To me, the best way to get to know a country is to wander their streets and alleys, popping into shops and trying new food on a whim. It was no different during my third trip to Japan, where I dedicated most of my time to exploring Tokyo’s coolest neighbourhoods.
Eat, drink, and shop in some of Tokyo’s coolest neighbourhoods
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Daikanyama is a little more upscale than the rest. It’s a beautiful neighbourhood perfect for a leisurely stroll in Spring.
Start with The Tent for modern ready-to-wear clothing before heading to TENOHA & STYLE store for brunch and home shopping. Right next door is HI-CACAO, a great chocolate dessert place to go back to when walking is taking a toll.
One of Daikanyama’s most popular gems, you can’t miss T-Site when you visit the area. You will find yourself spending quite a bit of time there browsing magazines, art and design books, music, and stationery. It’s also home to GREEN DOG, a stylish pet store and Daikanyama Kitamura, a camera specialty store.
Got your books and magazines? Walk to Kyu Asakura, a well-preserved traditional Japanese house from the 1910s and explore its tatami rooms and garden. Entrance costs 100 yen at the time of writing.
This neighbourhood with its scattered shops would be a little impossible to see properly if you don’t have a guidebook. We recommend Tokyo Style Guide by Jane Lawson available at the National Library.
You can start your walk at KONCENT, a shop selling creative design lifestyle items. Then, make your way to REN for made in Tokyo leather bags that are so soft to touch you’d wish you can hug them to sleep every night.
As you walk from shop to shop, you will find old shops selling traditional food and toys. If you like stationery, check out Kakimori, an attractive printing store selling custom notebooks, pens, and ink.
Another place not to miss is 2k540 Oki-Oka Artisan where you can shop for Japanese leather, wood, and fabric crafts from dozens of shops nestled right under JR Yamanote train tracks.
Jiyugaoka has been a go-to trendy neighbourhood since years ago. For it to remain as one of the top neighbourhoods to visit say a lot about this place.
Brunch at LATTE GRAPHIC is highly recommended. After filling your tummy, walk to the street where you will find IDEE SHOP, TODAY’S SPECIAL, ACME Furniture, and KOE HOUSE for some shopping. Since you are in the area, you may also want to check out La Vita, Tokyo’s tiny version of Venice.
Just minutes from the Kichioji stations is Harmonica Yokocho, an alleyway lined with food stalls and a unique experience for tourists. Nearby there are also pottery shops like Puku Puku (it’s a squeezy shop!) and BONDO.
Some say Inokashira Park and the surrounding areas in Kichioji is one of the best places to view sakura and autumn leaves in Japan.
5. Harajuku & Omotesando
Harajuku’s most famous street is Takeshita-dori but it is slowly becoming a passe icon. Where you want to be is Cat Street, located between Harajuku and Omotesando stations, where you will find small boutiques and also big luxury brands. When your tummy needs to be filled, grab a bite at Luke’s Lobster or AFURI (try the yuzu ramen).
As usual, Google Maps is a lifesaver no matter whether I am in Singapore or overseas. In Japan, taking a train can be a confusing experience and not knowing the language only makes things harder. Google Maps was pretty accurate with train timings and knowing the list of stations you will be passing before you reach your destination is more helpful than you would imagine.
Rail Map is another app that is great especially for inter-city travels. It shows you different routes and the platforms trains would be arriving at so that you know where to go when you are transferring trains. It’s available on both Apple App Store and Google Play.
I used Trail Wallet to track my spending in Japan. You can enter amounts in multiple currencies, which is helpful if you are making online bookings or credit card payments in Singapore dollars and daily spendings in Japanese Yen. The app automatically converts to your desired currency using the app’s or your own conversion rate. The app also allows you to take photos of your receipts and split your entry across multiple days. Try it!
Credit cards to make the most of your neighbourhood exploration
If you’re planning to use credit cards while travelling, remember to factor in forex differences and fees. Unless your credit card offers signifcant cashback or bonus miles, using cash or a debit card linked to a multi-currency account would be more economical.
In these Tokyo neighbourhoods, cards that reward you for shopping and dining are going to be the most useful here. The Citi Rewards Card or OCBC Titanium Rewards Card are awesome cards that will give you 4 miles/dollar on your shopping.
Alternatively, you could get yourself the Standard Chartered Rewards+ Card, as that will give you 10X rewards points (converts to 2.9 miles/dollar) on all foreign currency spends, regardless if it’s shopping or dining.