As a forewarning, it would be good to know that my travel style is a bit unconventional. I am the type that goes to New York and doesn't see the Statue of Liberty, or skips Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto.
The old, the hidden and the unpolished sides of cities have always held a greater fascination. So with that cleared up, what are some of the best hidden or minor spots in the Big Mikan?
Buddha at Small Temple in Yanaka -- Photo by Chiara Terzuolo
This amusing term refers to the area between the three stations of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. While Yanaka is indeed in some guides, many visitors either skip it or only check out the shopping street, do a quick tour of the cemetery and then head out. For a taste of the Tokyo of yore (as this was one of the few areas of the city that escaped the firebombs of WW2) and a pleasant stroll, explore this charming triangle in depth. Little temples, cats, cute old-fashioned snack shops and flowers await. Keep your eye out for Isetatsu, which sells Edo-style paper goods, and make sure to stop at Nezu Shrine.
Buy the super cheap day pass for the Arakawa Line, and enjoy the ride in the retro trams. Sugamo is home to a shopping street known as the 'Harajuku of the Elderly', with tons of hidden treasures and little shops to explore, including one solely dedicated to 'health-boosting' red underwear. Stop for lunch and enjoy people-watching.
This charming little museum has an impressive collection of original ukiyo-e (wood block prints), which rotate often. The cozy atmosphere and English translations make this a quick, pleasant introduction to one of Japan's most representative forms of art. Additionally, in the basement they have a tenugui (printed cotton towel) shop, with enough interesting designs to delight friends and family back home.
When the bubble economy burst in the 80's, Ginza was hit hard by the sudden change of financial fortunes. While on the main road the glitter and glamour have returned to their former glory, just a few streets back you can get a glimpse into a different world. Although still populated with the bars and hostess clubs for which Ginza is famous, there is an unmistakable film of nostalgia over the area. This is an ideal spot for photographers, as a stroll after dark will be rewarded with excellent photo opportunities, thanks to the myriad of colorful signs and retro buildings enhanced by moody lighting.
Meiji Era Houses in Kawagoe -- Photo by Chiara Terzuolo
While not technically Tokyo, this is one of my favorite half day trips from the city. Boasting perfectly preserved Edo Era storehouses and merchant dwellings which line the streets in the Kurazukuri area, it is a delightful place to get a feel for Japan's history (without having to go all the way to Kyoto). They also have several yearly festivals, an entire street dedicated to old-fashioned treats, and are trying their best to be accessible to visitors from abroad. The city is famous for its sweet potatoes, so make sure you try at least a few samples of the yummy street food (the triangular sweet potato cakes are a personal favorite).
A travel writer, content creator and Japan specialist by trade, I have lived in or travelled to over 25 countries. From the warren of Tokyo's Golden Gai to quiet islands in the Seto Inland Sea, I have (and continue to explore) Japan by rail, foot, thumb and bike.
To be fair, I skipped Kyoto totally hahaha. I did go to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art but it was closed at the time, I'll have to try it again another time! I hope to go to Kawagoe later this year too, I have a sort of obsession with kura storehouses. Nice post!