Discovering Tokyo’s neighbourhoods
With its intricate network of punctual trains and subways, exploring Tokyo’s distinct neighbourhoods is a breeze.
Plug in where you’re headed to the train route finder website ‘Jorudan’ and it will retrieve a variety of transport options, as well as the exact price and length of time you’ll spent on board. With getting there covered, here are a handful of Tokyo neighbourhoods you should be sure to check out.
With its world-famous intersection, blaring Tower Records music, crammed alleyways and sprawling train station, Shibuya packs a serious punch on the Tokyo tourist’s itinerary. Renowned as a fashion and nightlife destination, it draws young people day and night. A short walk away from Shibuya station down Aoyama-dori takes you to Omotesando, a leafy street full of flagship fashion stores housed in impressive architectural gems. Don’t miss Tod’s store, with its concrete exterior in the shape of a tree silhouette. Explore the hip pockets behind the main drag, full of galleries, independent fashion stores, eateries (try Revive Kitchen Three) and ceramic stores. Over in upscale Daikanyama, a short walk from Shibuya station following the Yamanote train line, it’s all boutiques, trendy cafes and corner pastry shops. Pop in to Matsunosuke for fluffy pancakes and flip through magazines at the impressive Tsutaya bookstore over the road.
A mini city in itself, Shinjuku offers travellers a bit of everything. Shoppers hit up the department stores that crowd around the station, skyscraper hotels offer mind-blowing views and a vast entertainment district provides plenty of nightlife options. Kabukicho is Shinjuku’s wild red-light district and is packed with bars, nightclubs and love hotels. Not far is Golden Gai, a collection of tiny alleys full of shanty-style bars and restaurants. Climb near-vertical ladders to get to ramen joints, sit with only three or four patrons around a bar or discuss avant-garde films with local artists in establishments plastered with movie posters. For daytime food options, don’t miss visiting a Japanese department store – most have vast basement food levels, sometimes covering two or three floors, or head to the top floors for restaurants.
Ebisu, Meguro and Nakameguro
Wandering around these pockets of Tokyo feels peaceful and cool. In Ebisu, tiny bars and eateries line the streets around the station and come alive in the evening. Trendy clothing, leather goods and vintage stores dot the small streets, and fresh juice bars and organic cafes are emerging. You can either train or walk from Ebisu to Nakameguro, an emerging hot spot of homewares, clothing and cafes. Check out 1LDK behind Nakameguro station and sip an iced coffee out the front while doing some people watching. In Meguro, take Meguro-dori downhill away from the station and discover a world of interior design and home furniture stores. With everything from cool Scandinavian designs to vintage light fittings and retro finds, it’s a fun spot to explore and the pace picks up on weekends.
At the top of Omotesando avenue is Harajuku, an area brimming with contrasts. With its epicenter focused around the old brown and white station, expect to find masses of dolled up teenagers on one side and the entry to the historic Meiji Jingu Shrine on the other. Offering a spacious, peaceful haven away from the buzz of the area, Meiji Jingu is well worth a wander through – and on weekends you may spot a traditional wedding. Harajuku’s famous Takeshita Street shopping strip can be accessed from the station, and crowds flock there on weekends. Following the rail line away from the station with Yoyogi Park on your left, you eventually turn right to reach Sendagaya, a great pocket of clothing and design stores, eateries and creative agencies. Find stores dedicated to paper sets, functional homewares and perhaps the only place in Tokyo where you can buy a meat pie.
Commonly referred to as ‘Akiba’, Akihabara is a short train ride from Tokyo station and a major shopping area for electronics, computer games and anime. The area emerged as a black market for electronics after World War II, when the area became known as Electric Town. Over time the sale of electronics has dwindled and in its place a thriving business of anime and video games has sprung up. On Sundays, a pedestrian-only precinct around Chuo dori is in place, making it a great spot for a wander. Head into a local maid café for a unique experience, buy a kooky cover for your phone or hit up Mansei – easily spotted thanks to the large cow on the top of its building – for a smorgasbord of meat dishes. From shabu-shabu to sukiyaki, there are loads of options across multiple floors to choose from.