So you want to do more than taking selfies in Shibuya and visiting more temples. You just want to wander the streets and see the locals in action; your mission is to just blend in and become a Tokyo-jin (person who lives in Tokyo) for a day. Here’s how:
Rush hour – the human sardine can
No better way to get to know your fellow Tokyoites than to be crammed into a train car during the daily commute. You will be pushed and prodded and placed in awkward positions, so just channel your inner zen master and contemplate the Japanese concept of “gaman” (endurance).
How: Jump on the JR Yamanote train line on a workday morning or evening.
Imperial Palace running course
This is the most popular place to go for a jog in the city and the views are fantastic! One loop around the palace is five kilometers. The course is easily accessed from any of the subway stops that surround the palace. Most stations have coin lockers to store your gear. Please note, the rule for joggers is you can only run counter-clockwise.
Link to CNN article
Shotengai – the shopping arcade
Before supermarkets and shopping malls, people bought their daily essentials at the local shotengai. Today’s shotengai still retain some of that mom & pop feel and can be fun to explore. While the major ones still draw the crowds, sadly many smaller places are dying out and being replaced by supermarkets and chain stores.
Togoshi Ginza (not in Ginza!), Ameyokocho in Ueno
Yoyogi Park – urban escape
Located next to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine, Yoyogi Park is where young people go to hangout on the weekends. It’s one of the best places for people watching in the city. In addition, there is an event space located next to the Yoyogi National Stadium where festivals and marketplaces are held on weekends.
WHERE: a short walk from Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote line)
Pachinko – Japanese gambling
Gambling is illegal in Japan, but there is a way to get around the law. Pachinko is a hybrid game of pinball and slots that takes more luck than skill. Your goal is to get a ball into the center pocket and that activates a spin on the video screen. Get three matching pictures, win more balls. Winnings cannot be exchanged for money inside the store, rather you are given prizes that a third party outside the store buys from you.
Link to Pachinko-play.com
Shimbashi – rub elbows with salarymen
After a hard day at the office, the corporate rank-and-file head to Shimbashi to loosen their collective collars and put a few back. In this salaryman stomping ground, the side streets are lined with cheap eating and drinking spots where you can easily mix in with the locals. Tie not required.
WHERE: Shimbashi Station (JR Yamanote line) – Hibiya gate
Love hotel – love, Japanese style
One service that people will pay for in Tokyo is privacy — think walls that are literally paper thin. A couple can “stay” for three hours or choose to “rest” for the night. If you get lucky, you might check into a faux castle with over-the-top theme rooms, however the trend today is away from tackiness and more for elegance and luxury.
WHERE: many choices in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho and Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya
Sento – the public bath
Neighbors that bathe together have nothing to hide, literally. Besides a place to soap up, the public bath offers a slice of bygone Japan when the sento was the center of the community. Just remember to wash and rinse before taking a dip in the communal tub.
Link to CNN article
Live House – the indie music scene
From the land that produced Shonen Knife and The 5,6,7,8’s, a live house is a small club to see local bands play. Start by checking out the live house schedule on Tokyo Gig Guide and looking up the bands on YouTube to see if they fit your taste. Or you can be totally random and go to Club Que in Shimokitazawa and watch the night’s line-up.
Karaoke – pass the mic!
So you want to be a karaoke hero, well in Japan it’s not quite what you expect. Here, karaoke is done either by renting a private room (karaoke box) or in a smokey bar called a “snack,” where old-timers belt out enka music (a kind of Japanese country music). But if you’re still looking for party karaoke try Champions in Shinjuku’s Goldengai or Fiesta in Roppongi.