Exploring the heart of Tokyo

Tokyo is not just one, but many smaller vibrant and distinctly different ‘cities’ cleverly rolled into one vibrant historical city, each offering a different but unique Japanese experience to the inquisitive traveller.

Exploring the neighbourhoods of Tokyo is to peak into the fabric of Japanese socio-cultural life – and an absolute must experience for those curious visitors!



Welcome to Akihabara (often called Akiba), Tokyo’s digital hub where all things technology can be sourced. You’ll find the latest digital cameras, phones, video games (latest releases and retro), music players, and various current and sort-after technology gadgets available at cutthroat prices for new and bargain prices for second-hand.

For the adventurous shopper, venturing into the back streets and the smaller single shop dwellings, away from the more giant malls and department stores, will reap the rewards. Suppose you’re a lover of anime culture. In that case, Akiba should be the first stop on your tour of Japan’s neighbourhoods – allow time for a beverage at a manga (comic) café to complete this fantastic experience.


Kichijoji is one of the Tokyoites’ favourites and most popular residential neighbourhoods. Or at least one of the ones that always come out on top in “best places to live in Tokyo” surveys. It’s incredibly convenient to the city and is connected by train to central areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, while at the same time, being far enough “away” not to be affected by the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

It’s a relaxed ‘suburb’ with large green spaces such as Inokashira Park, many smaller local bars and exciting restaurants that make up Harmonica Yokocho. It caters to the mainstream with large malls, the hipster scene with unique one-off handicraft stores, and everything in between. Not yet a tourist trap, Kichijoli is still uniquely Japanese and worth visiting the many shrines, temples, museums and shops.


Asakusa, formally Shitamachi, is one of the most traditional and oldest neighbourhoods of Tokyo and is highly popular with tourists looking to experience the juxtaposition of history, tradition and modernity.

Much of Asakusa was destroyed by air raids during World War II, which is apparent in the more modern rebuild of the area around the iconic Sensoji Temple. Today, when visiting, you’ll likely glimpse locals in traditional kimonos as the residents seek to stay connected with their traditional past while moving forward into the digital era.

For the U. Traveller, expect tradition, a broad range of small to large shops, temples, flowing rivers and blossom trees and a vibrant entertainment sector. We encourage you to explore the back streets, and if given time, pop in for a meal at the Robot Restaurant, designed to entertain through a mix of technology and tradition.


Ikebukuro is Tokyo’s emerging capital of Manga, Anime and Visual Kei. It has risen on the back of its extensive and popular entertainment and leisure areas, initially attracting the digital and ‘fantasy embracing’ youth (especially females) but more recently attracting a much broader demographic.

Its popularity is captured in the enormous passenger numbers that pass through Ikebukuro Station, over 1 million daily. It is currently accredited as being the second busiest station in Japan after Shinjuku – Tokyo’s nerve centered in the area.


Shimokitazawa is a trending neighbourhood, reflected in its quaint backstreet cafes, restaurants, and independent digital stores. Considered the ‘hipster’ part of Tokyo, it’s a little more local and a lot less busy. It’s vibrant and exciting while not being overly busy and overcrowded – a great place to wander around and spend an afternoon emerging in local Japanese culture.


When imagining Tokyo, we inevitably picture cherry blossoms in full bloom lining local streets with cafes and people exploring back roads and enjoying the weather and the local company.

Nakameguro delivers all that and more – at the ‘right’ time of the year, it’s truly a photographer’s dream location during the bloom season – about 800 cherry blossom trees bloom along the 3.8 km between Ikejiribashi Bridge and Fudomae, dying the entire Meguro River in pink – absolutely worth the visit all year around. With cute cafes, quirky bakeries, young designer shops, little antique shops, and retro clothes, Naka-Meguro is as fun as it is interesting and beautiful.


Koenji is Tokyo’s most innovative and creative district. Located just minutes from Shinjuku, it is full of small concert halls, thrift stores, vinyl and music rarities stores, and small cafes with unique personalities. Koenji became popular in the mid-1950s for its many tea and coffee shops. But it is probably most well known for hosting the incredible Awa Odori, an awa dance festival in Obon, following the image and similarity of the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima (Shikoku).

In fact, this festival is a perfect example of a neighbourhood where suburban and underground cultures thrive and can host deep-rooted customs harmoniously.


Shibuya has a great atmosphere and vibrant nightlife, full of neon lights and flashing signs, making it one of the most exciting areas in Tokyo to visit for an evening out. You’ll find large shopping malls and numerous trendy stores that put Shibuya on par with Harajuku as the city’s most “fashion-driven” district.

For a truly unique and local experience, explore Centre Gai at sunset – strolling along Shibuya’s brightest and busiest streets. And, of course, a must photo is the iconic Shibuya Crossing, acknowledged as the busiest crossroads in japan, creating an environment where Japanese youth congregate and hang out.


Ginza is considered the most exclusive and expensive district of Tokyo, driven by the enormous number of fashion houses, boutique stores, malls and department stores that take up much of the local real estate. Almost all top-end fashion brands have an anchor here.

More and more, this is being complemented by modern art galleries and expensive restaurants to create a neighbourhood of extreme wealth and material expression. There is, however, a small balance offered with the traditional Buddhist Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple, which reminds us of the important things in life.


A mix of avant-garde, tradition, and fashion, the Harajuku district is one of Tokyo’s most exciting and fun districts. This neighbourhood, which is part of the district of Shibuya, includes the residential areas of Yoyogi and Omotesando and, ultimately, everything surrounding Harajuku Station, one of the most critical fashion-forward districts of Tokyo.

It’s a perfect fusion of modernity and tradition expressed in a vibrant and colourful community that supports diversity and inclusion in equal measures and where a decent voice can make a massive impact in many of the township’s karaoke bars!


East meets West in Roppongi, Tokyo’s busiest and most vibrant district. The unmistakable cosmopolitan atmosphere permeates the bars and nightclubs, especially on weekends. Roppongi crossroads are said to be the crossroads between Tokyo and the world; besides being a favourite district to hang out in, Roppongi is also a district chosen by most expatriates to live in.

In Roppongi, western restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe or Toni Romas are next to “typically Japanese” pubs like Gas Panic or Motown. Peppered with luxury hotels and big entertainment brands, Roppongi is a sensory overload of all that was and is to be.


Located west of Tokyo, Shinjuku is one of the administrative centres of the city and one of the most visited places by tourists, full of skyscrapers, shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, cinemas, karaoke, pachinko, neon, and lots of social life!

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world. It’s recorded as having more than 4 million passengers a day moving effortlessly through its train network. Unsurprisingly, it’s not unusual to get lost when navigating the train network – it’s just that enormous and busy!

Generally speaking, the western part of Shinjuku is the most administrative part of the neighbourhood, while the eastern exit is the part more dedicated to leisure and nightlife.

To experience Tokyo is to dive into the underbelly of a city which has existed for over 400 years. Tokyo is more than “just” one city; it is made up of neighbourhoods and suburbs that embrace history, culture, and unique identities to possibly make it one of the most fascinating modern cities in the world.

Discover the locals’ real’ Tokyo with U. on our 18-Day Cultural Japan tour. We welcome you to experience and explore Tokyo like a local!

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