24 Best-Kept Secrets in Tokyo
Get off the tourist trail and fall in love with the lesser seen side of Tokyo with our guide to the 24 best-kept secrets in Tokyo.
With such an abundance of things to do in Tokyo, the allure of the attractions on the well-trodden path are often irresistible, burying the city’s lesser known but equally great attractions beneath them. We’re of the opinion these hidden gems are more than deserving of some recognition so we’ve set out to shine a light on them. Without further ado, here’s our roundup of the 24 best-kept secrets in Tokyo:
1. Hachiko Alternatives
Every day after work, Hidesaburo Ueno would arrive at the station to find his dog, Hachiko, waiting for him. Even after Ueno’s passing, Hachiko continued to wait day after day for nine years until his own eventual death. This tale of loyalty from man’s best friend was made popular in the west with Richard Gere’s 2009 film, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
Now, millions of people visit Shibuya Crossing each year to take a picture with the statue of Hachiko. However, little do they know, there is another statue of Hachiko at the University of Tokyo. Erected in 2015, this statue shows a reunited Hachiko and Ueno.
Yet another Hachiko statue stands in front of Shibuya’s Tower Records, a mere five minutes from the original. With considerably fewer people around, getting a photo here involves a lot less pushing and shoving.
2. Hotel New Otani Tokyo
Hotel New Otani in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward is home to a 400-year-old Japanese garden. Here, find a tea house and the only waterfall (albeit manmade) in central Tokyo. Come here for an authentic traditional Japanese experience and sip on some meticulously prepared matcha (green tea) as you admire the surrounding beauty.
For more tea houses, check out The Best Tea Houses for Tea Ceremonies in Tokyo.
3. Vibe Bar Wild One
Vibe Bar Wild One is the embodiment of how foreigners think of Japan using zany TV game shows and anime as their only source of information. Walk in and find yourself surrounded by hundreds of dildos and vibrators, there to look good and purchase if you so wish.
This bizarre experience, however, is not for everyone. No, seriously. There are restrictions. Men must be accompanied by women at all time and there is a cover charge of 3,000 yen. Is the novelty worth it? We’ll let you decide.
4. Journey to the End of the Night
Hosted and organized several times a year by “enthusiastic semi-adults” (their words, not mine), Journey to the End of the Night is a zombie tag event that is completely free. Donations and volunteers are more than welcome, though.
Participants, or players, start from checkpoint A and must make their way to checkpoint E a full 8.5 km away. Lasting between two and four hours, the objective is to evade being tagged. However, once tagged, the player turns into a “chaser” and starts tagging other players. The game is won when players reach the final checkpoint without being tagged. Stick around for the awards ceremony and the after party.
For more information, check out Journey to the End of the Night’s Official Website.
5. Kichijoji’s Harmonica Alley (Yokocho)
With over one hundred dingy shops, entering Harmonica Alley is like taking a step back into post-war Japan. The name comes from how the shops in the narrow alleyway resemble the reeds of a harmonica and include retro clothing stores, fortune tellers, izakayas and the famous Japanese sweet shop Ozasa.
For more information of the surrounding area, check out Kichijoji, Tokyo – An Area Guide.
6. Nezu Museum
Nezu Museum boasts thousands of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art pieces including seven National Treasures. However, its most underrated aspect is its garden. Due to its secretive nature, you’ll often find yourself alone with your thoughts while strolling through this tranquil chunk of central Tokyo. For more information, check out Nezu Museum’s Official Website.
7. Bar High Five
Deemed one of the best in the world, Bar High Five doesn’t fail to impress with its cocktail making theatrics. Hidetsugu Ueno and his junior staff treat each step of the cocktail making process – from preparing the ice to shaking it up – with the utmost respect. For example, the ice for whiskey isn’t just any ice, it’s sourced from a special ice factory on the outskirts of Tokyo and carved into a diamond to slow down the melting process and avoid diluting the drink. While this whole artisanal experience comes at a hefty price, it’s certainly worth it.
8. Tokio Plage Lunatique
Off the beaten path, Tokio Plague Lunatique is a multi-story cafe and bar that overlooks the Tama River. In addition to serving western dishes, barbequing facilities are also available for reservation during the summer months. Bring a book and enjoy a nice glass of wine as you sit on the rooftop patio.
9. Burning Japan
Inspired by Nevada’s Burning Man, this four-day camping event in October is based on the principles of self-expression, respect and love. People from all walks of life come together and share what they can, whether tangible or intangible. This celebration of food, music and the arts is truly life changing.
Website: Burning Japan’s Official Website
10. Golden Gai
You need not be a drinker to appreciate the architectural marvel that is the drinking district Golden Gai. Come night time this district is illuminated by over a hundred small neon signs in the cramped Shinjuku alleyways. Over 200 quaint watering holes ply their trade here, though we recommend the gaijin friendly One Coin Champion Bar. With no cover charge, reasonably priced drinks (drink/500 yen or five drinks/2,000 yen) and karaoke, a fun night is guaranteed.
11. Les Grands Arbres
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses at Cafe Les Grands Arbes – a small coffee shop which sits above the flower shop Fleur Universelle.
The first thing you’ll notice is the giant tree growing right through the floor in the middle of the cafe. This one of a kind tree house cafe serves soothing teas and delicatessen treats. Come here for a relaxing afternoon.
12. Bar Piano
Tucked away in Shibuya’s Drunkard Alley (Nonbei Yokocho), Bar Piano is covered in velvet, unusual portraits and a stuffed deer – giving it a pretty unique ambience. The counter is made from a piano; hence the name.
13. Design Festa Gallery
Located in the backstreets of quirky Harajuku, Design Festa Gallery is “devoted to freedom of expression.” With no restrictions, censorship or regulations, anyone can exhibit their artwork here. As a result, Design Festa Gallery is home to many eclectic exhibitions. After marvelling at the many pieces of art, why not chill out at their cafe or veg out at their okonomiyaki restaurant Sakura Tei?
14. Natto Kobo Sendaiya
Prepare to be introduced to the wild world of natto, an opinion dividing bean-based Japanese favourite. Natto Kobe Sendaiya (featured in our Japan All You Can Eat Guide) offers all you can eat natto and you can even pick some up to take home from the natto vending machine.
15. Suntory Musashino Brewery
Suntory Musashino Brewery is for all you beer enthusiasts out there. Take a tour of the factory, learn how beer is made and taste some awesome beers. All for free!
Address: 3 Yazakicho, Fuchu, Tokyo 183-0025
16. Tateishi Burger
While the sandwiches at Tateishi Burger are decent, it’s not the reason you come here. The vending machines at Tateishi Burger run on 100% manpower instead of electricity! Insert a coin into the machine and (patiently) wait for your made-to-order sandwich to appear from the plastic hatch.
17. Nakame Takkyu Lounge
This secret bar hides behind a nondescript door in an apartment complex. To enter, you must first ring the doorbell. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by a table tennis table; no surprise since takkyu means table tennis. Who knew playing table tennis while drinking your favorite beers would be so fun?
Twillo is an elusive cart that pops up in different corners of Tokyo and serves a wide variety of alcoholic drinks. The only way to find Twillo is through their Twitter. For non-Japanese speakers, a simple Google Translate should suffice. Happy searching!
19. Horumon Nabe Morioka Goro
Horumon or cow and pig innards is a popular delicacy here in Japan. Disgusting? Maybe. But if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Japan’s culture, then Horumon Nabe Morioka Goro is for you. They serve some of the best horumon in the city but they hardly make a song and dance about it, hiding as they do behind an old refrigerator door up a flight of stairs in Shinjuku.
For more food like this, check out our Weird Japanese Food and Where to Eat It article.
20. Vowz Bar
Only in Japan can you find Buddhist monks pouring your drinks. Vowz Bar is owned and run by monks of the Jodo sect, a branch of Buddhism which has no problem with drinking. This will become abundantly clear when the monks join in on the merriment.
21. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
No doubt everyone researching Tokyo and getting ready to come to the city has heard of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, famous for its free panoramic views of the city. However, not everyone has heard of the TOKYO Tocho Gijido Restaurant. Located in the Metropolitan Assembly Hall of the government building, this restaurant is for all you beer lovers out there. For just 600 yen, you get free flowing alcoholic beverages for an hour!
22. Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel
With a name like Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, it’s hard to imagine it being a whole lot of fun. Located on the outskirts of Tokyo, this hidden gem is the world’s largest, for a lack of a better word, drain. Wandering around this underground facility, surrounded by 25m concrete walls and giant pillars is truly humbling. This free tour can be booked via their website. The only caveat is that tours are only available from Tuesday to Friday and a Japanese speaker is needed to accompany non-Japanese speakers.
23. Dialog in the Dark
Dialog in the Dark is an exhibition that aims to raise awareness of issues around disabilities (mainly blindness). Toured through over 130 cities, millions of people have experienced this exhibition in which roles are reversed and blind people guide sighted people through the dark. Now in Tokyo, you too can experience what it feels like to be blind and rekindle your appreciation for your senses.
24. JBS Bar
JBS (or Jazz, Blues and Soul) bar is for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a jazz fan or not. Thousands of vinyl records line the walls, from which owner Kazuhiro Kobayashi selects the finest music to spin on his high-fidelity turntables. Come here for good vibes!