Tokyo is such an amazing city and one that really needs a lot of time to explore. Most of us don’t have that time so what is written below is what a long time Tokyo resident and friend of Niseko Gourmet recommends as the perfect way to see the best bits of the city.
Obviously there are more restaurants and bars than any other city in the world and there are so many specialist areas that you could take in but with just a couple of days, this information is very, very good
Thanks to Bronwyn Edwards for this amazing Tokyo City Guide
Morning – Sensouji Temple in Asakusa
Take the Ginza Line into Asakusa and look for any of the exits pointing you towards Kaminarimon. This will direct you to the temple gates guarded by the Thunder & Lightening Gods (Kaminarimon).
Walk up the shop lined street towards the main temple alter. This is a good cheesy souvenir buying spot. The little side alleys coming off the main street are also good for shopping – mostly Japanese cloths, shoes, tea and rice crackers. Asakusa used to be a Geisha district so the shopping is quite traditional.
Up near the temple alter you will see a spot where you can pay 100 yen to buy your fortune. Pay the 100 yen and shake the cylinder near the money box to pull out a long chopstick with a number written in Chinese characters on it. Find the corresponding drawer in the wall that has that number (you have to study the Chinese Characters carefully to get it right). Read the fortune and if it is a good one, keep it. If it is a bad one, tie it onto the wall next to the fortune drawers along with the many others you will see there. This is so it won’t come true.
A little closer to the temple alter you will see a giant incense urn with people crowded around it brushing incense smoke over their heads/hearts/stomachs etc. Go up to the urn and brush the smoke onto a part of your body you want to make better. If you have an exam coming up, brush the smoke over your head. If you have a weak heart, brush it over your heart.
At the main alter, walk up to the giant alter box and throw in a 5 yen coin (5 yen/Go-en in Japanese means good luck). Clap your hands twice and say a little prayer.
Near the main alter you will see a couple of hawker stalls. The Jagaimo (baked potatoes with butter) and takoyaki (octopus balls) are really good.
There are a lot of good lunch places in Asakusa. Try any place that has a good crowd. Tempura sets and noodles are the most popular kinds of restaurants here.
Afternoon – River trip from Asakusa to Odaiba
Take a side street back towards Kaminarimon and once you reach the main gate, turn left and walk down the main road of Asakusa. This will take you to the river and an old red bridge.
Next to the red bridge is a jetty where you can take the ferry down the river and under the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba. You may have to change over to another ferry once you get to the end of the river and the start of the Tokyo Bay. Check when you buy the ticket.
The ferry will take you down the Sumida River and under a ton of bridges – you will go past the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Ryogoku Sumo Stadium and a large Japanese Garden. If it is a sunny day you can sit on the roof of the boat which has the best views.
Odaiba is a funky, modern part of Tokyo with great views over the water and the Rainbow Bridge back towards Tokyo Tower and the Roppongi high rises. Walk around the Decks shopping complex and grab a coffee at one of the outdoor cafes overlooking the Tokyo Bay. There is also a Statue of Liberty replica here (random) and a whole floor is designed to look like you are walking through a Tokyo street during the Meiji Era. You will also be able to see the futuristic Fuji TV building next door.
There is a walkway connecting Decks and Venus Forte, another huge complex which is designed to look like you are strolling through the streets of Florence. Next to this is Mega Web – a car showroom showcasing all of Toyota’s latest vehicles, including some futuristic ones like one man rocket launchers and a mini electric car (you can take this for a test drive around a little track).
Evening – Ginza District and Yakitori under the Yuriakucho train tracks
After checking out Odaiba, take the Yurikamome Monorail Line back to Shinbashi. This will take you over the Rainbow Bridge. Shinbashi is the last stop. From Shinbashi Station, walk down the main street towards the Ginza 4-Chome crossing. Ginza is Tokyo’s oldest shopping district and the main street is filled with large shops and vertical neon signs that look great all lit up at night time. Once you hit the main Ginza 4-Chome crossing, you’ll see Mitsukoshi Department store on the corner. The two basement floors are the gourmet floors and very interesting to stroll around. You can usually try little samples of the pickles, miso, seaweed etc. You can spend a very lively 30 minutes just checking out all of the crazy foods down here.
A short walk from Ginza towards the Yurakucho/Hibiya train tracks (ask someone to poin t you in the right direction) will take you a long strip of tiny yakitori (chicken sticks) restaurants and izakayas (Japanese restaurant/pubs) that are all set up under the train tracks. The restaurants are divey and tiny, but the food is cheap and delicious! Walk along the tracks until you see a joint with available seats. Order giant beers (Jokki) and chicken sticks and whatever else looks good.
Early Morning – Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji
Take the Hibiya Subway Line or Oedo Subway Line to Tsukiji Fish Market. At the subway station, look for the exits directing you to the market (or follow the crowds).
To see the tuna auction, you need to arrive before 6am. But even if you miss the tuna auction, walking around the stalls and watching three generations of a fishing family slice up the tuna with giant sword like knives is still pretty cool. The sheer assortment of seafood there is also just incredible (eels, sea urchin, all kinds of weird shell fish and multi-coloured fish eggs….).
After you have checked out the stalls, head to the restaurant alleys (you may need to ask someone) and look for a place to grab some sushi for breakfast. The actual sushi sets are quite expensive (it is the freshest sushi you will ever have!!), but just as good are the sushi bowl sets where you get fresh slices of tuna, salmon, scallops (whatever really) served over a bowl of sushi rice and it comes with good miso soup and home made pickles.
Note: Tsukiji is closed on the 3rd Wednesday of every month.
Late Morning – The Imperial Palace
A 710 cab ride from Tsukiji Fish market will get you to the Nijubashi Bridge at the Imperial Palace. The gardens and moat are also good for a stroll if the weather is nice. You can check out the various gate entrances to the palace, but the outer grounds are only open on New Years Day and the Emperor’s birthday (December 23).
Lunch and Afternoon– Omoide Machi and the high rises in Shinjuku
Take the train into Shinjuku and take the West exit. Shinjuku Station is huge and one of the busiest stations in the world, so follow the signs to the West Exit and if you get overwhelmed, ask for directions (some people have been lost in Shinjuku Stations for hours at a time – it is filled with shops and little hallways, so it is easy to lose your way.)
The Odakyu Department Store is at the West Exit and tucked away under the tracks in between the Odakyu Department Store and the JR train tracks is Omoide Machi (Nostalgia Street) which is a tiny, old style street filled with teensy noodle shops. It is a huge contrast to find this little old style oasis in the middle of the Shinjuku high rises. The locals are fighting to keep the street alive as developers have applied to bulldoze it and make way for more high rises. Find a little noodle shop and try the miso ramen.
About a 10 minute walk through the West Side high rises is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Take the lift to the top floor lookout (it is free) where Japanese students of English will give you a tour around the lookout floor for free – they are just looking for a chance to practice on a native speaker! On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji.
While on the lookout floor, have the guide point out Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park set right in the heart of the Shinjuku high rises. It costs 200 yen to enter the park, but the fee is well worth it as the gardens are well maintained and very peaceful. Follow the signs in the park to the Japanese tea house where kimono clad women will serve up the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony for guests.
Evening – 35 Steps in Shibuya
Head back to Shinjuku Station and take the Yamanote Line to Shibuya Station. Take the Hachiko Exit and check out one of the world’s biggest crossings – Hachiko Crossing. The Starbucks at Hachiko is the world’s highest grossing Starbucks – a great spot to grab a coffee and people watch.
A short walk from Hachiko is a Japanese Izakaya called 35 Steps (map and details here: http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/660/restaurants.asp) Head here for a Japanese pub style meal and try the sake which is served out of bamboo containers and cups.
For the walk back to Shibuya Station, take the back streets through the Love Hotel district. Good for a giggle!!
If you want to keep pushing on after dinner, check out the very room used by Scarlett Johanssen and Bill Murray in the movie “Lost in Translation”. Head to the Karaoke Kan complex and ask for the “Rokkai Madogawa no heya”. It is a circular room with glass windows overlooking the Shibuya Streets. A great spot to sing some daggy 80s tunes.
Sunday in Tokyo
Morning – Harajuku Girls and the Meiji Shrine
Take the Yamanote Line to Harajuku and walk up the funky (and sometimes freaky) Takeshita Dori Street to see all of the whacky Harajuku fashions and freaky kids.
Grab a banana crepe for breakfast from one of the Takeshita Dori crepe stands and walk back towards Harajuku Station and the entrance to Meijo Shrine. Right by the entrance to the shrine is where all of the Harajuku Kids hang out in groups. Dressed as psychopathic nurses, gothic lolitas and a variety of other themes – it is a great people watching spot.
Head through the large wooden torii gate and walk towards Meiji Shrine. If you are lucky, you may get to see a traditional Japanese wedding taking place.
After checking out Meiji Shrine, continue to walk away from Harajuku Station towards Yoyogi Park. At the entrance to Yoyogi Park are the famous Rockabilly Dancers who dance at this spot all day, every Sunday. A stroll through Yoyogi Park will reveal a host of other buskers and groups of people practicing everything from hip hop dance, to fencing to opera singing.
Late Lunch – 115 yen Kaiten Sushi (Sushi Train) Restaurant in Shibuya
Shibuya is just a 10 minute walk from Yoyogi Park or one stop on the Yamanote Line.
From Hachiko Square, cross over towards the big Starbucks and walk up the street to the left which will take you past a huge electronics store (Sakuraya) and the HMV Music Store. Just past HMV, take the small street to the right and you will see a small Sushi Train restaurant on your right hand side. There may be a queue, but don’t let this put you off. Because this place is so popular (it gets its sushi fresh from the Tsukiji Market every day) patrons are only permitted to sit down for 30 minutes at a time. Plus – patrons must eat at least 7 plates of sushi (at 115 yen each it is still a bargain). So make sure you get there hungry. When you are seated, pour yourself a cup of green tea and choose carefully from the revolving plates. You can also shout out an order to the chefs who will make a plate up fresh for you if your favourite sushi is not revolving around.
Afternoon – Omote Sando Stroll
Take the subway (Hanzomon or Ginza Line) one stop to Omote Sando and stroll down the tree lined Omote Sando Street with all of the upmarket designer stores and impossibly trendy people. Venture into the backstreets for shopping for unique gifts. Any of the cafes along this street are great for people watching. Doggie fashion in Omote Sando is particularly interesting!
Evening – Tsukishima
Take the Oedo Subway Line to Tsukishima, an old style street filled with Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki restaurants. At these restaurants you sit at a small table with a hotplate in the middle and cook your own Japanese style “pizza” – kind of like a hearty omelette filled with seafood or meat and vegetables. Walk along the street until you see a restaurant with a decent crowd. Try Kaisen Okonomiyaki (Seafood mix okonomiyaki) or Buta Kimuchi Okonomiyaki (Pork with kimuchee pickles okonomiyaki). Wash it down with beer or an Umeshu Soda (Plum wine and soda).
Suggested Day Trips from Tokyo
Day Trip 1 – Kamakura
Get a day pass from Shinjuku and take the Odakyu Line and Enoden train into Kamakura.
Check out the Big Buddha and surrounding shrines and temples. Also check out the bamboo temple near Kamakura Station if you have time.
Kamakura is a small area with many temples, so grab an English map at the station and walk around.
Day Trip 2 – Nikko Guided Bus Tour
There are many tour companies that run a 1 day guided bus tour to Nikko. The trip will take you to see all of the major temples and also some of the lakes/waterfalls in the area.
Departure time is usually around 7am in the morning and return to Tokyo around 5pm.
Overnight Trip to Hakone
This can be done as a day trip, but is much better with one night at a Japanese hot spring if possible.
Buy the 2 day Hakone Pass at Shinjuku which allows you to get the train into Hakone and back from Shinjuku, and also unlimited access to the many types of transportation to get you around the Hakone area (switch back railway up the mountain, ropeway, cable car, ferry across Lake Hakone and mountain bus).
If you stay at one of the Japanese Inns, get a hotel package which includes dinner and breakfast. You check in at about 3pm and use the hotel hot springs – wear your hotel kimono around the town and have a very traditional Japanese dinner and Japanese style breakfast served in your room at the hotel.
Things to do in Hakone:
Walk around main town area of Hakone Yunomoto
- Picnic Lunch at the Hakone Outdoor Modern Art Museum
- Stay the night at a traditional Japanese Hot Spring Inn in the small town of Gora at the top of the Switch Back railway
- Take the Cable Car for amazing Mt Fuji views – get off briefly at Owakudani and do the short 10 minute hike up the hill to try 7 year eggs that have been boiled in the onsen (each one you eat adds 7 years to your life…. Apparently).
- Take the Pirate Ship Styled boat across Lake Hakone to Hakone Machi where you can walk to the lake side Hakone Shrine.
- Check out the old Tokaido Road Pass – a short part of the road has been left in tact.
All Rights Reserved Bronwyn Edwards 2008