Avoid the busy city trails to discover some alternative attractions.
One of the world’s great cities, Tokyo demands repeat visits.
First-time travellers to the most populous city on the planet will likely end up following similar itineraries featuring Tokyo’s most famous tourist sites. But for repeat visitors to Tokyo, or first-timers who want to avoid the tourist trail, there is a treasure trove of wonderful, lesser-known attractions well worth exploring.
Yanaka: An alternative to the Tsukiji Fish Market
Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market has become one of the city’s biggest tourist draws thanks to its size and scale, the drama of its live auctions and the often odd-looking sea creatures on sale. The people flow got so heavy that tourists were at times banned from certain parts of this market.
There’s no such issue in Yanaka, perhaps Tokyo’s most friendly neighbourhood, which offers a different kind of market experience. This quaint, historic area, which is among the oldest parts of the city, boasts an assortment of traditional Japanese arts and crafts shops.
There’s no better place to shop for takeami, the woven bamboo products which range from baskets to mobile phone covers. Yanaka also has some fantastic izakayas — pub- restaurants — to refuel after your shopping expedition.
Mario karting: An alternative to Tokyo Disneyland
The first time you see it you can’t quite trust your eyes. Whizzing through the Tokyo traffic beneath giant skyscrapers is a dinosaur driving a go-kart. To make the situation even more bizarre, this prehistoric creature is being chased by a toad, who is also in a go-kart.
Tokyo is famous for being a place where cartoon characters come to life via the popular “cosplay” (or “costume play”) hobby. But what I’m witnessing is next-level — this is humans dressed as video-game characters flying along public roads in tiny go-karts.
It’s now a common sight in Tokyo thanks to the wild popularity of MariCar, a company that rents out go-karts and costumes inspired by the classic Nintendo video game Mario Kart. Tourists join a group of fellow go-karters, following their tour leader on road circuits throughout central Tokyo. It’s weird, wild and fun.
Shibuya: An alternative to Roppongi’s nightlife
Every major tourist city in the world has a nightlife area of questionable quality that’s largely shunned by the locals but is popular with tourists who don’t know better. Think Khao San Road in Bangkok, Temple Bar in Dublin or Poppies Lane in Kuta. The Tokyo version is called Roppongi. In a city renowned for being incredibly safe, to the point you can leave your wallet and phone unattended without a worry, Roppongi is the only place people need to worry about scams, theft or violence — in the evening at least.
Which is why it’s better to take the lead of the locals and loosen up your vocal cords at a karaoke bar. There are so many such establishments in Tokyo that you’re guaranteed to find one within walking distance of your hotel. My favourites are in Shibuya, a hyper-busy area which has nightlife that’s safe without being sedate.
Nezu Shrine: An alternative to the Senso-ji Temple
As Tokyo’s best-known temple, Senso-ji is often drenched with people — a suffocating mix of locals and foreign tourists. The area where Senso-ji is located, Asakusa, is perhaps the most touristy area of the whole city, lined with souvenir shops and stores which rent traditional Japanese clothing to foreigners for photo shoots.
The atmosphere is altogether different in Nezu, a peaceful, low-rise neighbourhood in Tokyo’s inner-northern suburbs. Its hub is the extraordinary 1900-year-old Nezu Shrine. Ensconced in beautiful landscaped gardens, which are especially photogenic during cherry blossom season or the autumn bloom, the shrine has a stunning location. And while the temple gets much busier during spring and autumn, it still rarely attracts crowds anything like those commonplace at Senso-ji.
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