When you see images of Tokyo, they’re usually dominated by photos of the same handful of places: Shibuya crossing, Harajuku’s Ikeshita Street, Tsukiji, Shinjuku, that statue of a dog, etc.
But that’s just scratching the surface of all the city has to offer and, in fact, blatantly overlooks some pretty badass places to hang out in the city proper. The Marunouchi area, for instance, has the Imperial Palace – but also so much more.
While you may have a hard time finding a reasonably priced dwelling in this area, if you’ve got the cash for a swanky apartment or if you’re just visiting, we think Marunouchi is one of the best places to live and play in Tokyo.
Here are five things to do in the area, which covers the spaces between Hibiya/Yurakucho Stations and Otemachi Station, with Tokyo Station in the center:
Marunouchi Naka-dori is a huge outdoor shopping strip that spans the whole length between Hibiya and Otemachi. It’s got a cool and sophisticated vibe, with a range of boutiques and restaurants – usually with outdoor seating available. Much cheaper and a lot less geriatric than nearby Ginza, and less frantic and crowded than Harajuku, the only drawback to shopping here is that you won’t see anyone in Lolita costumes.
Just next to Tokyo Station, Tokia is a towering building filled almost exclusively with restaurants. Many have live musical acts and still more offer authentic global cuisine – which is honestly kind of rare in Japan. Most of the shops are cheaper than the inexplicably high-priced restaurants in the Marunouchi Building next door, and to top it off, Tokia is home to Mucho Modern Mexicano, one of the best Mexican restaurants in town; information visiting Americans will surely find useful when the pangs of Chipotle withdrawal start kicking in.
Imperial Palace Public Grounds (Kokyo Gaien)
On the Tokyo Station side of the Imperial Palace grounds is a huge open park space. In a city where you’re almost never more than a few feet from another person, it’s refreshing to have a space where you can throw a frisbee or kick a ball without incurring a civil lawsuit. The park is also better maintained and significantly less crowded than the more well-known Yoyogi Park and provides a great view of the palace ground’s traditional Japanese architecture.
Kokyo Gaien is also adjacent to Hibiya Park, which frequently holds outdoor events throughout the summer, including Japan’s slightly ridiculous take on Oktoberfest; Come for the beer, stay for the hundreds of stumbling drunk Japanese people unintelligibly singing along to Ein Prosit.
There’s also a well-marked, circular walking path around the palace that takes you through a surprisingly varied selection of Tokyo’s districts. Just be sure to stick to the walking lane and go counter-clockwise. The ever-present and notorious “Palace Runners” are not afraid to cut you.
In addition to the exterior having received a gorgeous renovation, Tokyo Station also houses a vast selection of dining options both in and out of the ticket gates. Sushi, ramen, soba and other Japanese staples can be found here, but they tend to lean casual and they’re well-equipped to handle tourists – with English menus offered at many locations and staff well accustomed to foreign faces. If you’re the type that’s easily intimidated by the idea of ordering food in a foreign language but don’t want to return home with nothing but stories about how clean the McDonald’s dining rooms are, this area is a great option.
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum
This museum focuses primarily on classical art and, being fairly new, also has nicer facilities and ambiance than older Tokyo museums. Although it has a few shops and a cafe, the exhibition area itself is often closed, so check their English website here for details before you go.
A note on getting around: The ease of getting around Marunouchi is one of the area’s most charming features. It’s one of the few places in Tokyo that offers free public transportation: the Marunouchi Shuttle. It’s available from 8 am to 10 pm and makes a full circuit, so it can kind of serve as a poor man’s tour bus in a pinch.
Tokyo, Hibiya and Otemachi stations are also linked by a network of underground tunnels – so it’s a perfect place to spend a day if your other plans get rained out, or if, like us, you hate the uncomfortable burning sensation of the sun on your pale, clammy skin.