Discovering Tokyo's Shitamachi Area

Take a step back in time in the city's old downtown

By Kim    - 3 min read

Tokyo has long been described as a city of contrasts, most notably in regards to the combination of tradition and modern that it exudes. The phrase could also be used to describe the way Tokyo was once divided—a tale of two cities, if you will. The Yamanote portion of the city was regarded as the well-to-do, upper class area, and the Shitamachi area was seen as more working-class and home to merchants and artisans. You can see the breakdown of the areas in the graphic below:

This map indicates where you'd find Yamanote and Shitamachi in modern-day Tokyo
This map indicates where you'd find Yamanote and Shitamachi in modern-day Tokyo

These days, the Shitamachi area of the city is often lauded for its step back in time charm and retro atmosphere, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore this part of Tokyo for yourself. Here are five ways you can connect with the Shitamachi district in the present-day.

Visit Ueno's Shitamachi Museum

Among Japan's myriad of unique museums, there's one dedicated to the Shitamachi area of old! Located within Ueno Park, the Ueno Shitamachi Museum was originally created to preserve the culture, tradition, and history found in this part of the city. Inside the museum there are reproductions of shitamachi landscapes from a century ago, along with various related objects on display.

2-1 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0007

The Ueno Shitamachi Museum gives a glimpse into old Tokyo
The Ueno Shitamachi Museum gives a glimpse into old Tokyo

Shop 'til you drop at Ameya Yokocho

One of Ueno's most recognizable destinations is Ameya Yokocho, which is also affectionately referred to as Ameyoko. This market street truly has a bit of everything for those needing some retail therapy, from snacks to shoes and clothes to cosmetics. It's a short walk away from the Ueno Park area, so there's certainly enough to do in the area to warrant a day-long visit.

10 Ueno, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0005

Ameya Yokocho is a shopper's paradise
Ameya Yokocho is a shopper's paradise (Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson / CC BY 2.0)

Discover the charm of Yanaka Ginza

Another great shitamachi shopping street, Yanaka Ginza is a favorite for locals thanks to its reasonably priced fruit, veg, and other grocery staples. For travelers passing through, the street is also home to a number of souvenir stores if you're looking for something to take home with you. This part of the city takes on an entirely different vibe than the neon-lined streets of places like Shibuya and Shinjuku, in a way that's good for the soul.

3 Chome-13-1 Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0001

A different side of Tokyo that's good for the soul
A different side of Tokyo that's good for the soul (Photo: (WT-en) Jpatokal at English Wikivoyage / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hunt for kitchen supplies at Kappabashi Kitchen Street

Looking for some pretty new dishes? Knife collection looking a bit blunt and in need of replacement? Want to explore Japan's plastic food replicas? You'll find that and more at Kappabashi Kitchen Street. Many restaurants frequent this street for their business supplies, too— so don't be surprised if you see other bits and pieces for sale like menu boards and izakaya lanterns.

3 Chome-18-2 Matsugaya, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0036

Need new dishware? Kappabashi has you covered!
Need new dishware? Kappabashi has you covered! (Photo: DavideGorla / CC BY 2.0)

Get your fabric fix in Nippori

Whether you're a master at sewing or just appreciate a good pattern or two, Nippori Fabric Town is a great place for a browse. There are around 90 different stores selling all manner of textiles, along with other items you need to complete sewing projects like buttons and zippers. You can find a full list of the area's retailers on the official Nippori Fabric Town site here— some of the businesses even have their own Instagram accounts if you'd like to follow along!

4 Chome−33−3, Higashinippori, Arakawa City, Tokyo 116-0014

If you love to sew, you know where to go...Nippori Fabric Town!
If you love to sew, you know where to go...Nippori Fabric Town! (Photo: Dutch Blythe Fashion / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Elizabeth S a week ago
Kappabashi kitchen street and Nippori fabric town can be a whole day of shopping.
Bonson Lam a week ago
I was thinking the same thing. 90 textile stores in Nippori, where do you begin?
Sleiman Azizi a week ago
Shitamachi is one of the great appeals of modern Tokyo.
Kim Author a week ago
Agreed!