A Tour of Tokyo's Must-Visit Neighbourhoods

The bright lights of Tokyo are a great way to enjoy the longer evenings in autumn
The bright lights of Tokyo are a great way to enjoy the longer evenings in autumn | Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash
Alicia Joy

Tokyo Writer

There is so much more to Tokyo than the bustling Shinjuku or ritzy Omotesando. The lesser-known neighbourhoods listed here will take you off the beaten track and show you a side of Tokyo you never knew existed. From literary enclaves to counter-cultural hubs, take a tour of Tokyo’s trendiest, under-the-radar neighbourhoods.

1. Naka-Meguro (Nakame)

Architectural Landmark

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Photo by Finan Akbar on Unsplash

In Meguro District, a little way away from Naka-Meguro Station, lies a hip, artsy neighbourhood filled with stylish shops, restaurants, bars, and cafés affectionately known as Nakame. The old-fashioned, tree-lined main shopping street is situated by the Meguro River, setting it apart from many of Tokyo’s other favourite haunts. Nakame’s reputation as a — dare we say it — hipster neighbourhood has become tarnished over the years as it succumbed to new developments, but it still retains much of its old-school charm. Nakame is the entire area around Naka-Meguro Station, but you’ll get the most out of it if you walk up to the Meguro River (Meguro-gawa) and stroll along the canal, which is beautiful for both the sakura (spring cherry blossom) and koyo (fall leaf) seasons.

2. Daikanyama

Market, Park

The area around Daikanyama (or Daikan-yama) Station is home to a trendy little upscale neighbourhood populated by trendy upscale people. Technically a residential neighbourhood, Daikanyama has become famous for its small boutiques favouring up-and-coming designers along with plenty of quiet cafés to relax in. This quiet enclave is actually located close to Naka-Meguro and is within the busy Shibuya District, making it the perfect place to take a step back and relax from the daily grind.

3. Jiyūgaoka

Market

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Photo by Kentaro Toma on Unsplash
Jiyūgaoka is the neighbourhood surrounding Jiyūgaoka Station, located in the southern part of Meguro District. The area is famous not only for the usual apparel and restaurant collections, but for its zakka stores. Zakka is a fashion and design concept that centers on improving your home, life, and appearance. Handmade or kitschy yet appealing and meaningful — this is zakka style. Jiyūgaoka is considered by many to be one of the most desirable places in Tokyo to live, but as you’ll soon see, not as desirable as some. Head north from the station to explore the best the area has to offer.

4. Shimo-Kitazawa (Shimokita)

Market

Known as Shimokita for short, this trendy neighbourhood is known for its secondhand and vintage clothing, music and goods stores, as well as its multitude of off-beat bars, restaurants, and performance venues. The narrow streets makes it an unofficial pedestrian’s paradise and allow many small, independent retailers to thrive where big box stores don’t dare to tread. However, the area surrounding Shimokitazawa Station is currently under redevelopment, and the future of this once-beloved neighbourhood is up in the air.

5. Kagurazaka

Market

At the foot of the former Edo Castle, Kagurazaka was once the site of many of Tokyo’s old geisha quarters (okiya), some of which still stand there today. As you stroll along Waseda-Dori, the main drag, you might be hard pressed to find any hints of its former glory, but wander the slender cobblestone alleyways on either side and who knows what you’ll find. Kagurazaka has a new reputation for having a growing French cultural presence and is on the rise as one of Tokyo’s more popular neighbourhoods.

6. Jimbōchō (Jinbōchō)

Market, Park

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Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash
Somewhere near Akihabara Electric Town lies Jimbōchō, a laid-back neighbourhood populated by hundreds of used bookstores along Yasukuni-dori. With over five major universities in the area, it’s no wonder it’s developed a reputation for being an intellectual hub, with a smattering of literary societies and publishing houses thrown in for good measure. It’s the perfect place to curl up with a book and a cup of coffee or get some studying done.

7. Kichijōji

Park

With its youthful, trendy reputation and the ever-popular Inokashira Park on its arm, Kichijōji is the place everyone in Tokyo wished they lived. The neighbourhood is especially popular with young people who come to shop, relax and explore on their weekends off. You’ll often find live bands performing near the shops or individuals practicing their instruments in the park. Inokashira is south of the station, while to the north lies the popular shopping district. The Small Town in the Big City food tour is the best way to experience the neighbourhood.

Under-the-radar neighbourhoods in Tokyo you should visit

All recommended by Lucy Dayman

8. Jiyūgaoka

Market

Street view from Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, Japan.
© Jintapostock/Shutterstock
Like some kind of mysterious local secret, the suburb of Jiyugaoka is popular with many Tokyoites but is often overlooked in the guidebooks. The area oozes European appeal, in part due to the many cute cafés, cake shops and quaint boutiques, but mainly because of La Vita, the neighbourhood’s little Venice, located a few minutes from the station. The area comes complete with a small canal, gondola and venetian bridge. Just a 10-minute train ride from Shibuya, it’s easy to get to and a great place to spend the afternoon.

9. Kiyosumi Shirakawa

Architectural Landmark

Street scene near Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Station, Koto-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
© World Discovery / Alamy Stock Photo

Tokyo is going through a bit of a coffee revolution at the moment, and there’s no place where this is clearer than in Kiyosumi Shirakawa, the city’s most caffeinated area. Once a working-class neighbourhood, the area is now a trendy go-to for weekenders looking to spend the day sampling some of the city’s best brews. Big coffee players like the US-born Blue Bottle Coffee and New Zealand’s Allpress Espresso both have large flagship-style stores here.

10. Yanaka

Market, Architectural Landmark

Yanaka Ginza shopping street, Taito- Ku,Tokyo, Japan.
© World Discovery / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re after a little old-world charm, make your way to Yanaka, arguably Tokyo’s most traditional area. The streets are filled with family restaurants, food vendors, local artisans and a unique shitamachi (old world) atmosphere; the area’s main shopping street, Yanaka Ginza, looks as if it’s been frozen in time. The neighbourhood is also nicknamed Tokyo’s Cat Town after its population of friendly stray cats. A huge contrast to the clean futuristic streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku, this ramshackle neighbourhood is a great escape from the manic energy of the centre of the city. Yanaka Ginza is just under a 10-minute walk from Ueno Park.

11. Kagurazaka

Market

The french district of Kagurazaka, Tokyo.
© Didier ZYLBERYNG / Alamy Stock Photo
Hop off the train at Kagurazaka station and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived in a European city. Rising to prominence during the Edo period as a hanamachi (a popular geisha district), the area is a fascinating blend of French culture with a little old-world Japan thrown in for good measure. Stroll along the cobblestone streets and sample freshly baked pastries; just make sure to put aside a little time to visit Akagi Jinja, a modern marvel that looks more like a contemporary gallery than a place of worship.

12. Shin Okubo

Architectural Landmark

Korean town around Shin-Okubo station, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Japan.
© World Discovery / Alamy Stock Photo 

Shin Okubo is a small corner of the city that feels worlds away from Japan, yet is just one stop from Shinjuku. Known to the locals as Little Korea, this neighbourhood is home to the city’s densest population of Korean bars, cafés, beauty stores and restaurants. Shin Okubo is one of the best places for Korean food outside of Korea, and the aroma of sizzling Korean barbecue wafts through the air. The area is generally considered by Japanese people to be a little seedier than some other corners of Tokyo, but that’s seedy by Tokyo standards, a city where you can leave your wallet on a table without it getting stolen, so it’s still pretty safe.

13. Sugamo

Architectural Landmark

Sugamo district, also called Harajuku for grannies
© Carlo Bollo / Alamy Stock Photo

Known as ‘Harajuku for grannies’, Sugamo is a retiree hotspot, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Running down the centre of the area is Jizo Dori, a strip of stores, cafés and restaurants where locals gather to shop, pray and hang out. The centrepiece of Sugamo is Koganji Temple, located halfway down the street. The temple is home to a statue of Togenuki Jizo, a figure that’s said to heal ailments. Many people visit to wash their aching bodies in the sacred water for healing and relief. If you want to hang out with some of the city’s longest-living locals, this is the place to do it.

14. Takadanobaba

Architectural Landmark

Neon Signs in Takadanobaba, Tokyo, Japan.
© Fiona Graham/REX/Shutterstock

If you’re a hardcore anime fan you’ll recognise Takadanobaba as the home of Astroboy, the character from the cartoon series of the same name. If you’re a sci-fi geek this name may also sound familiar, because Takadanobaba is the naming inspiration behind the Star Wars world Takodana. Takadanobaba is also where you’ll find Toyama Park, a beautiful sprawling park during the day, but a supposedly haunted hangout at night. It’s said that the bodies of over 100 victims of scientific experiments on humans lie here.

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