Tokyo: 7 Surreal Neighbourhoods

Tokyo is a city of neighbourhoods. With 14.6 million people and >1000 rail/subway stops, each a mini-neighborhood in its own right, Tokyo offers a smörgåsbord of unique neighborhoods to inspire any and all travel fantasies.

Tokyo is famous for it’s high-end eye-popping fashionista luxury-hound shopping neighbourhoods such as Ginza, Omotesando, Roppongi and Aoyama that make Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées and New York’s Upper 5th Avenue feel a bit faded. On a standard awesome tour of Tokyo most tourists will visit: the Tsukiji fish market, a Sumo match, the Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park Garden, the Mori Tower to see Tokyo from above, Shibuya Crossing (perhaps the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world), Ebisu to eat with the salary- men and women and of course hit a few of the luxury hoods noted above.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park Garden, Tokyo, Japan
Shinjuku Gyoen National Park Garden

But there is so much more to Tokyo…

Tokyo offers even the most jaded Boomer Traveller surreal neighborhoods that can change how you see the world. While it would take a very long lifetime to fully explore Tokyo, Boomer Traveller has developed a list of seven very different types of neighbourhoods to help you plan a surreal and varied Tokyo experience.

Top 7 Surreal Neighbourhoods in Tokyo

Shinjuku
Go to the Isetan shopping mall right when it opens and walk down the center isle as 100s of white gloved workers are lined up on both sides and bow at you as you walk through. Then head straight the basement depachika food hall, where you will find the best food in all of Tokyo. Then go for a monumental walk through some of the highlights in Tokyo’s urban jungle… Hanazono Shrine; Golden Gai, with a warren of over 200 super tiny 1960s flashback bohemian bars and eateries; Shinjuku Ni-chō, the largest and trendiest gay neighbourhood; and Kabukichō, the red light district.

Akihabara (electric town) Otaku refers to people who have obsessive interests (e.g., in Japan, anime and manga fandom). Akihabara is the epicenter of the Otaku sub-culture. Spend a few hours on geek watch, gawk at the technological gadgets, and visit a maid/butler café (somehow repulsive and yet very kawaii, seriously).

Shimokitazawa
Tokyo’s trendy indie hipster epicenter is a great spot to watch people and try to understand what a hipster is or remember what it was like being a hippy… Get lost in the maze of narrow artsy alleys, hunt for vintage, and eat curry with the cool kids. It’s edgy and definitely not neon.

Kagurazaka
Tokyo’s “French Quarter” is surreal. It feels like a Japanese interpretation of mid-century Hollywood depictions of Paris starring Audrey Hepburn – with a major dollop of traditional Japan… think geishas and kaiseki.

Nippori
This ‘hood has Tokyo’s highest concentrations of Edo-era temples and old houses. Stroll the temples from the magnificent cemetery at one end to Uneo Park at the other end, packed full with museums, temples, and even a zoo.

Sugamo
Not much has changed in Sugamo since the dawn of the baby boomers. This surreal neighborhood is where 80 is the new 20. Rub the duck mascot’s fluffy backside for luck; buy lucky red underwear (it’s a thing); visit the Koganji Temple and rub the Togenuki Jizo statue body part where you hurt or are having issues, to help heal your ailments; buy traditional sweets and have tea and take in and enjoy the ambiance.

Naka-Meguro
A beautiful inner-city suburb along a lovely canal – particularly on a Sunday during cherry blossom season.

A couple of words of advice.

  • Use the subway to get around.
  • Always wear your most comfortable shoes: you will be doing a lot of walking. Even the most well-dressed Tokyoites wear sensible shoes.
  • Don’t judge a restaurant by it’s looks or price. Decide on what you want. If you can’t get into a particular establishment just go next door. It’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in Tokyo. It’s a chef-honor “I gotta be best in the world” cultural thing.
  • Tokyo is not for tourists. It’s for Tokyoites. Understand basic Japanese Etiquette.
  • Get lost. Go into the temples/shrines/museums. Participate in the festivals.
  • Don’t expect Japan to be like North America. You didn’t go all that way for MacDonalds and KFC, even if both are widely available. Immerse yourself in the culture, and you will emerge refreshed.
Japanese woman in traditional costume participating in a street festival in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Japanese woman in traditional costume participating in a street festival in Shinjuku

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