Comprehensive Guide To Top Best Tokyo Districts For First Timers
ShinjukuShinjuku is the special ward of Tokyo, being the capital of the capital. It is Tokyo’s largest neighbourhood known as the shopping, business and entertainment district. If you’re looking for accommodation in an always busy Tokyo area, you are probably going to find it there but the cheaper accommodation can be found as well. Shinjuku is voted the busiest railway station in the world with over 2 million passengers per day! This means, no time or space to be strolling inside the long station. And you thought London was busy?! If you choose to stay in Shinjuku, you will benefit from the busy but ultra well-connected transportation hub with many railway and underground lines, including Shinkansen and buses stopping at this station, turning transport nightmare into a breeze. On the other hand, walking from one end of the station to another can be a nightmare if you’re unfamiliar with the signs or even worse if you’re in a rush because the distance you’ll need to make to change is going to seriously eat into your time and during peak time all you’re going to see is a fast flow of people rushing in different directions. If you love nightlife and shopping, this is where you’re going enjoy yourself most. Plenty of food options, shopping centres (one bigger than another!), clubs and bars to go to. Remember to visit three famous spots in here, 1. Kabukicho, the famous Red Light District of Japan, 2. Golden Gai, a small area with narrow alleys hidden away from the bustling neon lights, catering towards locals and curious tourists and 3. Omoide Yokocho, the famous ‘Piss Alley’. You can read more about top 15 ideas on what to see in Shinjuku here.
ShibuyaAlong with Shinjuku, Shibuya is what comes to people’s minds when they paint an image of Tokyo in their heads. Shibuya ward is an enormous shopping and entertainment district. Even if you wanted to compare it to any European location like Oxford Street in London, you won’t find the right equivalent. In Shibuya, one of largest Tokyo’s districts, also forming a special ward, you’re going to be spoilt for choice, no matter what fashion trends you follow or the budget you have. Spending there a few days won’t be enough and you will probably get lost, whether involuntarily or voluntarily before you enter the station since there have been ongoing construction works so pedestrians might need to use temporary alternative walkways. If you love “Tokyo Drift” just as much as me and watched “The fast and the furious” over and over again, each time pausing around the moment when Han and Sean look over Shibuya crossing from the top of Shibuya skyscraper, you will be thrilled to get the real feel of this vibrant place. Even more so if you’re visiting Shibuya on a rainy day or night as this pedestrian scramble transforms into a beautiful sea of umbrellas surrounded by the neon lights! This place is spectacular and truly captivating that will leave you ask for more. This always trending Tokyo area is also home to a great number of tourist attractions such as one of the most important Shinto shrines in the whole of Japan called Meiji Shrine and the famous Yoyogi Park near luxury boutique area Omotesando (often referred as ‘Japanese Champs-Élysées’) in Harajuku and Takeshita Street, the epicentre of youth fashion, cosplay and some cool themed cafes. Yes, it is possible to walk to all these tourist spots from Shibuya or if you feel lazy, simply hop on the train for a couple of stops. Staying in Shibuya will be a good option for night owls and party goers. Shibuya ward attracts with plenty of foreigner-friendly pubs, cocktail bars and jazz bars that stay open till early morning hours. Try the British chain called The Hub for a friendly vibe and reasonable drinks including Guinness or Bailey with Green Tea or dance the night away at mega clubs like Sound Museum Vision, Atom Tokyo, T2 or at very affordable venues like Gas Panic. For a full list of 10 cool ideas on what to do in Shibuya ward, click here. If you’re looking for some inspiration in the nearby neighbourhood Harajuku, don’t miss out on our top 10 cool ideas on what to do in Harajuku!
AkihabaraAkihabara, not a ward but a neighbourhood in Chiyoda, the heart of Tokyo, is definitely making the list of top Tokyo districts. Your visit will be incomplete if you skip this electrifying Tokyo neighbourhood. Think of anything bizarre, unthinkable, cringy or otaku and perhaps you are going to find it there. Correct, Akihabara is known for attracting people from all walks of life who have one passion in common: manga. Here, you are going to experience the cultural shock and feel completely swamped by the outlandish surroundings for a good few hours! Akihabara is known as a global electronic centre with huge electronic superstores like Yodobashi, BIC Camera, Laox and Sofmap (although personally I think that Shinjuku and Shibuya might be better for it). Upon embarking in Japan and specifically in Akihabara, anime lovers will feel the sight of relief – they can finally be themselves in this wonderful, enchanted world of sky high neon buildings filled with countless Pachinko parlours, gaming arcades open 24/7 like SEGA and specialised merchandise shops selling figurines of your favourite anime and manga characters in whatever form you can possibly dream of! The geekier you are, the better your fit here! Transforming into Monkey D. Luffy or Piccolo is totally acceptable! If this wasn’t enough, you will come across huge bookshops selling latest manga like Animate as well as ultra-cheap, second-hand manga bookshops in this fascinating Tokyo district. You can find literally everything in there, including the super old-school Dragon Ball Kai series! Go level up and venture into Manga Kissa (short for Manga Kissaten) or manga cafes, where you can read manga. They are open 24/7 and are becoming an affordable option for cheap overnight stays! The list goes on, including giant Don Quijote and the Gundam Café. Guys will fall in love with Akihabara neighbourhood for its abundance of Maid Cafes. The concept is a little bizarre and the closest you can compare it to is the Hooters but the Maid Cafes in Akihabara are way better better. The Maid Café girls wear some of the cutest and sexiest maid outfits and make you feel like a real master (or mistress!) and are not to be compared to any other country in the world. Don’t expect too much from the food, it’s very average, even at the iconic Maidreamin cafe. Anyway, the world hub of maid cafes in nowhere else but in Akihabara! Akihabara is one of the main transport hubs in Tokyo, along with Shinjuku and Shibuya but since it’s significantly smaller, it is also much easier to navigate around. Since Akihabara district is within Chiyoda ward, you can walk to Tokyo station, Marunouchi business district and hub reaching as far as Edo period, iconic bridge Nihonbashi, Ginza luxury shopping district, world famous and most visited in Japan Ueno Park, traditional Asakusa, Imperial Palace, the Emperor of Japan’s residence and even, at a push, Tsukiji market (all within 30-55 minute walk). If you’re going to stay in Akihabara, you will be in the close vicinity and the core of political powers of Japan as Chiyoda is translated to ‘a field of a thousand generations’. There’s a lot more to it, for the full list of what to see in Akihabara click here. Don’t forget to check out 7 Reasons Why Akihabara Is The Best Area To Stay In Tokyo here, we stayed there for over 1 month!
OdaibaOdaiba is one of my favourite Tokyo neighbourhoods for several reasons. If you happen to be in Japan anytime between May and late October, you will love the chilled beach vibes out there. Since Odaiba is a manmade island surrounded by the sea, it makes it a perfect spot for those who like to feel like they’re on the beach without having to leave the city. Odaiba is a fairly new Tokyo district, located within Tokyo Bay and officially lies within Minato ward. After living one year in Barcelona as a student I felt that moving back to London always lacked something, particularly noticeable during summer, let’s be precise, the beach location. There’s only a handful of metropolis surrounded by the sea in desirable location and high standard of living, such as Barcelona, Singapore, Hong Kong and my absolute favourite, Tokyo! One of the downsides is how far it is compared to central Shinjuku, Ginza or Shibuya. Since Odaiba means a ‘fortress’ and is built of smaller islands and the reclaimed land, the transport to and from there takes a little while and involves changing from JR Yamamote at Shimbashi station for an elevated and automated Yurikamome train line, an equivalent of London’s DLR line. I personally love riding this train, particularly on a clear day as you’ll have a fantastic overview of the city! Amongst all Tokyo districts, Odaiba is the one with most prominent futuristic look although this wasn’t until late 1990’s when many stylish, upper range hotels and shopping malls started popping up. Walking around the Palette town and chilling by the beach makes you forget you’re still in Tokyo. Many couples visit Odaiba (including us, several times) for a wide variety of food, shopping, incredible sunsets and panoramic views of Tokyo from the top of iconic skyscrapers. Although you won’t find anything historical in here (with an exception of the Statue of Liberty, of course!), you will find here the electrifying Rainbow Bridge, Round 1 and SEGA Joypolis, a huge amusement park, Odaiba is also home to a natural hot spring replicating the spa from the Edo-style décor. Not everyone will make it to Odaiba and it’s an absolute shame! Odaiba has been featured in several anime series, including Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (totally recommend!). Love Gundam? Don’t miss the evening shows of the giant Unicorn Gundam statue, they are spectacular and are perfect for dates, whether you’re a fan of anime or not. If you like Odaiba and planning to stay there or visit it, don’t forget to check out our must-read guide with top 10 ideas on what to do in Odaiba.
GinzaIf you’re looking for pure luxury and wouldn’t mind pampering yourself at a fancy hotel with some fine dining and shopping experience during your stay in Tokyo, treat yourself to Ginza, definitely one of the most (if not the most) affluent out of all Tokyo districts. This location is lavish and highly desirable not just by the foreign tourists, but also well-off Japanese people. As the name suggests, Ginza used to be a site of a silver coin mint but this changed in the 20th century. Ginza used to form part of Shitamachi, the original centre of Edo, making it rich in history. This place is absolutely a must see and if you can afford it, also stay! Name a brand and the chances are that you are probably going to find it there. The majority of flagship stores are based here, including many Western brands. Ginza has by far the highest concentration of Western brands in Tokyo. Whilst I should stop making comparisons, the closest European equivalent would be a combo of Mayfair and Knightsbridge in London. There are plenty of upmarket department stores, including world famous Wako, Ginza Six and Hankyu selling elegant fashion items at a hefty price and you will almost immediately notice the difference in the elegant style of an average shopper here. There are plenty of tourists and the Japanese people who simply like the eclectic Ginza tend to come to this area not just for shopping, but also for art galleries or even just to enjoy Sunday afternoon window shopping and some ritzy desserts. Ginza at night is just fabulous. It does get pretty quiet around 8-9pm when the boutiques close and most of the nightlife will happen inside the venues. Between 6-8pm Ginza is at its peak and it holds the title of the glam queen in the whole of Tokyo. We loved scooting around empty streets of Ginza and gazing into luminous buildings with state-of-the-art buildings. These are literally architectural wonders even if you’re not a fan of tall, glass buildings. We even did a tour on the Cyclo Limousine around there, click here for the full article about our experience in The enchanting Tokyo Cycling Tour on a Cyclo Rickshaw. Apart from shopping, Ginza is very well connected with many subway lines, although there is no JR Yamamote line. From Ginza you can watch the traditional Kabuki performance at Kabuki-za, enjoy lunch at Tsukiji Market, walk to the famous business district Yurakucho, Tokyo station in Marunouchi business district, admire Imperial Palace and even make your way on foot to Akihabara. For more detailed information and useful tips, read our guide with 10 ideas on on what to do in Ginza. What’s your favourite Tokyo district? Where are you going to stay and what made you decide so?
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