Tokyo offers some of the best sweets and baked goods in the world. The range goes from world-class bakers who have a presence here to small mom-and-pop bakeries that churn out corn and mayonnaise buns; from centuries-old cafes serving Japanese sweets to dessert theme parks and all-you-can-eat buffets.
For European-style baking, all the the biggest names in the world have a store in Tokyo.
Pierre Herme, who many consider to be the world's greatest pastry chef, opened his first cafe in Tokyo, and now runs several stores, including his flagship cafe in Omotesando. Similarly, Jean Paul Hevin, one of the world's greatest chocolatiers, has taken Tokyo by storm with his cafes. Joel Robuchon opened a successful bakery, La Boutique, inside his restaurant in Roppongi Hills, while Sadaharu Aoki, a Japanese pastry chef who succeeded in Paris, returned to Japan to open a cafe at Tokyo Midtown and is currently expanding.
Japanese pastry chefs don't stay behind. Hidemi Sugino's cafe in Kyobashi is constantly sold out; customers line up from early in the morning, and by midday there's usually little left. Terai Norihiko's Aigre Douce also draws the crowds, while Hironobu Tsujiguchi won the world pastry competition and offers a taste of his chocolate creations at Le Chocolat de H.
Japan of course has the edge when it comes to traditional Japanese sweets -- wagashi. Tokyo is home to some of the oldest and most traditional makers where you can savor centuries of tradition.
Toraya is one of the most traditional confectionery makers, dating back to the 1600s. They are particularly famous for yokan, a solid jelly made with sweet beans, and monaka, which is a rice cracker filled with sweet-bean paste.
If you like monaka, head to Kuya as well, which is one of Japan's most famous producers, and where you'll need to make a call a few days in advance to reserve yours (they have English speakers on staff). Yamamotoyama is a cafe and confectionery maker that dates back to the 1600s, and their main specialty is the tea that goes with the sweets. Gion Tsujiri is also famous for their tea, which they've incorporated into many of the preparations. For a traditional taste in a futuristic setting, head to Kyo Hayashiya, where they serve sweets that feature a lot of green tea (the ice creams are particularly good!) in a room that is decidedly minimalist.
For those of us who pack the pounds quickly, Japanese sweets made with agar tend to be low in calories. Agar is a seaweed extract that works just like gelatin, except that it expands in the stomach, making one feel full with just a few bites. Anmitsu, a dish made with cubes of agar mixed with fruits and sweet beans, is an excellent example. Drop by Funabashiya to try one.
For those who are not afraid of the scale, the all-you-can-eat model at many Tokyo restaurants has been imported to the sweet world as well. Several hotel restaurants feature dessert buffets in the afternoon, and the Marble Lounge at the Hilton Hotel is famous for it. Otherwise, the popular chain Sweets Paradise offers 90 minutes of unlimited sugary goodness. And if you want to over-indulge, drop by the dessert theme parks at Namja Town in Ikebukuro or Sweets Forest in Jiyugaoka, where multiple stores cater to all things sugar.