Knowing somebody who lives, or has lived, in a city really does make a visit infinitely better, especially when visiting a mega-city like Tokyo. Our friend Kimmie recently moved there, and she was a brilliant host to us during our visit. We went to so many places we wouldn't have discovered if left to our own devices. My favourite neighbourhood was definitely Koenji - an area just over a five minute train ride from Shinjuku. It is also conveniently right next to Nakano, home of the fascinating Sun Plaza, a mall full of stores such as Manadrake. Here you will find all the weird and wonderful things one would hope to find on a visit to Tokyo. Koenji is full of all the things I like - vintage shopping, lots of independent coffee shops and quirky little bars. I actually enjoyed exploring the shops in this area even more than the back streets of Harajuku, I did somehow manage to restrain myself and stick to window shopping though, given that I'm on a backpacking trip! The peaceful streets and chilled out vibe make it an area you could easily spend a long time exploring (and one which, if I were to live in Tokyo, I could easily imagine living in). It is labelled by some as the "Camden of Tokyo".
If you ever find yourself in the area, and you are a fan of owls, I highly recommend you pay a visit to Cafe Baron. A quaint little cafe, home to a variety of real life owls. Drinking coffee (from owl mugs, of course) and eating owl-shaped biscuits while sitting next to these big fluffy creatures was delightful. The man himself, Baron (the cafe's namesake) even sat on my shoulder!