A giant statue of a chef presides over Kappabashi Dori, known as Kitchen Town. Running straight as an arrow for almost one kilometre, Kappabashi has over 170 stores selling everything and anything for the restaurant trade.
With the Japanese attitude towards cuisine, it's no surprise that an entire district has sprung up to cater to this demand, but the sheer array of specialist shops is stunning: shops that only sell ceramic bowls, knives, pointed chop sticks or noren curtains. Coffee grinders vie for space with rolling pins, colanders, chef's aprons, ash trays, flasks for Japanese sake, wasabi graters and weighing scales.
Casual visitors to Kappabashi often make purchases at Maiduru Co., which produces replica food for display in restaurant windows. So if you want to immortalise your favourite Japanese dish in plastic, you'll be able to take home a steaming bowl of ramen or ice-covered Asahi beer. And if the whole dish is a little bit much, you can get kawaii doughnuts, fried shrimps and sushi in key-chain form.
The Japanese may have a reputation for conformity, but Koenji, a compact district to the west of Shinjuku, turns that notion on its head. The district is based around a series of nearly 20 shotengai (pedestrian shopping streets) that criss-cross the area around Koenji station. Shops selling second-hand goods, funky bookstores and intimate live music venues buzz along next to restaurants and cafés.
Koenji was left relatively unscathed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that devastated much of Tokyo and Yokohama, and displaced persons, particularly writers and artists, flocked to the town. Koenji was also spared the building boom of the 1980s and many of its narrow streets retain the feel of an older Tokyo.
Although its numerous shops and bars have been open for decades, the area is never static. From the old motorcycle helmets at indie shop Nomad to vintage finds at the appropriately named 'Old Stuff', you’ll be sure to pick up some unique souvenirs.
Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture is just an hour away from the city. This quaint town, once the political centre of Japan, offers temples and shrines for those looking for a little history – and the beach, for those seeking surf and sunshine.
Kamakura is a temple haven, with an impressive number that goes toe-to-toe with cultural hub Kyoto. Closest to the train station is Engakuji, a Zen temple founded in 1282 by a Chinese priest. In keeping with Zen principles, a meditative spirit presides among Engakuji's uncluttered grounds, with its unadorned wooden buildings, jade-coloured pond and central grove of gnarled junipers.
Among the great wealth of structures in Kamakura, the most charming would probably have to be Hokokuji. Its bamboo trail is breathtakingly serene, and the associated temple has plenty of stops for buying one-of-a-kind trinkets. Here, one can drink a bowl of powdered green tea − the same used in the famous tea ceremony. As you cradle the bowl of astringent, viscous liquid, the scene is one of contemplative calm as a breeze gently stirs the bamboo around the red parasols.