TRIPPING IN TOKYO: Best Districts in a Concrete Oasis

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By Claire D'hooghe | March 24, 2016

Best Districts Tokyo. Mini scale Statue of Liberty at Odaiba Island in Tokyo, Japan

One of the best districts Tokyo: A mini scale Statue of Liberty stands in Odaiba bay, with a view of Rainbow Bridge in the background. Tokyo, Japan

Having visited this city a whole bunch’a times we have seen and done just about everything there is in Tokyo. It’s a huge place where skyscrapers snake rivers for miles; where cutting-edge fashion trends and revolutionary animal cafes sprout up spontaneously in the blink of an eye; and where street-side and balcony gardens are in abundance amongst the districts and temples of the world’s most populated metropolis.

Basically, this place has it all. It’s not just about sushi, shrines and a Skytree; it’s a diverse eclectic experience with hidden (and not so hidden) treasures that are waiting to be discovered. Filled with districts and towns for different moods, different needs and different occasions there is something, somewhere, for everyone. The hard part is finding it in this dense concrete jungle. With that in mind, let our experience of aimless city wandering make it Japan-easy for you to find your niche.

Here are the best districts: Tokyo, dear reader.

Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa is observed as a hipster area in Japan; its got a casual and cool street style filled with oddball boutiques and vintage treasure-troves. Ten minutes in this place is enough to have you hip by association. Nestled next to neighboring district Shibuya, the old buildings and quiet alleyways are a welcome change of pace to the bright lights and overzealous atmosphere of Tokyo. Laneways are lined with cheap and unique vintage and designer clothes, subterranean and attic-perched record stores (shout out to Flash Ranch! Records) and chilled-out specialty coffee houses; it’s a great place to wander around for an afternoon and pick up some cool shit without hemorrhaging your wallet. We’ve bought vintage leather satchels, bundled Japanese-issued records, and handfuls of weird socks all for ¥1000 or less. Japan can feel kind of oppressive sometimes, but Shimokitazawa can give you a taste of the real diversity of people who live in Tokyo and how many of them are creative, expressive individuals with bitchin’ style and bad-arse record collections. For me, it is the best district Tokyo.

Asakusa

If you’ve booked a hostel in Tokyo you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time in Asakusa. It’s a centuries old entertainment district that houses plenty of hostels, the beautiful Senso-ji Temple shrine, plenty of random shopping and fast food, small bars, karaoke and pachinko galore, so there’s plenty to enjoy without having to go too far. The only downside is that Asakusa is pretty far from most other attractions in the city. Even though the city boasts an insane subway system that can get you across town pretty quickly, you’re gonna have to budget more than you’d think for a daily transport fund and be extra aware of the train curfew, otherwise the trains are gonna stop running and you’ll be stranded at least an hour away from your accommodation. Asakusa is picturesque old-town Japan both contemporary and historically, a quiet and charming town walking distance to the river and a maze of cobblestone back alleys; a town that should be on every tripper’s radar. And be sure to look out for the Tokyo Sky Tree and the golden sperm atop the Asahi Beer Tower. You can’t miss it!

Best Districts Tokyo. Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in Asakusa. Tokyo, Senso-ji Buddhist Temple and the Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa. Tokyo, Japan

Senso-ji Buddhist Temple and the Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa. Tokyo, Japan

Harajuku

For your average sightseer, Harajuku is only Takeshita Dori; the street immediately outside the Harajuku train station stuffed full of unique and copycat clothing stores, crepe stands and generic tourist-type souvenir stalls. But the attraction of Harajuku extends much further than a snails pace stroll through an overcrowded street. The area is well known for its fascination with fashion and its appropriation by the western world, headlined by Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls, which is all on display in Takeshita Dori (though the real action is on Sunday outside Meiji Shrine, behind the train station). It’s fun, eye-popping and brain busting, but don’t get caught there! There’s much more to Harajuku under the surface of its crazy fashion and wild uninhibited atmosphere. Take a walk down past Takeshita Dori, throw away your guidebook and get lost in the winding alleys and laneways of unconventional designer schools, indie jazz-playing-coffee-huts and second-hand stores all stamped with the worldwide authority of Tokyo’s trademark of cool. Also look out for the green paradise of Yoyogi Park behind Harajuku train station.

Akihabara

Making the gizmo pilgrimage to Akihabara, easily one of the best districts Tokyo, is highly recommended! Japanese culture converges here in a clash of neon lights, maid uniforms, tech-gizmos, manga comics and figurines and has rightly become a common destination for travelers. There is no town like it anywhere in the world so you gotta see and experience it for all its worth. The city has an arcade on every corner (each one four or five stories high), book stores that border laneway corridors of under-the-table and DIY gadgetry stalls, figurine and merchandise stores of any anime you could dream of wedged between an abundance of themed cafes and bars, all with a distinguishable guerilla street marketing presence. And if you’re an ‘80s or ‘90s kid and wanna get nostalgic, this is your playground, man. Akihabara boasts, in our opinion, the coolest videogame store on the planet: Super Potato, a three-story shrine to the obsolete and almost extinct gaming consoles of yesteryear. Dubbed ‘Electric Town’ for obvious reasons, it’s a part of Tokyo you have to experience, then leave wondering if any of it was actually real.

Best Districts Tokyo. A SEGA arcade on an Akihabara street corner. Tokyo, Japan.

A five story SEGA arcade building on an Akihabara street corner. Tokyo, Japan.

Odaiba

Odaiba is a weird place, even for Japanese standards, but super chill, trademark Tokyo and once you see it you’ll understand why we’ve included it in the best districts Tokyo. There’s two ways to access the island: either jump on a boat from Asakusa and get a Tokyo Bay river-cruise to Odaiba Seaside Park, or walk across Rainbow Bridge, the largest bridge in Tokyo. Once you get there (Spoiler Alert!) you’re gonna be equal parts confused, surprised and impressed by the miniature Statue of Liberty the island sports. Like I said, it’s a weird place. Other than gawking at the strangeness of the statue you can visit a giant mall, sit by one of the two spots in Tokyo with access to the sea, visit the 24-hour Leisure Land (where you can enjoy videogames, karaoke and bowling), or travel around the island on it’s monorail and stop in for a nude bath with strangers at the onsen. The onsen has separate baths for men and women which makes for a confronting but comfortable experience of letting your junk fly free in front of strangers (it’s a liberating peak when you see everyone’s bodies are the same). The baths have heated pools, single jet baths and an outdoor bath while in the rest of the venue you can hang out in a kimono while drinking tea in a tatami room, buy some ramen or come down from your trip while watching a TV attached to a recliner in a room full of other people doing the same.

Jimbocho

If the bright lights of Akihabara get too much for you, cross the bridge and head to Jimbocho, Tokyo’s book district, to bury your head in dusty books and browse aisles of yellow pages and battered paperbacks, basking in the aura of old ink and timeworn glue. Full discretion: we are book lovers so this is easily one of the best districts Tokyo for the two of us.

The unrestrained perception of self-liberating wisdom that can come from a book, a story, a life, is unparalleled by any other medium. For the book lover this city is a refuge from the overstimulation of Tokyo’s dynamic energy. There are dinky old stores up narrow corridors of creaky stairs where you can buy and browse new, used and rare books (both English and Japanese books). Plus there’s no pressure to buy, buy, buy! Tachiyomi is the Japanese concept of reading standing up in a store and is totally acceptable for long periods of time in all stores, so grab a book and relax for a little bit. If you’re not a book lover (what’s up with that, man?) it’s still worth checking out – I don’t know of many other districts in the world dedicated entirely to books and stationary. Labelled ‘Book Town’ its highly recommended by us bookworms, plus there are so many cafes, dollar-stores and crazy Japanese stationary shops, it’s a place your mind and creativity can run amok.

None of these places tickle your pickle? Well jeez, man. These are the best districts Tokyo. You’re either really hard to impress of have very specific interests that even Tokyo can’t cater for. Check out these mind-altering expeditions that we didn’t even know about, or how about a visit to the Tsujuki Fish Market to get a glimpse into the window of the seafood industry of Japan and try some fresh clams and crab legs, or take a daytrip to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea and have yourself some adults only fun at a children’s theme parks.

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