- Mannenyu Onsen
Tucked right in the city center, Mannenyu onsen is a splash of the Japan of yesteryear right in the heart of Tokyo. This traditional (yet tattoo-friendly) onsen is just around the corner from Shin-Okubo Station. Onsens are Japanese public bathhouses, where for ages locals have popped in for the medicinal benefits of hot and cold plunges and steams. This one sits at the heart of Tokyo’s “Korea Town,” a neighborhood heralded for its fantastic food and old-world charm. Inside the onsen you’ll find jet stream baths, steamy soaking tubs, and cold plunge pools. Shampoo, soap, towels, and other amenities are also provided. Entry for adults is approximately.
- Golden Gai
Slip into what feels like Tokyo’s secret society when you enter the mysterious alleyways of Golden Gai. In a dark (but surprisingly welcoming) corner of the vibrant Shinjuku neighborhood, Golden Gai is a string of connected alleys with a hodgepodge collection of small bars and restaurants. Doors are tightly packed, almost on top of one another, and inside each bar or restaurant is what seems like no more than six seats (though some are larger) — just enough for an intimate conversation or meal with the bartender before you’re off to the next stop. Each bar has its own draw, whether it’s a signature drink, 24-hour karaoke, or an eccentric aesthetic. It’s one of the more local experiences you can have in a neighborhood that has been steamrolled by tourists from all over the world.
Note: Nowadays most of the bars welcome tourists, but some still abide by a “locals only” policy. A good rule of thumb is to notice if there is any English posted out front. If so, you’re probably in the clear.
- Book Town
Book worms, prepare yourselves for literary overload. There is no shortage of great places in Tokyo to buy books, but Jimbocho Book Town is exactly as it sounds — an oasis for lovers of the written, and printed, word. This street is a veritable shrine to secondhand books, flanked on either side with stores or stalls housing mesmerizing collections of art, design, and fashion titles. Most of the books are secondhand, and there are treasures to be found in each of the shops. A good one to know is Komiyama Tokyo, open since 1939, which has a wide selection of books on art, history, and culture. There is also a gallery on the upper floors with regularly rotating art exhibits.
Book Town starts at the intersection of Yasukuni-dori Street and Hakusan-dori Street in the Kanda district of Tokyo. To visit Book Town take the Chao or Sobu lines to Ochanomizu Station, or opt for the Jimbocho Station via the Mita, Shinjuku, or Hanzomon lines.
- Uplink Cinema
Catching a movie might not be first on your Tokyo itinerary, but when you meet Uplink Shibuya you might change your tune, especially if you’re a fan of underground and independent movies. Located on a backstreet of the bustling Shibuya district, this cinema-meets-culture cafe regularly screens indie movies, documentaries, short films, and experimental projects. An on-site cafe serves a surprising menu of Moroccan couscous and vegetarian dishes (go for the Greek pizza or falafel salad — the baba ganoush is also to die for). The cultural complex has free Wi-Fi, a gallery, and a gift shop.
To visit, take the JR Yamanote, Hanzomon, Ginza, Fukutoshin, Inokashira, Den-en-toshi, or Toyoko lines to Shibuya Station.
- Todoroki Ravine Park
You wouldn’t think it, but just 20 minutes from the world’s busiest intersection is one of the most secluded and tranquil spots in all of Japan. Hop a train from Tokyo’s frenetic, energetic, nonstop Shibuya Station and get yourself to Todoroki Ravine Park. This natural oasis is a hushed paradise wreathed in bamboo trees, pocketed with secret shrines, and veined with babbling rivers. Todoroki is different from traditional Japanese gardens, which are meticulously manicured. This gorge is absolute unadulterated nature, formed by the Yazawa River. The best part? The route through the park is less than a mile and can easily be explored in a single afternoon.