Tokyo is the largest city in the world yet you can see it all in just one morning.
How? Just climb the 600 steps (or take the elevator) of the world’s tallest self-supported tower, the Tokyo Tower, gaze down and there you have it, the whole of Tokyo. If you’ve got lucky with a clear day you’ll see Mt. Fuji too!
If that was enough however, not only would this whole article be a waste of time but it would in no way do justice to one of the most exciting cities in the world (and my personal favourite!).
So assuming that you have more than just one morning in Tokyo, be prepared to fall head over heels in love with this city.
Even if you’re a broke backpacker, you can still experience your own love affair.
Japan is left off from many a backpackers list because they think it’s too expensive. And whilst compared to other Asian countries this is true, it’s still possible to visit Japan on a relatively low budget and it definitely should not be missed!
What’s great about Tokyo, besides, well everything, is that it’s managed to strike the perfect balance of crazy and futuristic and calm and traditional. What’s more, where else in the world can you see games arcades full of business men in suits until early hours, adult women in schoolgirl outfits, hamburgers in the shape of a panda and eat the best sushi you’ll ever eat at 5am?
Tokyo has two main airports; Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. From Narita Airport, for a cost of 3000 YEN (27 USD), or free with the Japan Rail Card (JRC) (more details to follow), and 90 mins of your time, you’ll be in the city centre. From Haneda Airport it’s 410 YEN (3.60 USD) and 15 minutes.
The Tokyo Subway is the easiest and most efficient way of exploring Tokyo. Consisting of 285 stations across 13 different lines the thought of using it can be quite daunting. Fear not however, it’s very user-friendly and all signage has an English translation underneath and with lots of comical graphics and signs it can be very entertaining to use.
The Yamanote Line runs a continuous loop around central Tokyo stopping at all the major stations. Everywhere I wanted to visit was located on this line and you can pick it up going in either direction. Single journey fares start from around 130 YEN (1.15 USD).
Being prepared could save you a lot of money
If you’re planning to continue your travels outside of Tokyo then it’s worth getting a Japanese Rail Pass (JRP). These passes are available exclusively for tourists from outside of Japan and must be purchased before arrival in Japan. They aren’t available to residents of Japan and you can’t buy them once you’ve arrived. Also, if you have a JRP then you can ride the Yamanote Line for free!
Things to see and do
DAY 1 – Asakusa
The main attraction in Asakusa is Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple. It’s open from 6.30am-5pm every day and is free to enter.
Asakusa is also Tokyo’s oldest geisha district, so you’re bound to spot a geisha shuffling her way down the narrow streets.
Tokyo Sky Tree
Whilst you’re in the area, be sure to cross over the River Sumida for a visit to the Tokyo Skytree, a TV broadcasting tower that has a number of observation desks where you can catch spectacular views of Tokyo for a nominal fee.
Don’t leave Asakusa without a visit to the 24-hour discount store Don Quijote. It’s fun and it’s full of random things that you had no idea actually existed or why they even need to. Be sure to pick up a bag of Macha Green Tea flavored KitKats!
DAY 2 – Shibuya
After a day in ancient Japan, catapult your way back into the 21st Century by starting your second day in the district of Shibuya dodging humans at the world’s busiest crossroad, Shibuya Crossing. If it’s too early for such physical contact find a spot to sit or stand and watch as the traffic lights go red and hundreds of busy commuters bolt across in every direction.
Get a cool birds eye view of the scramble from the Shibuya Hikarie, located just East of Shibuya metro station.
Takeshita Street 竹下通
If the excitement of Harajuku leave you craving some zen, head to Yoyogi Park which is located just next to Harajuku station. It’s particularly beautiful during cherry blossom season (at the end of March and the beginning of April) and during the Autumn (September to early November).
DAY 3 – A trip to Hakone for Mount Fuji
If this is your last day in Japan then you really must take a day trip to Mt. Fuji and the hot springs.
The best way to visit Mt. Fuji in a day is via Hakone using the Hakone Free Pass (HFP) which allows you to use the buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways in the Hakone area, all included.
You’ll need to set of early from Tokyo so I recommend catching the Odakyu Express Train from Shinjuku to Odawara at 9am (all included with the HFP). From here you can jump on the Hakone Bus to Hakone-Yumoto station followed by the railway to Gora. By now it will be around midday so you might want to have lunch in Gora. If you consider yourself a bit of an adventurous foodie then try the local delicacy of ‘black eggs.’ Just remember to hold your nose!
Once you’ve arrived in Hakonemachi you can catch the Hakone Bus back to Odawara for your train back to Tokyo.
Where to Eat
Okonomiyaki Sometaro in Asakusa offers the whole Japanese dining experience. Remove your shoes, pull up a pillow, seat yourself at a traditional low table and get ready for a chance to cook your own Okonomiyaki (a Japanese savoury pancake). Not only is it a lot of fun making your own dinner, it’s delicious too (even if your culinary skills aren’t up to scratch). If you’ve got room left over after, their azuki (red bean paste) pancakes are not to be missed.
Ichiran in Shibuya is THE place to get some traditional Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen. You may have to wait a little bit (hopefully no more than 30 minutes) but it’s so worth it. Cheap, delicious and a great opportunity to perfect your slurping.
Where to Stay
Nothing quite beats a night or 3 in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn. Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu is a few minutes from Sensoji Temple and costs around 52 USD per night.
Khaosan World Asakusa
For a cheaper alternative you can stay at the fun and quirky Khaosan World Asakusa Hostel. Dorm beds start from around 30 USD per night.
If you’re feeling really adventurous try a night in one of Japans famous Capsule Hotels. Prices for a single capsule at Capsule Hotel Asakusa Riverside start from 16 USD per night.
If you have more time in Tokyo, I recommend adding the following to your travel itinerary:
- Sanrio World Store, Ginza – (for all my fellow Hello Kitty fans).
- Shinjuku Gyoen Park – best visited during cherry blossom season (March-April) and Autumn to see the beautiful autumnal colors.
- Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku – if you like a side of dancing robots, flashing lights and Japanese pop-culture overload with your dinner.
- Tokyo Imperial Palace – it has a nice 5km loop around it if you fancy a run.
- Tokyo’s Akihabara district – the best place to score some cheap electronics.
What’s on your ‘must-see’ list for Tokyo? Comment below!
This post was originally published on Tripoto.