6 Lesser-Known Neighbourhoods for Your Next Trip to Tokyo

The big city lights of Japan’s capital entice many a tourist to the most famous spots around the city, but when in Tokyo, it’s always best to do as the locals do and this means exploring the city’s lesser-known neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods like Tomigaya are where you’ll find yourself sipping coffee in Scandinavian cafes and perusing local boutiques, while in Shimokitazawa you can be lost for days browsing an eclectic mix of vintage shops for clothes and souvenirs. In these distinctive areas, you’ll discover a different side to Tokyo, through the culture, flavours and activities that the locals know and love. Follow me as I take you on a tour of some of my favourite Tokyo suburbs.

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps sustain this blog. Thank you for your support!

For Design Lovers: Tomigaya

Shibuya Ward | Closest Station: Yoyogi-koen Station

Still part of Shibuya ward, Tomigaya is jokingly referred to by locals as ‘Shibuya for adults’. Here you’ll find specialty Scandinavian coffee shops, independent boutiques and booksellers, and a wide range of cuisine from Japanese to French, including bistros such as Bar Luce and Pignon. Literally just a few streets from the busiest intersection in the world, it is hard to imagine you are still in central Tokyo, as local dog walkers and city bikes pass you by. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for some beautifully designed houses and plenty of window shopping along the way.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Tomigaya.

For Local Life: Nakameguro

Meguro Ward | Closest Station: Nakameguro Station
Just two stops from Shibuya on the Toyoko Line, Nakameguro is a residential district known for a more sophisticated way of life. Come for its cherry blossom-lined river in spring and stay for coffee at Onibus, handmade pizza at Seirinkan, or a Japanese craft beer at Beer Boy. Nakameguro has changed a lot over the years, but it still retains its charm. It is a well-curated and artistic neighbourhood with retailers such as Visvim WMV and Vendor lining the riverside. A short walk up the hill will take you to neighbouring Daikanyama, of which Daikanyama T-Site is a particular favourite.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Nakameguro.

Discover more lesser-known destinations, bucket list experiences and unique hotels in my brand new guidebook, Views from Japan.

For Vintage Fans: Shimokitazawa

Setagaya Ward | Closest Station: Shimokitazawa Station
Further to the west side of Tokyo in Setagaya ward is Shimokitazawa. The neighbourhood is a haven for vintage fashion boutiques, vinyl record stores and independent coffee shops, not to mention the best soup curry restaurants in Tokyo at Sama. The area itself has had a lot of development in recent years, adding a slick new feel to the neighbourhood, for better or for worse. Particular highlights include Bonus Track, an outdoor courtyard project featuring pop-up galleries, bookshops and bars.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Shimokitazawa.

For Nature Seekers: Kichijoji

Suginami Ward | Closest Station: Kichijoji Station
Consistently voted as one of Tokyo’s top neighbourhoods to live in, Kichijoji is a calming addition to this list. Watch the swan boats pedal under the cherry blossom trees as you take a relaxing stroll through Inokashira Park, or sample the finest menchikatsu (beef cutlets) and wagyu beef croquettes at Satou Kichijoji. Only a 30-minute express train from Tokyo Station, Kichijoji is a refreshing change of pace from Tokyo’s central shopping districts, and I highly recommend spending an afternoon navigating through its narrow shopping streets, independent boutiques and standing yakitori bars.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Kichijoji.

For Historic Culture: Yanaka

Bunkyo Ward | Closest Station: Nippori Station
Yanaka is home to the largest proportion of Tokyo’s shrines and temples (some dating back to the 13th Century). Its cemetery, home to the grave of Japan’s last shogun, is a popular sakura-viewing spot in the spring. On any given day in Yanaka, expect to experience a slower pace of life as you stroll down Edo-period streets, where traditional buildings have been converted into coffee shops, galleries and restaurants. Scai the Bathhouse is a particularly well-known venue for contemporary art, and Kayaba Coffee is a kissaten housed in a century-old machiya townhouse.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Yanaka.

Discover more unique experiences across Tokyo in my brand new eguide series, 50 Things to Do in Tokyo.

For Coffee Connoisseurs: Kiyosumi Shirakawa

Koto Ward | Closest Station: Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station
In Tokyo’s Koto ward, alongside the Sumida River, is Kiyosumi Shirakawa. A predominantly residential neighbourhood, it definitely has a feeling of a more classic side of Tokyo, with local parks, shrines and Edo-period architecture. What makes Kiyosumi stand out is its passion for coffee. After the war, Tokyo’s ‘Coffee Town’ had many large open warehouses that have now been transformed into coffee roasteries including All Press Espresso, Blue Bottle and more recently Koffee Mameya Kakeru – a high end concept store offering coffee tasting menus and cocktail courses. While you are in town, don’t forget to pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Check out the latest deals and availability for hotels in Kiyosumi Shirakawa.

Tips & Tricks for a Visit to Tokyo

1. Add a Suica Card to Your Phone — They can be used for trains, buses, in convenience stores and even vending machines.

2. Book Ahead — Tokyo is getting back to its busy peak at the moment and with that comes queues for restaurants and ticket sellouts. Plan in advance to avoid disappointment!

3. Keep it Local — As you will learn from this whole guide, I highly recommend that you spend some time away from the busy central areas to experience Tokyo at a slower pace.

4. Avoid Rush Hour — With working from home in Tokyo a thing of the past, the trains are now packed again at rush hour, so it is best to avoid these busy times.

5. Cash is King — Many restaurants will only accept Yen, so make sure to carry some notes on you.

6. Observe the Etiquette — Japan is a famously orderly country, so be sure to observe some of the unwritten rules.

7. Tipping Culture — Tipping in Japan just isn’t a thing. So if you had a particularly good experience, make sure you pay plenty of compliments instead.

8. Getting Around — Google Maps is a lifesaver when it comes to navigating Tokyo. Be sure to pay attention to which carriage and exit is best when taking the Metro to shave time off your journey.

9. Say No to Plastic — Tokyo shop staff oten pile you with as much plastic packaging as possible, so do your bit by taking your own bag and even a reusable coffee cup when shopping around.

10. Take Day Trips — Make the most of day trips to places like Kawagoe, Nikko, Kamakura, or Yokohama.

Best Time to Visit

Spring (mid-March to mid-May) is the most popular time to visit Tokyo, with the entire city exploding into a sea of cherry blossoms (late March to early April). Expect crowds of both locals and tourists at most major sites. A close second is autumn (late October to early December), equally stunning as the city is draped in orange and red foliage. Winter sees many dry days, clear skies and winter illuminations, and is perfect for views of Mt Fuji in the distance. Summer can be tough, and if you can brave the heat and humidity it is a great time to escape the crowds and experience some of Japan’s unique summer festivals.

Getting Around

For international visitors, the easiest way to get to Tokyo is to fly into Haneda or Narita Airports. Haneda is the closer of the two and will save you a tonne of time when arriving and departing (it’s also a much nicer airport!). Once leaving the airport, Tokyo’s trains and subway transport system is your best bet of navigating the city. Taxis are available, but expensive. Top up your Pasmo or Suica and you are good to go. For trips out of the city, the major shinkansen stops are Tokyo, Shinagawa and Ueno Stations.

Are You Ready to Explore Japan Like a Local?

You’ve watched countless YouTube videos, endlessly trawled outdated blogs and are lost in a sea of TikTok trends. You’re not sure where to start when it comes planning your Japan trip. Why not let me do the work for you? In Views from Japan I share everything I have learnt from travelling extensively in Japan over five years. Inside, I give you all the tools you need to create a truly meaningful Japan itinerary, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Related Blog Posts

Located in central Marunouchi District, the brand new Bulgari Hotel Tokyo brings luxury Italian design with a touch of minimalism to Japan’s capital.

Set in Tonami Plain, Rakudo-An is a more than 100-year-old restored farmhouse that’s ideal for a quiet and traditional Japanese escape.

Created in Paris, built in Kyoto, and designed by the one-and-only Tadao Ando, The Shinmonzen is located riverside in the heart of Kyoto’s Gion District.

The first of its kind in on the island, The Ritz-Carlton Fukuoka combines low-key luxury and traditional crafts into one of the area’s most enticing accommodation options.

Download Your FREE Tokyo Neighbourhoods eBook

© Ben Richards 2024