Alright, so you’re sold on the idea of exploring without a plan, and you’ve been oriented to Tokyo, and now I’m about to show you a bit more information about the parts making up Tokyo.
When you’re in Tokyo you’re looking for places to go, things to do, sights to see, and if I had to guess, amazing food to eat — I mean, c’mon, Tokyo is truly the food capital of the world (sorry France).
I suppose it would be better to say this isn’t planning, but more of getting an overall idea of what’s out here in Tokyo.
So let’s breeze through the various parts of Tokyo real quick so you can formulate a goal. If you’re following the advice from chapter one, this is designed to give you some direction if you need it.
The Chiyoda ward is impressive. First, it’s where the imperial palace is located, which you can visit during certain times of the year. But it also contains Akihabara, the electronics capital of, some would say, the world.
Plus Chiyoda has some of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo, art museums, and historical shrines.
The Akihabara area has two personalities. On the one hand, you will find almost any electronics goods you want. On the other, it’s every geek’s dream (a geek is called otaku in Japanese) — anime, maid cafes, manga, and more for as far as the eye can see.
The Jinbocho area is where you’ll find antique books. It’s often referred to as “Book Town.” It’s also where you’ll discover lots of little curios – those rare, trinkets that are awesome to bring back and showcase in your home.
So are the interesting old books you’ll find here among the nearly 200 bookstores.
It’s also home to some of the best curry restaurants you’ll find in Tokyo, like this shop: Sumatra Curry Kyōeidō.
The Kanda area is home to the aptly named Kanda Shrine or Kanda-myojin. The cool part is this shrine is over 1,200 years old and is close to Akihabara so you can take in some history after geeking out all day.
Also, some of the greatest festivals are held here, so plan for those — there’s nothing quite like festivals in Japan — even after 24+ years here I look forward to the festival season.
The Marunouchi area is tucked between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. It’s mostly a business area, but don’t let that deter you — there’s still a lot to see here, especially if you enjoy art, a good bowl of ramen, incredible architecture, and shopping.
The Chuo ward is home to a couple of the most well-known areas in Tokyo: Ginza and Tsukiji. It also has the Yaesu area on the east side of Tokyo Station, where the Shinkansen “bullet train” terminal is located.
Ginza is literally the most expensive area to shop in Tokyo. It’s the Beverly Hills of Japan, packed with all the top brand names like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and more;. pPlus, there are the up and comer boutique brands sprinkled throughout.
Tsukiji is so popular you probably already know about it if you’ve done even a little research into Tokyo. It’s home of the Tsukiji Fish Market — which, unfortunately, has changed quite a lot since the inner market was moved to the Toyosu Fish Market.
But Tsukiji is still where you will find the most incredible sushi and street food in Tokyo so don’t scratch it off your list.
The Meguro Ward is typically a relaxed residential area nestled in the middle of downtown Tokyo with one massively remarkable appeal: the annual cherry blossom festival in Nakameguro.
If you’re here in late March/early April you’re in for a real treat. Huge numbers of large, ancient cherry blossom trees line the Meguro River and when they blossom — OMG it’s beautiful, especially in the evening when paper lanterns light up the blossoms over the glistening river.
Jiyugaoka is a lesser-known area of Tokyo that is strikingly worthy of your time. It’s relaxed, attractive, and worldly — loaded with contemporary cafes and stylish craft shops.
The whole area looks nice because of the old,-European- style architecture and brick walkways.
The Minato Ward is incredibly popular. The areas within the Minato ward are some of the most visited by visitors to Tokyo. Big-name areas like Akasaka, Odaiba, and Roppongi all fall within Minato.
Akasaka is where the crown prince of Japan lives so it can’t be too bad, can it? While not as big-name as other areas, it is famous for the unique Ninja Akasaka restaurant, where you enter a hidden ninja lair for dinner.
Aoyama is an upscale, wealthy neighborhood. There are lots of international fashion shops and really good restaurants, especially some delicious tiny mom and pop shops down the small alleys.
Odaiba is actually an artificial island in Tokyo Bay! It’s a sightseer’s paradise. Malls with beautiful views of the Tokyo Bay, amusement game centers, Rainbow Bridge, Fuji TV headquarters, and even a giant Gundam. There is a ton to see here.
Omotesando isn’t really an “area” in Minto, it’s a road. A road lined with remarkable dining experiences, art, nature, fashion, crafts, and so much more. It stretches from the Meiji Shrine all the way to Omotesando train station.
And on the other, it’s small disjointed roads packed with partygoers. It’s an eclectic mix that somehow works.
Shinbashi, or Shimbashi, isn’t as well known, but it does have some perks. The massive skyscraper, Shiodome, has amazing restaurants with a magnificent view of the bay. In the winter there are spectacular illuminations too.
The Ota ward isn’t really on many people’s bucket lists when in Japan, but it’s home to the Haneda airport — which is now an international airport. So you may end up being here for a bit. Might as well discover what Ota has to offer right?
It really is incredible the sheer number of things there are to see and do in Shibuya. Down every tiny alley, there’s something interesting to discover. Like that perfect izakaya with the best food paired with unique drinks.
Center Gai in Shibuya is just this tiny little section, but wow is it packed with boutique fashion, subculture, cool craft stores, and of course, amazing food and nightlife!
As you would guess, it’s smack in the middle of Shibuya, and it’s where the famous Shibuya “Scramble” crosswalk is located.
Dogenzaka is sort of the seedy nightlife area — a bit of a red-light district. However, during the day you’ll find it similar to many other areas, loaded with small shops and great food. But it’s primarily where you’ll find quite a variety of night clubs and the famous love hotels in Japan.
Ebisu is nice. While inside the bustle of downtown Tokyo, it feels more relaxed. The sidewalks are clean, brick, and trees add a lot to the atmosphere.
You’ll want to visit Ebisu for the incredible dining experiences here. It’s absolutely loaded with izakaya, restaurants, cafes, and more — including a few Michelin-starred restaurants.
And of course, there is the Yebisu Beer Museum which is a historical view of the Yebisu Brewery that used to be in the area — and where Ebisu gets its name.
Harajuku is renowned for street fashion, youth subculture, and inviting cafes and restaurants. When you stroll the streets here you will notice the plethora of things to see at the many independent specialty shops.
Plus you’ll see stylish models in impromptu photoshoots on the streets.
It’s where the popular Takeshita street is located too. It is just this little pedestrian-only street lined with independent boutique fashion shops selling their own creations.
Hiroo is loaded with upscale shopping, unique craft souvenir stores, and a fantastic mixture of izakaya and restaurants. The izakaya here tends to be a more stylish, modern and less “dark bar” experience. A place to meet friends, co-workers… similar to a cafe feel.
And if you’re in the U.S. military community, the New Sanno Hotel is nearby.
Yoyogi is where the ever-popular Yoyogi park is located — which is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It’s where you will find relaxing green space in the urban jungle of the city.
Yoyogi park hosts events all year round and is also a place where many subculture groups meetup (like “car guy” or cosplay meetups).
The Shinagawa ward is not the most famous of wards, so you might not have heard of it during your research. It has quite a lot to see too, from historical sites, shrines, temples, parks, to things like art museums and even an aquarium.
Gotanda is a small area within Shinagawa where you’ll find an array of compact nightlife pubs, clubs, and izakaya.
The Shinjuku ward is world-famous for the busiest train station in the world and basically having pretty much anything cool you want to see in Tokyo.
From the crazy labyrinth of a train station to the absolutely insane amount of eats, and everything in between, you could spend days just in Shinjuku and not waste your time.
Shinjuku is home to the world-renowned Kabukicho and Golden Gai areas.
Kabukicho is the largest red-light district in Tokyo. A compact area packed with not only host and hostess bars, nightclubs, and izakaya — but also amazing dining experiences too.
Golden Gai is a maze of tiny alleys that transform into stand-up bars, izakaya, cafes, live music, and the awesome bustle of people shuffling through the tiny corridors.
The Taito ward is another you may not have heard of. Heck, I hardly hear that name used. But Taito is home to the famous Asakusa area with the Senso-Ji Temple and Ueno Park.
Taito is absolutely loaded with a ton to see and do like parks, temples, street food, cafes, upscale and downscale restaurants, and more.
Asakusa is a tourist mecca. The powerful Senso-Ji Temple is here with its high walls, giant lantern gated entrance, and dozens of street vendors selling interesting Japanese trinkets and delicious street food.
Ueno is home to beautiful parks, arts and entertainment, events, and of course, the Ueno Park — which contains the Ueno Zoo, insane cherry blossom festivals, incredible winter illuminations, and spacious green area to relax.
Plus Ameyoko Street where you can get a glimpse at a street market that started out of WWII.
The Toshima ward is actually one of the big central wards in downtown Tokyo, but I don’t hear people talk about it much. At least, not directly.
The most popular areas inside Toshima are Ikebukuro and Sugamo. Those are what you’ll hear about.
Ikebukuro is this crazy area where the highway system fuses all together into an area packed with a ton to see and do like a planetarium, aquarium, giant shopping malls, themed kids game centers — packed into the giant Sunshine City Mall.
And there are event spaces for live music, ruddy izakaya, and nightlife… pretty much everything.
Sugamo is really interesting. It’s nicknamed the “Harajuku for old ladies.” I guess that’s because it has shops specializing in older style fashion and kimonos. But that’s not the interesting thing.
Sugamo has this weird tradition. When you visit the main temple there is a white, padded, tuft of fur in a box. It is said to mimic a duck’s butt — and patting it brings health and good luck.
I told you it was weird, but it’s interesting at the same time, right?
Wrapping up the Wards & Districts
Okay, that was a high-level overview of the districts and areas in Tokyo. It’s probably not all going to make a lot of sense to you right now.
An important thing to keep straight in your mind is that while I covered a lot of different areas, they’re all inside Tokyo and many are bunched together into hubs.
That’s not the official word for it, I simply mean they are together so you could visit them at the same time.
These hubs come together something like this:
- Akihabara, Kanda, and Jimbocho
- Chiyoda – Imperial Palace
- Ebisu, Daikanyama, and Meguro
- Harajuku and Aoyama
- Roppongi and Akasaka
- Shimbashi and Shinagawa
- Tokyo Station and Marunouchi
Think of it like this. If you’re in Harajuku looking for that hot new t-shirt, you’re close enough to the Nezu Museum in Aoyama to check it out the same day without wasting a lot of time.
Once you’re in the middle of planning your time in Tokyo it will all begin to make sense.
That’s it for the technical details of Tokyo. Let’s look at some seasonal foods in Japan next.
Next Chapter: Seasonal Foods in Japan