"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Travel
September 18, 2013

Intentionally Exploring Tokyo

Life in a new city is an opportunity to explore and sometimes hiring a guide can be a quick way to make the most of finding the interesting sights and locations.


Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day exploring Tokyo. I’ve often found, when moving to a new city, it’s very easy to let you horizons narrow in the first weeks. Trying to get your new home working and finding your way in a strange neighbourhood is important. But, it’s easy to let weeks and months pass without getting a broader picture of the place you now call home.

And, as I’ve learnt over and over again, in London, Delhi, Hong Kong and Singapore, some expats can live for years in a place and never really become familiar with more than a small number of neighbourhoods.

To push myself out of my newfound comfort zone, I contacted BackStreet Guides, a Tokyo-based tour company. They provided a me a private, tailor-made tour, exploring some of the hip, un-touristy areas in and around Shimokitazawa.

I know what some readers might be thinking; isn’t it a cop-out to hire a guide? Shouldn’t you just get out and explore on your own?

Well, yes and no. I do believe in unstructured exploring and making your own way. But, the reality is 99.9% (or thereabouts) of the travel stories you see and read are written with the help of local guides, spotters and fixers who help journalists and TV producers find the best locations.

So, in the space of less than a day, I managed to see some great places; parks and streets I will come back to photograph as the seasons change, iconic and unique local sights, achingly hip cafes, bars and eateries as well as a kick-ass music store packed to overflowing with mint condition vinyl records.

Could I have found all this on my own? Yes, maybe. But, only by spending a lot more time pounding the streets. Now, I have a bunch of locations saved to maps for future reference and a few choice coordinates plugged into the Sunseeker app, so I can plan some photo-making trips.

Truth be told, I did something similar to this when I first moved to Singapore and I will certainly be doing it again over the coming months as I try to get a handle on places to explore and photograph in Tokyo. Maybe it’s something you might want to consider where you live. After all, it’s amazing how, even when we’ve lived somewhere for a while, there can be neighbourhoods, streets and parks we haven’t really explored.


It is nice to discover those hidden places in a new city that cannot be found on guides. I still feel HK in a similar way, there is more to be found but time is limited sometimes. Glad you took the most of a full day knowing bits of your new city.

Looking forward more stories and photos.

Mari5HK 11 years ago

Shimokitazawa is famous for its “subculture-ness” with many small music venues and performing theaters (called as “Mecca for independent theater companies”). Also there are vitage about anything; toys, recoreds and clothing…I would roam around a lot when I was a student…

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Mari – I can see myself “roaming” around Shimokitazawa again and again on days when I have a little time. I did make notes about the theatre there and the guide told me about some of the most successful recent plays.

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Javier – yes, there was a few places we went to that I have not seen in any guidebook or article about Tokyo. As you know, there’s plenty of that in Hong Kong. Some of the coolest islands and streets never get mentioned and take a bit of effort to discover.

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