Tokyo is an intoxicating blend of tradition and progressiveness, modestyand fetishism, stoicism and animation. Youth dressed in cosplay mix with businessmen in sharp suits against the backdrop of incessant flashing neon lights and the noiseof the pachinko gaming parlors.
It’s intense and wholly exhilarating.
The sheer size of this sprawling metropolis can beoverwhelming as the city is made up of23administrative wards which are further divided into “smaller” neighborhoods,each with its own defining personality. It’s no wonder visitors are often perplexed about where to stay in Tokyo.
Here’s a beginner’sguide to some of the neighborhoods of Tokyo, to help you to decide where to stay.
1. Shinjuku is entertaining.
If you’re not staying in Shinjuku, it’s likely you’ll be spending a lot of time here during your stay in Tokyo — if you can ever navigateyour way out of Shinjuku Station, the busiesttrain station in the world.
Throughthe whirlingkaleidoscopeof lights and sounds,you’ll find Kabukich, anentertainment and red light district full offlashy restaurants, clubs, love hotels andhostess bars.
Alternatively,the Golden Gai is a small pocket ofnarrow alleys lined with eccentricshantybars where you can drink shoulder to shoulder with Japanese businessmen, but choose a foreigner-friendly bar. There are whispers Golden Gai may disappear before the 2020 Olympics, so now is the time to go.
2. Shibuya is youthful.
Shibuya is considered the youth culture hub of Tokyo and the epicenter of Japanese youth trends. Themain pedestrian street,Center Gai, islined with trendy fashion storesand boutiques, but it is the iconic Shibuya 109 building that sees gaggles of giggling teens going ga-ga over the latest kogul andgangurosubculture fashion.
Shibuya is also home to the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and a perfect spot to take a token tourist snap.
3. Akihabara is nerdy.
Akihabara comes straight out ofyour boyfriend’s fantasies — and I’m not just talking about the maid cafes, although there is no shortageof those being coyly runby kawaiigirls in frilly French maid costumes.
Akihabara is a mecca for electronics andgadgets galore and thecenter of Japan’sotakuand anime culture. There are also a few sex stores selling barely-there Sailor Moon costumes and who knows what else on the upper men-only floors. See what I mean about your boyfriend’s fantasies?
Regardless of your level of interest in gaming and electronics, you’ll still be fascinatedby the counterculture and latent sexuality surroundingthis tech town. You’ll be surprised (or perhaps not) how a seemingly innocent manga store can quickly turn into something morerisqu.
4. Harajuku is alternative.
If Shibuya is the center of youth culture, then Harajuku is the center of alternative youth culture — of the extreme variety. The bustling Takeshita Dori is where all the action happens, crammedwithfashion stores stocking everything kawaii.
It’s colorful, it’s kitsch, it’s completely over the top and you’ll seeplenty of offbeat characters as well as the famous Harajuku girls. Try not to gawk for too long.
Alternatively, nearby Cat Street is a pedestrian thoroughfare filled with more high-end street fashion boutiques andOmotesandoisa tree-linedavenue often referred to as theChamps-Elyses of Tokyo. Harajuku is also next to Yoyogi Park, in which you’ll find the Meiji Shrine.
5. Ginza is exclusive.
Upmarket Ginza is the poshareaof Tokyo and the wealth is immediately apparent as soon as you enterthis neighborhood.Flashy department store buildings, shiny flagship stores and opulentdesigner luxury labels line the boulevards where you canindulge in some wistfulwindow shopping or guiltily spend yourhard-earned cash.
The main street, Chuo-dori, is closed to traffic on weekend afternoons, allowing you to meanderas you please.
6. Ueno is pretty.
Ueno is the home of Ueno Park and during Hanami (cherry blossom viewing), there is no better place to be during your stay in Tokyo. The cherry blossoms (sakura) in bloom are a feast for your eyes and you will be in awe of the intenseyet delicate beauty of the carpet of sakura trees, which are usually in bloom during late March and early April.
Other attractions in the park include theTokyo National museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Ueno Zoo.
7. Shimokitazawa is hipster.
There is a sense of nostalgia that seeps through Shimokitazawa.
It’s a small town, a warrenof winding laneways offeringa quieter pocket of Tokyo inwhich you can momentarily escape the organized chaos. Cars aren’t allowed in the narrow alleys and you can wanderand get lost in the mazeof streets as locals ride by on vintage bikes.
Explore the abundance of secondhand stores, vinyl record stores and hip small bars and eateries.Although Shimokitazawa isn’ton the JR line, it’s still just a few stops away from the main stations of Shinjuku and Shibuya and well worth the visit.
8. Kenji is retro.
Another neighborhoodoffering respite from the cacophony of lights and sounds is Koenji, which is often described as beinga more grown-up version of Shimokitazawa with a greatreputationfor live music.
While Shimokitazawa leans towards “quaint,” Koenji lies on the “edgy” end of the spectrum which is perhaps explained by the fact that it was oncehome to Tokyo’s punk scene.There isan abundance ofthrift stores you canrummage around in for bargains, particularly around Look Street.
9. Nakameguro is trendy.
The picturesque tree-lined canals of Nakameguro arereason alone to explore this charming neighborhood (particularly during Hanami), but there is also the myriad of effortlessly cool designer boutiques, bars and cafes that run alongthe Meguro River that will keep you coming back.
Characterizedby itscool, calm and cosy atmosphere,Nakameguro isa magnet for thecreative crowd as well asyoung families.
10. Roppongi is for expats.
Roppongi (expat central) is one of the few areas in Tokyo whereyou can findnightlife catering toforeigners and isone of those places you will either love or hate. It has a notorious “sleazy” reputation but is also a hub for entertainment fluctuating interminably between classy andcrude.
Alternatively, if you want to skip the party and prefer an injection of culture instead, dotheRoppongi Art Triangle, comprisingthe National Art Centre, the Mori Art Museum and the Suntory Museum of Art, all within walking distance of each other.
11. Odaiba is fun.
Odaiba is a man-made island that is a popular tourist destination and well-known date spot foryoung Tokyo couples. There are plenty of attractions to keep you preoccupied including large shopping malls, entertainment and dining complexes, leisure centers and even a replica Statue of Liberty.
This article was originally published on the author’s personal blog.