Tokyo was a city I had admired from afar for years. When the cards finally aligned for me to visit for the first time, it quickly became the most special country I’d ever visited. There’s this otherworldliness to Tokyo, particularly as a Black American — the homogeneous population, brightly lit signs in Japanese, billboards of boy bands, Harajuku fashion, and my favorite, bowing as a greeting and sign of respect. To this day, I will never forget the feeling I had walking down a Tokyo street for the first time. Since then, I’ve visited again, and even rented an apartment for a few weeks to delve deeper into the city. My business, CrushGlobal Travel, creates Tokyo guides for clients, working with locals there to achieve an authentic getaway.
Tokyo has a population of nearly 10 million people, and diverse neighborhoods that reflect its demographic. Here are a few areas every traveler to Tokyo should visit.
Yes, this is the Times Square of Tokyo, but there really is nothing like seeing it lit up at night with colorful billboards, weaving your way through the crowds, and the famous Shibuya crossing. It is believed that up to 2,500 walk across this famous intersection and the feeling of getting lost amongst the crowd for the first time is like no other. Shibuya is also one of Tokyo’s largest commercial districts, where you’ll find endless shopping, restaurants, bars, and even people dressed as Marios Bros characters riding around in carts.
Remember when Gwen Stefani appropriated Harajuku style years ago? That was inspired by this neighborhood in Tokyo. Stroll along Takeshita street to get a view of the quirky vintage clothing stores and cosplay shops that made this Japanese fashion so famous. There are also a ton of themed cafes, from Hello Kitty to shops where you can drink coffee with an owl on your shoulder. If you’re wondering why, don’t. In Tokyo, not everything makes sense, and that’s part of its charm. When in Harajuku do not miss a chance to have some of the fluffiest, most delicious pancakes at a Happy Pancake Omotesando.
This is a commercialized area of the city worth visiting mainly at night, as it is where many nightclubs are located. Shinjuku is also home to the famous food alley Omoide Yokocho. Here, you’ll find a number of tiny restaurants serving up everything from fried chicken to sushi, as well as a number of bars.
Think Williamsburg or another hipster area of the U.S., but slightly less annoying. This is a beautiful neighborhood in Tokyo away from the bustle of the center of the city. T-Site is an incredible bookstore in Daikanyama that houses a cafe, bar, thousands of books and records, a garden, and so much more. You could easily spend a full day at this sleek oasis.
Just adjacent to Daikanyama is Ebisu, a walkable, trendy neighborhood with a number of bars, restaurants, and shopping. It is considered one of the top drinking neighborhoods in Tokyo, with a number of tachinoyimas (standing bars). Buri is one of the best, and serves more than 70 kinds of sake as well as food. For ramen lovers, Afuri is a must.
Must Dos for First Timers
Conveyor Belt Sushi: Although two dollar sushi would be a hard pass in most places, in Tokyo it’s not only safe, it’s probably fresher than fish you’ve paid twice as much for. Genki is an affordable and popular option in Shibuya. Just as good as the sushi is the opportunity to have it delivered via conveyor belt. You put your order on a screen and watch it shoot out of a tiny door straight to you.
The Robot Restaurant Show: It’s difficult to describe this show, but perhaps WTF would be most appropriate. You’ll watch robots duel with sharks, live drumming, and walk through electric lights and more gaudiness than you can imagine. This is hands down one of my favorite shows in the world, especially after a few cocktails.
Underground Food Hall: These are called depachikas in Japan, and I wish they’d catch on in the States– though they probably wouldn’t be as clean or incredible. These luxurious underground food halls sell over 300,000 items, including high-end French bakery treats, seafood, sandwiches, meat, insanely delicious desserts, and more. Some great depachikas to visit are Takashimaya Shinjuku and Isetan Shinjuku.
A Jazz Show at Park Hyatt: If you’ve ever seen the movie Lost In Translation, then you’ve already gotten a glimpse of this incredible venue that features panoramic views of Tokyo and some of the best jazz performers in the world– from Harlem to New Orleans — every artist is represented here.
Catch a Vibe at a Music Venue: Tokyo has an incredible number of music venues, and it’s safe to say they love hip-hop and soul music. A few popular locations worth a visit include JBS for its incredible record collection and one man bartender, and IBEX or 1Oak if you want to turn up.