Tokyo is a massive city and comprised of nearly 50 neighborhoods, 62 municipalities, 23 special wards and 14-20 main city hubs, depending upon who you ask. This makes tokyo a confusing place to understand, when you realize that many of these neighborhoods, municipalities, and special wards overlap, or have nicknames depending upon where you are in Tokyo. I’m going to focus on the 47 neighborhoods or boroughs of Tokyo, many of which are dedicated to things like entertainment, food, commerce and business, schools, or kawaii culture, to explain what is located within each. These 47 neighborhoods each have their own unique history and ambience, and they make up the 20 main hubs in the city. The main hubs are denoted with asterisks below, with their Japanese in parenthesis after:
*Akasaka (赤坂) – Standard corporate office park district where many people work, home of the United States embassy.
*Akihabara aka Akiba (秋葉原) – Electronics / anime / nerdy stuff commonly mentioned in anime, home of Tokyo Anime centre, arcades, video game stores, etc. Lots of maid cafes and otaku stores here.
*Aoyama (青山) – Tokyo’s Fashion district. Inside Aoyama Cemetery rest some famous Japanese and foreigners, it is also a very popular place for Hanami, which are cherry blossom (桜) viewing parties and picnics.
*Asakusa (浅草) – Souvenir Shops like Nakasime Dori (but more expensive here), used to be Tokyo’s “pleasure district” until it was destroyed during WWII, now it’s an amazing place to visit temples, see huge red lanterns, write prayers, etc. Super cool looking! Easy to get to Tokyo Skytree from here. Izakaya, aka Japanese pubs, can be found here, alongside traditional Ryokan and family owned stores that have been around for centuries (except when they were bombed, of course 🙁 )
*Daikanyama , Shibuya (代官山) (aka Little Brooklyn)- If you need to visit your countries embassy, chances are it’s located in Daikanyama neighborhood. The embassies from the Denmark, Malaysia, Libya, Latvia, and many more are located in Daikanyama.
Denenchofu (田園調布) – One of the richest men to have ever lived, Shibusawa Eiichi, known as the father of Japanese capitalism, was the founder of most of Japan’s current banks and some of Japan’s most powerful companies, founded the neighborhood of Denenchofu. It’s popular for its posh surroundings, oftentimes compared to Beverly Hills in California, and lush green spaces and regal gardens. Denenchofu is a great place to view and photograph cherry blossoms.
*Ebisu, Shibuya (恵比寿) – Ebisu is where many foreigners came to call home, so it has a very international atmosphere, and is the home to people from all around the world who now call Tokyo home.
Fukagawa (深川) – Famous for its August Water Fight, which is Tokyo’s 5th most popular summer festival, where teams of dancers, musicians, and participants parade through the streets of Fukagawa and pay homage to the gods they worship (mikoshi) by soaking them with water to keep them cool. The people who move the shrines for their gods enjoy the cool water being tossed on them too, because it can be unbearably hot in Japan in the summertime. It’s also a great excuse to eat, drink, and play in water on a hot summer day.
Futako Tamagawa (玉川) – This upscale neighborhood is where many famous Japanese people live, like actors, singers, models, CEOs, politicians, athletes, and designers.
Gaienmae (外苑前) – This is the more “New York City” of Tokyo’s neighborhoods, where fashion shows occur, where magazines are written, photographed, edited, and printed, and where models go for casting calls, photo shoots, auditions, etc.
*Ginza (銀座) – Most expensive place in the world, on Sundays the roads are closed and become a pedestrian walk way, which means you can walk in the roads and there are tables strewn about / Upscale shopping / department stores / specialty foods, home to Kabuki-za Kabuki theatre
Gotanda (五反田) – Another business district for businessmen and women (but mostly the men), to go and drink, party, sing karaoke, and crash before going to work the next day.
*Harajuku (原宿) – Street fashion, kawaii subculture, lots of pink cutesy stuff, Takeshita Dori is an alleyway with low-cost clothing and accessories. Inspired one of my favorite songs by my girl Gwen Stefani!
Hibiya aka Chiyoda (千代田区) – The main draw for this region is a 3 ft tall statue of Godzilla, no joke. If you’re looking for a regal dining experience unlike anywhere else in Tokyo, check out Hibiya Palace Restaurant!
Hiroo (広尾) – This small, tranquil neighborhood is located directly between Shibuya and Roppongi.
Ikebukuro (池袋) – Allegedly haunted? Has lots of haunted skyscrapers and cursed apartment buildings, and when I was looking into this area I mainly found ghost stories which weren’t very useful haha.
*Jimbocho (神田神保町) – A popular haunt for avid readers, publishers, and authors, this district is full of publishing houses, used book stores, cafes, antique stores, and all things literary.
Jiyugaoka (自由が丘) – A very laid back, serene neighborhood with French and European influences that make it romantic and peaceful. It’s a beautiful, upscale neighborhood which is very photogenic.
Kagurazaka (神楽坂) – One of the few places in Japan where geisha still work, Kagurazaka is also a place where French culture, food, and fashion is popular.
Kasumigaseki (霞ヶ関) – Situated to the south of the Imperial Palace, Kasumigaseki is where Japan’s Supreme Court and National Diet are located, along with all of Japan’s primary government offices. As with any capital city and political area, there are usually protestors assembled here, and it’s a great way to learn about local and national political sentiments, if you speak Japanese.
Kichijoji (吉祥寺)- A very middle class, pedestrian neighborhood, where Inokashira Park is located, which has been repeatedly voted one of Tokyo’s most enjoyable and attractive green spaces.
Koenji (高円寺) – Old buildings, that are being bolstered by young business owners drawn in by low rent and costs of running a business here. Lots of interesting, unique cafes, restaurants, bars, and entertainment here.
Kyobashi (京橋) – Kyobashi, which means “Bridge to the Capital”, located just next to Edo Castle, was the site of the first Kabuki theatre built in Tokyo in 1624. This brought in theatre goers and actors, who were considered to be undesirables at the time, which the Shogun later deemed too much trouble for himself, and ordered the actors and theaters to leave. In their place, the current shopping and business district took its place, which would have been much more desirable for the Shogunate. During WWII, Kyobashi was among the casualties of the war, and was eventually rebuilt. If you want to read some very depressing stories about the river that once ran here, and why the war and its firebombing obliterated the river that once ran through Kyobashi, you can look into that for yourself.
*Maranuchi (丸の内) – Neighborhood the JR Tokyo Station is located in (evidently a good place to buy souvenirs?), plus airports, and bullet trains, considered Japan’s largest business district, the west boarders the Imperial Palace, and the East Gardens (free to visit). During weekdays it’s packed, and practically empty on weekends when no one is working. Eerie!
*Meguro (目黒区) – Primarily a residential district, where Japanese couples move to raise children. Meguro is known for good schools, being safe, and full of quaint places to shop and dine.
Nagatacho (永田町) – Neighboring Kasumigaseki, this neighborhood is basically and extension of the government district.
Nakameguro (中目黒)- This famous district is where visitors during cherry blossom season can see the Meguro river and her canals lined with beautiful cherry blossoms and warm glowing lanterns. Originally the canal was extremely polluted and no one would go near it, but in the 80s the Japanese government invested in cleaning and restoring the river, and it’s now one of the city’s main draws. Many people now consider this to be one of the most romantic places in the world, and it’s a great spot to visit if you’re in Tokyo March-April.
Nakano (中野区)- This special ward of Tokyo has the highest population density in Tokyo and is extremely jam packed with people, which makes it an amazing place to explore and experience.
Nippori (日暮里) – Nippori is where many of Tokyo’s oldest shrines, temples, and cemeteries can be found, and is a place most people in Tokyo visit regularly for funerals, memorial services, holiday events, and other religious or spiritual activities.
Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) – Home to many of Tokyo’s universities, this college area is a blend of traditional style buildings, modern skyscrapers and apartment complexes, and a smart college town.
*Odaiba (お台場) – A new district built on a man-made island out in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba, which cost the government trillions of yen, is connected to mainland Tokyo by way of the Rainbow Bridge (Mario Kart anyone?). Rainbow bridge is only lit up in colors during the winter or special holidays. Life size Gundam outside of Aqua City, giant ferris wheel, and exhibition halls are all located in Odaiba.
Omotesando – Upscale shopping, dining, and entertainment district, commonly compared to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France.
*Roppongi (六本木) – Nightlife district popular with foreigners, also home of apartments, offices, and stores. Roppongi Hills, a 27-acre complex, is the most famous area in Roppongi because it has more than 220 stores, eateries, entertainment facilities and apartments.
Sangenjaya (三軒茶屋) – This is where mid-tier and lower income people live in Tokyo, typically in tightly packed apartments and condominiums.
*Shibuya (渋谷) – Clothing / cosmetics / music / home of famous “Shibuya Crossing”, Shibuya Station is one of the busiest commuter ports in the world, and world’s busiest crosswalk. Super bright, neon lights 24/7Keio Inokashika Line Station has a perfect view of the Shibuya Crossing for photos (starbucks no longer lets you take photos of the crossing from inside their store.)
*Shimbashi (新橋) – is a huge business district where salarymen typically go and get drunk afterwork and stumble around, then crash in a capsule hotel. They wake up the next day, head back into work and do it all over again the next day. Or, so I’ve been told.
Shimokitazawa (下北沢)- Like Toronto’s Hipster district, Kensington Market, this district is home to lots of “hipster” cafes, coffee shops, retail and resale shops, and open mic events.
*Shinagawa (品川) – Like Shimbashi, this is another business district where Japanese workers commute and work during the day, and drink and party at night.
*Shinjuku (新宿) – Tokyo’s largest neighborhood, comprised of numerous other neighborhoods. Near Harajuku, Yoyogi Park, home of Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most famous in Tokyo, great nightlife district and where the locals go when they “Go Out”. Kabuki-cho, Tokyo’s red light district, and Shinjuku Nichome which is Tokyo’s gay bar district. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building has a free observation deck that offers an amazing view of the city!
*Shiodome (汐留) – This is another district that is very “Tokyo”, because it’s such an urban, modern blend of residential, business, and commercial property, and it has something for everyone, at every stage of their life.
Sugamo (巣鴨) – Sugamo is a neighborhood that is very popular with the older (elderly) crowd, because it is pretty traditional, and modeled after Post WWII Japan. Some people say it’s stuck in the 50s and 60s, but Tokyo is known as having something for everyone, and I think this is just another example of that diversity! There are lots of places to shop and find great deals here too!
Takadanobaba (高田馬場) – Near Shinjuku, this university neighborhood is mostly full of students and business men and women. Astroboy, which is one of the first Japanese cartoon characters to become popular overseas, was “from” Takadanobaba. Most everything here is very inexpensive, since the patrons are primarily young students without jobs.
Takebashi (竹橋) – Located at the Eastern gate of the Imperial Palace, it is a great place to start when exploring the Edo Castle ruins and moat, and is an easy way to arrive at the museums and parks of the Imperial Palace.
Toranomon (虎ノ門) – A blend of traditional buildings, shrines, and temples, juxtaposed against modern day skyscraper means that Toranomon is a very interesting neighborhood to explore in Tokyo, especially for fans of unique architecture and the evolution of traditional cities into modern metropolises.
*Tsukiji [Market] (築地市場) – If the fish in your sushi came from Japan, chances are it passed through Tsukiji fish markets in Tokyo. This market sells hundreds of millions of fish each year and is one of the largest employers in Tokyo. While obviously this district smells strongly of fish, it’s one of the best places to get inexpensive, and unbelievably fresh sushi in all of Japan. Some restaurants post that the fish they make into sushi was swimming in the ocean only an hour before it arrives on patrons plates! Sushi restaurants here usually open very early, around 5am, and close around noon, after lunch.
*Ueno (上野) – Traditional district, aka “Old Tokyo”, has the largest park in Tokyo called Ueno Park (great place to see cherry blossoms), Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Zoo, Imperial Palace’s Demon Gate, and more. The area is considered cursed by some, and an unlucky place to be because of the demon gate, and because the land was taken from a temple by the imperial family, and because it is in an “unlucky” position relative to the Edo Castle since it is off to the castle’ northeast. This has caused rent in the area to become the lowest in all of Tokyo, because of local superstitions. Despite this, it is a beautiful, popular place to visit and is home to thousands of trees like Ginko trees, Sakura (cherry blossom trees), and also has a large lake full of koi fish, lotus flowers, and beautiful native birds.
Yoyogi (代々木) – Located between Shinjuku and Shibuya, Yoyogi park was home of the 1964 Tokyo Olypics opening ceremony, and where the first aircraft in Japan was flown. A lot of random stuff happens here, like dance practices, athletic events, cooking demonstrations, club meetings, and other random stuff.
Yurakucho (有楽町) – If you’ve seen photos from National Geographic or on Instagram of diners jammed into outdoor seating directly under train tracks, enjoying a meal, you’ve seen photos of Yurakucho.
Until next time!
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