as possible – people in Tokyo might stare but they won’t judge.

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