Tokyo is metropolis that needs no introduction. With an estimated 37 million people living in its metropolitan area, Tokyo is the largest metropolis in the world. With its crowds, formidable size, and seemingly infinite subway lines and unnamed side streets, the Japanese capital can seem like an intimidating place to visit for even the most seasoned traveler. Despite the challenges however, Tokyo’s incredible offerings are drawing more visitors than ever: in 2016, Japan welcomed a record 24.6 million foreign visitors, most of whom passed through the capital city.
I was lucky enough to live in Tokyo for 11 years, and I can confirm that the rumors are true: the bright lights of the inner city areas will send you into sensory overload, the cuisine is truly world class, and the sheer scale of the city is something to behold. Many of Tokyo’s more famous attractions are already well documented in guide books and online. While those places are well worth visiting, taking one day out of your trip to Tokyo to enjoy a more local experience can be just as rewarding.
Start Your Day Off Right
Start your day by visiting Kichijoji, a popular suburb in the western part of the city. This area can be accessed via Kichijoji station, which is a short trip from the Shinjuku and Shibuya terminals. South of the station is Inokashira Park, while not as famous amongst tourists as some of Tokyo’s other parks, it is just as beautiful and very well known among the locals. Although it’s worth visiting any time of the year, Inokashira Park is at its best either in the spring, when the cherry blossoms bath the entire area in a stunning hue of pink, or in the autumn, when the air is crisp and the trees show off stunning shades of orange, brown, and yellow.
While in Kichijoji, take some time to enjoy the shops, boutiques, and cafes to the west of the station, and be sure to stop at to grab some ramen at Enji (Kichijoji Minamicho 1-1-1) for lunch. While it can be a hard to locate (it’s ride behind McDonald’s outside the south exit of the station), it’s definitely worth the effort to find. Enji specializes in tsukemen, a type of ramen where you are given soup and noodles on separate dishes, and you use your chopsticks to dip the noodles into the soup. The soup is a rich, creamy blend of spices that is incredibly addicting, and the constant line of busy Tokyoites outside is a testament to the quality. Aim to have your lunch here outside peak hours.
After lunch, board the Keio Inokashira Line and take the 10 minute ride to Shimokitazawa station. Shimokitzawa, or Shimokita as the locals call it, is Tokyo’s hipster central, and although it is beginning to become more popular with tourists, there are still enough interesting side streets, unique shops, and hip bars to fill up a few hours. Bargain hunters who want to skip the crowds of frenetic Harajuku should do their shopping here. Also don’t forget to grab a coffee at one of the many intimate cafes. Tokyo, where one famous coffee brand is woefully ubiquitous, is hardly known for its great coffee. However you will find some gems here in Shimokita, like Frankie Melbourne Espresso (Setagaya-ku Kitazawa 2-7-12).
Into the Evening
As afternoon turns to evening, head back downtown and towards the bustling and chaotic Shinjuku district. A short walk from JR Shinjuku station, you will find Yata, a hidden gem of a sake bar that is a must visit for anyone interested in sampling some of Japan’s signature spirits. For just 500 yen a glass, the friendly staff will recommend and serve you a variety of sake from all over the country. Not only are the prices reasonable, the view from the 10th floor is perfect for gazing at the sunset and the heaving crowds below.
Board the Oedo Subway line and head to Tsukiji Shijo station to finish your day with a seafood dinner at Chika no Iki (Chuo-ku Tsukiji 4-7-5). While most visitors come to Tokyo dreaming of its incredible sushi, Japan is quite simply the best country for seafood in the world, and seafood and sashimi are just the tip of the iceberg. Chika no Iki serves a variety of seafood, but oysters are the star attraction here. Enjoy fried, steamed or raw oysters here, with excellent white wines to watch. Just don’t forget to arrive early; Chika no Iki doesn’t take reservations.
Do Japan Right
Whether you’re a seasoned world traveler or just making your first trip abroad, everyone should have Tokyo on their bucket list. The Japanese capital is an astounding and intoxicating mix of old and new, with more than its fair share of famous tourist sights. While one should definitely check out Tokyo’s more well know attractions, visiting lesser known sights, wandering through undiscovered neighborhoods and trying surprising new delicacies can help give your trip a more decidedly local flair.