The question I’m most frequently asked about Tokyo is, “what should I do if I only have one day in Tokyo?” This question is tough to answer. Tokyo is 845 square miles. And it’s packed with cool stuff. Blaine and I love Tokyo. We love walking the city on foot. We love exploring the zillions of random side streets. And we love finding areas so quiet and secluded that we forget we’re in the middle of a city of 13 million people.
But, I understand that sometimes one day is all you have. And below are my choices for some of the best ways to spend your 24 hours in this inimitable city.
In Asakusa, you’ll see Tokyo’s traditional side. Start your morning at Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and the nearby Nakamise Dori market. Nakamise’s traditional shops supply souvenirs like matcha, tapestries, and geta (wooden kimono sandals). The street is often crowded, shoulder to shoulder, but it’s worth the wait to see Sensoji. Near the temple you’ll find a group of yatai (food stalls) selling traditional snacks like monjayaki, similar to okonomiyaki but runnier, it’s a sort of pancake batter mixed with savory ingredients and veggies.
Walk 20 minutes from Sensoji across the Sumida River to Tokyo Skytree, Japan’s tallest structure, and observe Tokyo from the tower’s two observation decks.
Picture a bamboo enclosure, you’re submerged in a giant cedar tub watching the stars, while the soft yellow glow of lanterns illuminate the stone pathway.
Near Asakusa Station, catch a boat along the Sumida River to Hamarikyu Garden or Odaiba. In Hamarikyu, enjoy matcha and Japanese sweets in the garden teahouse. In Odaiba you’ll see futuristic architecture, several malls, and fabulous views of Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge, white by day and an illuminated rainbow by night. For a break from touring, spend several hours at Odaiba’s Oedo Onsen Monogatari hot springs. Try at least one onsen while in Japan. Picture a bamboo enclosure, you’re submerged in a giant cedar tub watching the stars, while the soft yellow glow of lanterns illuminate the stone pathway.
Start the day at Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, get a photo with Hachiko, a statue of the renown loyal dog who waited at the station daily for nine years after his master’s death.
Follow Meiji Dori about 20 minutes north of Shibuya Station and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the fun and funky shopping district of Harajuku. Known for it’s fashion forward youth, Harajuku is a great place to people watch and find eclectic clothes and accessories. Wander down the crowded rambunctious Takeshita Dori and find your way toward the area’s more relaxed back streets. Blaine and I enjoy the British Indian Cafe and its relaxing ambiance is a great antidote to Harajuku’s busy main streets (3-27-7, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae).
The grounds of Meiji Jingu are serene, and in autumn the ginkgo trees create canopies of gold.
Directly behind Harajuku Station is one of Japan’s three great Shinto shrines, Meiji Jingu, and one of the city’s most popular parks, Yoyogi Koen. The grounds of Meiji Jingu are serene, and in autumn the ginkgo trees create canopies of gold. On weekends, Yoyogi is a lively space with musicians and dance teams practicing, kids learning to bike, and dogs in ridiculous outfits.
Southeast of Harajuku Station is the luxury shopping area Omotesando Hills. Here you’ll find designer brands in some of the city’s most architecturally interesting buildings like Tod’s concrete and glass structure, an abstract imitation of the trees lining Omotesando Dori.
From Shinjuku Station, walk 12 minutes west to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Go to the free 45th floor observation decks in each tower and see Shinjuku’s skyscrapers and, on a clear day, Mount Fuji.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a 10 minute walk southeast of Shinjuku Station. This scenic park has Japanese, English, and French gardens and is open from 9am to 4:30pm with last entry at 4pm.
On the west side of Shinjuku Station, you’ll see some of Tokyo’s unique skyline including the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, a torpedo shaped glass skyscraper covered in a web of white stripes.
Tokyo Station was recently renovated to its original European renaissance style. See the station in all its glory from the west side. Inside, the station is a gateway to good food. Don’t miss Ramen Street.
Across from the southwest corner of the station is the Kitte building, a beautiful white brick structure with high end shopping and a rooftop terrace perfect for a panorama view of Tokyo Station.
Walk ten minutes west of Tokyo Station to the Imperial Palace Gardens. To tour the Imperial Palace you must apply through the Imperial Housing Agency, but you can tour the gardens on your own.
Walk 15 minutes south of Tokyo Station to Ginza, Tokyo’s luxury shopping district. Peruse the ornate 10-12 story designer shops like Chanel’s Tokyo flagship store, which is covered in white LED lights forming the world’s largest black and white video wall, and the more affordable Japanese owned 12 story Uniqlo.
Start the morning in Ueno Koen, Tokyo’s oldest park, and visit the Tokyo National Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Japanese art.
South of Ueno Station are the streets of Ameyokocho Market, a post-WWII black market now crowded with vendors selling fish, dried fruits, green tea, and I heart Tokyo t-shirts.
About a 20 minute walk south of Ueno Station is Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronics, anime, and manga district. You’ll know you’re in Akiba when you see the colorful anime billboards and giant Sega arcades.
Tsukiji Fish Market is open at 9am and starts shutting down around 11am. If you want to see the tuna auction you need to arrive by 4am (by taxi). For the freshest catch of the day, the nearby sushi restaurants are open from 5am to noon.
After the market, check out the Edo-Tokyo Museum’s interactive exhibits and catch up on Tokyo history.
Start the day at Tokyo Midtown, a luxury shopping, business, and design complex. Walk through the sculpture garden, check out Tokyo’s modern art scene at 21_21 Design Sight, and see a collection of Japanese arts and crafts at Midtown’s Suntory Museum of Art.
Walk 10 minutes west of Tokyo Midtown to the National Art Center. Enjoy the museum’s grand glass exterior, clean lines, and geometric interior. Exhibits focus on 20th century painting and modern art.
Head 10 minutes south of the National Art Center and you’ll find yourself at the Roppongi Hills shopping and business complex. The Mori Tower observation deck offers spectacular views of Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and Shinjuku, and the ticket includes entrance to the Mori Art Museum.
Together the Mori Art Museum, Suntory Museum of Art, and the National Art Center make up the Roppongi Art Triangle.
*If you’re not a fan of walking or it’s just too hot, you can easily take trains and subways from location to location. All train schedules and prices for Japan travel can be found on www.hyperdia.com.