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5 Cool Places in Tokyo

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Tokyo Top 5: Places in Tokyo

places in tokyo that aren't wack

I did a ton of research on "cool places" that didn't mention the Robot Restaurant and talked to a looot of people when I was living in Tokyo. The internet research was hardly any help because the vast majority had overlapping attractions, and most articles were written by tourists who can't speak a lick of Japanese. It makes sense that non-Japanese speakers would primarily list English-friendly spots, but not really what I was after.

When I worked at a bar and taught, I got friendly with a lot of locals who grew up in Tokyo and shared with me their local favorite spots

I've had a few people ask me for Tokyo recommendations recently, and I feel bad because my responses are always half-assed and I never give the answer I want to because I'm a lazy piece of garbage who hates texting. But loads of recommendations I do have are a little off map and local to the area, so no flashy robots or maids in anime cat costumes. Again - not much English going on here, but that's the beauty of it.


5. Shimokitazawa

Shopping (5) | Drinking (5) | Food (4) | English (3) | Location (2) | $$

 secret bar in shimokitazawa tokyo japan
 

Shimokitazawa. The spot. Check it out when you've got a free day and you want something a little fresh from Shibuya/Harajuku. Lots of great shops with cool finds, and a handful of local bars you can kick it with the bartenders. It's got that cool, underground and youthful vibe that Harajuku had before it got oversaturated with cheap 300yen stores, pastel pleated skirts with those weird heart plastic backpacks, Africans trying to sell you fake streetwear brand knockoffs, and waffle cone shops. Instead, there are pretty cool vintage thrift shops where you can find some imported goods and lots of neat trinkets. Also a lot of young stylish Japanese who seem to want to learn English. 

Beware - it's kind of annoying to get to if you're the lazy traveler and be careful to watch the time if you're out drinking. Most bars and hangout spots (oden bars, hookah bars, etc) close around 3-4am. Prepare to spend $ if you've got a whole day to shop.

 
 

4. Kagurazaka

Shopping (4) | Drinking (4) | Food (4) | English (3) | Location (4) | $$

 mystical ghibli street in kagurazaka tokyo japan
 

Kagurazaka. I really, really love Kagurazaka. It's Tokyo's tiny "French Town" where the streets are paved with stone and tidy bakeries and food stands line the streets. There's a lot of energy flowing throughout this town and French (Italian?) music playing through the speakers - almost that whimsical, European atmosphere Ghibli has. There are an infinite amount of Italian restaurants with delicate patios and a bunch of hole-in-the-wall bars with decent prices. The restaurants, cafes, and shop buildings are all so so so beautifully designed that it's difficult to tell between a coffee shop and townhouse! There is a foreigner population, specifically working at the restaurants, but not enough where I heard English on the streets. Great day trip.

 
 

3. Koenji

Shopping (4) | Drinking (3) | Food (4) | English (2) | Location (2) | $$

 vintage feel photo street in koenji tokyo japan
 

Koenji. Untouched, cozy, close + comfortable neighborhood vibe. Cool thrift shops, cheaper than Shimokitazawa and a little more unique. East of Okubo/Takadanobana station, Koenji is a great tucked away spot for a day trip. It's a bit of a hassle to get to via JR if you're coming from central Tokyo, but once you get there it's definitely worth it. There are a ton of really cute cafes and local shops to visit. Not many foreigners at all. They have a neat shotengai to walk through with some great obasan shops if you're into that sort of thing. Quiet day type place.

 
 

2. Nonbei Yokocho

Shopping (NA) | Drinking (5) | Food (1) | English (4) | Location (5) | $$$

 drinking alley nonbei yokocho in shibuya tokyo japan
 

Nonbei Yokocho. I might be a little bias towards, but Nonbei Yokocho "Drunkards' Alley" is the spot. Located right off the JR Shibuya station, it's a small alleyway littered with tiny bars. Similar to Golden Gai but better because it's 1) convenient to get to 2) not too saturated with gaijin 3) you can spend all night there. The bar owners are nice. Don't go into a bar off the main alleyway - go one street over. Also don't be an asshole - word is that lots of places want to start putting up "Japanese Only" signs at the entrance. 

Also - cover charge of about 500+ yen. Drinks are probably about 1000+.

 
 

1. Ebisu

Shopping (4) | Drinking (5) | Food (infinity) | English (2) | Location (5) | $$$

 vintage feel laundromat succulent shop street in ebisu, tokyo japan 
 

Ebisu (Anywhere. Literally) Maybe bias - but Ebisu is flippin' awesome!!!! Lived here for a little and couldn't have asked for a better location. I really loved it so much it's on my top list of places I want to go (back to). It's small enough to cover in a day, but there are so many restaurants and nomiya bars that you have to visit again. During the day, you can check out the Yebisu Garden Place and their fancy shops. That area has the Yebisu Beer Museum. Yebisu (the Japanese brand beer) is owned by Sapporo, whose HQ is right there. Cool. If you keep walking on either side of the train station, there are lots of small 'pocket shops' (cute enough to steal nd put in ur pocket). There's also the beautiful Hender Scheme shop tucked away not too far from the laundromat in the above photo.

At night, go on either side of the train station, and there are endless amounts of places to eat. East of the station are lots of bright-light bars and overall generally shittier restaurants (but a handful of great ones). West of the station are low-key cooler, moodier bars and restaurants (that are all pretty dang good).


 

There are an infinite amount of cool spots in Tokyo, but these are some of my top 5. I'll make another list another day but because I've had a few people ask me in such a short time frame, this happened first. I really enjoy spending time in relatively off-map spots so spent lots of time hounding travel sites and taking notes whenever talking to a Japanese customer or student. And more often than not, those BuzzFeed-esque articles are super annoying because all of them usually list the same tourist attractions... which are pretty lame.

Anyway - check 'em out + take lots of pics. :)

- Emilia Liu, Champloo

 

Special photo thanks to: axesome, thrift_tokyo, kevinluimachan69, cotogoto.jp, mark_kawamura