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Tokyo Orientation - 12 Neighborhoods & Areas You’ll Want to Wander Around

Tokyo Orientation - 12 Neighborhoods & Areas You’ll Want to Wander Around

Update: 9 July 2018

Tokyo is a giant city, so for many tourists it might be a little bit hard to take it all in! When visiting Tokyo the best way to think about it is as if a number of different cities had been brought together. That way you can plan your trip around Tokyo as if each area was a city in itself which needed exploring, as most tourists don’t know that Tokyo is comprised of so many neighborhoods each of which have their own character.

Some of Tokyo’s ‘cities’ represent youth culture, others hark back to history, while a few bigger areas are just giant melting pots of culture and people. If you spend a week in Tokyo, then imagine as if each day you are visiting a different city, and then Tokyo will begin to make sense. Of course there are a lot more than 12 ‘cities’ in Tokyo, but here we will introduce ones which simply can’t be missed!

1. Akihabara - Tokyo's Anime & Gadget Town

1. Akihabara - Tokyo's Anime & Gadget Town

As soon as you step off the train you can feel the vibrancy of this town in the east side of Tokyo, otaku (or nerds) rub shoulders with salarymen and technology enthusiasts. The local electric stores attract their own worshipers, ready to be separated from their money while anime lovers flock to the maid cafes and arcades. You can feel a flavor of this by visiting Animate, a massive anime and comic store. An undercurrent to Tokyo’s electric town is a growing economy in cuisine with amazing ramen shops and crafts, such as the artisan-oriented mall 2k540. The surprising thing about Akihabara is that not far from all the neon lights you can discover old Japan in the guise of Kanda Myojin shrine.

2. Asakusa - Tokyo's Traditional Cultural Center

2. Asakusa - Tokyo's Traditional Cultural Center

A little further east from Akihabara, in the little streets of Asakusa the crowds gather at Kaminarimon gate, head down towards Sensoji temple and then scatter out into the surrounding streets full of shops. The diverse visitors include couples in rented kimonos, schoolchildren and tourists from all around the globe. The nearby streets are the very definition of shitamachi, or old town, you can see stalls which seem unchanged from hundreds of years ago, crafts at Edo-Shitamachi Traditional Crafts Hall and on a pretty much monthly basis there is some kind of festival going on. Along Sumida River you can experience hanami (sakura blossom viewing) during April and it’s a fairly short walk to Tokyo Skytree. Asakusa is also one of the best places to try Japanese eel, known as unagi, like at Asakusa Unatetsu.

  • Senso-ji Temple
    • Address 2-3-1, Asakusa, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 111-0032
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    • Nearest Station Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Toei Asakusa Line / Tobu Isesaki Line (Tobu Sky Tree Line) / Tsukuba Express)
      5 minutes on foot
    • Phone Number 03-3842-0181

3. Ikebukuro - The Other Akihabara

3. Ikebukuro - The Other Akihabara

Akihabara better watch out, there is a new kid in town that is gunning for the anime crown! Ikebukuro is on the west side of Tokyo and has its own Otome road with anime shops targeting female consumers in direct contrast to Akihabara’s male bias. This bustling business hub is the perfect place for people watching as people congregate towards Sunshine City, a city within a city dominated by the towering Sunshine 60 building. In this area you can find inexpensive hotels, along with grand department stores and enough stores to shop until you feel dizzy. With the area also becoming popular with lower-budget tourists, make sure to stop by this station for breakfast before you start your day!

  • Otome Road
    • Address 3, Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-0013
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    • Nearest Station Ikebukuro Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line / Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line / Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line / Seibu Ikebukuro Line / Tobu Tojo Line)
      8 minutes on foot

4. Harajuku - Tokyo's Chic Capital

4. Harajuku - Tokyo's Chic Capital

Harajuku is undoubtedly the chic capital of Japan, full of young people wearing the latest fashions, and infamously Harajuku’s own subculture fashion. This is where people look at fashion, and turn it upside down and inside out to create something new. Even down the backstreets you will find original fashion stores like Bape. At the heart of this colorful and wonderfully eccentric subculture you will find Takeshita Street, which is brimming with fashion stores. You can also find absolute bizarre cafes here like Kawaii Monster Café. This west side area is also close to the emperor’s shrine Meiji Jingu and the relaxing Yoyogi Park.

5. Roppongi - Tokyo's Nightlife Center

5. Roppongi - Tokyo's Nightlife Center

The central location of Roppongi is like another city within a city with big developments like Roppongi Hills, while the streets are alive with the hurried steps of office workers by day and by people out for a drink by night. Its nightlife has become so famous that now Japanese people and foreigners alike cruise the streets looking for the most happening bars. In the tall buildings overlooking the busy streets you can find some very classy restaurants offering up some of the best gourmet of Tokyo. Although Roppongi is a fairly large area, most of the action is in a circle that encompasses Roppongi Hills and another large development, Tokyo Midtown. Another place not to miss is the Mori Art Museum, located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.

  • Mori Art Museum
    • Address 6-10-1, Roppongi Roppongi Hills forest tower 53F, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-6153
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    • Nearest Station Roppongi Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line / Toei Oedo Line)
    • Phone Number 03-5777-8600

6. Shinjuku - Culture Clash

6. Shinjuku - Culture Clash

In the west of Tokyo you can find one of the busiest stations in the world with over four million daily passengers, and here you can experience a real clash of cultures as anything you can imagine can be found here. Office workers commute here to work in one of the office buildings while closer to the ground on the streets tourists and shoppers check out the amazing range of retailers and department stores, like the Odakyu Department Store Shinjuku. As if to serve as a reminder of what nature looks like you can also find the very large Shinjuku Gyoen Park, which offers a nice contrast to all the office buildings. By day and night people pack into one of the many restaurants, such as Itamaesushi a restaurant that has won the first-of-the-year tuna auction four years in a row, or party in one of the izakayas or karaoke joints until late at night. Other late night drinkers will often find their way to the Golden Gai, with its 288 tiny bars parked into an area smaller than a soccer field. For Shinjuku’s gay subculture check out the 2-chome area for gay bars such as Eagle Tokyo.

  • Odakyu Department Store Shinjuku
    Odakyu Department Store Shinjuku
    小田急百貨店 新宿店
    • Address 1-1-3, Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-8001
    • Nearest Station Shinjuku Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Chuo Main Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line / Toei Shinjuku Line / Toei Oedo Line / Keio Line / Keio New Line / Odakyu Odawara Line)
      0 minute on foot
    • Phone Number 03-3342-1111

7. Ginza - Tokyo's Haute Couture Center

7. Ginza - Tokyo's Haute Couture Center

In the eastern center of Tokyo you can find a shopping mecca, Ginza takes shopping to a whole new level, and then tops it. It is dominated by department stores such as Ginza Mitsukoshi and Matsuya Ginza, and every conceivable brand that you can think of. One of the newest, and coolest department stores to visit is Tokyu Plaza Ginza. It is literally store after store of high-class brands from around the world as well as old Japanese ones, and every gap in-between presents the delights of different cafes and restaurants. It is a delight just to window shop, while the shoppers themselves eye up the best of what the top brands have to offer.

8. Koenji - Casual Tokyo

8. Koenji - Casual Tokyo

Just a little west of Shinjuku is a town which is much loved by Tokyoites; it isn’t well known by many people, which makes it a great place to enjoy in peace. It has a very distinctive spirit which attracts quite a lot of couples, and is a kind of retro area because of the many unique fashion labels based here. While Shimokitazawa was deemed coolest neighborhood in the world not so long ago, Koenji is not far behind. It is particularly famous for the underground music scene as it is absolutely full of little music bars and vintage record stores. In these little streets you can check out cheap, yet delicious, eateries which range from chic little restaurants to full blown crate and plank stalls. Though you might want to try one of Tokyo’s best burgers at Fatz’s Koenji Burgers. On the last weekend of every August the Awa Odori festival takes place, this massive event involves around 10,000 musicians and dancers and over a million spectators!

9. Shibuya - Tokyo's Youth Capital

9. Shibuya - Tokyo's Youth Capital

Shibuya has the most famous crossing in the world and is Japan’s “youth capital,” though it also attracts so many young travelers of the world it might be the earth’s “youth capital!” Every day the streets are packed with young people alongside office workers, while at night the same people flock to the local izakayas and restaurants in the back streets. Shibuya is also famous for its many shops and department stores like Parco and Marui. If you ever meet friends here it is more than likely they will say to meet them at the statue of Hachiko at the front of the station. If you are in Tokyo during New Year’s Eve then check out the countdown at Shibuya Crossing.

  • Hachiko Statue
    • Address 2-1, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0043
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    • Nearest Station Shibuya Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line / Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line / Tokyu Toyoko Line / Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line / Keio Inokashira Line)
    • Phone Number 03-3462-8311
  • Shibuya Crossing
    • Address Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo bottom, 150-0043
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Shibuya Station (JR Shonan Shinjuku Line / JR Yamanote Line / JR Saikyo Line / Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line / Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line / Tokyu Toyoko Line / Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line / Keio Inokashira Line)
      1 minute on foot

10. Nakameguro

10. Nakameguro

The western area of Nakameguro is close to the trendy area of Ebisu with its bars and restaurants, and while it is not as busy it is quite cool in its own right. The streets are just waiting for you with numerous discoveries like little cafes and trendsetting fashion stores. The Meguro River flows through this town, and along here you can sample the joys of cute cafes and restaurants while watching life slowly tick by along the river. In April the trees burst into color with cherry blossoms, and as these are lit up by night it is an extremely popular place for ohanami, or cherry blossom watching.

  • Meguro River
    • Address Meguro-ku, Tokyo Setagaya-ku, Shinagawa-ku, 153-0043
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Meguro Station (JR Yamanote Line / Tokyo Metro Namboku Line / Toei Mita Line / Tokyu Meguro Line)
      5 minutes on foot

11. Shimokitazawa - Alternative Tokyo

11. Shimokitazawa - Alternative Tokyo

This fantastic gem of an area really showcases a different side of Tokyo, in 2014 Vogue magazine chose Shinokitazawa as the coolest neighborhood in the whole world! Similar to the vibrant youth culture of Harajuku, the buzzing streets of this “Alternative Tokyo” are packed with young people checking out the local cafes and vintage clothing shops. You can also check out the cat temple of Gotokuji Temple with its many maneki-neko or the The Japan Folk Crafts Museum for local crafts. Although it is quite lively in the day, and it is interesting for tourists to check out what is happening, at night it is considerably quieter. It does however have its fair share of bars and izakayas. Check out the izakaya Azito for its reasonably priced menu and wide variety of dishes.

12. Kichijoji - “Experience Japan’s rural life within Tokyo”

12. Kichijoji - “Experience Japan’s rural life within Tokyo”

A short distance west of Shinjuku you can find the lovely neighborhood town of Kichijoji, close to the very large Inokashira Park. This is a very popular place to live in Tokyo, and as such you can experience the whole spectrum of humanity that lives in this great city. There is a scenic blend of the conveniences of modern life such as large stores and a more relaxed residential character. For many tourists, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, a major draw besides Inokashira Park is the world famous Ghibli Museum and also Inokashira Park Zoo – both of which are situated in the park. At the end of the day be sure to drop by one of several classic izakayas in the area!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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