Tokyo is enormous. Well, let’s face it: coming from a country with a population of just under 22 million, most cities around the world are going to boggle my mind.
But as well as population, it does cover a lot of space, and it’s useful to know which neighbourhoods of Tokyo are worth visiting and what they offer. Here’s a quick guide to Tokyo.
Department stores, department stores, department stores. Shibuya is famous for shopping – Shibuya 109, Parco Factory and Tokyo Hands are all here to delight your senses and sap your wallet. You can also check out the huge pedestrian crossing that you’ve no doubt seen on movies.
As well as being the city’s commercial and administrative centre, Shinjuku has more shopping, shopping, shopping, offering insight into the Japanese consumerist culture. But if you’re done with shopping, it’s interesting enough to simply wander through the back alleys, stopping in for snacks here and there and generally marvelling at all that Tokyo has to offer. Shinjuku Station is the busiest in the world with over 3.5 million people passing through its turnstiles each day, and it’s easy to get lost here. Which isn’t so bad as there is a plethora of food options to choose from. If you want to get a good view of Tokyo (on a clear day) you can take the elevators to the observation floors of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices – it’s free!
I’m sensing a theme here… Harajuku is where the cool kids go to see and be seen. And shop. Otome-sando is often likened to Paris, and is lined with high-class boutiques. But head to Takeshita-dori and you’ll see kids in the hundreds shopping in smaller, kitschy stores for the accessories that make up their out-of-this-world outfits. For a touch of history, visit Meiji-Jingu, a shrine in the middle of a large park. Exit, and your senses will be hit with Japanese cosplay, as kids dressed in gothic, Little Miss Mary and other bizarre outfits pose for photos (Sunday is the best day to see this – but also the most crowded as tourists snap away). Head to Yoyogi Park to see Elvis Presley impersonators rock away (Sunday is also best).
My favourite part of Ueno is its huge park. Hire a pedal boat and cruise around the lake for a while (about 600 yen for 30 minutes) or wander through the park. There are often musicians and flea markets to entertain.
Asakusa is a great area with a more traditional feel to it. It’s home to the Senso-ji temple (free to visit). To reach it, walk along shop-lined Nakamise-dori, where you can pick up Japanese printed towels, fans, Japanese paper (exquisitely made), kimono and snacks for reasonable prices. Great for picking up gifts and souveneirs!
Electric Town – here’s where you come for any and all kinds of electric goods. It’s also famous for sex shops and maid cafes (although a little disappointing as in most you aren’t able to photograph inside).
Often over-looked, Ebisu is much more laid-back than other parts of Tokyo, and a great place to escape the hustle and bustle. There are lots of cafes and restaurants serving food from all over the world. We chose a fabulous little bar to eat at and spent hours munch freshly cooked yakitori.
All of these areas are easily reached by the train system – although do be warned that it can take a while between stations. For example, it takes about 30 minutes from Shibuya Station to Tokyo Station on the Yamanote line (which you can ride on as part of the coverage provided by the JR Rail Pass.)
Tokyo deserves a few days of your time – one day to get over the sense of being overwhelmed and a few extra to make your way around it.