Japan has been at the top of travelers’ lists for a while now, and Tokyo remains one of the most astounding and complex cities in the world. From its extraordinary culinary scene and trippy technology, to beautiful temples and serene parks, it’s truly a city of extremes. Here, we explore some of the most fascinating neighborhoods Tokyo has to offer.
This lovely district in Tokyo features a unique blend of history, retail, and modern intrigue. Traditionally an entertainment district, Asakusa’s main feature is the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple where one can take in traditional Japanese culture near the heart of the city. Flanked by a huge marketplace, Asakusa also features a variety of unique specialty shops, a diverse spectrum of Japanese restaurants, and charming parks that offer serene views of the Sumida River.
This district is best known as a center for Japanese youth culture, where you can shop in independent boutiques and sip overpriced coffees in hipster cafes – as long as you leave the main tourist street of Takeshita. A hub of Japanese fashion, you can wander up and down Cat Street, catching the latest cutting-edge outfits of Tokyo’s youth. Once you’re exhausted from wading through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, you can disappear into Yoyogi Park for a bit of nature and calm.
A nerd’s haven, Akihabara is home to a massive concentration of electronics stores, anime and manga, toy shops, gaming arcades, and more. Wandering the streets of this eclectic neighborhood, you can just as easily duck into one of Japan’s famous (or creepy) maid cafes as you can pick up an original edition of Mother on the Famicom, or hug a guy in a full-sized Pikachu costume. Just be prepared to climb a lot of stairs – most of the shops are vertical, easily going eight or nine stories up.
Home of the world’s largest rail station, Shinjuku seems to breathe people in and out of the area, leaving a veritable throng to move through at all hours of the day and night. To the east of the station is Kabukichō – one of Tokyo’s better known red-light districts – where you can take in the ultimate of Japanese low-culture by going to the psychedelic Robot Restaurant (just don’t order the food). A touch farther east stands Golden Gai, a tiny area of shanty-style bars in tiny little two-story buildings, tightly concentrated into a four-block square. You can easily lose track of time in Shinjuku and find the sun rising over the buildings as you emerge from a Sake-fueled night.
If for no other reason, get off at Shibuya sometime during the day or early evening and watch the famous pedestrian crossing just outside the station. While you’re there, feel free to wander around the modern shopping district, catch a quick bite in an izakaya under the train tracks, or see the south end of Yoyogi Park and the National Yoyogi Stadium or Meiji Shrine.
Known globally as one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world, Shimokitazawa is alive with countless independent clothing stores, cafes, bars, and music venues. An amazing district simply to wander, snack, and window-shop, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon while uncovering some of Tokyo’s hidden gems behind secret doors and in the corners of shops.