Local Secrets in Tokyo
Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō-to
destination • experience
Shimo-Kitazawa Station
Most tourists just go straight to Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku, missing scruffier neighbourhoods such as Shimokita. It’s more bohemian: artists and musicians come to rummage in thrift shops and second-hand record stores. The streets are too narrow for cars, so it’s a great place to wander. Check out New York Joe Exchange for cheap vintage clothes.
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Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to
outdoors
Yoyogi Park
This is one of Tokyo’s biggest parks, so it’s no secret. But what’s interesting about it is why people go there. In Tokyo, apartment rules often don’t allow for musicians to practise at home, so they come to Yoyogi. Now it’s the catch-all place for people indulging in their noisy (or niche) hobbies — from rehearsing musicians, to clusters of cosplayers or rockabilly posers. Don’t miss the Meiji Shrine, right in the middle. It’s surreal — like a hologram from an older time.
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Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to
bar • cafe • shopping
Fuglen Tokyo
I go to this coffee bar as much for the people-watching and the vintage Norwegian furniture as for the coffee. It’s where the local cool kids hang out, shades on, taking pictures of their single origin, AeroPressed coffees. It’s also a cosy place to grab a cocktail in the evening. The Fuglens Gimlet is the best — it’s made with kaffir lime leaves.
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Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to
destination
Tokyo Tower
Ever since the futuristic Tokyo Skytree opened in 2010, tourists have forgotten about this old tower — a red-and-white version of the Eiffel. But I prefer it. It’s not as tall, but it’s closer to the centre of town, much quieter and half the price (£6). It’s also still taller than 99 per cent of Toyko, so you get amazing views, plus it’s surrounded by gardens and temples.
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Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to
restaurants
Ivy Place
The hot food trend in Tokyo right now is pancakes — the big, fluffy kind that come in stacks. And the buttermilk ones they do here, topped with whipped cream and honey, are some of the best I’ve found. Book a seat on the outdoor terrace — it’s an oasis of peace, close to the centre, that tourists haven’t found yet.
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Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to
experience
ESPACE LOUIS VUITTON TOKYO
In Tokyo, you have to pay to enter most galleries and museums, but this gallery on the seventh floor of the Louis Vuitton flagship shop is free. And it’s so well hidden, even I didn’t know about it until recently. It generally showcases work by modern Japanese artists, but the views of the city alone are worth the lift ride up.
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Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō-to
shopping
しもきた茶苑大山 Chaen Oyama
The brothers who work at this ‘green tea room’ are two of just four people in Japan ranked as ‘10 dan’ tea sommeliers — that’s like being a black belt in tea tasting. The hojicha (green tea) shaved ice they sell in summer is amazing — smoky, yet refreshing. This place is a true hidden gem, really only known to Japanese tea aficionados.
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Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to
restaurants • shopping
Shinjuku Golden Gai
Golden Gai is an area made up of 6 narrow alleys connected by small passageways in Shinjuku Tokyo. These tiny streets are filled with over 200 dimly lit bars fitting just a handful of people each. Although well-known in Tokyo, not many tourists seem to come here and the scene is very local. If you’re travelling solo or in a couple this is a great place to enjoy some dinner and drinks, while making a few new friends at the same time.
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Setagaya, Tokyo
outdoors
Todoroki Ravine Park
Located in Tokyo’s 23-ward, the Todoroki gorge is the only natural gorge left in the entire metropolis and provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. To get there, you have brush through dusty shrines and past mesh-like spider webs, but it is totally worth it to discover one of Tokyo’s best kept secrets. Here you will be welcomed by a 1.2 km walking trail decorated by mother-nature with mossy waterfalls, and aesthetically appealing waterfalls. As you discover hidden temples and enjoy a quiet walk through nature, you’ll feel a million miles away from the busy streets of Shibuya.
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Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to
restaurants
Robot Restaurant
At some point in your life, you need to take a break and visit the destination of your dream. You save enough money for it, book business class flights to Tokyo and rush to your local airport to catch your flight. On arrival, you realize that the jet lag is too much and you need to deal with it. If you find yourself in such a situation, there is only one place that can help you in your quest, the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district. This is the most bizarre show in Japan, with hour-long shows featuring tanks, robots, pandas, dinosaurs and neon lights.
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