Tokyo is an amazing city with many things to offer, marvelous mix of modern living and old-fashioned manners, slick high-tech gadgets and cutesy cartoon mascots.. Travelers of all types can always find something somewhere which catch their attention. There are shrines and stone lanterns and other traces of old Japan scattered among the skyscrapers, swanky shopping malls and hole-in-the-wall noodle shops. One of the great things about Tokyo is that each district feels like a totally different city. At the northern of Tokyo, there is vibrant, colourfull and anime city of Akihabara, just beside it… the old and charm neighbourhood of Ueno, and nearby is the traditional Japanese district of Asakusa. At the western of Tokyo, there is the skyscapper city of Shinjuku, the entertainment city of Shibuya, and the colourful Harajuku. At the central of Tokyo, there is the Imperial Palace at which is a pleasant getaway from the grayness of Tokyo’s modern architecture, also the upscale and boutique city of Ginza. And not to forget, there is also other interesting area such as Ikebukuro, Ropongi, Shinagawa, the Odaiba and others area. I really love the fact that each part of the city in Tokyo is easily accessible by its wide rail network. Soo many interesting places in Tokyo, which one is my favourite ??.. Hhhmm.. ALL OF IT !!!.. hahaha.. Japan is so nice that I had difficult time to choose one..
My number 1 fav : The Colourful Harajuku
Want to see some of the coolest, weirdest, and most colorful people in Tokyo? Go see and be seen here, at Harajuku..! It’s the heart of Japanese teenage fashion, culture and style. This is also the place where the local youth which is probably the largest concentration of youth in Tokyo. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be young at age to be here. A walk down at the busy streets of Takeshita-Dori and you will feel young. Busy, energetic and fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously and walk into the shops that are full of clothes you’d never wear.
However, it is not the main reason why I choose Harajuku as my number 1 favourite area in Tokyo. Apart from the famous Takeshi-Dori Street, Harajuku is also full with narrow street, bustling with nice little shop, sometimes we can find some unique pieces of clothing and accessories. Takeshita-dori didn’t live up to the hype for me personally, too crowded.. hehehe. If you walked along the Takeshita-dori to the end, continue walking across the main street into “Harajuku Street,” it is where the real shopping begins as there are a lot of boutique stores selling quality clothing at affordable Japanese prices. As self proclaimed shopaholics, it was a shopper’s paradise.. I found the shops complementing my style more. I love the little stores, as each one carried differently items. There are plenty of small and large shops in the neighborhood so you can do some actual shopping and window shopping. Many of the streets in the neighborhood are quite narrow. Not only about the shopping, I enjoyed walking along these narrow street, the whole ambience was refreshing. This also the place where you should not worries on getting lost, take any of the narrow alley and see where it might lead you, some might even lead to surprises.
Beside that, there is also a lot of things to explore at Harajuku area. I could easily spend a whole day walking around Harajuku. I can have a morning walk at the serene Meiji Shrine, spend an afternoon at the teen subculture at the Harajuku Takeshita-Dori Street, have a coffee break at one of the many nice and secluded cafes at the narrow Harajuku streets, and continued the evening walk at the hipster and trendy boutique along the cat street and ended the day with the wonderful architectural display and high fashion street of Omotesando.
I would consider harajuku a location that defines Tokyo itself. You simply can’t go to Tokyo without visiting this stretch on alley that sells anything that is defines as youth today. It is very easily accessible by the JR Yamanote line and its subway station immediately leads out into the busy areas of Harajuku. Known for its Cosplay culture in the past, but if you want to catch a glimpse of the famed Harajuku youths who dress in cosplay which Harajuku was famous for during old days, quite difficult to see nowdays… but if you’re lucky, you might bump into one during the busy weekend.
No 2 : The Charming Ueno
Ueno is a colorful neighborhood, that has a little bit of everything.. history, art, nature, wild life, and good shopping. There is Ueno Park, a beautiful park famous for its hanami picnics during the cherry blossom season, one of Japan most famous site, big for one to spend close to a full day exploring around if you go and visit the slew of attractions – from museums to shrines/temples to even a zoo. There is also Ameyokocho, extremely lively and crowded market strip just opposite the Ueno Station, is a long street with many side-streets filled with fresh seafood, produce, cheap eateries, clothes, souvenirs, and just about anything else you can think of under the rumble of trains passing overhead.
Despite Ueno not getting the fanfare of other main Tokyo cities such as Shinjuku and Shibuya, I think Ueno is the best place for seeing unpresumptuous Japan. This is why I choose Ueno as my second favourite place in Tokyo. Ueno has a real mix of ordinary Japan people without any pretense of wealth or luxury, a great place if you want to experience a more authentic side of Japanese daily life. Regular people and business living life the Japanese way on a daily basis, a down-to-earth and cozy working class district. Plenty of touristy stuff but if you want a taste of what life in Japan is really like, this is the place..
If you have the chance to walk around, check out the residential neighborhood surrounding Ueno Park. Ueno, particularly north of Ueno train station, with all its old and narrow streets, gives you a great feel for what Tokyo must have been like in the early part of the 20th Century. It is full of interesting houses and shops and well worth taking the time to explore. It is flat and so easy to spend a day walking around, however can become a maze – this adds to the fun and makes it so much more interesting, but it is easy to get a bit lost. You can see lots of locals riding bicycle here.
There is a kind of “red district” there as well, where we entered accidentially, and I felt quite strange there as we were the only woman except the “working” ladies there. It’s also interesting and funny to see ‘this nice people’ in suites all over the place. However, I still feel safe when walked around this red district. You can also see lots homeless people meticulously tending to their spots either at the parks or ourside the Ueno station.
Another reason why I loved Ueno is because of its Ueno station. It is one of the major stations in Tokyo, home to several lines, most notably is JR’s Yamanote and Shinkansen lines as well as Tokyo Metro’s Ginza and Hibiya Line. Nearby, there is also the keisei Narita station that makes easier to transfer from the Narita Airport. And that makes a perfect base for traveller like us to travel around or even outside Tokyo. The station itself was very big, even with shopping complex within the station. I love to hang around the station, drinks a cup of coffee at one of the coffee shop inside the station after a long day travel exploring the city.
No 3 : The Geeky Akihabara
If you are into gadgets, electronics, cosplay and Japanese anime action figures then Akihabara is the place to be… Akihabara has long been Japan’s foremost shopping destination for electronic and electrical appliances, with hundreds of shops offering a look at the latest in gadgets and gizmos. Great part of the city to walk through and see all the large mutli story electronic markets as well as small shops selling everything to do with electronics.
The more unique aspect of Akihabara these days, to me, are the non-shopping stuff. This includes the manga, anime stuff. In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district.There are also many maid cafes that you could partake. There are also some folks who dress in cosplay, espeically to get people into the maid cafes. Moreover, there are plenty of pachinko parlors in Akihabara. At night, the whole neighborhood comes alive. Everything is lit up by flashing neon lights and all you can listen to thousands of voices, along with the shrill cries of girls in tiny anime dresses, calling men to come into their cafes. Even if you’re not into all things geeky, its worth a trip just to soak in the atmosphere as its one of those “only in Japan” type places. This is why I choose Akihabara as one of my favaurite spot in Tokyo.
I enjoyed walking through and checking out the electronic district, the maid cafes, otakus waiting in line for certain releases, anime stores, and other weird/interesting shops. I like the fact that as soon as you exit Akihabara train station, you are already greeted by the number of cafes including the Gundam Cafe and AKB48, electronic buildings, and whatnots. Worth a visit even if you aren’t a fan of anime or electronics, because the general vibe and atmosphere of the area is just so wildly different from anything you’d expect anywhere else in the world.
Akihabara is very much a required taste and it definitely isn’t for everyone but if you are interested in seeing the more unique and quirky side of the modern Japanese culture, you must give this place a visit. If you are looking to experience a different side of Japan apart from Temples, Gardens and Name brand stores this may be for you too.
No 4 : The Elegant Ginza
Ginza is the swankiest and most expensive shopping area in all Japan. Ginza is where you’ll find a multitude of department stores, international brand-name boutiques, exclusive restaurants, hotels, art galleries, hostess clubs, and drinking establishments. Although Tokyo’s younger generation favors less staid districts such as Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku, the Ginza is still a good place to window-shop and dine, especially on Sunday, when its major thoroughfare, Chuo-Dori, is closed to vehicular traffic, giving it a festive atmosphere. Even if you don’t have a big shopping budget it’s a fascinating area to explore. It is a great area in which to browse and people watch.
However, this is not why I choose Ginza as my favourite. Being a budget traveller, the price tag in Ginza will definately cut a hole in my pocket. As for Ginza being the home base for top reknown international brand, fancy brands demand fancy architecture. As such Ginza, along with Omotesando, is a focal point of Japanese Architecture and contemporary design. World famous Japanese and foreign Architects have designed some outstanding buildings for these fashion brands. There is the Mikimoto 2 Building by Toyo Ito, Maison Hermes by Renzo Piano, Shiseido Ginza by Ricardo Bofill, Nicholas G Hayak Center by Shigeru Ban, Louis Vuitton by Jun Aoki to name a few. Seeing the the masterpieces of the top architects in the world within one area was very faschinating. Ginza is certainly a highlight for any Architect like me travelling to Tokyo.
No 5 : The Vibrant Shibuya
Shibuya has everything for the young and the restless, but even for older visitors it has a very energetic vibe. This is one of those places that you must go to because when you get there, you can’t stop thinking, “THIS is Tokyo!”…….the masses of people, the crazy culture in 109, the crosswalk, the Hachkico dog statue……it’s simply crazy. The best time to experience Shibuya is during the night time. All the neon lights, the crowds, everything, is amazing.
My favourite, of cause the Shibuya Crossing, as mentioned in every travel guidebook as the busiest intersection in the world. No one can describe standing in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, one must experience it on his own. A swarm of people rushing, zig-zagging, zooming everywhere as colors, shapes and sizes that change, flashing before your eyes. At night, I like to go up to the second floor Starbucks across from shibuya station for some free wi-fi and to watch people crossing.
I enjoyed just walking through Shibuya, and seeing many buildings and people. It was like eye candy for me – neon lights, various signs, all sorts of people, different eateries, department stores, etc. The energy is electric and the shops are fun to go into. It’s great fun to spend the evening here wandering the streets and absorbing the youth culture of Tokyo.
Generally, Tokyo is a massive city and like all travel advice really depends on your interests and what you would like out of the trip.
love reading your blog. it’s well-written.
Just to let you know that we added your blog to our latest blog post about online travel resources for architects. You can read it here: http://www.architectshouseexchange.com/blogs/1/28/travel-resources-for-architects
We have also created a group on LinkedIn devoted to all matter travel related for architects, Architects Travel Network. We hope you will join the group and post your own updates there also!
Eva Byrne, MRIAI
Founder Architects House Exchange.com