People watching: A voyeur's guide to Tokyo

People watching: A voyeur's guide to Tokyo

Get an eyeful of the action at these top people watching spots

Tokyo people-watchingThe whole Kanto area has no shortage of crowds to get lost in.With 13 million residents and not a few sidewalk cafes, Tokyo is a fantastic city for kicking back and ogling the masses. So whether you’re on the lookout for fashion, attitude, the high life or even the low life, enjoy the view at these five prime perches.

1. Shibuya: Mark City

Tokyo people-watchingThere's more to Shibuya than the dirty ole Dogenzaka strip.Shibuya’s best-known people-watching spot is the Starbucks overlooking the notorious “scramble” intersection, but a more interesting venue lies just across the street.

The Mark City shopping center, which connects Shibuya station with the Dogenzaka nightlife district, attracts a parade of office workers, gyaru, students and lunching ladies, all drawn to the mall’s busy shops, restaurants and cafes.

At night, couples and groups of friends make their way to nearby clubs and love hotels. Many visitors to Shibuya use Mark City to bypass the scramble intersection ... as do in-the-know people-watchers.

1-12-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, +81 (0) 3 3780 6503

Weekdays: 9:30 a.m.--8:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday: 9:30 a.m.--6 p.m.


2. Kagurazaka: Royal Host

Tokyo people-watchingGrab yourself a window table at this unassuming Roy-Ho.In a neighborhood renowned for its restaurants, Royal Host may be the least interesting of the bunch -- a drab, family-focused spot with a remarkably uninventive menu. But if you can snag a seat at a window-side table, all culinary sins are forgiven.

As one of Tokyo’s most cosmopolitan destinations, Kagurazaka attracts a wide demographic, from Japanese day-trippers who mob the traditional sweetshops, to students from nearby Hosei University, to French expats living within easy reach of the Lycée Franco-Japonais.

Enjoy a fine meal elsewhere, then head to Royal Host for a dessert of eye candy.

3-2-20 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, +81 (0) 3 5228 4415

Daily 10 a.m.--5 a.m.


3. Akihabara: Sanbo

Tokyo people-watchingAkihabara, just the way you imagined it.Located on a side street thick with maid cafes, secondhand computer shops and X-rated DVD stores, Sanbo caters to a largely otaku clientele. In other words, it’s the quintessential Akihabara hangout.

The menu, too, is geared for fanboy pleasure, with just a single dish on offer -- gyudon rice bowls topped with beef, starting at a meager ¥400. But at Sanbo, it’s not all maids and man-boobs.

Stop by during lunchtime, and the restaurant -- just a block from the main Chuo Dori drag -- fills up with salarymen, tourists and an army of bargain-hunters. Sometimes it seems like all the world is here, albeit many appear to be from a different planet.

3-14-4 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, no phone

Daily 12 p.m.-- 6 p.m.


4. Ginza: Ladurée

Tokyo people-watchingGinza -- there goes another happy shopper.From its perch on the second floor of the celebrated Mitsukoshi department store, Ladurée offers a more than just an appealing view -- it provides a glimpse of the changing face of Ginza.

Sure, brand-obsessed shoppers still come out in force, but they’ve been joined by nouveau riche Chinese tourists and younger Japanese heading to the area’s newly opened discount outlets.

Ladurée, which originally opened in Paris in 1862, is popular with upscale shoppers thanks to its afternoon tea service. If the ¥1,000 coffees and pastries are too much, head across the street to Le Café Dutour, an off-price coffee shop that offers much the same view for a lot less money.

2/F, 4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku, +81 (0) 3 3563 2120

Daily 11 a.m.--10 p.m.


5. Chinatown: Sario

Tokyo people-watchingYokohama ain't Tokyo, but it's always worth a stroll.The restaurants in Yokohama’s Chinatown thrive on turnover -- the neighborhood motto might as well be “Eat up and off you go.” But at Sario, an open-air dim sum café operated by the upscale Heichinro restaurant, lingering is encouraged.

And, although Yokohama isn’t exactly Tokyo, linger you’ll want to, thanks to Sario’s location at the base of the central Zenrin-mon gate.

This well-trafficked intersection is the entry point for sightseers from both Japan’s countryside and the Chinese mainland, with lots of families, students and young couples in the mix.

Guilty pleasure: watching reserved Japanese sightseers fending off aggressive Chinese touts selling roasted chestnuts from the cart next door.

143 Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama, +81 (0) 45 663 5126

11 a.m.--10 p.m.


Steve Trautlein is a Japan-based journalist and editor ...

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