In her book, Flâneuse – Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo and London, Lauren Elkin recounts her stay in Tokyo back in 2007. Tossed into the metropolis by her then boyfriend who got a job at a bank, she claims “Tokyo is not a walkable city.” While I loved the book, I could not disagree more with her impression of Tokyo.
Many people who went to Japan prefer Kyoto over Tokyo – so does Elkin. She finds Kyoto more manageable and walkable and claims that you cannot find Tokyo on street level – another thing I have to disagree with. While, Shibuya, Shinjuku or Roppongi might make you feel that way, you just have to turn three corners or hop on the subway to find small streets with beautiful old houses, as well as an abundance of small stores, cafés and other surprises, like temples, shrines and many sidewalk gardens.
How to Discover Tokyo by Foot
While I have to admit that 10 years after Elkin’s stay in Tokyo, Tokyo might have become more accessible, what with apps like Google Maps and translated subway maps, to me it presented itself as a very walkable city that is worth exploring by foot.
1. Plan for enough time in Tokyo
While I loved spending two weeks in Tokyo, I suggest you do visit other places in Japan as well. But, dedicate about 5 days to Tokyo. This will give you enough time to see most tourist hotspots, to maybe do some shopping and to explore some more special neighbourhoods like Yanaka or Tomigaya.
2. Be willing to walk a lot and don’t aim for completeness
Last time I visited Tokyo, I walked about 13km per day and visited many neighbourhoods. Yet obviously, I am a far cry from having explored Tokyo in its entirety. It would take a lifetime to do so.
3. Pick an area to discover each day
Research places you want to see or neighbourhoods that sound intriguing. After breakfast, take the train or subway to that area and start meandering.
4. Bring a map & the address of your accomodation
Download a map of Tokyo to your phone or get a data plan so you can use Google Maps in case you get lost. If all fails take a cab and show the driver the address of your hotel or tell him to take you to the next subway station.
5. Check your travel guide for walking tours
If you need a bit of orientation, most travel guides have a section with walking tours, including cafés, restaurants and shops to worth visiting. I love the tours in the Tokyo Guide by Monocle, but you can also find nice tours in specialized guides like Jane Lawson’s Tokyo Style Guide or Tokyo Precincts by Steve Wide and Michelle Mackintosh.