In the last few decades, the traditions and conformity of Japanese culture have given way to an exciting alternative movement of artistic expression, hip-hop, dance, and new perceptions of individuality and identity. Perhaps the most visible aspect of the movement is Japanese graffiti, a category of which Tokyo is the country’s undisputed capital. For everything from amateur tags on seedy side streets to massive murals that tower over business districts, Tokyo has it all. Here are the best neighborhoods in Tokyo for discovering graffiti and street art.
Harajuku is easily one of the most culturally jaw-dropping neighborhoods in all of Asia. If you know Harajuku, you likely know it for the bright lights, trendy fashion boutiques, and cosplayers. It’s the home of Japan’s most extreme teenage culture, and it should certainly be on your itinerary for What to Do in Tokyo For 3 Days.
If graffiti is your calling, you will find some pretty amazing pieces behind all the fashion of Harajuku. The “Now is Forever” painting is a famous Instagram spot that’s only eight minutes walking from Harajuku station. Other famous tags include the HUG piece opposite Takeshita Street, the HOLE mural on Cat Street, the entrance of the Sakura-Tei Bamboo Garden, and the Heart Wall.
Shibuya — Tokyo’s biggest neighborhood and epicenter of all things relating to business and nightlife — is also home to an incredible amount of street art. Immediately upon arrival, visitors notice the ubiquitous presence of graffiti which fills everything from traffic signs to the walls of kindergartens and personal properties. It’s impossible to list the famous tags in the city as virtually every corner is an impressive canvass of art.
In Shibuya, graffiti is a hotly disputed topic among local residents. Some people consider it more along the spectrum towards vandalism, while others accept it as an art form. Some new homeowners have woken up to find their walls completely covered with paint. Also, foreigners in recent years have been arrested when assuming it’s completely legal. After a day exploring art, check out Tokyo at Night: Where to Go & What to Do.
Tennozu Isle is a tiny island off the coast of mainland Tokyo that was originally built as an industrial shipping hub in the 90s. When a new train station built in the early 2000s connected Tonnozu Isle to the hubs of Shibuya and Shinjuku, the area witnessed a huge wave of development and creative flair. It’s now a hip spot with cafes, art shows, and concerts.
And, for the art-seeking travelers, Tennozu Isle is home to a good handful of massive street art murals that are not really seen anywhere else in Tokyo. The largest of the murals is a sumo character towering at 165 feet. You’ll also find beautiful abstract geishas, tigers, flowers, and cartoons that everything that embodies Japanese culture. Head over to Bond Street to find most of the gems, but also check out the art map for a more thorough rundown of where to find the coolest pieces.
Just southwest of Shibuya on the banks of the Futako Tamagawa station is another hub where you can find huge graffiti pieces all throughout the neighborhood. It’s home to the Tokyo Art Flow annual festival, and a budding artists scene. Roam around the town and stumble across funky tags, then head down to the riverbanks. The support pylons under the bridge are home to tons of massive pieces, and the river banks, in general, are a great place to discover street art.
Just a short train ride from Shinjuku station lands you at Koenji, a neighborhood with an expanding creative scene at the center of an alternative youth culture. Unlike the chaos of Harajuku or Shibuya, Koenji exudes a kind of laid-back attitude with lots of thrift stores and vintage shops. Here, you’ll find art hotels, sophisticated bars with murmurings until wee hours of the morning, and underground music.
When it comes to street art, Koenji represents a starter neighborhood for budding creatives. It’s been a hub since the 70’s, and many people have used it as a platform to throw up everything from small tags to entire multi-phase murals. A quick stroll through the neighborhood will have you stumbling across colorful street art left and right. If you’ve had enough of the urban chaos after your graffiti tours, discover the Best Places to go Hiking in Japan.