I had been to Tokyo several times before the visit that transformed the way I saw this neon metropolis.
Perhaps intimidated by its Blade Runner-esque skylines, I had rarely ventured beyond whichever city-centre neighbourhood I was staying in, whether my base was Ginza (when feeling flush) or Shibuya, a dazzlingly bright district that offered the double whammy of easy access to colourful Harajuku and the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing.
It was the moment when my phone died unexpectedly that changed everything. At first, I panicked. Although all my visits to Tokyo have been solo, the apps and maps on my phone helped me navigate my way around the haunts I’d return to time and time again.
When I was handed an actual map by a receptionist who gave me tips about lesser-known neighbourhoods and said I was underestimating how easy it was to ride Tokyo’s Metro system, I vowed to explore further.
I stumbled across tiny neighbourhoods with tourist-free temples and crowd-free parks filled with torii gates. I found new favourite hotspots such as Daikan-yama T-Site – a sprawling library with a book-themed bar and corners where I could curl up with my map.
My phone came back to life but my passion for Tokyo’s lesser-known neighbourhoods remained. Whether your reference point is a map, a phone or word of mouth, here are some of the lesser-known areas worthy of your radar.
Although skyscraper-filled Tamachi has changed since the days when it was mainly farmland (Tamachi means ‘rice field town’), there’s plenty of green space in this up-and-coming neighbourhood.
Stay here and you’ll be close to Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens and the pocket-sized Honshiba Park. Take the time to explore its backstreets, stopping off at its tiny izakayas (traditional pubs). Still thirsty? Toast the city at TokyoPort Brewery.
Stay at: The Pullman Tokyo Tamachi, where the decor is inspired by kabuki (an art form involving dancing, singing and elaborate costumes). all.accor.com
Yanaka is a short walk from the sensory overload of Akihabara, known for its huge electronics stores. But once you enter this beautifully preserved neighbourhood, the noise of the city disappears.
Its winding streets are lined with shops selling everything from washi paper to fragrant teas – and you’ll find plenty of cheap street food. Stop by the tourist office to learn about cultural activities such as calligraphy and tea ceremonies.
Stay at: Hanare. The ryokan-style rooms at this ‘hotel’ aren’t in a single spot but tucked into historic buildings throughout Yanaka. hanare.hagiso.jp
A superb mix of great hotels, swanky restaurants and cobbled backstreets, fun-filled Akasaka isn’t Tokyo’s cheapest neighbourhood but you’ll never run out of things to see and do.
That could be lunch at the wonderfully weird and ninja-themed Ninja Akasaka restaurant or a wander around the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin Temple, with hundreds of fox statues.
Stay at: Omo3 Tokyo Akasaka. Bed down at this funky, wallet-friendly hotel and join free neighbourhood tours. hoshinoresorts.com
Shiodome means ‘halt the tides’ – a nod to the fact that during the Edo period (1603-1868) the area’s marshes were dried and turned into residential areas for feudal lords.
Today, it’s home to some of Tokyo’s tallest skyscrapers but it’s a fantastic spot from which to soak up views of Tokyo Bay (the restaurants on the 47th floor of the Caretta Shiodome building are the best vantage points). Head to a tavern under Shimbashi station for a beer.
Stay at: Park Hotel Tokyo, where public spaces and bedrooms have been given colourful makeovers by local artists. parkhoteltokyo.com
MORE : The world’s most sustainable travel destinations have been revealed
MORE : From Jordan to Albania: The top travel destinations and trends for 2023