15 Tokyo Hidden Gems to Explore
I titled my guidebook, Hidden Tokyo because it sounds appropriate. Tokyo’s the only city I’ve been to where it’s impossible to get bored. The city is dense with mid-rises as far as the eye can see. And inside this maze of density, you have pockets of fascinating places and people.
The best way to discover Tokyo’s hidden gems is to explore the city on your own. These are by definition – hidden. Just get off at a random train station and start walking.
1. Adidas Futsal Park Shibuya
This Tokyo hidden gem offers a unique perspective and is famous for the soccer field location from the movie Tokyo Drift. It’s at the top of the Tokyu Toyoko Department Store right at Shibuya Station. Sometimes it’s closed off for private functions, but it’s worth exploring to see if you can go up there. The urban soccer field is also something unique to see.
2. Meikyoku Kissa Lion ライオン
Lion is a kissaten and one of my favorite Tokyo hidden gems. It first opened in Shibuya in 1926 and it still feels like that. Not much has changed over the years as the wooden chairs and curtains are all reminiscent of that era. The tables and chairs all face the record system where you sit and listen to classical music in one of the most interesting and atmospheric hideaways. Lion is a peaceful complement to Shibuya’s busy neon lights.
3. Shibuya Dagashi Bar
Dagashi is a term used for old-school Japanese candy that has been around since the Edo Period. The candies are usually colorfully wrapped and made from sugar and corn. For a modest price, you can eat all the dagashi your heart wants at this nostalgic Edo inspired cafe. That’s right, it’s a dagashi tabehodai, which means “all-you-can-eat” in Japanese. Come here late at night for a midnight treat.
This name translates to “forest library,” and is truly a Tokyo hidden gem in the heart of Shibuya. If you’re looking for a speakeasy vibe to even get some work done, check this place out. They also have Wi-Fi and power outlets.
5. Nezu Museum – Ayoyama – Harajuku
Not far from Shibuya, you have the Harajuku neighborhood which is adjacent to Aoyama and Omotesando. This is one of the most beloved museums in Tokyo because of its Zen garden. It’s a private museum that houses a collection of Pre-Modern Japanese and East Asian art, so it’s also small and intimate. You can honestly spend a good amount of time here sitting or meditating in the garden.
6. Thermae Yu Onsen – Shinjuku
Thermae Yu Onsen is another Tokyo hidden gem in its own right. This thermal onsen located in Kabukicho is a clean and relaxing onsen right in the middle of the city. It’s more on the affordable side and the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring! You can also grab yourself some food in the restaurant and lounge. The thermal hot springs here are made from carbonic acid, which is supposed to help with blood circulation. There is also a staff that can speak English.
7. Fire Museum – Shinjuku
The Fire Museum is one of those “only in Tokyo” things to do. The level of detail here makes for a stimulating couple of hours since you get to learn how to use a fire extinguisher as well as gain knowledge on how to contain fires and follow protocol. There are English audio guides. This is a great place for kids, and best of all, it’s free!
8. Omoide Yokocho – Shinjuku
Also known as Piss Alley, Omoide Yokocho is another hidden Tokyo gem that’s perfect for wandering through the narrow and smokey alleys. It’s a major local spot and is far less touristed than other parts of the city, but it’s one of my favorite places. Omoide Yokocho translates to memory lane with its roots in the 40s with a post-war atmosphere of antiquity. The word yokocho means alley, which usually pertains to a tight alley of bars and food stalls where you can find some of the best local experiences.
9. Meguro Parasitological Museum – Nakameguro
Nakameguro is also home to one of the most bizarre Tokyo hidden gems, the Meguro Parasitological Museum. It’s a free museum and a private research facility specializing in parasites – the creepy kind in glass jars. But it’s not for those with faint hearts or sensitive stomachs. Most of the exhibits are in Japanese, but there’s obviously much to see even if you can’t understand it. Beware of the eight-meter long tapeworm removed from a man.
10. NHK Museum of Broadcasting
NHK is Japan’s leading news network, with fans around the world. Here, you can visit for free and learn about the history of Japanese broadcasting from the analog to the modern era. It’s also an English-friendly museum too. About a 10-minute walk from The Hotel Okura.
11. Bar Highlander – Hotel Okura Tokyo (Toranomon)
Mentioned briefly under the Hotel Okura, Bar Highlander is another hidden spot that few tourists know about. As you can guess, Highlander is a reference to the Scottish Highlands. Located in the architecturally famous Hotel Okura Tokyo, this cinematic bar has over 200 types of scotch and feels like stepping into a Stanley Kubrick film.
12. Nakagin Capsule Tower
Nakagin Capsule Tower is one of the most interesting pieces of architecture in the entire city. Its concrete structure is from the Japanese Metabolism movement and was erected in just thirty days in 1972. You can book a tour of the capsules online via Airbnb. This is a great idea for those who are looking for something off-the-beaten-path to do and who also love interesting architecture.
If you’re interested in a more authentic and traditional Japanese tea ceremony, you might consider Chazen. It’s a brilliant way to end your day, or even start the day. Reservations are mandatory. Also, they specialize in the art of chashitsu or a Japanese tearoom design.
14. Pokémon Cafe
This cafe caters to Pokémon fans, kids, and also those who desire to experience a Tokyo themed cafe. You can order lattes with drawings of characters in Poké Ball cups, or choose from a variety of inspired dishes featuring Pikachu’s face. But, you can only eat here via a reservation. See their website for details or have a concierge make a reservation for you. Located inside the Takashimaya.
Located at The Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in the garden, this is one of the best Kobe beef experiences you can have. It features high-quality mouthwatering Kobe beef served up on Mt. Fuji lava stones in a traditional Japanese environment.
The waitresses dress in kimono and the windows of the restaurant open to the lush green garden. It’s safe to say that the attention to detail is extraordinary here. Mokushundo is my favorite Kobe beef experience in Tokyo, and also one of my favorite dining experiences in Japan. As usual, lunch prices are significantly more affordable than dinner.
If you’re heading to Tokyo, I recommend my guidebook, Hidden Tokyo. It’s an original neighborhood guide that takes you into over 20 of Tokyo’s most interesting neighborhoods. It’s the only guide of its kind and it’s over 400 pages full of advice, earned from 4 years of relentless love and exploration. Get it now.