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Hidden Tokyo: 3 Spots with Less Crowds

Updated: Apr 30

While Tokyo's lively energy is undoubtedly captivating, the bustling streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku can occasionally feel overwhelming. With izakayas and bars beckoning from every corner, there comes a desire for tranquil escapes where strolling doesn't involve dodging crowds. Over the past five years, I've diligently sought out these serene oases across Tokyo, and I'm here to share my well-kept secrets on where to find them. Although these spots may not promise complete serenity, given Greater Tokyo's massive population of over 37 million, they offer quieter experiences, particularly on weekdays.


The Oldest Botanical Garden in Japan, Nestled in the Heart of Tokyo

I always find my peace and inspiration at the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, which is my absolute favorite hidden spot in Tokyo.


You'll find diverse plant life and landscapes in Japan, ranging from the subarctic in the north to the subtropical in the south. The Koishikawa Botanical Gardens stands out as one of the prime locations to witness the beauty of Japan's unique and varied plant species. Established in 1684 by the Tokugawa shogunate as a site for cultivating medicinal herbs, it played a crucial role in treating civilians at the hospital and aiding those less fortunate. Today, this green paradise in the middle of Tokyo is Japan's oldest existing botanical garden.



What makes the 300-year-old medicinal garden unique is its accessibility to everyone. Located just 20 minutes from Tokyo Station, the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens covers over 150,000 square meters, utilizing plateaus, slopes, lowlands, and springwater areas to cultivate diverse plants. Throughout the seasons, this oasis showcases the beauty of cherry blossoms and plum trees in spring, water lilies in summer, vibrant foliage in autumn, and unique plants like camellias in winter, and the greenhouse allows visitors to explore rare tropical and subtropical plants.

With a focus on botanical education and research, Koishikawa Botanical Gardens caters to botany enthusiasts, offering events and workshops.


Sugamo: A retro paradise along the Yamanote Line

Sugamo lies along the Yamanote Line and boasts a laidback atmosphere. Renowned for the Togenuki Jizo (thorn-pulling Jizo) - a statue that has drawn health seekers since 1656, Sugamo offers an idyllic retreat just two stops away from Ikebukuro on the JR line. Sugamo, commonly called the "Harajuku for Grannies," remains relatively unnoticed by tourists and Tokyo locals. But it's better for those of us seeking peace in Tokyo! 


Locals shopping at Jizo-dori in Sugamo
Locals shopping at Jizo-dori in Sugamo

Just a short walk from Sugamo Station, discover Sugamo Jizo-dori Shopping Street. Extending over 800 meters, it hosts approximately 200 shops, charming shrines, and numerous other attractions! This nostalgic street captivates traditional diners, Japanese confectionery shops, and a famous clothing store known for its distinctive red underpants. By the way, choosing this vibrant color isn't a marketing gimmick. Instead, it is deeply rooted in tradition since the brightness of the red is believed to ward off bad luck, making it particularly significant for elderly Japanese citizens.



Jizo-dori provides a delightful promenade, inviting you to sample renowned Shio Daifuku (salted rice cakes) from various shops. Many shops still uphold their original family ownership and management, creating an atmospheric ambiance with vintage decor and furniture dating back to the Showa period (1926 to 1989).


Locals shopping at Jizo-dori in Sugamo
The Sugamo Jizo-ddori Shotengai entrance sign

Sugamo also offers a unique feature: a super sento (public bathhouse) pumping natural hot springs from a depth of 1,800 meters. The spacious outdoor baths, filled with amber-colored water from chloride springs, provide a warming experience, enhanced by features like a rock bath and sauna.


Whether you visit in spring for a cherry blossom viewing walk between Sugamo and Komagome stations or during other seasons, Sugamo's allure remains captivating!


Shimo-Ochiai: A tranquil art area near Shinjuku

Shimo-Ochiai is our final recommendation to those seeking peace in Tokyo. Though this area is close to Shinjuku Station and Ikebukuro, Shimo-Ochiai is a lush and quiet residential area in Shinjuku Ward.


Since the Meiji era (1868–1912), Shimo-Ochiai has been a green rural zone dotted with villas of aristocrats, politicians, and industrialists seeking a peaceful retreat from the urban hustle and bustle. Even today, Shimo-Ochiai proudly retains its green surroundings, featuring attractions such as Bota-ji (peony temple), with over 1,000 peonies transplanted from Hasedera Temple in Nara.



Shimo-Ochiai is also the hub for dyeing studios along the Myoshoji River, a tradition since the Meiji era (1868–1912). These studios and artisans specializing in different styles contribute to sustaining the kimono culture. Every February, the "Some no Komichi" festival provides a rare chance to visit studios and explore the charm of dyeing in the heart of Shinjuku. This tradition has taken root here, possibly due to the deep connection with the Kanda River and its water, essential for the process of kimono making. While the riverbed has hardened with concrete, reducing water levels, the area remains a pleasant place for a walk and studio tours to learn about the dyeing process through hands-on experiences.


Explore more Hidden Gems in Tokyo

These three Tokyo gems offer a different perspective of the city. With experts knowledgeable about every corner of this bustling metropolis, let Untold Japan guide you through the lesser-known Japan, revealing a world filled with diverse cultural and culinary experiences. Allow our expert tour planners to craft a personalized itinerary, ensuring your journey becomes the adventure of a lifetime! Enquire today!

 

Kristina is an avid traveler, seeking out the lesser-known spots to combat over-tourism in Japan. She creates social media content on Instagram @sugalenin and writes on her website Inner Japan.

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