While iconic landmarks like the Tokyo Tower and Shibuya Crossing draw millions of tourists to Tokyo, this bustling metropolis also harbours countless hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
From secret gardens tucked away amidst towering skyscrapers to historic neighbourhoods brimming with traditional charm, Tokyo offers a treasure trove of lesser-known attractions that promise an authentic, off-the-beaten-path experience.
This post delves into some of the hidden gems in Tokyo, unveiling the city’s best-kept secrets.
Lonely Bar – a hidden gem in Golden Gai
The Golden Gai is a historical drinking district in Shinjuku that gentrified into a popular hipster spot in the 1950s, with over 200 tiny bars emerging.
Our favourite bar here was called ‘Lonely’, a small bar tucked away in a tiny alcove alongside the main road. Part of the reason this bar is a hidden gem is because it is harder to find. The Google Maps location isn’t accurate, and the discreet entrance is easy to miss.
We found ‘Lonely’ after doing several laps of the winding alleyways which make up this mystical district.
It sells beer, many spirits (mostly whiskey) and sake. But our favourite drink was the shochu and oolong tea for 700 yen. Shochu is a distilled starch-based spirit, whilst oolong tea is similar to green or black tea.
An odd combination, right? It actually tasted delicious. It was so good, in fact, that we stayed for several hours and pumped a few thousand yen towards the bar during our time there. Oh, and they threw in some free snacks, too.
We enjoyed the calming atmosphere and the charm of Arai-San, the bar owner who speaks little English but will make his guests feel welcome. It’s by far our favourite bar in the Golden Gai.
Nearest public transport: Shinjuku Station and Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal are just a 7-minute walk away. Whilst the smaller Shinjuku-Sanchome Station is only a 2-minute walk from here
Entry fee: None
Opening hours: 6:00 p.m. -2:00 a.m. every day
Words by Adventure To Every Country
Hakusan-Jinja Shrine is a hidden gem in the charming, intimate, old-fashioned neighbourhood of Bunkyo City, Tokyo.
The shrine was established in the 10th century and named after one of the most sacred mountains in Japan – Hakusan. It is now a secret spot close to Tokyo University, Koishikawa Botanical Garden, and Tokyo Dome City that is especially worth visiting in springtime during flower season.
There are five major flower festivals in Tokyo from April to June, and one of them, Ajisai Matsuri, is an exciting time for hydrangea viewing. The event typically begins in mid-June every year, and Hakusnan-Jinja Shrine features over 3,000 hydrangeas against its historical and classical backdrop. There are potted hydrangeas, flower hawkers, and food vendors during the festival.
Visiting there as early as possible during weekdays is recommended for the best photo-taking experience.
Nearest public transport: The shrine is only a few minutes walk from Hakusan metro station’s Exit A3 on the Toei-Mita line.
Entry fee: None (even during Ajisai Matsuri)
Image and words by KNYCX Journeying
Kyu Asakura House and Garden
The Kyu Asakura House is a hidden gem in Tokyo that appealed to us when we searched for gardens to visit within the city, without crowds and with a historical element. The Kyu Asakura House was built in 1919 on what was then the Asakura estate as the home of the Tokyo Council Chairman, Torajiro Asakura.
It is a glorious example of Taisho-era architecture, with cross-grain cedar rooms, tatami matting, and a stunning Japanese garden. You could see Mount Fuji from the first floor when the house was built. Since 2004, the property has been designated an Important Cultural Property, and it’s a fabulous oasis of calm within the city. It survived the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, bombings during World War II, and the development of the local area!
Nearest public transport: The closest metro station is Daikanyama Station in Shibuya, just a 5-minute walk from the house.
The entry fee is 100 Yen (Adults) and 50 Yen (Children over 6). Seniors over 60 are free.
Kyu Asakura House Opening Hours: 10:00 until 18:00 from March until the end of October (the house closes at 16:00 in winter).
One Hundred Step Staircase
Hyakudan Kaidan (One Hundred Step Staircase) is a cultural landmark in Tokyo that blends history, art, and architectural beauty.
A friend who has lived in Tokyo for over ten years recommended this place when we asked her about a lesser-known spot to visit. The site has been recognized as a Tangible Cultural Property in Tokyo, making us even more interested in seeing it.
Completed in 1935, it was part of the original Meguro Gajoen, the first wedding complex ever built in Japan.
Hyakudan Kaidan literally translates to ‘One Hundred Step Staircase’. Adjacent to the staircase are several halls featuring unique themes and decorations, with elaborate woodwork and paintings showcasing Japan’s rich cultural heritage.
Nowadays, Hyakudan Kaidan hosts various cultural events, exhibitions, and art displays throughout the year, allowing visitors to experience contemporary and traditional Japanese culture in a historical setting.
Nearest public transport: The staircase is inside Hotel Gajoen and is easily accessible by public transportation. It took us about 5 minutes to get from Meguro Station.
Entry fee: The opening hours and entry fees can vary depending on the event or exhibition being held at the time. Our visit was during an exhibition called “The Romanticism of Taisho period”, and we paid 1,500 yen (£8) for each ticket.
Image and words by Delightful Travel Notes
Yanaka Area and Cemetary
If you are looking for a hidden gem to visit in Tokyo, look no further than visiting the Yanaka area of the city. A small hidden neighbourhood that oozes authentic charm, Yanaka feels like old Japan with one main throughout fare with authentic shops that sell local foods, traditional pastries and baked goods and some little arts and crafts places.
Along with visiting this fun and traditional village type of setting, Yanaka has a unique historic cemetery with ancient burial grounds, monuments, and shrines in a beautiful park-like setting. It almost feels like going to a botanical garden and temple area instead of a historic burial place. The Tennoji Temple is also a must-see, with a large bronze Buddha statue at its entrance.
You will love exploring Yanaka, and it’s worth the effort to discover an authentic side of Tokyo. It’s not well-known as a tourist hotspot, but for photographers, it is one of the best places to photograph in Tokyo.
To get to Yanaka, Take the JR train that circles the city to Yanaka station. Then, it is a short walk to the main shopping venue and the cemetery area.
Image and words by Travel Photo Discovery
Odaiba – Tokyo’s futuristic island
Tokyo is a large and busy city, and amongst all its imposing attractions, it is hard to find a hidden gem in this megalopolis.
During our three-week visit to Japan, we were lucky to have a friend tell us about Odaiba – a futuristic district on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. It is the perfect place to visit with family when you want a break from Tokyo’s palaces and gardens.
Historically, it was built as a set of fort islands to protect Tokyo from marauders. By the end of the 1990s, it had developed into a ‘fun’ place to visit with family, featuring many attractions, entertainment, and multiple eating options.
Our day trip to Odaiba started with a ride on the Yurikamome line to Shimbashi station in Central Tokyo, then a transfer to the interesting driverless monorail to Odaiba. The monorail rode on the Rainbow Bridge, and we took photos of the views from the front seats.
Tours of Odaiba
We were surprised to see a beach in Odaiba Seaside Park – perfect for kids to build castles and run around. There is a mini replica of the ‘Statue of Liberty’ (11 metres tall) and an observation deck providing views of the scenic Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. An educative Science Museum has interactive exhibits, and a Maritime Museum showcases the history of ships. You can soak into an invigorating hot bath in an Onsen and ride on a giant Ferris wheel called Daikanransha.
We walked around the whole day, stopping at the various attractions, and returned to Tokyo via the unique ‘Himiko’ – the futuristic Japanese river bus designed like a spacecraft.
The Yurikamome line to Shimbashi station in Central Tokyo is the nearest public transport. Then, take the monorail to Odaiba.
Entry fee: None
Words by Leisurely Drives
Sumida Hokusai Museum
On our second day in the city, we decided to visit the Sumida Hokusai Museum on a recommendation from a Tokyoite we were talking with at a pub.
If you’re like me, you may not recognize the name Hokusai. You’ll likely immediately recognize some of his works with a quick Google search. He’s one of the more influential artists of all time, and several of his works, like Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and The Great Wave of Kanagawa, are pop culture icons.
After a long, hot walk through mundane neighbourhoods (tip: take the subway to Ryogoku Station!), we arrived at the Sumida Hokusai Museum. We took a few minutes to admire the building’s unusual design before heading inside.
Even though we weren’t too familiar with Hokusai, we thoroughly enjoyed the museum. It turned out to be one of our favourite parts of Tokyo. Beyond being a mere art gallery, it felt like an introduction to Japanese culture and history because of how emblematic Hokusai’s works are. Even more than that, it was a solid museum. It was informational while not being overwhelming or exhausting, and, importantly, the art was spectacular.
The most surprising part of the museum was how uncrowded it was! Maybe it’s because Western tourists don’t know Hokusai’s importance or its out-of-the-way location. Still, we were two of only 50 or so people during our visit, so I would definitely include it in your Japan itinerary if you are looking for a hidden gem to uncover.
Tickets for the permanent exhibitions at the Sumida Hokusai Museum are 400 yen. If you want to include the temporary exhibits, you’ll pay an additional 300 yen. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.
Image and words by Paul Passing Through
While this article recognises the hidden gems in Tokyo, there are plenty of others to discover in the rest of the country. Read here about Hidden Gems in Japan and find a secret location to visit on your next trip.
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