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Great Tokyo walks

Follow Takashi Murakami to Tokyo's most exciting neighbourhoods (plus Osaka) with our walking guides featuring the best places to eat, drink, shop and see art

You know what they say: the best way to get to know a city is to explore it on foot. And considering Tokyo consistently tops the ‘safest city’ lists, there’s really no reason to go underground when you can see so much more on the streets. We’ve put together 12 great walks, giving you the chance to discover Tokyo’s art, shops, architecture and even ghosts. Pull on a pair of comfy shoes and start your stroll around the city...

The 12 great walks

Subculture walk: Nakano
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Subculture walk: Nakano

Akihabara may be the place for anime and electronics otaku, but for the other otaku out there, there’s Nakano Broadway (5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku). In this retro arcade, you’ll find something for every kind of geek, and no matter how many times you go, you’ll always find something new.  We start our walk at Mandarake (Nakano Broadway, 5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku), which occupies a large section of the Nakano Broadway building. Mandarake has over one million items, mostly manga and anime merchandise and knick-knacks. If you’re looking for an anime or manga-related item and can’t find it at Mandarake, chances are you won’t find it anywhere. Next, look for the bright red torii gate and you’ll be at Mandarake Henya (4F Nakano Broadway), which sells a large amount of Japanese pre-war collectables, soaps, coin banks and other rare goods that can’t be found elsewhere.  Mandarake Henya At Anime Kan (4F Nakano Broadway), also on this floor, you might find cels from classics such as ‘Princess Mononoke’ and ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’. In the bookstore on the third floor, shelves packed with all types of manga cover the entire wall. After scooping up some treasures, take a break at Bar Zingaro (2F Nakano Broadway), where you can enjoy specialty coffee from Fuglen while surrounded by Takashi Murakami’s signature ‘flowers’. This is no coincidence since Nakano Broadway houses three galleries operated by Murakami’s company, Kaikai Kiki: Hidari Zingaro (3F Nakano Broadway)

Made-in-Japan walk: Kuramae
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Made-in-Japan walk: Kuramae

Hidden in between tourist-infested Asakusa and the grittier Asakusabashi, Kuramae gets its name from the all-important rice granaries that lined the streets here during the Edo era. As rice was literally money back in the days of the shogunate, the neighbourhood attracted plenty of wealthy merchants and other successful Edoites, many of whom took up residence in the area. Later on, Kuramae morphed into something of a centre for craftspeople – an aspect that’s still very much present, especially with the recent increase in young designers and other creatives calling the area home. Begin your exploration of this riverside ’hood around midday with the aim to be back at Kuramae Station before 7pm. First walk just a minute from exit A1 of the station to reach Matsuki Shoten (2-4-3 Kuramae, Taito-ku). Found a stone’s throw from Sumida River, where the city’s best-known summer fireworks festival has been held since 1733, Matsuki deals in colourful explosives of all shapes and sizes. The shop also carries a range of traditional toys and decorative items, just in case you prefer something non-combustible. Just a block further along Edo-dori sits Koncent (2-4-5 Kuramae, Taito-ku), which serves as the home base for H Concept, a company involved in design consulting for a wide range of Japanese manufacturing businesses. The trendy store stands out in its surroundings, with the all-white interior decorated with cool knickknacks from all over Japan. Take your pick of items from super-sof

Trendsetting walk: Harajuku/Omotesando
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Trendsetting walk: Harajuku/Omotesando

Harajuku is well-known as the centre of Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture and as an area that continuously gives birth to new trends. Begin your walk on the famed Takeshita-dori, which is packed with shops selling unique yet cheap goods. Arrive at Harajuku Station and take the Takeshita-dori exit. Follow the crowds down a short hill and push your way through the throng of Japanese teens until you see Calbee Plus (1-16-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) on your right. This is an antenna shop of Calbee, one of Japan’s major snack manufacturers. We recommend tasting their cup of hot, fresh chips with special toppings such as double cheese, chocolate sauce and soft serve ice cream. Browse your way to the end of the street and turn right onto Meiji-dori towards the popular shopping complex Laforet Harajuku (1-11-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku). The 1.5BF (yes, they even have half floors to maximise on space!) is filled with Lolita fashion and is a little like entering a fantasy world. Laforet Harajuku Back in the real world, cross Meiji-dori at the traffic lights and notice the building on the corner with an entrance covered in mirrors. This is Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku (4-30-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku), a good place for brand names like Minnetonka as well as quirky souvenirs. Then carry on along Omotesando and turn left at the first corner (you’ll probably see a long queue; they’re lining up for pancakes). Walk past the line of people for one block until you spot the pink exterior of 6% Dokidoki

'It' fashion walk: Shibuya
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'It' fashion walk: Shibuya

To begin your stroll through some of Shibuya’s most stylish spots, head to Nude Trump (3F, 1-12-14 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku), a long-standing vintage clothing shop run by absurdist fashionista Hayao Matsumura. The boutique is a chaotic jumble of outré garments and accessories: you’ll find all kinds of studded, sequinned and fur-print oddities squeezed into its cramped racks and shelves, accompanied by a range of boots, T-shirts, jackets, sunglasses, blinged-out jewellery and Don Quijote-grade novelty tat.    Nude Trump Once you’ve spiced up your outfit, set course down the street to find Onitsuka Tiger (1-21-3 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku) the sneaker brand of choice for athletes, assorted dignitaries and all retro-biased Tokyoites. The Asics forerunner’s two-storey Shibuya outpost carries the brand’s full line of shoes, in addition to a range of original clothing and accessories, and is unmissable for anyone on the hunt for Japan-made footwear.   Put those new kicks to the test right away and find your way past Loft: behind this seven-floor lifestyle superstore hides Fake Tokyo (18-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku), another popular haunt for the young and fashion-conscious. Offering a wide range of labels from high-end international brands (J.W. Anderson and Valentino) to cutting-edge Japanese brands (99%IS- and Christian Dada), this shop is where to perfect that edgy Shibuya look.   Fake Tokyo Next, keep going straight along Inokashira-dori until you reach Tokyu Hands (12-18 Udagawacho, Shibu

Classic shopping walk: Shibuya
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Classic shopping walk: Shibuya

If you fancy yourself a little more sophisticated, this route will be just up your alley. Start off from the tranquil Kamiyamacho area, on the southwest side of Yoyogi Park, where you might want to enjoy some sunshine and greenery before embarking on the walk. Leaving the park, take the exit near Yoyogi-Koen Station and walk down Inokashira-dori until you spot a statue of a milk cow on your right. This is Shibuya Cheese Stand (5-8 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya-ku), which serves up some delicious fresh mozzarella and ricotta. Shibuya Cheese Stand Turn right at the end of the block to head for the hip bookstore Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (17-3 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya-ku). Magazines and books, both new and used, are arranged according to theme, meaning that you might find a philosophical tract alongside some manga or art books. Though the selections are predominantly Japanese-language, Shibuya Publishing Booksellers also stocks a few English titles – and it’s a rewarding place to browse even if you can’t read most of what you’re looking at. Find more inspiration, but this time in the form of flowers, at Trefle (42-10 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku), a florist you’ll find hiding in a back street. Their chic style of wrapping flowers enhances the beauty of each bloom. Go back to Inokashira-dori and turn left at Tokyu Hands. Cross Koen-dori and turn right to head down a hill towards the end of the street. There you’ll find the newly launched Shibuya Modi shopping complex. Inside, look for Th

Lifestyle walk: Daikanyama/Ebisu
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Lifestyle walk: Daikanyama/Ebisu

Once you’ve found your feet at Daikanyama Station, take the west exit and turn right to see a tree-lined footpath next to the Toyoko line tracks: this is the newish Log Road (13 Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku), a shopping mall that’s not really a mall at all. Rather, it’s a collection of freestanding shops and cafés, the largest of which is LA-based boutique Fred Segal. Pick up some trendsetting clobber, watch the impeccably dressed locals strut by, and sit down for a pint of craft beer at the Spring Valley brewpub. Next, leave the railroad behind, turn left when you reach the next major street and navigate your way to Bonjour Records (24-1 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku) on the next corner. Much more than a mere CD shop, this hip retailer carries the latest fashion from Maison Kitsuné and also operates a pair of its own clothing labels. Just a few steps up the same street is Okura (20-11 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku). Modelled on an old Japanese-style warehouse, it showcases traditional arts and craft skills in a beguiling interior. Almost everything here is dyed with natural indigo dye – a method used in Japan since ancient times. You’ll find T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, socks, kimono-motif tops and much more – all of which are durable and comfortable.  Okura With souvenir bags in tow, keep going until you hit Daikanyama T-Site (17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku), a sleek complex best known for the revolutionary Tsutaya Books. In a perfect world, all bookshops would be like this emporium, sprea

Ghost & mystery walk: Yotsuya, Shinjuku
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Ghost & mystery walk: Yotsuya, Shinjuku

For maximum spookiness, we decided to call on Lilly Fields, founder of Haunted Tokyo Tours and guru of the ghostly spirits that roam the streets of our city. She took us on her ‘Demons of the Red Light District’ tour, which begins at Yotsuya-Sanchome Station and winds through hidden alleys, while Lilly builds a fascinating story of the area’s tragic history and how it has shaped the supernatural tales of today. Take exit 3 at Yotsuya-Sanchome Station onto Yasukuni-dori and turn left around a corner into the Samoncho neighbourhood. A gust of cold air? Could be the angry ghost of Oiwa, who floats around the area, frightening locals to the point that many won’t even set foot on these streets. Four blocks down, on a parallel street to your left, you’ll find Oiwa Inari Tamiya Jinja, a shrine dedicated to keeping her spirit placated. Why’s she so furious? As legend has it, Oiwa’s husband poisoned her (it wasn’t pretty), and she took revenge by committing suicide but vowing to haunt him forever. Oiwa Inari Tamiya Jinja After paying your respects to Oiwa, find your way back to Yasukuni-dori and cross the road. Look for the entrance to Sharikimon-dori – it’s easy to spot thanks to two tall poles bearing symbols of rickshaw drivers. This is a nod to the fact that, once upon a time, rickshaw drivers would drop off red-light district customers at this very spot. Walk down the hill and imagine a time when the little pubs that line the street were filled with geishas and, well, cheating

Mountain walk: Mt Takao
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Mountain walk: Mt Takao

Mt Takao towers over the western reaches of Tokyo and, along with Mt Fuji, has been awarded three stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan, cementing it as a popular tourist destination. Not too far from the city centre, the mountain makes for a relatively easy way to enjoy abundant natural scenery and mountain climbing. The convenience of being able to go any time (even as a last-minute daytrip) makes it very appealing. The best way to get there is by train: from Shinjuku Station, it takes just 50 minutes on the Keio line. Alight at Takaosanguchi Station (not Takao Station, which is the stop before) and you’ll be facing the front of the mountain. Don’t be tempted by the cable car or chair lifts at the foot of the mountain – taking either of these will cut short your walk and it’s really not a difficult climb. There are many different trails to choose from, but for a three-hour round-trip, walk up trail no. 1 and look for the observation deck halfway up the mountain. You’ll find restaurants and teahouses here, and if you’re here during summer there’ll be beer gardens too – in fact, many people go up and down by cable car just to enjoy a few drinks on the mountain. If you continue climbing, you’ll reach Monkey Park and the Wild Plant Garden. It’s ¥420 to enter, but it’s worth it to see the community of monkeys who live here as well as the approximately 300 kinds of wild plants growing in the garden. Right before the summit, look for Yakuo-in, a Buddhist temple found

Tsukiji fish market walk
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Tsukiji fish market walk

A walk around the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market may leave you feeling a little sour, knowing that 80 years of history will come to an end when the market is relocated to Koto Ward in November. Or maybe it’s just the pungent smell of fish. In any case, we suggest you head to Tsukiji at 9am, which is when the Inner Market opens to the public. You may have heard about the 5am tuna auction, but unless you’re a Japanese fishmonger and your livelihood depends on it, there’s no good reason to get up before the crack of dawn and queue for hours to watch men shout over dead fish. After alighting at Tsukijishijo Station at a reasonable hour, say ohayo to the day with coffee at Aiyo (Bldg 6, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku). While the clientele of the restaurants and cafés surrounding the market was originally fishermen, now you’ll see hordes of hungry tourists and salarymen settling in for sushi. By contrast, Aiyo has remained local and is frequented by veteran vendors who engage in oldchum banter as classical music plays on a radio as old as they are. It’s sad to know that this age-old establishment, among others, will also soon be forced to close its doors. When you’ve had your fill of caffeine and politely feigned drinking the obligatory tea offered afterwards, head over to the Inner Market. Or at least try to. You’ll find yourself partaking in a fun but possibly dangerous waltz around pushcarts and mopeds rushing to and fro, carrying all kinds of sea creatures lodged in beds of ice. Once i

Architecture walk: Marunouchi and Ginza
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Architecture walk: Marunouchi and Ginza

As Japanese architecture has traditionally envisioned buildings as temporary and expendable, in part due to the constant threat of fires and earthquakes, Tokyo has been left with fewer examples of historic architecture than places like Europe and the UK. Nevertheless, the neighbouring districts of Marunouchi and Ginza still contain a number of buildings that have, through a combination of luck and love, managed to stay standing, providing an ideal opportunity to enjoy a walk around town and see a blend of old and new architecture. Our starting point today is Tokyo Station (1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku), which suffered damage but survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as well as bombings during World War II. Recently restored to its original 1914 splendour, the station building has a beautifully designed roof featuring twin domes, which boast spectacular ceilings. The roof was built with slate from Ogatsu, a city damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and thus symbolises the hope for the area’s recovery. Walking south from here, you will see the Tokyo International Forum (3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku), easily recognisable by its huge, glass, boat-shaped atrium. This building, which was constructed during the bubble economy, cost more to build than both Tokyo Skytree and Shinjuku’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Next, passing under the Yamanote line railway tracks and entering Ginza, you’ll spot a tall rectangular building with irregularly

Art walk: Sumida River, Asakusa
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Art walk: Sumida River, Asakusa

Words by Matt Schley Get this: a compact, walkable area around Tokyo’s Sumida River is the site of both the city’s oldest temple, Sensoji, and its newest technological marvel, the 634-metre Tokyo Skytree. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s actually a pretty nice place to lay your eyes on some art. Once you’re finished with the famous neighbourhood’s requisite tourist stops, give this walk a try and discover the Sumida’s arty side. The main art attraction along the Sumida is the Geidai Taito Sumida Art Project, or GTS, a series of outdoor installations created a few years back by students at the Tokyo University of the Arts to coincide with the completion of the Skytree. On the Asakusa side of the river, make your first stop Sumida Park (1 Mukojima, Sumida-ku). Heading to the park from Asakusa Station, the first GTS projects you’ll encounter are the bowl-shaped Green Planet as well as a pair of GTS ‘art benches’. Art you can sit on – what an accommodating city. Don’t leave Sumida Park quite yet. Head north and you’ll run into two more GTS pieces, Sky Nest, a bird’s nest made of large wooden planks and LOOK, a series of giant arrows pointing towards the Skytree (you know, just in case you missed it). After you’ve LOOKed at these pieces long enough, cross the river via Kototoibashi and head towards the Skytree. Near Tokyo Skytree Station you’ll encounter another couple GTS pieces, Oboroke and Reflectscape, the latter of which, a giant mirror reflecting the tower, lies a

Riverside walk: Nakanoshima, Osaka
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Riverside walk: Nakanoshima, Osaka

Osaka may be most famed for its street food, vibrant nightlife and plentiful shopping opportunities, but Japan’s second-largest city is also a historically and culturally rich metropolis perfectly suited to on-foot exploration. This more refined side of Osaka is best experienced in Nakanoshima, an oblong-shaped island sitting in between the Dojima and Tosabori rivers. It’s home to wide, tree-lined streets, numerous museums and stylish restaurants and cafés, while also serving as the city’s administrative and commercial centre. Follow us on a one-day stroll along Osaka’s waterways and discover the sights, tastes and energetic atmosphere of a district visibly on the rise. Start your day right with a luxurious buffet breakfast at the Rihga Royal Hotel Osaka (5-3- 68 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku. 06 6448 1121. www.rihga.com/osaka. ¥2,800, breakfast served 6.30am-10am daily), where the usual croissants and omelettes can be combined with a wide range of Japanese pickles, tofu, miso soup and even ‘ham steaks’. Once you’re charged up, head down to the Tosabori river and follow it a few hundred metres east to reach Graf (4-1-9 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku. 06 6459 2100. graf-d3.com. Tue-Sun 11am-7pm), a super-trendy shop and café run by the Kansai region’s leading design studio. Great for styling up your home with Japan-made furniture, tableware, accessories and ceramics, the store deals exclusively in items designed by Graf or created by artisans with ties to the studio. This emphasis on local prod

Comments

1 comments
takako a

Gave me an insightful alternative to the possibilities of Tokyo; special reference to "Lifestyle" and " Made in Japan" walk articles. Thanks.