Tokyo is the shit. If you don’t know, do yourself a favor and go find out. You can spend months here and not visit every neighborhood. You could spend a lifetime here and not try every restaurant.
Tokyo is easily walkable as it’s mostly flat but you’ll want to figure out the subway system to get around. Ubers and Taxis are for the very wealthy and are priced accordingly… Straight up rip off rates. Google maps can tell you what entrance, system (Tokyo has multiple systems that have various lines), line, and platform to stand. If you find yourself lost there are multilingual officials to help you purchase tickets and find your train.
Shinjuku is a massive neighborhood of never-ending alleys, insane lights, and some of the best food the world has to offer. Some of our favorite neighborhood’s in all of Tokyo are within this amazing district. You can get everything from the highest quality luxury food and retail to some of the craziest dive bars and street food you can possibly imagine.
Food galore pretty much 24-7, but ironically breakfast is the hardest meal to accommodate. If you get up early options are limited but there are some straight up money Ramen joints that are open 24 hours. For a straight up Tokyo, tripped out experience check out the vending machine restaurant Ichiran at various locations. You order from a machine and then sit down and a person slides it to you under a curtain… No bullshit.
The vibe between day and night are very different. During the day, like most of Tokyo, the salary corporate people rush from place to place, but at night the neighborhood truly comes alive and you see the colors of underground Tokyo come out.
Kabukicho is literally like being inside a pinball machine filled with strip clubs, insane dive bars, back alley street-food, Nigerian hustlers, gangsters, and some of the craziest experiences in the entire city. Don’t start shit with anyone, pay your bill and you’ll be fine. Ask for prices first as places might try and up-charge you because you look like a tourist.
At your own discretion, duck in to the alleys. This is where it’s going down. Again, ask prices first so you don’t get tripped off. There are some great deals and amazing experiences to be had here. In general, Tokyo is extremely safe from violent street crime, but this is one area where it’s definitely best to mind your own business and don’t look for trouble.
As always, be respectful of taking pictures of people. Certain businesses and people might get bent out of shape with you if not careful.
There are a ton of insanely small dive bars around. Most of them charge a small cover to sit down but that sometimes includes a little snack. Always ask first in this neighborhood. Also, don’t take it personally if they tell you “no” to sitting down, this is probably for your comfort as well.
Get down on some Yakitori
Grilled meat on a stick, Yakitori, is a favorite around here as is most of Tokyo. Picky eaters beware that there are some odd things being grilled and it can be seen as extremely disrespectful to not eat something you order, or make a face when you bite in to something. If it looks a little odd, it’s probably organ meat, if that’s an issue for you, don’t mess with it.
The hotels and roof-bars of Kabukicho and Shinjuku in general provide some of the best sweeping skyline views of the entire city.
Don’t be the dick that expects people to speak english to you. Try and learn a few words and phrases in Japanese. Your effort will go far with the locals.
If you don’t speak Japanese, thankfully a lot of restaurants have pictures of what they serve out front. many places do have an english menu but in general the options are usually limited.
Golden Gai, Shinjuku
Not really it’s own neighborhood but this amazing few square blocks is dive bar paradise. As with Kabukicho, a lot of these places have a small cover fee. Some places are bigger than other but most of these little spots can only hold 3-8 people at a time. Most small bar has its own individual theme.
Some bars here say, “Japanese Only” and “Members only”, this is not to offend. This is because they either want to have space for their loyal regulars or they don’t like dealing with loud english speakers making everyone feel awkward. Avoid any spots that obviously target foreigners (e.g. Jack Daniels sign etc) if you want to get the best deal.
Spot shown above is a death metal themed spot. The bartender was super cool and was rocking a “Waynes World” hat and completely looked the part of the Japanese Wayne.
You can literally spend an entire night within these few square blocks stumbling from spot to spot. Most places are cash only and some don’t take large bills for small bar tabs so choose wisely.
As with most places in Tokyo, the bars here in general are friendly, welcoming, and curious of outsiders. Always be respectful and don’t talk shit to strangers.
Even though everything is closed, it’s still really cool to walk through here during the day.
Omoide Yokocho (Memory Alley), AKA Piss Alley
With a name like Piss Alley, you better come correct. Unlike the name implies some of Tokyo’s best food is on this block. Right outside Shinjuku station, it’s easy to find. The smoke fills the air as the meat sizzles. Picky eaters might not want to try random selections from this area. Lot’s of organ meat, reptiles, along next to the classics like Chicken thigh and scallion. Do some research before jumping down.
Don’t bother pulling up unless you want to get down. Most people will be somewhat patient but don’t waste anyone’s time being a tourist.
There are some great food and drink deals around here. Most of the prices are listed from the outside.
Omoide Yokocho is one of the many world famous “Yokocho” (Japanese for back alley, side street, etc) around Tokyo. Yokocho areas are usually marked with lanterns, meat being grilled, and ice cold draft beer flowing like water.
Get served right through the window and keep it moving. Skewers are bought by the stick for various prices depending on what you’re getting. Basic pork, chicken, or beef are usually a few bucks each.
make sure and bring cash, and small bills as most places don’t take card or cash large bills. Try to stay out of the way if you’re just observing, a lot of people are just stopping in for a quick bit on their way to catch a train at Shinjuku Station.
The area is home to one of Tokyo’s oldest parks its ornate shrines, including 17th-century Benzaiten temple, which stands on an island in Ueno Park. The park is host to a massive city party for Cheery Blossom season and other times as well. As with most of Tokyo, it’s filled to the brim with amazing food and drink options but yet has it’s own style and flair as well.
Ueno Station Area
Get off at Ueno station and walk in any direction. There is a huge market Yokotcho right outside the station that is packed and lively all morning and in to the night.
On the opposite side of the station from the market you’ll find a strip between 2 train tracks filled with izakaya’s (Japanese bar and grill) and sushi spots.
Every nook and cranny is selling food and drink. Plan on wandering this area for at least a few hours.
It’s like something straight out of a movie when the trains come scream by overhead. Without a doubt one of the most unique blocks in the world.
Get down or fall back. Grab a quick snack for a few bucks and you’ll be full for hours.
As with most of Tokyo, the best deals in the area can be found in the small spots in the alleys and side streets. Always check the prices before ordering.
Shibuya is well known for the massive pedestrian crossing, retail, and luxury hotels but it’s packed to the brim with underground and hidden gems. The main station in the area is Shibuya station, however there are many smaller surrounding stations depending on which side you’re looking to explore first.
Shibuya Nonbei Yokocho, AKA Drunkards Alley
Another amazing Tokyo Yokotcho filled with unique dive bars and izakayas. You may have a hard time finding a seat in the small and local spots so be patient.
Legendary cinematic setting straight out of Blade Runner.
Prices in the area can range from very reasonable draft beer and basic fare to ultra high end specialty liquors and meats.
Yurakucho Sanchoku Inshokugai
Waking distance from Ginza station, this amazing little alley (yokotocho) filled with Izakaya’s. It’s under the tracks of another station adding to a very cool atmosphere.
The spots down here are very fun, lively, and reasonably priced unlike neighboring Ginza proper.