When traveling, it is always nice to go to places that are unique and not overflowing with people holding selfie sticks and taking pictures. Even though it is interesting to watch people get squished into a train like a pack of sardines, it is never nice to be one of those small, oily fish. We need a get away from the busy streets and experience a side of Japan that even locals enjoy. These are a few places in Tokyo that are enjoyed by the locals or are not well know by tourists.
If you’re looking to take a break from all of the healthy and balanced food in Japan, a great place to go is Ramen Jiro. They are well known for their belly-busting ramen bowls that are full to the brim with noodles, garlic, oil, and vegetables. Even for a grown man, it is difficult to finish a regular size Jiro bowl, let alone the big bowl with double meat (even the small is about 2 times the size of a regular ramen bowl).
Like how there are Panda Express fanatics, Ramen Jiro also has a cult-like following for their ramen bowls that are far from the dainty, traditional Japanese cuisine. It is better to line up 15~30 minutes before the store opens, or else you will have to wait 40 minutes to an hour to get your ramen. The main store is located in the Mita ward, near the Keio University campus with the students becoming hooked to this ramen from a young age. Because of its popularity, sister stores opened in Shinjuku, Nishi-Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Jinbocho, Meguro, Hikarigaoka, Itabashi, Kamata, and Chiba. If you are ever in the area and have an empty stomach, it may be interesting to stop by!
Tokyo, Minato, Mita 2-16-4
After having that huge bowl of ramen, the Todoroki Valley Park is a nice place to have a relaxing walk. This park is located just 20 minutes away from Shibuya at Todoroki Station and is great for nature lovers. It is the perfect getaway from the Shibuya hustle and bustle.
You can take a stroll on wooden paths along the small Yazawa river through natural canopies of trees to picturesque red bridges and small shrines. Along the way, you can stop by an old sweet shop to enjoy some green tea with traditional sweets under the umbrella of leaves. Making it feel you’ve stepped into a historical painting, rather than being just 20 minutes from the center of Tokyo.
Tokyo, Setagaya, Todoroki 1-22
If you are not that fond of nature and more into the world through a monitor, the 8-bit cafe might be the place for you. This cafe/ bar is full of games and figures from the 1980s and 1990s, making it feel like you’ve traveled back in time. The concept comes from the 8-bit consoles and the Fami-com (family computer), which was a major game changer in the 1980s. You can enjoy a drink while playing your favorite game like Mario, on your favorite console. It is tucked into a small alleyway in Shinjuku, making it is rather small and difficult to find. Therefore, you may have to take turns with other customers. There is also a 500 yen entrance fee at the beginning, so add that onto your budget!
Tokyo, Shinjuku 3-8-9 Shinjuku Q Building 5F
If you want to experience the true local Japanese atmosphere and taste some traditional Japanese snacks, Yanaka Ginza is the place to go. A little rustic street where the locals come to shop, eat, and gather. It is located at a walking distance from Ueno Park in the “Shitamachi” (old town district). It’s a good idea to go empty-stomached, as there will be so many tempting cute snacks to try.
During the summer, the shaved ice at the “Himitsudo” is a must try. Their shaved ice uses all natural ingredients, including the ice and is all made by hand! The menu also changes depending on the season, so you will be able to eat the freshest, ripest menu at that time. They are open from 10am~6pm, however, they are extremely popular so it might be a good idea to go early.
After eating the cold shaved ice, you can warm up at one of the multiple coffee shops along the streets of Yanaka Ginza. There are also many stray cats wandering around, so if you are a cat lover, this is the place to be.
Tokyo, Taito, Yanaka 1-13-1
For dinner, eating fish or sushi would be the perfect way to end your day. Fishing and eating it on the spot is the freshest way you can eat fish. However, it is quite difficult to go all the way to the harbor, get on a boat, fish, and sail all the way back. It is not something you can do every day (unless you are a fisherman). The restaurant “Zauo” allows you to experience fishing for your dinner from your table and having the restaurant staff prepare it for you to eat.
The seats are lined up on the make-shift boat in the restaurant with a variety of fish swimming around you. You can borrow a fishing rod for about 100 yen and choose what fish you would like to eat. If you fish your own fish, it is a lot cheaper than simply ordering from the menu. Once you have caught your fish, you can choose if you would like to eat it as sashimi, grilled/ boiled, deeply fried, or as sushi. The sashimi or sushi is the freshest way to consume the fish you just caught! The whole concept is that within a few minutes, the fish swimming next to you will be served as your dinner. You can experience the whole process of catching your food and appreciate the life you are about to eat! In Tokyo, there are stores in Shinjuku and Meguro and more all over Japan.
Tokyo, Shibuya, Jinnan, 1-19-3 ハイマンテン渋谷神南ビル 地下１階
Going to the typical Shibuya crossing and the Harajuku Takeshita street is a must-do when you are in Tokyo. However, these places are only a fraction of what Tokyo has to offer. Experiencing local or unusual places will show you what the Japanese really do and enjoy. Learning about Japan and its culture through the local’s eyes is the best way to truly experience Tokyo.