Finding Gems Walking Tokyo

One of my favorite ways to explore is finding a place to start and just walking. Anywhere. For me, this beats all other types of tourism. It’s like trying to find hidden gems when you’re in sensory overload with new sounds, smells and sights. Here, I’ll share some of my favorite walks in Tokyo so far through photo stories and brief descriptions*.

*To be sensitive of privacy, I’ve either cropped or only used photos of people without their faces turned to me.

IMG_5350

Walk One: Soshigaya-Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō

We take nearly daily walks around our little, lovely neighborhood, filled with all the things any person needs. The photo story below is just one example of a typical walk.

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 7.18.23 PM
Our neighborhood in Tokyo, complete with everything we need and full immersion.
IMG_E5258
This action figure is the tourism “highlight” of our hood. I’m not quite sure why yet.
IMG_E5260
One of four local grocery markets, this one has a fish auction. We stopped through here on our walk. I was looking for some toppings for rice, and when I turned around, I found my Company stuffing a large slice of tuna sashimi in his mouth. It was apparently a free tasting.
IMG_E5226
Favorite local florist that I walk by every day. Florists are big here, and there must be at least four in just a few blocks.
IMG_E5087
Mid-walk refreshment is easy to find.
IMG_E5076
Sunset is around 5:40pm now, and our street lights up with commuters scurrying home. The biggest source of traffic is definitely the bicycles.
IMG_E5243
Hidden gem find of the walk along the Sen River!

Walk Two: Shimo-kitazawa-Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō

I found Shimo-kitazawa on the map by accident when looking for Tokyo’s most delicious curry options. This place was filled with them. When we arrived, we noticed a distinct smell of coffee roasting, over-priced shaved ice desserts, and an eery number of consignment clothing shops with some mysteriously hefty prices. It took us all of 30 seconds before we realized we were in the hipster district of Tokyo. We had, after all, lived in San Francisco. While Harajuku is the tourist version of hip, Shimo-kitazawa with its four coffee shops on each block and fusion curry-Japanese food, is the new cool kids’ place to roam.

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 7.20.09 PM

IMG_5356
This place was busting at the seams with people. Unroasted coffee.
IMG_5348
One of many fancy dessert places.
IMG_5347.jpg
Consignment shops everywhere!

Walk Three: The Tama River, Tōkyō

Due south of us is a river that separates the Tokyo suburbs from the mountain ranges. On a clear day, you can see the bluish mountains against the river. It was our first weekend in Japan and we had spent the day before walking all over downtown Tokyo. So we decided to explore some less traveled routes and wanted to see the river. I’m so glad we did this because the number of parks and small museums we passed on the way was well-worth it and unlike anything we saw in Central Tokyo. We also knew we were doing something right when the only other visitors were Japanese.

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 7.18.52 PM

IMG_5142
This was one of my favorite places found on all our walks so far. We never would have discovered it if it weren’t for random wandering. The park had a communal farm and silk weaving station (pictures below).

IMG_E5148

After we walked out of the farm, we thought we had struck our luck of the day. Then, we found this random bamboo park.

We finished our walk by spotting the friendliest firetrucks I’ve ever seen.

IMG_E5185

Walk Four: Central Tokyo with a highlight on Harajuku

When our first weekend in Tokyo arrived we left our apartment early and walked around all of the major central neighborhoods of Tokyo. We started in Shinjuku and quickly walked to:

  1. Shibuya, a huge shopping district famous for the Shibuya crossing. Quite frankly, I was not a fan because of the crowds, and my Company made me do the crossing. Twice. I’m not sure I’ll make it back there before the end of our trip.
  2. Yoyogi Park, a large park in Central Tokyo with the Meiji shrine where we saw a wedding (this is very common) and took some reprieve from the city on a hot day.
  3. Harajuku, where the cool kids go (sometimes in costume on Sundays) and where I got a little taste of some weirdness, an undercurrent I’ll be spending an entire blog piece about.
  4. Omote-sando, where there’s some pretty tasty food to go with your shopping (hint: Patagonia is here).
  5. Roppongi, where my Company tried hard to convince me that this neighborhood”was the sketchiest area of Tokyo (FYI, this is where Google and many other US tech companies have their offices), and
  6. Finally had dinner with friends in Azabujan, one of Tokyo’s posher, old money neighborhoods.

Shinjuku: Games for everyone!

IMG_E5267
Games and arcades EVERYWHERE!

Shibuya: people, people, people.

IMG_E5132
Before the madhouse begins.

Harajuku: A place of magical things and weird art

IMG_E5126

Yoyogi Park: Peace in a busy city

At about this point in the day, we had been out for a while and retreated back out to Harajuku to a cafe for some afternoon coffee and snack before we began our night tour into Roppongi and Azajuban. We walked hours that day, looking at the various hedge hog and owl cafes, debating which ramen bar to check out, and marking every single place we had to pass up for a visit another day.

IMG_5237
Lots of crepes in Harajuku and Omote-sando.

Walk Five: Shinjuku-Kabukicho

One of my favorite activities is to go out at dark and observe the Tokyo nightlife, which is really unlike anything I’ve seen before. People work very hard and go out just as hard. On a Friday or Saturday night, downtown is filled with suited men, sleeping in bushes or straight up on the sidewalk after a night out drinking. Between that and the various “cafes” (ahem, maid and butler cafes), it was as if a different side of the country comes out once the sun goes down. I’ll be dedicating an entire blog piece to this, but here’s a quick walking photo tour. Note*: many places like Golden Gai (the drinking block of Shinjuku) do not allow photos inside, so these photos are from a distance.

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 7.17.56 PM

Start the evening with some arcades.

Picking a place to eat can be really hard here.

Picking a drinking hole is not much easier. Golden Gai has become quite famous recently as one of the most interesting places to grab a drink. It’s essentially a few blocks completely filled with 6-12 seater bars, the size of large shipping containers, each with their own style, drink menu and customs. Luckily, Golden Gai is exclusive enough that many bars will explicitly say on the sign outside whether they welcome tourists or not. Many places save seats for their regular customers, which I always found really interesting. It’s as if some dude opened a bar just to serve his friends. We ended up going to the tourist friendly Albatross, which is an unusual three floors high, for some fancy cocktails. Also, get used to the $5-10/per-person cover charge here when you go to a place to drink.

IMG_5335
Map of all the 6-12 person seater bars in Golden Gai. 

Save some room for a late night snack after all this exploration! There’s a lot of places open with yakitori (meat skewers) or ramen, but just be aware that the subway stops running around midnight. So if it’s a big night out, finding a cab is – thankfully – pretty easy in Tokyo (though expensive).

IMG_5341
So many places to eat, so little time. 

2 thoughts on “Finding Gems Walking Tokyo

Leave a Reply