Todoroki, Komazawa, Ookayama… Our Heartlands series dives into the local charm and atmospheres of lesser-visited neighborhoods in Tokyo, digging beyond the typical tourist sites and vast malls to discover local gems and top spots. To celebrate the end of 2021 and welcome 2022, we roundup our favorite Heartlands articles from the year and re-introduce the areas you need to add onto your list of places to explore as we start 2022.
An endless stream of people pulse through the station; crowds of rushing commuters, dinner-seekers and sight-seers. Ebisu feels like it has got a bit of everything: entertainment, workspaces and dining. Taking its name from the Japanese god of fishermen and luck, Ebisu hasn’t always been a place of chic urban development, city trains and high-rise office spaces. A statue of the area’s smiling namesake sits happily overseeing the action on a podium just outside the main station exit — a hint of the town’s beer-brewing roots. Perhaps down to Ebisu’s proximity to stylish neighborhoods of Meguro, and a throng of high-end housing nearby, the lively town may be a part of Shibuya but has an attitude all of its own. It’s a satisfying combination of Tokyo life, part down-to-earth, part glam.
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Unlike Yoyogi, Komazawa Olympic Park hasn’t been recommissioned to take part in Tokyo 2020, but with its sci-fi sporting structures, it’s a must-visit for anyone interested in architecture, sports or just spending time in one of Tokyo’s best parks. But the park isn’t all athletics. The steps leading up from the main entrance become a hang-out for couples and friends. People sip drinks, eat snacks and enjoy the wide open sky; below basketball players vie for the one hoop and big gangs of dance-groups practice their choreographed skipping rope routines. And the skateboarders hone their tricks in the skate park. Sitting here on the steps, alongside the buzz of others on a summer evening makes you feel glad to be in Tokyo.
Read more Heartlands: Komazawa
Koenji exudes an edgy, animated atmosphere. There’s a punk-like mindset that runs parallel to the generations-old neighborhood establishments, grocery stores and coffee houses that continue to tick over alongside their more youthful neighbors. But away from the gritty (at least for Tokyo) backstreets, sleeping to the south of Koenji is Shinkoenji. Along with vintage shops, independent coffee shops and other stylish hang-outs, this placid portion of town is also home to a collection of shrines and temples. In fact, whole clusters of them can be found around the Shinkoenji streets, adding a historical twist to the counterculture this part of Tokyo has become so famous for — an ideal place for a slow stroll on a sunny afternoon.
Read more Heartlands: Shinkoenji
Melodies of 1960’s pop hit tinkle from the speakers along Ookayama’s shotengai (shopping street). A village-like area home to young students, families and older generations who grew up in the neighborhood, Ookayama has an easy ambiance to it — a small-town hush that makes it feel almost like a separate entity to the high-speed living of the city. A combination of old-fashioned downtown charisma and modern conveniences make Ookayama an inviting place to live, but a visit is also a relaxing way to spend a day exploring a lesser-known part of the city. At first glance, it may seem quiet and unexciting. But as easygoing tunes wash over the shotengai, and residents trundle through the streets, there’s a feeling that visitors can easily slot in to sample the sights and sounds of this village within a city.
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Under the looming Tokyo Skytree is the dense shitamachi (downtown) district of northern Koto Ward. This part of the capital is criss-crossed by waterways, haunted by old industry and strewn with residential sprawl. Slotted among it all are eminently discoverable areas, enterprises once etched out of necessity, which grew into livable spaces. One of these is the Yokojikken River, a working waterway turned warren of waterside parks and pathways forming an enormous outdoor space much loved by local residents. Close by, with its fortunes made on feeding factory workers, is Sunamachi Ginza. Both are rooted in a regenerating city of the past and both endure, important as ever; something that can be difficult to see among the jumbled crowds of inner Tokyo.
Read more Heartlands: Sunamachi Ginza
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