Tokyo has long been a booming city, so it makes a natural fit for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Of course, this popular event is sure to mean one thing: a lot of people! Be prepared for crowds if you’re traveling to the capital for the Games that run late July through early August.
In a region that already receives an average of 30 million visitors each year, becoming the site of the 2020 Olympics will naturally mean a strain on resources. You can expect hotels, trains, shops and already popular tourist destinations to be in extreme demand.
But don’t worry. You can enjoy the Summer Olympics and have a memorable trip at the same time. How? By visiting off-the-beaten-path places that give you a true taste of travel to Japan. Skip busy destinations like the Imperial Palace, the Skytree, Shibuya Crossing and Ginza District, as well as Mt. Fuji and the bullet trains to Kyoto and Osaka, and consider some of these lesser-known but equally intriguing alternatives. Get ready to go off the beaten path in Japan, all from a centralized Tokyo base.
You’re in Tokyo, yet you’re looking for something a little quainter and quieter. Why not visit Yanaka District? For hidden places in Tokyo, this district has a good mix of traditional and modern styling. It also has the distinction of escaping the widespread firebomb destruction during WWII, unlike most of Tokyo. Yanaka has become a quaint artisan district, with pottery, woodcarving, textiles and more lining the shops.
You’ll spot numerous shrines, temples and the beloved Yanaka Cemetery nestled between winding streets. In addition, you’ll see a mix of housing and plenty of small shops. If all that wandering has left you hungry, you won’t want to miss Home Bakery at 3-Chome-2-10 or Sansakizaka Cafe at 5-Chome-4-14. Home Bakery is a delight of Japanese sweet treats, and Sansakizaka brings out the best bistro dining near Yanaka Cemetery.
Want to check out the hippest neighborhood in Tokyo, for amazing coffee & tea, unique boutique shops, and small cozy restaurants where the owner will make you food right in front of you?
Then take the JR Yamanote train to Ebisu and wonder around the area as you walk to Daikanyama.
While Ebisu is right next to the extremely busy Shibuya, it's a very quite laid back part of the city. The area is home to a few embassies, artists, entrepreneurs, good restaurants, and small cozy pubs called tachinomiya or standing only bars.
But first, for all you beer fans, right as you get out of the station, be sure to check out the Yebisu Garden Place which is the home Yebisu brewing factory. They've been making beer here since 1890 so be sure to take part in the tasting events and visit the museum to learn about the history of beer in Japan.
Be sure to stop by the famous Afuri ramen shops in the area for lunch too. Afuri's specialty is the yuzu shio ramen, made with chitan chicken broth and yuzu citrus. Their chashu pork is no slouch either since it's broiled on top of genshiyaki black charcoal grills. What's amazing about Afuri's ramen is that it's both filling and refreshing at the same time (it's not greasy like other ramen).
Next up, start walking west and stop by Hachi-ya tea shop which offers one of the best cups of tea that you can get in all of Tokyo. While their matcha is very good, we recommend getting their hojicha roasted tea for a nuttier flavor. They make all drinks either hot or cold (and also have some snacks and ice cream) so it's definitely worth checking out any time of year.
You can find Hachiya at:
1 Chome-16-9 Ebisunishi, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0021
Next up, keep walking west, up a small hill towards Daikanyama. Put your phones away, crumple up your maps, and just get lost in this neighborhood. Explore every nook and cranny and you'll come across amazing boutique shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Definitely check out Tenoha which is a great little store with a courtyard where you can browse locally made craft items, grab some coffee and relax.
But one store that you must visit is the historic Okura Aizome (藍染め) Dye Shop. This shop has been around since the 10th century and uses traditional indigo dying techniques to make boutique clothing and jeans. Aizome has natural anti-bacterial properties, and the natural dye changes color through age which gives your clothing character that you can't find anywhere else.
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For a refreshing sojourn outside of Tokyo, consider a short train trip into often-skipped-over Yokohama. You’ll get there in about 45 minutes with a Japan Rail JR Pass from Tokyo Station to Yokohama Station, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy this nearby city.
Yokohama might be the second-largest city in Japan, but it has a completely different design and focus – mainly its marina and port. Tip: Yokohama is also becoming the more affordable hip alternative to live in as central Tokyo becomes too expensive.
You’ll have more breathing room as you enjoy Minato Mirai, the Red Brick Warehouse and Osanbashi Pier, along with nearby Chinatown and its abundant food stalls.
Try any number of street vendors that sell everything from steamed buns to egg tarts to roasted chestnuts. Restaurant Hisuiro Shinkan at 132 Yamashitacho is more of a hidden gem serving up seafood-heavy Chinese cuisine.
When venturing inland from the port, save time for Sankeien Garden in Naka Ward. This beautiful, sprawling garden is a cultural masterpiece, with historical buildings from across Japan that date back centuries.
If you’re up for it, taking an additional 45-minute train ride south would get you to Shomyoji Temple in Kanazawa Ward. This gorgeous Buddhist temple dates back to the 1200s, giving you plenty of history and scenic views to enjoy.
You can find onsens and sentos throughout Tokyo, but the more public they are, the busier they become. And you can expect everyone from Olympic competitors to Olympic attendees to visit a lot of bathhouses in summer 2020.
To avoid the crowds, you’ll need to seek out bathhouses off the main path – like Mannenyu Sento at 1 Chome-15-17 Okubo. This bathhouse has a hot bath, cold bath, hot “silk” bath and several massage baths, all designed to let you shake off the day. Mannenyu hides away down a narrow lane, yet it is actually located in Korea town (Shin-Okubo), part of buzzing Shinjuku City ward.
In addition, this area is rich in eateries, especially Korean restaurants. For something a bit different, try Oh! Kitchen N at 2 Chome-3-20 for cheese dak galbi or Nandaimon Norimaki at 1 Chome-4-15 for delicious fried chicken.
We hope your trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo leads to a lifetime of love for all that Japan has to offer!
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