Getting lost in Tokyo comes with the territory. (Hello, have you seen their train stations?) But to help you get your bearings here’s my short guide to the best neighbourhoods to explore in Tokyo, along with the highlights you mustn’t miss while in these areas.
The heart of youth fashion in Tokyo, come to Harajuku to spot colourfully-dressed tweens, scoff crepes and have a dining experience akin to a unicorn exploding in your face at the Kawaii Monster Cafe. Get moved by the crowds surging down Takeshita-dori, then explore the winding backroads of Omote-sando for cool cafes and brunch spots like the Stationary Cafe.
Asakusa is where you’ll find Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji, alongside the glitteringly modern Tokyo Sky Tree. Perennially packed, the street leading to Senso-ji is filled with souvenir stalls and sweet stands, including green tea ice cream and bean paste buns. There are also a number of kimono-hire shops in the area so don’t be surprised to see girls looking like geisha posing outside the temple.
Have you even been to Tokyo if you haven’t got lost in Shinjuku? Best explored by night, Shinjuku’s neon-lit streets are crammed full of ramen joints, bargain stores like Don Quijote and the infamously tiny bars/eateries of Golden Gai and ‘Piss Alley’. For that ‘only in Tokyo’ experience book into a show at the Robot Restaurant. I sent my husband there recently and he described it as ‘Power Rangers meets Avatar on acid.’
You know you’re in Tokyo when you’re staring (mouth agape) at the world’s busiest crossing. Known as the Shibuya Scramble, watch Tokyo’s pedestrians race in all directions and wonder how there are no collisions. There’s a Starbucks directly on the crossing that has window seats on the second level – grab one for an aerial view of the action.
Known as ‘Electric Town’, Akihabara is where Tokyo’s geeks come to game. With tall towers filled with arcade games, manga/anime shops and Maid Cafes, this suburb is best explored with a local who can show you around the highlights.
Finally, discover a different pace of Tokyo life in Shimo-Kitazawa. Popular with students, the narrow streets of ‘Shimokita’ are where you’ll find vintage fashion, handmade jewellery and some of Tokyo’s best coffee. The Shimokita Garage Department is well worth a rummage and Bear Pond Espresso comes highly recommended.
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