Tokyo Area Map
As most travelers know, Tokyo is huge. The city is urban sprawl at its most overwhelming, making finding the best places to eat, shop, see, let alone sleep, a downright chore. The city is broken up into 23 districts, each with their own sets of neighborhoods. With this in mind, it's best to stick to popular neighborhoods instead of trying to dissect the personality of each district and its individual locales. Below are the most popular neighborhoods visited by tourists and frequented by locals.
Accessible via Shibuya Station
Shibuya is most known for the famous Shibuya Crossing. This large intersection, which has five crossing points, including one that goes diagonally across the intersection, best illustrates the city's controlled chaos. Akin to New York's Times Square, Shibuya experiences constant activity thanks to the plethora of amenities and youthful influencers. Main avenues are lined with shopping conglomerates and trendy boutiques of all kinds, giving the neighborhood a reputation as a fashion mecca. On the flipside, you'll find the area's tightly packed side streets and alleyways filled with smaller eateries and colorful cafes. And if you're looking to have an unforgettable night out on the town, do so here. When the sensory overload starts to kick in (and it will), retreat to Yoyogi Park (a local favorite during cherry blossom season) or practice peace at the Meiji Shrine.
Accessible via Harajuku Station
Harajuku has made it into the cultural lexicon thanks to Gwen Stefani's years-long musical ode to Tokyo's fashionable girls. To clear things up, Harajuku is a neighborhood in Japan (part of the greater Shibuya District) and it is considered a hub of alternative fashion. Whether you'll see young girls walking around in creative school uniforms or crazy fashions just depends on the day and time. The main thoroughfare in Harajuku is the pedestrian-only Takeshita Street, which is awash with shop displays and stalls featuring fun, colorful clothing and accessories you'd be hard-pressed to find in the states. If you aren't much of a shopper, still stroll through here to take in the neighborhood's lively personality, preferably with a crepe in hand (a favorite neighborhood snack).
Accessible via Ginza and Higashi-ginza station
Ginza is the upscale cousin of Shibuya and Harajuku. If you're more class and less flash, a stay here will certainly satiate. Literally. The neighborhood features numerous Michelin-starred restaurants along with loads of other fine dining hot spots. Here, you can treat yourself to the neighborhood's plethora of luxurious options if you have the room for it in your budget (think Gucci, Dior, among others). Most travelers admit to mainly window-shopping here but enjoyed admiring the sleek style of the neighborhood, with multi-story glass buildings towering left and right. During the day, business travelers primarily pound the pavement and on weekends, when main street Chuo-dori is closed to cars, locals and tourists come around.
Accessible via Asakusa station
In comparison to the bustling Shibuya and Harajuku, Asakusa is the quieter of the bunch. Sort of. Home to the popular Sensoji Temple, the area does see loads of tourists. But beyond the parameters of this popular attraction is a relaxed neighborhood of locals just going about their business. Asakusa lies in the Shitamachi area of Tokyo, which refers to the more traditional, working class part of the city. As such, Asakusa can be perceived as the old town of Tokyo. Here, you'll find old-timey wood buildings, shops selling artisanal Japanese cultural articles (think: traditional geta footwear and kimono materials), and small restaurants with no more than four tables to its name, offering casual, no frills Japanese fare. If you don't want to be in the middle of Tokyo's hustle and bustle this is a great place to rest your feet at the end of the day.
Accessible via Shinjuku Staton
Shinjuku is as urban as they come. Brightly lit advertisements are stacked on top of each other, clinging to the neighborhood's many sky-high buildings all the while swarms of people whizz by all hours of the day and night. Shinjuku is considered to be the most crowded place in Tokyo thanks to Shinjuku Station, which Guinness named the busiest train station in the world in 2011 (the station sees more than 3 million people per day). With all its activity, it's no surprise that the nightlife scene here is booming. If you plan on having a night out on the town in Shinjuku, make sure to steer clear of Kabukicho, Tokyo's red-light district, which regularly experiences crime. What you'll also find in Shinjuku is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as well as the verdant Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, perfect for a much-needed break from the action.
Accessible via Akihabara station
Technology, comics, anime and fandom of all sorts is celebrated in Akihabara. Its neighborhood streets look a lot like the rest of Tokyo's most popular neighborhoods (tall buildings emblazoned with massive colorful ads, loads of passersby, shopping options galore), but its clientele are what make it stand out from the rest. Expect to find arcades, cosplayers walking casually down the streets and larger-than-life electronics emporiums (Yodobashi department store in particular) and specialty shops catering to the nerd in everyone. There is also a large concentration of maid cafes here (Japan's version of Hooters). Considering its male-dominated comic and technology culture, the graphic nature of some of the materials sold here may not be suitable for children. If you're traveling with family, be mindful of comic and anime material or seek accommodations elsewhere.
Accessible via Ueno, Keisei Ueno and Okachimachi stations
Ueno gets its namesake thanks to its beautiful park. Ueno Park is a favorite among locals (especially during cherry blossom season) and appreciated by travelers for its abundance of attractions. Here, you can find the Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the Ueno Zoo, to name a few. If you're traveling with a family, this is a great area to bed down. Not only for the park's family-friendly activities, but also thanks to the absent nightlife scene. And, of course, any Tokyo neighborhood wouldn't be complete without great shopping. The closer you get to Okachimachi station, the more shopping options you'll find.
For a big city, Tokyo is pretty safe. Crime rates are low and there isn't much of a reputation for pick pocketing (compared to Europe). Actually, Japan as a whole is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world. However, if you do plan on going out, keep your guard up at all times and be selective where you choose to party. Shinjuku, especially the red light district of Kabukicho, has seen its fair share of seedy activity and crime. The State Department reports that theft and assault have occurred here, as well as in the neighborhoods of Roppongi (an expat community) and Ikebukuro. Even if you steer clear of these areas, the State Department still recommends staying on your toes when partying anywhere in Tokyo. For more information, visit the State Department's website.
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