Where to go in Tokyo that's not Ginza, Shibuya or Tokyo Disneyland

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For true Japanophiles, Tokyo may be a city that has lost its sheen and seen to be a tad overdone, especially if you're not into the city life.

For first-timers to Tokyo, your itinerary may look something like this: explore the city for two or three days before making several day trips to the outskirts. Destinations I'd recommend include Yokohoma, Kamakura and Enoshima (all along a single train route) and Kawagoe. The mountainous hot spring resort town of Hakone is also good for a one-day stopover.

But for city-mice like myself, there's nothing like Tokyo with its tireless 24-hour buzz, best exemplified by the iconic Shibuya Crossing. Hard-core shoppers and foodies will delight in the metropolis which holds a never-ending array of attractions and is home to all kinds of deliciousness.

Even if you've been to Tokyo once or twice, we think there's lots more to the city to explore, like the backstreets of Omotesando and Harajuku that's littered with hidden finds you just have to discover for yourself.

Here's our list of five other places to check out the next time you're in the city.

IKEBUKURO

The northwestern district of Ikebukuro is known as an anime-lover haven (especially for women), and ranks second in geekiness only to otaku central, Akihabara, which can be overwhelming on the senses. 

But Akiba's sister neighbourhood is not all about gadgety tings. Pokemon centre and manga shops aside, here's why we think Ikebukuro is worth checking out, even for non-otakus and otomes.

Take a walk through the area and you'd find two things in abundance here — unusual cafes and ramen shops. This is not unlike the Akihabara district, just less crowded, which is a good thing.

EXOTIC CAFES

There's plenty of animal cafes here — think hedgehog, owl and rabbit cafes to pad up Tokyo's long list of quirky themed cafes (butlers, anybody?). Cameras are often prohibited in these cafes, no prizes for guessing why. 

At animal cafe Ikemofu for example, one can mingle with exotic animals like owls, flying squirrels, meerkats, prairie dogs, and even a fennec fox.

But not to worry, the animals aren't all running about, and interactions are restricted to specific timings. Not all animals can be handled either.

RAMEN HEAVEN

The diet of choice for many otakus and regular folk alike, ramen fans can slurp up a storm here with a shop at almost every corner. Unusual noodle bowls here tend to go beyond Ichiran and your run-of-the-mill flavours.

The one with lemons: Kotobuki Lemon Chicken Ramen

For spice-heads: Kikanbo's Fiery Miso Ramen

Spot the long queue at this popular ramen joint: Mutekiya Tonkotsu Ramen

STAYING IN IKEBUKURO

Because Ikebukuro is located farther up north from the built-up areas of Shibuya and Shinjuku, hotel rates are slightly cheaper here than in other areas of Tokyo.

The vicinity is also ideal for sightseeing due to its location, well-connected by major train lines. This makes it the perfect gateway out of the city to neighbouring picturesque towns of Kawagoe and Saitama, for example. Ikebukuro would be an excellent base to conduct your explorations beyond Tokyo.

Tip: If you're staying at a branch of budget hotel chain Tokyu Stay in Ikebukuro, do not miss Manmaru Ikebukuro, a tiny restaurant that specialises in unagi (grilled eel). We went there for an early lunch and didn't realise it was a popular spot for the delicacy till we saw the queues forming during dinner. 

If you can't take yourself out of the city, Ikebukuro is also home to the Sunshine City megamall with a rooftop aquarium and multitude of kid-friendly activities and shops that will be great for parents looking to keep their children occupied. 

We'd skip the mall's observatory which you have to pay extra for, as we found better (and free) views from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. 

SHIMOKITAZAWA

Thrifters, unite!

The bohemian enclave of Shimokitazawa is known for its thrift shops, second-hand record stores and cheap vintage clothes.

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Definitely my favorite Tokyo neighborhood !!

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Don't expect fancy storefronts or window displays typical of more upmarket areas like Shibuya and Harajuku. More often than not, the stores here look quaint at best or stuck in a time-warp at its worst, which makes shopping here all the more Instagrammable (no need for vintage filters).

Laid-back is the word here. If you're searching for some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, this former farming community would be it. The neighbourhood has its roots from the post-WWII period, when the suburb became a market hub for US soldiers. It later transformed into the centre for alternative youth culture of the '70s and '80s.

Shimokita, as locals call it, is also the best place for trendy yet affordable cafe grub. Or visit Shimokita Cage, a long-term pop-up night market that's set to run until 2019, so catch it before it's gone!

Tip: There's more to see at night so recommended timings to visit would be in the afternoon till late evening.

How to get there: The district is accessible via two main lines - the Odakyu line and the Keio Inokashira line, just three minutes away from the heart of Shibuya and seven minutes from Shinjuku.

JIYUGAOKA

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24時間だけ帰ってきた☁️

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Here's a trendy residential district that's an alternative to the well-trodden paths of Omotesando.

Known as Tokyo's Little Europe, it's one of my favourite places to go to whenever I'm in Tokyo, which makes me slightly reluctant to even share this gem of a place lest the hordes descend.

Take a stroll along tree-lined pedestrian promenades and narrow side-streets filled with small independent boutiques and galleries — it's enough to put anyone in a good mood.

Another reason why I love the area? It's a mecca for dessert-fiends like myself and the place is dotted with an assortment of cafes to indulge in your sugar-laden fantasies.

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Sitting under a cow 😂 #mychloecub

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Surprise, surprise — there's even a TWG Tearoom (the company was established in Singapore) in the neighbourhood but honestly, with that many options, it's probably one cafe you can skip.

You can check out some of the more popular cafes here.

How to get there: Jiyugaoka is a 30-minute train ride away from Shibuya via the Tokyu-Toyoko line.

ODAIBA: ONSEN THEME PARK

If you love nothing more than a ''spa day" in Singapore (think G spa or Yunomori Onsen & Spa) here's one space you may want to lounge in while on holiday. We can't think of a better wet weather plan.

Best thing is, Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba is basically a theme park that allows you to do more than get a massage and relax (you could do both, or neither).

Enjoy the Japan Summer Festival or Natsu Matsuri all year round at this popular onsen theme park, with its Edo-period interiors and convivial atmosphere that includes food and game stations.

With its outdoor and indoor areas, the place is open both during the summer and winter months.

Entry costs about $30 per person, and the space is open from 11am to 9am the next day. Note, however, that those with tattoos will be banned from entering, because wholesome.

Tip: Go after 6pm to enjoy cheaper rates, but a midnight surcharge will cost you 2,000 yen (about $26) after 2am.

You can save money by booking your tickets online before you go using travel apps like Voyagin or Klook.

How to get to Odaiba: From Shinjuku station, take the Toei Oedo Line to Shiodome and transfer to the Yurikamome Line to Odaiba-Kaihinkoen Station, which will take you around 45 minutes. 

Where: 2-6-3, Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0064, Japan
Opening hours: 11am to 9am (the following morning)

ODAIBA: TEAMLAB BORDERLESS EXHIBIT

If you think the Future World interactive digital exhibit at ArtScience Museum is the bomb, wait till you visit TeamLab Borderless in Odaiba.

Allow at least three hours to take in the visual cacophony of this unconventional museum that's at once stunning and mind-blowing. Also because, you'd be expected to queue for the more popular exhibits.

We've not been there ourselves, but from the photos it looks like an awesome experience already. Here's a sample of what to expect:

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“teamLab Borderless Shanghai” is now set to open in Huangpu District, Shanghai in Fall 2019. ・ teamLab’s museum “teamLab Borderless” which has welcomed 2.3m visitors in its inaugural year in Tokyo comes to Shanghai. The new museum will feature about 50 works by teamLab, including “Forest of Lamps” that will be 1.5 times the size of the one in Tokyo, as well as a monumental installation that will complete at its Shanghai debut after repetitive experiments. These and other massive, never-before-seen artworks will be unveiled at “teamLab Borderless Shanghai”. ・ Wander, Explore, and Discover in teamLab’s largest ever museum in China. ・ 2019年秋、上海・黄浦濱江に開館 「EPSON teamLab无界美术馆:teamLab Borderless Shanghai」 ・ 上海にオープンする、東京で年間230万人が来館したチームラボボーダレス。上海の新ミュージアムでは、チームラボによる約50点の作品郡を展示。東京のおよそ1.5倍の大きさとなる《ランプの森》や、実験を繰り返し、上海で初めて完成状態で展示する巨大な作品はじめ、いくつかの大規模な新作を世界初公開。 ・ チームラボ中国過去最大のミュージアムで、さまよい、探索し、発見する。 ・ 2019年秋开馆 “EPSON teamLab 无界美术馆:teamLab Borderless Shanghai” ・ 每年230万人参观的东京“teamLab Borderless”即将在上海黄浦滨江开馆。“EPSON teamLab无界美术馆:teamLab Borderless Shanghai”将在6,600㎡的巨大空间内,展出约50件艺术作品,其中包括在世界范围内首次公开的作品。 ・ 在中国迄今最大的teamLab美术馆中,彷徨、探索、发现。 ・ #teamlabborderless #teamLab #teamLab无界美术馆 #チームラボボーダレス #チームラボ #trancendingboundaries #Shanghai #HuangpuDistrict #上海 #黄浦濱江 ・ #artcollective #artmuseum #museum #art #exhibition #digitalart #interactive #installation #interactiveart #artgallery #gallery #artinstallation #artexhibition #shanghaiart #アート #チームラボ展 #美術館 #美术馆 #艺术 #境界のないアート

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Tickets cost about $42 per entry (for those 15 and over) and $13 for a child aged 4 to 14.

If you love savouring tea, there's En Tea House, a separately ticketed 'attraction' which costs about $6.50 per entry, where you can sip on tea in a darkened space and watch 'flowers' magically bloom inside your teacup.

Tip: There's no re-entry to the museum, so make sure you cater enough time to visit all the exhibits. It's best not to arrive on an empty stomach.

Where: 1-3-8, Odaiba Palette Town, MORI Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless, Aomi, Koto 135-0064, Tokyo prefecture.
Opening hours: 10am to 7pm, closed 2nd and 4th Tuesdays. En Tea House opens 1 hour after the museum door opens. The last order is 30 minutes before closing.

Where are your favourite places to visit in Tokyo? Share them with us!

candicecai@asiaone.com

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