Tokyo is a swirl of old and new constantly redefining itself one piece at a time, and while some historical corners almost never seem to change, others are in permanent flux. Here are three parts of Tokyo that can always be counted on to embody the best of its multi-hued and shifting worlds.
Centered around 1,400-year-old Sensoji Temple, Asakusa is one of the best parts of the city to dive into its “old” side. Whether you choose to explore on foot or via rickshaw tour, there’s plenty to discover—and perhaps even top it off with one of these cultural workshops that will truly let you immerse yourself in those historical waters.
While it takes years to master taiko, the traditional art of Japanese drumming, Asakusa gives visitors a chance to get a quick firsthand taste of the techniques: found north of Sensoji Temple, Taiko-Lab offers one-hour group lessons for tourists that will let you work up a sweat while learning to pound out a traditional song on these thundering old drums.
Edo kiriko is a traditional Tokyo glass-cutting technique that traces back to the days when the city was called Edo. An elegant piece of Edo kiriko glass makes for a great souvenir, and you can even make your own at Sokichi Edo kiriko workshop by the Edogawa River. Just seconds from Exit 4 of Asakusa Station, here you can select from a dozen styles of glass and spend 90 minutes learning how to cut in the Edo kiriko style.
A little further northwest at Wanariya, visitors can try their hand at weaving a coaster or placemat, or make their own indigo-dyed handkerchief, scarf, shirt or tote bag, either using templates or working freeform. It’s a great experience for kids, too!
As the starting point of nearly all of Japan’s bullet train lines, Tokyo Station is the perennial gateway to the city. Most travelers will pass through this renovated turn-of-the-century structure at some point, and it’s worth taking a moment to explore the wealth of shopping attached to its sprawling underground network.
Those with an interest in design will want to visit KITTE, a six-storey complex of shops and restaurants at the southwest corner of the station, accessible both underground from the Marunouchi Line or by exiting through the Marunouchi South Gate. The interior environment of this building’s atrium was designed by Kengo Kuma, the visionary behind the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
On KITTE’s third floor you can find the GOOD DESIGN STORE TOKYO by NOHARA. This store exclusively offers products that have won the Good Design Award, each presenting a world-class design representative of Japan. The roughly 400 souvenir options range from stylish vases and tissue boxes to space-age backpacks and LED-embedded skipping ropes.
Daikanyama & Shibuya
Daikanyama stands in the center of the triangle formed by Shibuya, Ebisu and Nakameguro. A little more upscale than its neighbors, this area is known for its chic restaurants, cafés, and fashion sense.
While in the area, take an amble down Log Road Daikanyama, a quaintly pristine 220-meter (240-yard) “cottage-style” pathway built along an old train line. Its length is landscaped with rhododendrons, bottlebrushes, Norway maples and other flora that bring out the best of each season—and in true Daikanyama style, the path is punctuated by a wood-styled craft brewery and a deli-style café.
While Shinjuku’s Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho are better known as Tokyo’s representative hole-in-the-wall drinking districts, a similar strip can be found in Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya. This so-called “Drunkard’s Alley” is actually a pair of interconnected alleys pointing north from the middle of Shibuya Station. Full of tiny old bars and eateries that might seat as few as half a dozen patrons, this is the place to go to immerse yourself in local color of the modern kind.
For a place to stay, consider TRUNK (HOTEL), a “socializing hotel” that focuses on applying locally made products and organic ingredients. Found just off the trendy Cat Street halfway between Shibuya and Harajuku, this four-storey hotel exudes an organic feel with wood and repurposed materials elegantly worked into both exterior and interior. TRUNK was selected by both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure as one of the best new hotels in the world in 2018.
Opened in April 2019, Kashiyama Daikanyama is an airy five-storey complex that brings together Daikanyama’s passions of food, fashion and design. The lower levels are occupied by a café, gallery, and two-storey “fashion market” offering a curated selection of domestic and international designer brands. The top two floors, meanwhile, house a hyper-chic restaurant and bar that allow you to look out over the fashionable streets while surrounded sleek lines and intricate design.