Hyper-Specific City Guide: How to Plan a Perfect Vancouver Birthday for Your Girlfriend Who Loves Japan

Turn a birthday weekend into a Tokyo-inspired adventure.

This is part of our Ultimate, Hyper-Specific Vancouver City Guide, featured in the May 2024 issue of Vancouver magazine. We’ve created 25 unique personas and 25 unique itineraries to match. If this to-do list for ‘your Japan-obsessed girlfriend on her birthday weekend’ isn’t helpful, perhaps one of the other 24 bespoke schedules will be. Explore them all here. 


10:00 a.m.: Mochi Mornings

Things are going great with your new girlfriend, but “buy a flight to Tokyo” feels a little much. Instead, bring Japan to her, starting with a Wa-Bagel breakfast. The bright green mochi matcha bagel ($5) features a symphony of Japanese flavours, thanks to a filling of mochi, red bean paste and chopped walnuts. B09–666 Burrard St., wabagel.com

wa-bagel japanese-style bagels

11:00 a.m.: The Shop Hop

You’re carbo-loaded and ready for a Japanese shopping spree. Konbiniya on Robson is as close as it gets to the convenience store experience of Japan, its aisles packed with canned coffee, imported ramen, a world of Pocky flavours and more treats. Down the road you’ll find Muji, the Japanese home-and-fashion retailer that’s maintained a commitment to well-made minimalist essentials even through its global expansion. 1238 Robson St., konbiniya.com; 1125 Robson St., muji.ca

1:00 p.m.: A Purr-fect Afternoon

Grab a sando from Aburi To-Go and stroll over to Japanese-centric Out and About to peruse the racks of slouchy Fuga Fuga dresses and delicate Hirota glassware. Point yourselves next toward the spooky International Village Mall. ABC Store on the ground floor is a riot of cheap-and-cheerful dollar-store treasures from both Korea and Japan; upstairs is Catfe (admission $17), where you can sip a tea and mingle with a kitten like you’re in a Harajuku pet cafe. 1122 Mainland St., aburitogo.com; 321 W Cordova St., outnaboutboutique.com; 1199–88 W Pender St., abcstore.ca; 2035-88 W Pender St., catfe.ca

6:00 p.m.: Yes, Chef

Good thing you didn’t overdo it at lunch, because it’s omakase time. You’re splashing out on the experience at Tetsu Sushi Bar ($220 per person) because you read Vanmag’s big omakase feature back in November and you’ve been dying for a reason to go. It’s dinner and a show if you can snag one of the four seats at the counter here: the chefs move with precision and grace to create delicate, intentional, mind-blowing morsels. 775 Denman St., tetsusushibar.com

dishes of japanese cuisine
Photo by Leila Kwok


9:00 a.m.: The Simple Things

Wake up! Time for more pretend Japan! Today is less about rampant consumerism and more about the Japanese art of mindfulness. Start with breakfast at Marulilu Cafe, a quirky hole-in-the-wall Japanese café across the street from the Broadway-City Hall Skytrain station. The breakfast plate is the move here: a neat tray of rice, sweet omelette, miso soup, tofu or natto and grilled salmon ($11) is simple and satisfying. 451 W Broadway, marulilu.com

10:00 a.m.: In Bloom

Make your way to Nitobe Memorial Garden up at UBC ($5). The serene landscape here is downright transportive, with koi-pond spanning bridges, lush maples and beds of blooming irises. Sneak a smooch by the waterfall, then check in for a meditative tea ceremony ($16) in the tatami-mat-lined tea house. 6804 SW Marine Dr., botanicalgarden.ubc.ca

1:00 p.m.: Slurping and Sipping

Grab some Fukuoka-style pork-both ramen (from $12) at Ramen Danbo on West 4th to line the stomach before your next stop: Granville Island’s Osake tasting room. The craft sake makers serve up plenty of intel alongside flights (three for $8) of offerings like the complex, dry Junmai Nama Genshu. If nerding out about booze production is your thing, take a look through the peek-a-boo windows to Osake’s workshop. If drinking is your thing, well, bottoms up. 1833 W 4th Ave., ramendanbo.com; 1339 Railspur Alley, artisansakemaker.com

bowl of ramen

6:00 p.m.: Osaka Nights

Finally: dinner. Rajio certainly isn’t as polished as an omakase bar—but it’s damn fun. The lively, busy restaurant is decorated with hanging lanterns and walls of plastic cartoon-character masks, and specializes in Osaka-style drinking food. Namely, kushi katsu, breaded and deep-fried skewers (most are $2 or $3 each) of everything from lotus root to “onion pork.” Bring a crew, order with abandon and then try your best to remember who is responsible for eating the fried foie gras. Be sure to tell the staff you’re celebrating a birthday—the signature b-day song is both impossibly loud and impossible to replicate—plus, they break out the sparklers. Karaoke afterward is a must. Throw everyone in a cab and get downtown to a private room at Fantacity ($55 per hour). The music selection isn’t the best, to be frank, but there’s enough Celine Dion on the list to fill at least a couple of hours. 3763 W 10th Ave., rajiopublichouse.com; 1133 Robson St., 604-899-0006

table covered in dishes of japanese food

More from the Ultimate, Hyper-Specific Vancouver City Guide here.