Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku. If you are living in, or even just visiting, Tokyo, I’m sure these places ring a bell. However, what’s lesser-known are the hidden gems and neighborhoods, which are equally fascinating to explore.
Summer exchange students often have limited time to explore Japan. The duration of the program ranges from 10 days to 3 weeks, and they find it difficult to leave the city of Tokyo. However, there is just so much to do in Tokyo! Here are some great places to visit as a summer student as all the areas offer a different vibe, and you can travel to all of them in a short amount of time within Tokyo.
Top 5 places to explore Tokyo
Here are my recommendations of the top 5 best kept secrets in Tokyo.
1. Yanesen (Yanaka/Nezu/Sendagi)
Referred to as Yanesen by the locals, this area encompasses the three neighborhoods of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi. Located northwest of Ueno – and very close to Hongo Campus – it is known for its old-fashioned specialty stores, with many buildings having survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and the WWII Fire Bombings. I recommend visiting Yanaka Ginza, a shopping arcade with some great Mont Blancs cakes, and Nezu Shrine, an oasis of green with traditional torii gates.
Access: Nishi Nippori Station (3 min), Nezu Station (1 min)
Kagurazaka is located East of Shinjuku, and is famous for its French influences. During the Edo period, this area was a prominent entertainment district, with numerous restaurants and Geisha houses, some of which can still be found today. In addition, a number of French schools and specialty stores are scattered across the district, with French melodies playing along the main street. This creates a unique fusion, found nowhere else in Tokyo. Find yourself strolling the streets with a Taiyaki in one hand and a chocolate croissant in the other.
Access: Iidabashi Station (2 min)
Jimbocho can be found within walking distance from a number of prominent Japanese universities such as Meiji University, Hosei University and Chuo University. Know as Tokyo’s bookworm, Jimbocho has one of the world’s largest collections of used and cheap books, most in Japanese but some in foreign languages. Rare and unusual books, magazines, and manuscripts can be snatched for as little as 100 yen. Even if you aren’t novel hunting, the retro bookstores are a sight of their own, and there are many cheap dining options catered towards university students – many offer special discounts so don’t forget your university ID!
Access: Jimbocho station (1 min)
Koenji is a great place to visit at night if you are looking for a traditional Japanese izakaya experience. Located 10 minutes west of Shinjuku, it avoids the hustle and bustles of tourist hotspots and allows for a more local experience of Japanese nightlife. You will find drinks and dishes to be reasonably priced – a beer could go for as low as 100 yen. This is a fraction of the price of similar establishments in the well-known Golden Gai or Omoide Yokocho districts of Shinjuku. During the day, Koenji is also known for it hippy fashion scene and cheap thrift stores. Go grab yourself a bargain!
Access: Koenji Station (1 min)
The last place, Oku-Shibu, is located a pleasant 10 minutes walk from Komaba Campus. Oku Shibu (奥渋), meaning ‘Inner Shibuya’, was once overshadowed by the Hachiko Statue and Neon Lights of downtown Shibuya, but has recently gathered tremendous attention for its quirky cafes and trendy boutiques with a bohemian vibe. Shibuya Publishing Booksellers is a personal favourite – numerous English texts can be found and the store also publishes its original content. The Flat Whites, which actually taste like those from New Zealand (my home), petite handcrafted burgers, and Kakigori (shaved ice) are also not to be missed.
Access: Shibuya Station (15 min), Yoyogi Koen/Yoyogi Hachiman Station (5 min)