As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay. With each district boasting its own character, choosing where to stay in Tokyo can be a hard decision.
Are you after the full Tokyo experience, with a view from a glittering skyscraper? Or a calm, traditional retreat, away from the neon-drenched madness? How about a kip in an only-in-Japan capsule hotel? Whatever side of this ever-changing city you’re interested in, you’re bound to find somewhere that hits the spot.
The most attractive is Higashi Gyoen, where remnants of the old Edo Castle still stand amid formal gardens; to its north lies Kitanomaru-kōen, a more natural park containing the excellent National Museum of Modern Art.
Look east from the Imperial Palace area and you’ll see that the flat parkland on its periphery is, almost immediately, punctuated by a wall of high-rise – this is Marunouchi (literally meaning “inside the circle”). Its crowded streets are transformed at dusk into neon-lit canyons, lined with many of Tokyo’s swankiest places to eat, drink and sleep.
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Ginza, the “place where silver is minted”, took its name after Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu started making coins here in the early 1600s. It turned into a happy association: one street, Chūō-dōri, soon grew to become Japan’s most stylish shopping thoroughfare.
This slice of quintessential modern-day Japan is fascinating enough to choose from all the areas where to stay in Tokyo. Add a sprinkling of great museums and galleries, and you’re set for the day, especially when you factor in the sights of the neighbouring districts of Nihombashi and Shiodome, which bookend Ginza to the north and south.
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From Tokyo to Osaka, this Japan tailor-made trip features fantastic experiences. View a sumo session, visit ancient temples, and climb the Tokyo Skytree tower. Explore the resort town of Hakone in Mt Fuji’s shadow, savor a tea ceremony in Kyoto, and see cherry blossoms, in season, to complete a wonderful trip.
South of Sensō-ji are hundreds of small shops and stands, some of which have been around for centuries. West of the temple, things take a turn for the seedier, and many a traveller has got sozzled along a small lane known as “Hoppy-dōri” (named after Hoppy, a beer-like drink).
When kabuki and bunraku were banished from central Edo in the 1840s, they settled in Asakusa. Over the next century, almost every fad and fashion in Japanese popular entertainment started life here, from cinema to cabaret and striptease.
Today a handful of the old venues survive, most famously Rock-za, with its daily strip shows, and there are loads of cinemas, pachinko parlours, gambling halls and drinking dives
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Although it’s far from being the city’s most attractive park, all of Tokyo seems to flock to Ueno Kōen during spring’s cherry blossom season. Outside this brief period, however, the park only really gets busy at weekends, and during the week it can be a pleasant place for a stroll, particularly around Shinobazu Pond.
At the top of the steps leading up to the park from Ueno station, you’ll find a bronze statue of Saigō Takamori, the great leader of the Restoration army, which helped bring Emperor Meiji to power – his life story was the inspiration for the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai.
Thus the gaijin community started hanging out here, and today’s entertainment district was born. Roppongi is still principally a party town, but three major developments – Roppongi Hills, the National Art Center and Tokyo Midtown – have recast the area in a more refined light, and today it’s increasingly known for its galleries and arts scene.
Roppongi subway station is the principal access point for the area, although you can also use Nogizaka for the National Art Center and Kamiyachō for Tokyo Tower.
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The area still has its fair share of exclusive establishments, shielded from the hoi polloi by high walls and even higher prices, and their presence lends Akasaka a certain cachet.
At the southern end of Akasaka’s main thoroughfare, Sotobori-dōri, stands a huge stone torii, beyond which is a picturesque avenue of red torii leading up the hill to Hie-jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god Ōyamakui-no-kami, who is believed to protect against evil.
The district is also home to the former Yebisu brewery (the old transliteration of Ebisu lives on in the name of the beer), now developed into the Yebisu Garden Place complex, where you’ll find the excellent Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. Head uphill to the west of Ebisu and you’ll hit Daikanyama, one of Tokyo’s most upscale districts and a great place to chill out at a pavement café or browse boutiques.
Shibuya, just south of Harajuku, is almost absurdly busy – a neon-drenched, kanji-splattered, high-rise jungle second only to Shinjuku for sheer eye-popping madness. East of Harajuku, those with gilt-edged credit cards will feel more at home among the antique shops of Aoyama and the big brand boutiques along Omotesandō, the area’s key tree-lined boulevard, often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Elysées.
This action-packed district has it all, from the love hotels and hostess bars of Kabukichō to shop-till-you-drop department stores and dazzlingly designed skyscrapers. Throw in robot performances, two-hour all-you-can-drink specials, Tokyo’s main gay bar stretch and teeming covered arcades, and you’ve still only just scratched the surface.
Across the bay to the south lies Odaiba, built on vast islands of reclaimed land; its principal sights are a couple of excellent museums and a raucous onsen complex, as well as some of Tokyo’s most striking and distinctive architecture.
The bayside area of Tsukiji dates back to 1657, when Tokugawa Ieyasu had the debris from the Fire of the Long Sleeves shovelled into the marshes at the edge of Ginza, thus creating “reclaimed land”, or “tsukiji”. The area was long famed for its huge, almost otherworldly fish market, which was finally shifted east to Tosoyu, after years of delays, and no small amount of controversy.
Most of the area’s prime sushi shops have also relocated, but Tsukiji still boasts a distinctive atmosphere, and a lovely temple.
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Ready for a trip to the Tokyo in Japan? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Tokyo or The Rough Guide to Japan. If you travel further in Japan, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Japan. For inspiration use the itineraries from our Travel Guides and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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Top image: Yebisu Garden Place, Tokyo, Japan © Dimitri Lamour/Shutterstock