The Hidden Secret of Tokyo
For almost any individual that has had a chance to experience more of Tokyo than what the guide books suggest, they will undoubtedly tell you that what truly sets Tokyo apart from other must-see cities is its lesser-known neighborhoods, its hidden little pockets of personality, where the true essence of the city comes alive.
As someone who has had the great pleasure and privilege to live and work in Tokyo for several years, I have taken full advantage of immersing myself in the vibrant energy and diverse culture of this city.
One of the greatest joys I've discovered is sharing the unique neighborhoods with others, serving as a private guide for Tokyo tours and helping travelers who come to visit us maneuver their way through the marvelous mazes of bustling streets and hidden gems that make Tokyo truly special.
I've created private tour itineraries that allow us to find the true heart beat of Tokyo and give you a glimpse into how the local culture thrives and lives in a city that is as full of cutting-edge influences as it is Japanese history.
If you are someone who enjoys seeing a new city through the eyes of local guides, join me for a one-day private tour itinerary to explore some of the off-the-beaten path parts of typical Tokyo and find out what really happens in a city that truly never sleeps.
Tokyo Tours: Taking the Road Less Traveled
Stop #1: Koenji
We will start your private tour of Tokyo neighborhoods in one that is one of my very favorite - Koenji.
Koenji is a vibrant and bustling bohemian neighborhood tucked away in the western part of Tokyo.
As your own private tour guide, I will start our morning by taking you on a journey through the colorful streets and lively atmosphere that helped define the birthplace of Tokyo's punk scene.
As we stroll through Koenji, you'll notice the artsy vibe that permeates every corner and one of the reasons why this neighborhood is so well loved by locals and distant fans alike.
Most of the building's walls are adorned with vibrant street art, showcasing the creativity and rebellious spirit of the community.
Quirky boutiques, vintage shops, and vintage record stores line these streets, offering a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Koenji is also a paradise for fashion-forward individuals seeking one-of-a-kind pieces as well as vintage enthusiasts on the hunt for retro finds.
Koenji is also known for its charming narrow alleys, which are affectionately referred to as "shotengai." These pedestrian-friendly lanes are lined with cozy izakayas (aka tiny bars), small eateries, and hole-in-the-wall cafes.
The aroma of sizzling yakitori and the enticing scent of freshly brewed coffee permeate the air, inviting you to indulge in the local culinary delights or just watch as the whole scene in front of us unfolds.
If you're ready for something to eat, we will make our way to the Jules Verne Cafe, a tiny café near the train tracks west of Koenji Station that is famously known for its artistic fruit sandwiches...believe this tour guide when I tell you that you haven't really experience true Tokyo until you try one of these delicious sandwiches!
We will also wander our way to the SUB store, where the motto is: "Life's short - enjoy every moment of it."
The SUB store is also a unique spot in Koenji that houses a bit of everything. From the live music to the street art and great food, the SUB store is a perfect representation of the cacophony and creativity of Koenji all mixed together in one small space.
The owner of the SUB store is from Indonesia and has been known to say that his vision for this spot was to provide the kind of place he and his wife would want to hang out during their downtime alone or with friends.
Talk about a great mission statement!
Stop #2: Daikanyama
After leaving lovely Koenji, we will take the Tokyu Toyoko Line from Koenji Station to Daikanyama Station. We will exit the station and immediately be transported into yet another unique and ubiquitous world of another special city neighborhood - Daikanyama.
Daikanyama, often referred to as “the Brooklyn of the Japanese capital,” is one of those places where modern and comfort combine together as the perfect harmony.
This little gem can get pretty crowded on the weekend, as locals love it for the relaxed vibe, tree-lined pedestrian-only streets, and trendy eateries.
As a local private tour guide, I am always thrilled to take travelers on a visit to this vibrant district and let them experience first-hand some of my favorite stops and shops.
But Daikanyama isn't just about shopping; it's a neighborhood that encourages exploration and creative expression. We'll stumble upon hidden alleyways adorned with vibrant street art and quirky installations that add a touch of whimsy to the surroundings. The artistic energy is palpable, and you'll find yourself inspired by the innovative displays and unique design concepts that grace the streets.
One of my favorite highlights in Daikanyama is eating shabu-shabu, and my favorite place to eat it is Manin.
Manin is an adorable little restaurant that serves up shabu-shabu, a dish of thinly sliced beef or pork cooked quickly with vegetables in boiling water and then dipped in a delectable dark sauce.
To this Tokyo private tour guide, the highlight of dining at Manin is the interactive nature of the meal. As we sit around the table and dip our ingredients into the bubbling broth, you'll be enveloped by the enticing aroma and the bubbling sound of the cooking.
The tender slices of beef, along with the crisp vegetables and tofu, soak up the rich flavors of the broth, creating a fun and comforting combination.
After our lunch at Manin, our next tours in Tokyo stop will be at the Hollywood Ranch Market, a must see for anyone interested in the Japanese casual fashion scene since the 1980's. This store has played a big role in the fashion scene in Tokyo Japan and its ongoing development today.
From funky sunglasses to designer denim, this store is crammed full of funky finds and is always a popular stop on any of my Tokyo private tours.
Despite its relatively small and limited space, Holly wood Ranch Market promises to be just as fun to browse as it is to buy.
After some shopping, we will head on over to Daikanyama T-Site, my favorite coffee and tea shop in the area.
This bookshop-cafe combination was built to look like a library in the woods and gives the same serene feel from the moment we walk inside.
Though there is a Starbucks on the ground floor, we can also move to the snazzier lounge on the second floor where wine and cocktails are being served. And, if you are a big music lover, we can cruise upstairs, where more than 100,000 CDs ranging from classical jazz to 80s rock music is kept and you can sample some of it in one of the many listening booths on this floor.
Stop #3: Sangenjaya
From Daikanyama station, we will take the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line from Daikanyama Station to Sangenjaya Station for our last neighborhood stop.
Did I save the best for last? Well, that's for you to decide!
Sangenjaya, affectionately known as Sancha among locals, is a neighborhood full of narrow streets and tiny shops that exudes a distinct charm and a laid-back atmosphere.
One of the first things you'll notice about Sangenjaya is its wooden houses and local-friendly vibe. The streets are lined with tightly packed cozy cafes, small boutiques, and intimate eateries that cater to the diverse - and quite affluent - tastes of the community.
Despite the crowded nature of this area and the high home prices, it's the kind of place where neighbors know each other and the overall air has an old charm feel to it. Residents and visitors alike are drawn to the creative vibe, fashionable eateries and green spaces of this neighborhood, all located less than 5 minutes from frenetic Shibuya by metro.
Sangenjaya is the perfect place to spend time browsing for souvenirs or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll. Walking tours of Sancha are best as you can simply turn a corner and find a new little curiosity at just about every intersection to delight you—some bizarre architecture choices here, and maybe a streetside souvenir shop there.
And what local guides job would not be well done without a visit to the Sangenjaya King Kong looming over the local Family Mart?
Sangenjaya is also renowned for its Tokyo food scene, and showcases an array of culinary delights. A favorite spot of mine is Tokoshima, a place that is all about the chicken.
The restaurant is named after the chef and serves over 20 different types of chicken that's all grilled to perfection. Whether you are a wing or a breast fan, there is something here for all lovers of chicken.
And I mean ALL...Chef Tokoshima is notorious for knowing how to use the entire bird, and even the gizzards get grilled to perfection.
Tokoshima is a beautiful, elegant restaurant that showcases dark wood paneling on the walls and the enormous counter that surrounds Tokoshima’s entire kitchen, which will allow us an up close-up view of the master’s meticulous preparation of each and every dish.
Of course, if we happen to have any vegetarians with us this hotspot will need to be swapped out for something else. Otherwise, Tokoshima will be an excellent ending to a day filled with funky stops and boho spots all around my host city of Tokyo.
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