5 Tokyo Shitamachi Spots Worth Seeing
Tokyo is Japan’s trendsetting capital, but beyond the maze of towering skyscrapers and bustling streets lined with buses and taxis, you’ll find areas that are like a trip back in time. Known as shitamachi, the colloquial term for Tokyo’s former downtown districts, these areas are full of nostalgic old-school charm, friendly locals, and good eating.
Let’s take a look at 5 Shitamachi spots worth visiting on your trip to Tokyo.
Asakusa is perhaps the foremost symbol of shitamachi, and for good reason. Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo, is immediately recognizable to even first time visitors, thanks to its grand entrance gate Kaminarimon.
Whether you choose to explore Asakusa by foot or ride on a rickshaw is up to you, but you are sure to be delighted by charming shops along the Nakamise promenade selling traditional Japanese handicrafts and wares.
For a genuine shitamachi experience without the crowds of tourists, head east to Katsushika Ward. There, you’ll find Shibamata, a spot on the Edogawa River long treasured by Tokyoites.
The city is exceptionally well-preserved due to its role as the backdrop for the Guinness World Record-holding film series Otoko wa Tsurai yo (“It’s Tough Being a Man”).
As you walk along the promenade of Shibamata Taishakuten Daikyo-ji Temple, snack on freshly made yaki-dango, skewered and roasted rice cakes coated in a soy sauce based syrup. Be sure to check out the Japanese garden at Yamamoto Tei, too.
Tokyo pop culture may be youth driven, but in Sugamo, it’s the older generation who run the show. Affectionately known as the “Harajuku for Grandmothers,” Sugamo is where the past is still very much alive.
Buy a pair of red underpants for good luck, or head to Togenuki Jizo Kogan-ji Temple to rid your body of ailments. And you can’t leave Sugamo without trying shio daifuku, a slightly salted rice cake filled with crushed sweet red bean paste.
You'll find no less than three shio daifuku shops in Sugamo, so if you can’t decide which one to choose, go ahead and try them all!
If you want to visit Yanaka Ginza, set aside a few hours. You’ll need it for snacking on street foods as you stroll through this lively shopping arcade and get lost in the maze of its side streets.
To appreciate the beauty of this spot, you need to see it during sunset. Head up the stone staircase at the end of the Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street and wait for the sun to set.
Time your visit just right and you will be rewarded with a sight that is sure to bring a smile to your face.
Walk past the shopping arcade leading up to Kameido Station and you will reach Kameido Tenjin, a shrine revered for its beautiful wisteria since the 17th century.
Beyond the towering torii gate is a world unchanged since the days of samurai. In the springtime, the grounds of the shrine come alive with throngs of visitors eager to photograph wisteria during its annual wisteria festival.
Not to be missed is a photo op with the main hall of Kameido Shrine, with Tokyo Skytree rising proudly in the background.