Tokyo is one of the most complex cities in the world. If you have decided to visit the capital of Japan and are looking for the right itinerary, then you should know one thing. In Tokyo there is no such thing as city centre, there are many districts and many neighborhoods, that all together form the capital of Japan.
Tokyo: Many neighborhoods, one identity
The districts of Tokyo are like many small stories that come together in one big story.Each district has its own identity, its own culture, its own heritage to be discovered. In this article we have tried to tell the best ones.
The top landmark is probabily the Imperial Palace, placed in the heart of the city. From here it is possible to trace a common thread running from north to south, from east to west, and follow the confused but ordered lines of a unique metropolis.
- Tokyo Station and Marunouchi - Ginza and Tsukiji - Nihonbashi - Kanda and Jimbocho - Akihabara - Kagurazaka - Akasaka - Tokyo Bay - Odaiba
- Ikebukuro District and Sunshine City - Yanaka and Nezu - Ueno Park
- Shibuya - Shinjuku and surroundings - Yoyogi neighborhood
- Asakusa and the Temple of Sensoji - Ryogoku, the sumo district - Ogasawara Islands
Our review of the neighborhoods of Tokyo could only start from the heart of the city. The unmistakable red bricks that color the station wall are the ideal starting point to visit the Japanese capital, especially if you arrive by train, or take advantage of the surface railway lines of the Japan Rail, or even if you arrive from Narita airport (about an hour and a half away).
The station is located among the skyscrapers of the financial district of Marunouchi: headquarters of many banks, international companies and luxury hotels.
From Tokyo Station you can easily get to the Imperial Palace, home of the Japanese Emperor, and its splendid East Gardens, an oasis of greenery and tranquility in a neighborhood that rarely rests.
Tradition and innovation meet in the elegant centre of Tokyo. Just over a kilometer from the station, the District of Ginza is the cradle of luxury shopping and big shopping. An area to discover, perhaps by guided tour.
Western and eastern haute couture brands parade in the main avenue, closed to car traffic on weekends and holidays, while the side streets branch off into a mix of refined boutiques and interesting bistros.
In Ginza also stands the Kabukiza, historical house of Kabuki, the traditional Japanese figurative art that is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The not-to-miss performances can last up to 5 hours, but are worth it. If you have not enough time, you may want to take an interactive tour of the theatre, instead.
Between the Ginza district and the Toyosu area, on the bay of Tokyo, is the world's most famous outdoor fish market. In the "food town" of Japan, you can watch the special tuna auctions and taste all kinds of traditional Japanese food. A special one? Sushi, of course, the freshest sushi in town is definetely here!
The roads around this area are lined with restaurants, takeaways and cafes. Nearby, the lively streets of the Ginza district make way for an atmosphere full of peace and wonder. There is the Hama-rikyu Park, perfect for a relaxing stroll. Or the Buddhist temple Tsukiji Honganji, which is especially appreciated for its architecture that blends Hindu and Greek elements. Crossing the Sumida River, you finally reach the island of Tsukishima, the Mecca of the Monjayaki, the so-called "food of the soul".
Very close to the sophisticated Ginza is the neighborhood of Nihonbashi that tells two souls of the same city.
The modern buildings meet merge with the many traditional Japanese shops. This district should be explored with a special tour to learn the true roots of Tokyo behind its western patina.
The neighborhood is also home to important museums such as the Mitsui Memorial Museum, home to 4,000 artifacts, and the Tokyo Kite Museum, an amazing exhibition of 3,000 kites.
A little further north we approach the heart of the spiritual life in Tokyo. Kanda and its surroundings host religious institutions of the caliber of the Kanda Myojin Shrine and the Mausoleum of Confucius. Those two religious sites are especially popular on New Year's Eve.
The first site is an important destination for entrepreneurs and businessmen, who pray every January 1st for a year of success.
The second site in the same way, is attended by students from the nearby University of Tokyo and Meji University to look forward to the success of the next exams.
The Yasakuni Sanctuary is also worth mentioning, especially in spring, when the cherries are in bloom, and at weekends, for the classic flea market.
Between Kanda and Jimbocho there are also some of Tokyo's best-known soba restaurants where you can taste great noodles or one of the best and cheapest curries in the city (there is also a curry festival in November). Books and music lovers passing through these areas, should visit the streets of Jimbocho. This area is swarming with bookstores, musical instrument shops, literary cafes and jazz clubs.
Also known as "Akihabara Electric Town", this district showcases Japanese technology. Among the dazzling neon signs of the major consumer electronics players (Akihabara Radio Kaikan, Akiba Culture Zone, GUNDAM Cafe, Tokyo Leisure Land), the otaku culture proliferates.
Akihabara is indeed like a paradise for the many fans of manga, anime and video games that Japan has skillfully exported to the western world. It is a little odd when we think that the neighborhood was born as a post-war black market!
From Akihabara you can easily reach the area of Korakuen where the huge structure of the Tokyo Dome stands out. This place is home of the Giants, the famous baseball team: the show at the Tokyo Dome is already worth the price of the ticket, even if you are not a fan of baseball. Nearby there are the Tokyo Dome City, a fantastic amusement park with every entertainment, and the beautiful traditional garden Koishikawa Korakuen.
The charming Geisha district, further west than Akihabara, has been renamed the "Paris of Tokyo". The reason?
Fancy shops and French restaurants that have nothing to envy to the Ville Lumiere.
On weekends its main street is closed to traffic and you can walk peacefully in the area, from the station of Iidabashi to thes main monuments of the area: the Zenkokuji Temple, dedicated to Bishamonten, a god who grants wishes, and the Akagi Jinja Shrine, with its curiously contemporary architecture.
South of Kagurazaka, Akasaka is the ideal destination for a starry dinner or a stroll through the central business district. The neighborhood is home to the city's most famous hotels and luxury restaurants. It is no coincidence that the The State Guest House (the Akasaka Palace) is the meeting place of world leaders: an opulent building, between British and Japanese style, that reminds Buckingham Palace. The shrines in the surrounding area are equally impressive. There are the Hie Jinja Shrine with its imposing gateway, right behind the Capitol Hotel Tokyu; the tranquil shrine of Akasaka Hikawa and the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin Temple, carefully "guarded" by foxes of stone.
In Tokyo you can also breathe air of sea. You don't need to move too much from the heart of the city. The modern districts of Shimbashi, Shiodome City Center area, and Hamamatsucho can be considered as the ideal promenade to reach Tokyo Bay. Close to the sea there are fantastic parks such as the traditional Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens and the Hamarikyu Gardens.
Things to do to enjoy the surrounding panorama? Take a ferry ride along the bay or a "climb" to the 47th floor of the Caretta Shiodome. From here you can take a pleasant walk to the Tokyo Tower, twin of the Eiffel Tower of Paris (the Japanese version is 13 meters taller). This is a meeting point between the various districts of Roppongi, Shiodome and Toranomon. Nearby, the Zojoji Temple, the Atago Shrine, the Shiba Park and the Shiba Toshogu Shrine are worth a visit.
By crossing the "Rainbow Square" you access Odaiba, an ultra-modern area on the opposite side of Tokyo Bay. It's the ideal place for a pleasant holiday made of shopping, fun by the sea and relaxing sessions in the spas of Oedo Onsen Monogatari, housed within traditional Japanese style buildings.
AQUA City, DiverCity, VenusFort or Decks. For those who are looking for fun and entertainment, especially if accompanied by children, there are the Tokyo Joypolis and the Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo: it is highly recommended to book an online ticket in advance!
Finally, prepare for an uncomparable experience to the Miraikan, which is the National Museum of Science and Innovation.
The tour through Tokyo's neighborhoods moves north in the direction of Ikebukuro Station, one of the busiest and most dynamic stations in the Japanese capital.
Ikebukuro is a vibrant area, which has nothing to envy to the large neighborhoods of downtown. There are many theatres, sanctuaries, haute couture shops, gourmet restaurants or more basic ones, in the usual mix of contemporaneity and tradition that characterizes Tokyo.
Icing on the cake is the Sunshine City, a real themed urban park, full of entertainment sites: a planetarium, a 60-storey high panoramic observatory and an aquarium. It is the "tallest" aquarium in the world, where dolphins and penguins swim on the ninth floor of a shopping mall!
Away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, the two ancient Districts of Yanaka and Nezu make up the Shitamachi, literally the historic center of Tokyo. We are in the heart of the Enochian culture, which has its roots in the beginning of 1600. Ancient Tokyo is an open-air temple where, hidden among narrow alleys, there are traditional wooden houses, izakaya pubs, cafes and retro shops. Here you will find also sites of great historical importance such as the Yanaka cemetery and the Nezu-jinja Shrine, dated 1706.
How to enjoy an experience in the Tokyo Old Town to the fullest? Maybe by booking a walking tour to visit the narrow streets of the neighborhood, the vermilion-red torii of the sanctuary and the old-fashioned shops along the famous Yanaka-Ginza.
A little less than a kilometer to the south, we are in the most famous park in Tokyo. The park of Ueno, in the heart of the district of the same name, is much more than just a scenic attraction: it can be considered as a cultural center surrounded by greenery. Things to do in Ueno park: you can have a tour on the lake Shinobazu Pond, visit a sanctuary, a zoo (Panda's house) and see the beautiful architecture of the master Le Corbuiser.
Among them, the National Museum of Tokyo stands out, home of treasures and of the great Japanese art. The best month to visit the park is definitely April, during the blooming of cherry trees.
Western Tokyo is par excellence the most lively and hectic part of the city. One of the best districts in this area is without any doubt Shibuya.
A colorful and crowded neighborhood, it is the nerve center of young fashion, haute cuisine and nightlife.
Emblem of this vibrant district is the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, the busiest crossroads in the world. Every day, the pedestrian crossings of this intersection are trampled and crossed by more than a million passers-by between locals and visitors, in a miraculously organized chaos. Beyond the intersection, the streets of the neighborhood continue to dictate the rules in the world of fashion, both in the Japanese one but also worldwide.
Some addresses to pin down: the iconic building of Shibuya 109, the complexes of Shibuya Hikarie and Seibu, Jinnan, or the more distinctive Tokyu Hands, Don Quijote.
Going from the sacred to the profane and back to the sacred: in front of the crowded intersection the Statue of Hachiko deserves a photo... it's impossible not to know the story of Japan's most faithful dog.
Shibuya is also home to an interesting cultural ferment. Small cinemas like Cinemavera, Uplink and Eurospace often host major film festivals and screen the most sought-after Japanese and international films every day. In the area, it is not difficult to come across sumo wrestlers, considered real stars in Tokyo. Also, you can find and eat one of the best sushi in the city. So many experiences, maybe too many, that could be lived in a more organized way with a special tour and a must-see list.
Among the eccentric western districts of Tokyo, Shinjuku, is a city within the city, the cradle of nightlife as well as daytime entertainment. The district can be divided into two areas:
- The first is west of the station of the same name, the Nishi-Shinjuku, dominated by a dense "forest" of tall skyscrapers.
- The second, east of the station, access key for any type of night entertainment, between more and less priced rooms, and colored led lights.
There is a variety of attractions not to be missed. The list is long:
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building, from the 45th floor you can enjoy an exceptional view of the city, the Shinjuku Gyoe National Garden, the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, the Samurai Museum and Ninja Trick House.
There are also several cultural attractions: the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, the Nezu Museum, the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum.
At the southernmost tip of the neighborhood, there are the streets of Aoyama and Omotesando, elegant and lined with sophisticated shops, boutiques and restaurants. The stores of the major fashion brands overlook the tree-lined avenue of Omotesando, Tokyo's answer to the Champs Élysées.
Between Shinjuku and Shibuya there is the Olympic quarter. Yoyogi hosted the Olympic Village of '64 and is ready to do it again in view of the next Games of 2020. Dominating the scene is the New National Stadium, rebuilt on the skeleton of the old structure, with a capacity of almost 80,000 seats. In the surrounding area, there are two pleasant options to spend a few hours of relaxation: the giant Meiji Jingu Gaien, a beautiful park with many sports facilities, or the Yoyogi Village, a very modern shopping center with green paths leading to elegant bars, restaurants and shops.
Sacred and profane mingle in one of Tokyo's areas full of attractions.
Everything revolves around the Sensoji Temple (Kaminarimon), the oldest Buddhist building in the capital, with its five-storey pagoda and the imposing Thunder Gate that welcomes visitors.
Between the gate and the temple you walk along Nakamise Dori, also known as Nakamise Shopping Street, with hundreds of stalls arranged in a route of less than half a kilometer.
Slightly further away you can watch a show of traditional Japanese arts, in the beautiful theater of Asakusa Engei Hall. Along the banks of the Sumida River are many of the historic buildings in this neighborhood. You can enjoy an excellent view from the Azuma-bashi bridge, marked by the vermilion red of the railings and street lamps. Or you'd better take a waterbus ride and enjoy a tour on a vehicle unique of its kind.
From here you can also admire one of the must-see attractions of Tokyo: the impressive Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest panoramic television tower. The tower overlooks the modern shopping complex of Tokyo Solamachi. Its panoramic terrace offers a breathtaking view of the city at an altitude of 450 meters: on a clear day you can even see the snowy skytree of Monte Fuji. To visit the Tokyo Skytree it is recommended to buy the ticket online with skip the queue option, so as to avoid the kilometric queues at the ticket office.
Our tour of Tokyo's neighbourhoods comes to a great end in the sumo temple. Sumo is Japan's national sport. The famous wrestling sport has its roots in this neighborhood more than 1,500 years ago.
This is where the Kokugikan Arena is located. Also known as Ryōgoku Sumo Hall, it is home to the big tournaments of sumo. On the streets of Ryogoku it is not difficult to come across the most famous wrestlers. Sometimes, it is also possible to watch to trainings in the morning. Apart Sumo, this area is famous for the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which tells about the evolution of the city over the centuries, the Origami Museum and the Japanese Swords Museum.
And it doesn't end there. In the south side of the city we advice to explore the natural site of the beautiful Ogasawara Islands or Bonin Islands: Kozushima, Toshima and Miyakejima to mention a few. There are many neighborhoods, endless attractions... ready for your trip to Tokyo?