Tokyo is a place that I just can’t seem to stay away from for long. Since my first visit in 2011, I’ve been back three times and could easily go back again another three times (or more!).
It is such a huge place that figuring out where to go in Tokyo can feel overwhelming, so I’ve prepared this easy guide to Tokyo’s best neighbourhoods to spend time in. There are so many things to do in Tokyo, so make sure you plan your trip carefully and allow enough time in each area you’d like to spend time in.
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How to get around in Japan
Luckily for tourists, Japan has one of the most incredible public transport systems in the world. For most tourists who are planning on visiting Tokyo and a couple of other Japanese destinations (like Osaka or Kyoto), you’ll want to take advantage of the JR Pass.
This pass issued by Japan Rail gives you access to the Shinkansen (bullet trains) plus any other non-bullet JR trains. It also means you don’t have to fluff around at the ticket stations each time you want to ride the train. It also comes with a free JR Pass Guide which will help you make the most of your travels.
JR Passes are available for purchase for 7, 14 or 21 days and they will save you a lot of cash, especially if you are planning to travel around the country a bit. There’s also plenty of local JR lines in Tokyo, so the pass will also assist you in getting around the city.
Akihabara – Electric Town
Best for: Electronics
One of the things that you always hear about the city of Tokyo is about the crazy array of electronic gadgets and neon lights that the city has to offer. If that’s what you’re dying to see then you need to head to Akihabara Electric Town. Prepare to be amazed.
About 5 minutes commute from Tokyo station, I recommend visiting Akihabara at night so that you get to experience seeing the giant electronics stores all lit up. Whether you’re there to find a bargain or just there to marvel at the sheer size and variety of electronics, Akihabara will impress.
From electronic, heated toilet seats to walking, talking soft toys I was kept amused (and sometimes bemused) for the best part of a couple of hours.
There are also plenty of food places around Akihabara, so if you’re heading down for the evening it’s also easy to make a pit stop, grab a bite to eat and a refreshing Japanese beer and then head back out for more electronics fun.
A couple of hours in Akihabara was plenty of time to explore for me, but those of you who are into your technology may find that you need some more time.
Best accommodation near Akihabara: remm Akihabara
Best for: a quieter, more traditional stay & Senso-ji
Asakasa is a more traditional and quiet neighbourhood of Tokyo. The main drawcard of the area is the majestic Buddhist temple, Senso-ji which bustles to life during national holidays and especially at New Year.
This is the perfect place for those looking for a more relaxed stay away from some of the mania of city crowding, but it is still very easily accessed on a day trip from areas like Shibuya.
Asakusa is also very close to the Tokyo Skytree, another of the city’s most famous attractions. The Tokyo Skytree is located in neighbouring Sumida City, approximately 15 minutes walk to Senso-ji.
Where to stay in Asakusa: Hotel Gracery Asakusa
Best for: shopping & food
Ginza is Tokyo’s premier shopping destination with plenty of high end retailers taking up space along the beautifully modern streets of the area. Ginza is an area that buzzes with life day and night with Ginza station being one of the city’s busiest for both locals and visitors.
Around the station there are plenty of food destinations to cater for every taste from traditional Japanese food and izakayas to more modern, western options.
Best accommodation in Ginza: The Blossom Hibiya
Best for: shopping, food and the Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya has got to be my favourite area in Tokyo and an absolute MUST see for tourists. After watching the film Lost in Translation, I was pretty excited to be heading to the region where the majority of the film was shot. Jumping off the train at Shibuya station, I stood transfixed at the station window that looked out onto the streets.
Directly below was a four cornered pedestrian crossing where people were gathered, waiting for the lights to change so that they could cross the intersection. As soon as the lights changed the crossing went from empty to having every square inch of it covered in people. It is such a remarkable sight that you’ll want to watch it over and over again.
Shibuya is a great shopping district with a lot of well-known commercial stores like H& M, Gap and Zara littered around the main streets. I literally just blocked out 8 hours in my final day in Tokyo just for shopping. It’s also a great area to grab food with plenty of dinner options around to finish off your day.
I’ve also done the Urban Adventures food tour of Tokyo, which takes you through little Izakayas to sample all sorts of different Japanese treats. I’d thoroughly recommend it, and if you’re uncertain about where to find awesome food, then it’s a great introduction to Japan.
Best accommodation in Shibuya: TRUNK
Best for: quirky shopping, nightlife & Meiji Jingu
Harajuku is famous for it’s quirky fashion, youth culture and mish mash of colour and trends that otherwise would never be seen together in an ensemble. Somehow, though, in Harajuku they make it work. If you’re heading to Harajuku, you can easily get there from Shibuya (about 2 stops on the train).
This area as this is where the action is for young Japanese. It is full of quirky laneways in full of outlandish stores both in open-air shopping and more shopping mall style shops and watching the youth of Japan in their garish, wacky outfits.
From a food perspective, there are many very Instagrammable Harajuku crepe stores in the area, serving up delicious desserts.
Meiji Jingu shrine is also a fantastic departure from the hustle of Tokyo City and is located just across the road from Harajuku’s famous Takeshita Dorii shopping street.
Best accommodation in Harajuku: Sequence MIYASHITA PARK
Best for: nightlife and food
Home to Tokyo’s tackiest, wildest and funniest night out – Shinjuku boasts the incomparable Robot Restaurant, where scantily clad dancers and robots entertain patrons night after night.
Shinjuku Station is one of the city’s busiest with workers and revellers passing through the doors daily. Shinjuku is perfect for those looking for a night out on the town with loads of various restaurants including traditional izakayas and sushi bars.
One of the highlights of Shinjuku is the delightful Golden Gai laneways that are full of the tiniest small bars you’ve ever experienced.
Karaoke and nightlife are also at their peak in Shinjuku – the area is also home to Japan’s (faily tame) red light district.
Best accommodation in Shinjuku: Park Hyatt Tokyo
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