Where to Go Besides Shibuya: 8 Underrated Neighborhoods in Tokyo

With Japan’s borders open again, you’ve probably noticed the influx of tourists — most of whom are going to center their activities in Shibuya. While Shibuya is a popular, thriving neighborhood with plenty of things to do, you may be looking for more “under the radar” and “underrated” neighborhoods to escape the crowds. We have gathered a collection of eight underrated neighborhoods in Tokyo that are a little bit off the beaten path and the perfect Shibuya alternatives.

From those that want to experience life like a local in Yanaka with its nostalgic charm and traditional Japanese street food to those that want to slow down and relax while strolling the streets of Jiyugaoka, check out our picks of seven underrated neighborhoods in Tokyo below.  

Speaking of which, Coto Academy is going to open our fourth school in Shibuya this summer of 2023! Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, we invite you to stay tuned for more details on our upcoming classes and events! Find out more here.

Brief Guide to Tokyo Neighborhoods

Tokyo is divided into 23 wards which are identifiable by the affix “ku” (区) at the end of their name. Each ward has its own rules and ward office where you complete taxes and register your address etc. The wards are further divided into neighborhoods, areas of the ward, some of which we covered in this article. You’ll find that popular areas are often centered around a train station, this is because many people in Tokyo don’t own a car and use public transport.

What is the best neighborhood to stay in when visiting Tokyo?

First it is always important to decide what you want to do and check that you will not be too far from the attractions and places you want to visit. Some tips to keep in mind are to try choosing a place that is not too far from a main station such as Ueno, Akihabara, Asakusa, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and so on. By choosing a station that is a stop or two away from these big stations you may also find better deals and still just be a short distance away. 

Shibuya Alternatives #1. Kuramae (蔵前)

Kuramae is just a two minute train ride from Sensoji or a pleasant stroll alongside the Sumida river and is a much quieter neighborhood compared to the bustling streets of Asakusa. This makes it a great alternative to Shibuya for those who want a more peaceful trip. Much like its neighbor, this part of Tokyo is steeped in history. 

The name, Kuramae, comes from the Edo era, a time when rice granaries lined the streets and attracted wealthy merchants. Its name translates to “before the warehouse” as kura (蔵) means warehouse and mae (前) before. Although Kuramae has quite the industrial history, over time it has become home to new and upcoming cafes and restaurants and recently has drawn more artisans and craftsmen to the area.

Check out: Best Cafes in Shibuya for Studying and Remote Work

The neighborhood blends together a mix of old and new architecture with many retired warehouses given a second life and converted into stylish shops with original features. Take Nui for example, it was once a warehouse for a 300 year old toy manufacturer but today houses the comings and goings of travelers as a hostel. Anyone is welcome to grab a light breakfast at Nui, even those that aren’t staying and for less than 1,000 yen it’s a bargain.

Nowadays Kuramae has lovingly been dubbed “Tokyo’s Brooklyn” for its authentic and sweet charm. We recommend taking a walk over to experience this beautiful neighborhood for yourself the next time you are looking for other places to visit besides Shibuya.

nakameguro shibuya alternatives in tokyo

Shibuya Alternatives #2. Nakameguro (中目黒)

Every spring when sakura burst into bloom, Nakameguro is cast into the limelight as a must-see destination and one of the hipper Shibuya alternatives.

It’s also a great place to experience sakura in Tokyo. During the spring, the cherry blossom trees that line either side of the Nakameguro River blossom. You’ll also find pink lanterns stung up and street vendors selling festival food, making the entire walk even more festive!

But cherry blossom season aside, Nakameguro is still worth visiting with its collection of vegetarian and vegan cafes, pet accessory stores and the world’s largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery — which is four stories high and serves exclusive teas, desserts and even pizzas and cocktails.

Also as one of the more stylish and expensive neighborhoods in Tokyo, there is afternoon tea. In particular, we love the Haute Couture Café. Here, the menu and decorations change according to the season and which flower is in bloom. This cafe is very popular though so we recommend reserving your spot online in advance! 

Shibuya Alternatives #3. Daikanyama (代官山)

Nakameguro is also just a stone’s throw away from its neighbor Daikanyama, another district known for its chill, laid-back atmosphere. It’s one of great locations to escape the hustle and bustle of Shibuya. Furthermore, in between the stations is the Former Asakusa Residence, a well preserved house and traditional garden built in the Taisho era in 1919, a treat for history lovers and still considered a rather “undiscovered” attraction.  

Shibuya Alternatives #4. Koenji (高円寺)

Towards the west of Shinjuku, in the Suginami ward is a quaint little neighborhood that has encapsulated a piece of retro Japan, pre-economic boom. This part of town is very unique and is definitely worth exploring with its peaceful temples, lively music scene and annual summer festival.

Koenji is said to have a very strong sense of community and local spirit and it is not rare to stumble upon neatly arranged community gardens in this part of Tokyo. The name, koenji, stems from the number of old temples and shrines that are scattered throughout the area, shrouded with greenery and fountains with intricate dragon statues. 

Although Shimokitazawa is more well known for its thrift stores and hipster vibe, Koenji also boasts its own number of thrift stores including second-hand record stores. In fact, the neighborhood has quite the music scene with many live houses and there is everything from jazz to rock. This part of town loves a festival too. In the middle of the 20th century, Koenji began organizing an annual Awaodori festival, a traditional Japanese festival that originates from Tokushima with over 400 years of history. It now takes place every summer towards the end of August in Koenji and brings the whole community closer together.

Shibuya Alternatives #5. Jiyugaoka (自由が丘)

Jiyugaoka is a fashionable neighborhood situated on the southern border of Tokyo. It is also a popular shopping district among locals and ranked as one of the most desirable places to live, making it one of the perfect Shibuya alternatives for shopaholics.

It lives up to its namesake which literally translates to “freedom hill”. Going into Jiyugaoka feels like getting transported to Venice with a real gondola, just hop over the canal on the Venetian bridge into the cozy piazza featuring Italian architecture at La Vita.

In truth, the name Jiyugaoka comes from a school in the area that had more of a liberal approach to education. Situated on the outskirts of Tokyo, Jiyugaoka now boasts new and modern architecture, and with so much to see and do, it attracts crowds of both young and old alike. 

Jiyugaoka is often chosen as a brunch destination as it has a plethora of cafes. For those with a sweet tooth, it features a “Sweets Forest” — a selection of dessert cafes all within the same building that ranges from kakigori (shaved ice) to crepes to cake in a bright-colored, sweet-themed setting.

The neighborhood further has traditional Japanese cuisine such as kaiseki and the highly rated T’s Restaurant which offers vegetarian Japanese dishes. If you like cooking Japanese dishes at home, we recommend visiting Tanomi, which has high-quality Japanese cooking ingredients such as dashi and seasoning. Upstairs there is a small restaurant that serves hot pot alongside onigiri which is flower-shaped. If you are looking for food to try at home, try finding one of the district’s shokupan bakeries that offer heavenly soft bread with a swirl of chocolate through the middle, and be sure to visit the Hikarigai, a market with delicious Japanese delicatessens, so popular they sell out halfway through the afternoon. 

Jiyugaoka is very accessible from Shibuya It can be reached within 10 minutes by train. From Yokohama, it’s just a 20-minute train ride away.

shimokitazawa alternatives

Shibuya Alternatives #6. Shimokitazawa (下北沢)

Shimokitazawa or more commonly known as Shimokita, is another fashionable shopping district, too often missed from the guidebooks. To the southwest of Tokyo on the Odakyu line, this neighborhood can be reached by train in 11 minutes from Shinjuku station. It is mostly famous for its copious amounts of second-hand stores, making it the ideal location to hunt for a bargain and thrifting in Tokyo

Toyo department store is one example of a collection of more than 20 vendors selling second-hand clothing as cheap as 600 yen. You can also find vintage clothing, handmade jewelry plus many more treasures here. Because it is second hand their stock is constantly changing so if you love an item, it’s best to buy it while you have the chance! 

Shimokita isn’t short of places to dine, in particular, there’s an abundance of curry restaurants including soup curry. For Japanese mushroom curry that is available on weekdays, we recommend eating at Nasu Oyaji, a cute little restaurant with wooden fixtures and delicious dishes. 

Completed more recently in the neighborhood of Shimokita is the shopping mall, Nansei Plus, located at the southwest exit from the station, which features a small cinema, co-working lounges, shared offices, and rental spaces including an event space. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating to enjoy the fresh air and sun. Nansei Plus further leads onto a corridor of greenery, an outdoor space, with seating and a park. Overall, the area around Shimokita carries quite a hipster vibe, very chill all while keeping up with the latest trends. 

Shibuya Alternatives #7. Yanaka (谷中)

A short distance from Ueno Park is Yanaka, a much beloved older neighborhood in the Northern part of Tokyo that is visited regularly by locals for its nostalgic charm. Yanaka, directly translates to in the valley, as the earth dips slightly around this area. The main attraction is Yanaka Ginza, a shopping street lined with local shops and boutiques where you can also find traditional Japanese goods for omiyage (souvenirs).

Along Yanaka Ginza, there’s also a variety of Japanese street food and snacks such as senbei (fried rice cakes), taiyaki (sweet pancake-shaped fish filled with red bean paste), and yakitori (fried chicken served on skewers). But don’t just stick to the main road, explore the narrow side streets of Yanaka and you’ll discover its hidden gems such as some very affordable snacks and delicious bites available under 100 yen. 

Cat lovers can enjoy a stroll down the famous Cat Alley in Yanaka where stray cats are said to gather. Nearby is also the highly regarded Yadorigi Cafe, serving Italian dishes and a toasty cup of coffee with cat coffee art. Guests are also welcomed by the cafe’s adorable resident rescue cats.  

Shibuya Alternatives #8: Kiyosumi-shirakawa (清澄白河)

To the east of Tokyo, Kiyosumi-shirakawa is an area known for its coffee culture with numerous specialty coffee shops, for example, the “Allpress Espresso Tokyo” and “Switch Coffee Tokyo”. The district further boasts a vibrant creative scene with art galleries, museums, and expansive green parks. A residential neighborhood inside the capital that runs at a slower pace. The station, Kiyosumi-shirakawa is just a 30-minute train ride from Disneyland’s closest station, Maihama, for those that want easy access to Disney. In addition, nearby Kiyosumi-shirakawa is the neighborhood Monzen-Nakacho famous for its temples and shrines. 

Within the neighborhood is Kiyosumi Garden, a traditional Japanese garden that dates back to the Meiji era, with a large pond, meticulously designed landscapes and seasonal foliage, it is a great place to relax and unwind. Kiyosumi-shirakawa further has a thriving art scene with a number of museums and galleries such as the  Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) and the Kiyosumi Gallery. Some of them hold events and exhibitions, featuring both local and internationally recognized artists. 

Want to learn Japanese in Tokyo?

Coto Academy offers short-term courses. Whether you’re just visiting Japan or looking for flexible Japanese classes to fit in between your busy work schedule, we have a course that will match your level, availability and preference!

If you want to study Japanese in Shibuya soon — or in our main Iidabashi school, fill out the form below (or contact us here), and our staff will get in touch!

Is Shibuya or Shinjuku better?

There are generally more things to do in Shibuya for fashion, and it’s more popular for younger people, but if you’re looking to view skyscrapers and see Tokyo’s nightlife scene, Shinjuku is better.

Is it worth staying in Shibuya?

Staying in Shibuya is worth it due to its central location, vibrant atmosphere, and convenient access to various attractions.

Are Shibuya and Shinjuku the same?

Both areas are the top places you should visit in Tokyo, but they’re not the same. Shinjuku is known for its vibrant nightlife and shopping departments, while Shibuya is known for its fashion and subculture.

Is Shibuya foreigner friendly?

Shibuya is generally considered foreigner-friendly, with English signage, international stores, and a diverse community.

Where do rich people live in Tokyo?

The wealthy in Tokyo often live in neighborhoods like Roppongi, Azabu, and Hiroo.

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