What is Shitamachi?
What is Shitamachi? If you’re heading to Tokyo, this is definitely something you’ll want to know about. Read on.
Tokyo is a city with a ton of dimension which is what makes it such an endlessly interesting place to explore. But, while you’re exploring the neon lights and epically tall buildings, it’s important to also know about its other side – Old Tokyo.
Shitamachi generally refers to Old Tokyo, or Tokyo before World World II. So while there are plenty of Mid-Century Modern or Modernism spots to explore (see the Nagakin Capsule Tower), Shitamachi generally refers to those spots with an Old Tokyo post-war feel.
Shitamachi is a neighborhood thing
While you can find pockets of Shitamachi around Tokyo, the most popular neighborhoods for exploring Old Tokyo can be found in: Asakusa, Yanaka, Ueno, Ryogoku, Kagurazaka, Kanda, Jinbocho and Nihonbashi. You’ll find that most of these are in eastern Tokyo.
Each of these neighborhoods has a unique and densely rich Shitamachi presence, full of Old Tokyo shops and restaurants. These places are great for doing some side-street exploring where you get a truly local vibe.
A yokocho is an alley filled with local shops and restaurants with a super cool post-war vibe. Many of the coolest yokochos are located in Tokyo’s top Shitamachi neighborhoods.
Omoide Yokocho is actually located in bustling Shinjuku, but it’s my personal favorite alley in the city. The smokey stalls will transport you into another era. You can find cheap drinks and 6-person yakitori joints at these places.
If you’re curious to know more about each of these specific neighborhoods and their top Old Tokyo sights, you can consult my book, Hidden Tokyo. But for now, here’s are some quick tips.
Did you know that the Tokyo Skytree was inspired by the design of a traditional pagoda? It’s the perfect integration of old and modern and can be found in one of Tokyo’s richest Shitamachi neighborhoods – Sumida.
Stop here for information
Origami, washi paper, taiyaki, traditional crafts, sumo….you can have your pick of Old Tokyo activities. Hit up the Nihonbashi Information Center for an excellent resource for information as well as discounted cultural activities. For example, if you want to interact with a geisha, it’s much cheaper here than at some other places around the city.
Do you want to unlock Tokyo’s Hidden Magic? I recommend my book, The Hidden Tokyo Neighborhood Guidebook. It’s filled with hundreds of things to do and a range of activities that only an experienced local can possibly know about. You’ll unlock nearly 30 of Tokyo’s top neighborhoods in over 400 pages, designed to leave you knowing this city on a whole other level. Learn more.