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A Whirlwind Tour of Tokyo and the Major Areas to Enjoy
Long ago when Tokugawa Ieyasu deemed Edo (now Tokyo) the capital of Japan, we wonder if he imagined it would turn into what it has today — a sprawling metropolis packed with amazing things to see, do, and eat.
To amplify your time in Tokyo, we think it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of where each of the parts of Tokyo is located in relation to each other.
It will help you travel around more efficiently — and give you a good sense of where you want to go.
Where is Tokyo Located?
First, let’s find the location of Tokyo in Japan. This will help set the stage for the rest of this guide. The black shape on the map below is Tokyo (and yes, that’s all it is, seems like it should be bigger huh?).
Tokyo is on the main island of Japan known as Honshu — located in the Kanto region of Japan. Let’s zoom in on Tokyo a little bit.
You can see Tokyo is surrounded by the Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Yamanashi prefectures.
Notice we color-coded the map into two halves? That is because you can break Tokyo into two main parts.
The suburbs (in green) and downtown Tokyo in blue.
Let’s see why this is an important distinction to understand.
This is the Tokyo you imagine when you hear the word ”Tokyo.” The huge skyscrapers, traffic, pedestrians everywhere. The hustle and bustle of a busy, big city, life.
The heart of the “downtown” area is made up of 23 special wards. They’re kind of like a bunch of cities that came together to form Tokyo.
Many of these wards you may know of already, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, or perhaps Chiyoda — where the imperial palace is located — more on these in the next part of this guide.
The important thing to think of here is they are very busy, highly populated, expensive to live in, and usually best accessed by train (as parking is quite expensive).
Check out this map below to see where each of the 23 wards is located in relation to each other.
To the west of the downtown area of Tokyo are the suburbs, referred to as the Tama area.
This is where most of the people who work in downtown Tokyo live (and then they commute to work each day — usually by train).
To put things into perspective, locate Tachikawa on the map. Can you guess how long it would take to commute from Tachikawa to let’s say… Nakano station (which is one of the downtown wards of Tokyo)?
Only 20-40 minutes (20 if you can catch the rapid train).
Note: the rapid train is one that skips many of the smaller stations along its route.
Shout out to our fellow U.S. military members. Yokota Air Base is the only U.S. military base in Tokyo. It’s located at the intersection of 6 cities in the Tama area: Tachikawa City, Akishima City, Fussa City, Musashimurayama City, Hamura City, and Mizuho Town.
Districts (or Neighborhoods)
When you start hunting for places to enjoy in Tokyo, you’ll find locations are described by the district they’re in.
Take for example Ginza. It’s a popular location many around the world have heard of. But it isn’t referring to a town within Tokyo. Ginza is a district in the Chuo ward.
You can think of districts as a sort of neighborhood. An area that has garnered its own unique name. In fact, many websites will refer to these districts as neighborhoods in their menus.
In some cases, the district matches the ward. Take Shinjuku for example. It’s the ward, and there is a district.
There are many popular districts you may have heard of, but didn’t realize they were districts within a ward, such as Roppongi (Minato Ward), Ginza (Chuo Ward), or Harajuku (Shibuya Ward).
Truth be told, you’ll hear the districts named so often you’ll forget about the wards altogether. Actually, even after many years of living in Japan, we don’t really pay much attention to the wards.
Our List of Popular Downtown Wards & Districts of Tokyo
Let’s recap real quick before we move on into a little more detail about each of the wards.
Tokyo, despite being the most populated, is but a teeny, tiny part of Japan (land-wise). It is split into two halves. Downtown (the special wards) and the western suburbs (the Tama area).
Within the special wards, there are districts (or neighborhoods if it’s easier for you to remember). These districts are used to describe the location of places. And they are often known for something unique — something enticing that you’ll want to check out.
When you’re in Tokyo you’re looking for places to go, things to do, sights to see, and if we had to guess, amazing food to eat — Tokyo is truly the food capital of the world (sorry France).
So let’s breeze through the various parts of Tokyo real quick so you can formulate a goal.
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 we 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; plus, 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 in the Nakameguro area — 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.
Odaiba has a very laid back atmosphere with vibrant, uplifting color and landscape.
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.
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 Sumida ward is the home of sumo. Where you’ll find the famous sumo stables and the national sumo stadium: Kokugikan. Sumida is a nice area east of Asakusa and has the tallest structure in Japan, the Tokyo Skytree.
Ryogoku is referred to as Sumo Town. It’s the area within Sumida where you find everything sumo. If a sumo tournament, or culture, is the reason you’re coming to Tokyo — Ryogoku is where you want to go.
Taito is absolutely loaded with a ton to see and do like parks, temples, street food, cafes, upscale and downscale restaurants, and the Tokyo National Museum.
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 a 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 we 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.” we 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.
We told you it was weird, but it’s interesting at the same time, right?
Wrapping Up the Areas of Tokyo
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 we 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, we simply mean in terms of popularity and familiarity, the areas are often combined into areas.
These areas come together something like this:
- Chiyoda – Kanda, Akihabara, Marunouchi
- Chuo – Ginza, Tsukiji
- Meguro – Nakameguro, Jiyugaoka
- Minato – Akasaka, Odaiba, Hamamatsucho, Roppongi, Toranomon, Aoyama, Azabu
- Setagaya – Shimokitazawa
- Shibuya – Ebisu, Harajuku, Daikanyama, Hiroo, Yoyogi, Center Gai
- Shinagawa – Gotanda
- Shinjuku – Kabukicho, Golden Gai
- Sumida – Ryogoku
- Taito – Ueno, Asakusa
- Toshima – Ikebukuro, Sugamo
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.
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