Tokyo comprises 23 special wards, 26 cities, 5 towns and 8 villages. This can be quite baffling for people who don’t have such a structure in their own country. But it really tells you just how expansive Tokyo is! When visiting this enigmatic city, the special wards you’re most likely to travel around are Shibuya, Shinjuku and Chiyoda. These hold the most popular sights. This article is about finding those secret spots In between the must-sees. We’ll go through these 3 popular wards with those hidden gems that are just as worthwhile as Shibuya Scramble or Golden Gai.
In Shibuya, we’ll see the whole city skyline from a hidden rooftop. Then stroll along picturesque, green alleys to one of the best breweries in town. Passing by Shinjuku, we’ll explore where Asian ex-pat communities have made their homes and businesses. Last stop Chiyoda – where perhaps the city’s ‘cutest’ street lies. ‘Lies’ is quite literal here – it’s located underneath Tokyo Train Station! Get your notepad and pen out, and get ready to add these to your itinerary.
- Shibuya Scramble (the world-famous crossing)
- The Hachiko Statue (the Akita dog that waited for his owner, for 9 years after he passed away)
- Meiji Jingu Shrine (dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken)
It’s funny how little things become majestic when they are done in Tokyo. Getting your hair done, staying in hotels in between moving from one house to another, window shopping with a date. Some of my fondest memories happened where Ebisu spills over into Daikan-yama.
From Shibuya station, you can get to Ebisu in just 2 minutes on the Yamanote line. Before even leaving the station, you’re invited to a hidden oasis above – a rooftop garden. Atré Ebisu is a shopping centre that’s connected to the station. Perhaps on purpose, you can only reach this breath-taking garden via elevator. From here, you can take in the magnificent Shibuya skyline.
While below, thousands of people eat in Atré Ebisu’s restaurants, you can see where their ingredients are sourced. That’s right – the chefs use this rooftop garden to grow their own ingredients!
I’d suggest opting out of wining and dining at the shopping centre, and instead heading over to Log Road. You’re back down on the ground, but it’s every bit as green as a rooftop garden (well – as green as the largest city in the world can get!).
The Tokyoites’’ beer hall, Spring Valley Brewery, is here and brews its very own Hojun 496. The beer in question is named after the ‘perfect’ number – as decided by the Ancient Greek philosophers. I think no further selling points of the beer are necessary.
Follow the suburban side streets around here (I say suburban very lightly!), and you’ll find the cutest cafes, atmospheric bars, and unpretentious boutiques. This area might even make you think idyllic living is possible in Tokyo!
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (constructed where feudal Lord Naito’s private mansion was)
- Golden Gai (an array of quirky watering holes in small alleys)
- Kabukicho (host and hostess clubs, love hotels, and robot restaurants)
My favourite area of Shinjuku is Koreatown. You’ll probably be thinking, “if I wanted to experience Korean culture, I’d go to Korea, not Japan!”. Okay, okay – but hear me out. Tokyo is known for being pretty ethnically homogenous. I like Shin-Okubo (Tokyo’s ‘Koreatown’) for its diversity. And it’s not just Korean immigrants who settled here – Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Islamic-nations too!
First stepping foot in Shin-Okubo, you might think, “this place is for girls who are obsessed with K-Pop. This isn’t for me”. I encourage you to scratch under the surface.
Like anywhere in the world, to find the hidden gems, we must look to the side streets. Say you’re on a three month trip to Japan. You’re telling me you’re not going to want a Japanese cuisine break? Islamic Alley can certainly help – here you’ll find the likes of Nepalese, Indian and Turkish restaurants.
Let’s say you do want to experience some Korean culture. Well this is the place to eat Korean barbeque, cheese corn dogs and toppoki to your hearts’ content. Want to stock up on products for your 10-step Korean skincare regime? The shop ‘Skin Holic’ has you covered.
- Imperial Palace
- Tokyo Central Railway Station
A train station – not always something you’d add to your ‘must-see’ list. Tokyo Station is a bit different. In fact, Tokyo Station is apparently the only ‘station-city’ in the world. The red bricks of the station stand out in a city like Tokyo. Despite 450,000 passengers being served daily, the majority of them won’t be exploring what lies beneath the stations.
This is where you find ‘Character Street’! Home to 26 different shops, this ‘street’ within the ‘station-city’ has an array of cute character merchandise. It’s a little tricky to find it but look for signs to the basement of the ‘Yaesu North’ exit or ‘First Avenue section’ (or when in doubt – ask!). Can’t imagine going home without plushies? You’ll be spoiled for choice with the likes of Pokémon, Studio Ghibli and Hello Kitty.
Top tip: for a tax refund, remember to get a “Tax-Free Reception Slip” at the Tax-Free Counter before making any purchase!
This merch isn’t just limited to Japanese characters. You can also find beloved characters from all over the world – Snoopy and Moomins to name a couple. Thoose looking for their next obsession, there are characters you won’t have even heard of that are exclusively popular in Japan. TripAdvisors describe this place as “heaven” and the place where they found the best souvenirs. If you “grew up on anime” – this one’s for you.
Once you’ve satisfied your inner child, there are plenty more shops and restaurants to enjoy. In fact, one of the other nearby ‘streets’ is ‘Ramen Street’. If you’re vegan, I definitely recommend T’s Tan Tan.