Tokyo is one of the most exciting urban environments in the world, a megalopolis filled with fascinating minutiae. There's an amazing live music scene, great boutique shopping, amazing restaurants and excellent small bars. Just the sheer size of the Japanese capital makes it interesting. Every suburb is a city in itself that you could spend weeks getting to know.
Moreover, it’s not a complete concrete conurbation, with over 270 parks and gardens and countless treasures to unearth. A city mixing futuristic constructions with 1,000-year-old temples as well as the ultimate in pop-art kitsch. Put simply: it’s an otherworldly wonderland filled with surprise and importantly, there’s no place quite like it anywhere else on the planet.
With apologies to the late American writer Tom Wolfe, it’s a Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby of a city from the minute you step onto a rapid transit train at the airport to a late night in a punk rock basement bar.
We’ve woven a few choices for you to locate and experience…
LOCATION: Shimokitazawa SHELTER
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Tokyo has a huge live music scene with a passionate following. Much of the action takes place in tiny basement venues that you could walk past a thousand times without even realising they were there. SHELTER is one of the city’s absolute classic live houses, a Shimokitazawa club that has been hosting indie and hard rock bands for more than 25 years. There are shows on here every night of the week – you can expect the music to be loud and the crowd to be friendly.
BEST CHOICE: Tickets for shows at Shelter are available from the door, which opens most nights at around 6:30pm or 7pm. Check the venue’s website for a full gig guide.
LOCATION: Higashi Koenji Niman Den-atsu (20,000V)
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: You never know what you’ll get at Niman Den-atsu (which means “20,000 volts” in Japanese), a smoky, grungy basement live music house in Higashi Koenji, in western Tokyo. This tiny club specialises in music from the harder, more experimental side of the spectrum, with punk, metal and alternative acts taking to the stage nightly to blast patrons away via Niman Den-atsu’s notorious sound system. This is hard-rocking Tokyo at its best.
BEST CHOICE: Maximum capacity at Higashi Koenji Niman Den-atsu is about 130 people, so it’s worth arriving early to see the opening bands and ensure you get a ticket.
LOCATION: mAAch ecute KANDA MANSEIBASHI
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Old literally meets new at mAAch ecute KANDA MANSEIBASHI, a super-cool network of shops, restaurants and bars built in an old train station. Manseibashi Station was once a busy stop on the Chuo line, but was closed in 1943; some 70 years later, mAAch ecute appeared, making use of a space that oozes history and character. Now, craft beer distillers overlook the train lines; pop-up fashion stores and coffee shops are tucked under the old viaduct; and modern restaurants are scattered throughout.
BEST CHOICE: On the first floor, check out the scale-model recreation of what the station and the surrounding area looked like 100 years ago.
LOCATION: Nakagin Capsule Tower
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Tokyo is famous for its capsule hotels, where guests spend the night in tiny pods barely big enough to hold a bed. Rarely, however, will you find a property with the character of Nakagin, the original capsule tower, and an architectural wonder in its own right. Built in 1972, Nakagin’s striking exterior and crumbling façade remains a hugely popular sight for architecture buffs, given it’s one of the few remaining examples of the Japanese Metabolism style, with a unique form that stands out on the Ginza streets even today.
BEST CHOICE: With the tower under threat of demolition it’s best to organise a tour through a group supporting the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation & Restoration Project as part of the tour fee will be donated to support the project
Discover more about where old meets new at experiencetokyo.nationalgeographic.com