Travel Diary: A Perfect Day in Tokyo
It's impossible to see all of Tokyo in one day, but that's part of the city's appeal. Tokyo leaves you curious and wanting more, making you plot your return before you even leave.
The Japanese city is absolutely massive, like New York City on steroids but cleaner, quieter and more polite. The streets are wider, the buildings are bigger and the food is, quite simply, some of the best in the world.
There's a chance a trip to Tokyo and/or Japan is not high on your travel list at the moment or one that seems so daunting, you figure you'll get there at some point. I felt that way too, but after visiting the country for only a few days I can tell you with certainty that Japan needs to move up to your number one spot. Skip Europe, save that Machu Picchu trek for next year and head to Tokyo as soon as possible.
There are tons of ways to spend 24-hours in Tokyo, from eating to shopping to hot spring-ing to touring temples to visiting robot cafes. Do your research before you go so you don't waste a single second. Here's how my family and I spent our perfect day.
Spend the morning at Tsukiji Fish Market
...wherever it may be. In November 2016, the market was supposed to close and move to a different area of the city. Plans have since been delayed due to soil contamination at the new site but are expected to resume sometime in 2017 or 2018. So make sure to check the market's website before planning your visit.
Tsukiji Fish Market is the center of global sushi, most famous for the live tuna auction that takes place around 6:15 a.m and allows only 120 visitors per day. If you want to go, you have to begin lining up before 5:00 a.m. Entry is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fun fact -- a 466-pound bluefin tuna sold at Tsukiji's first fish auction in 2017 for a whopping $632,000. The auction is closed to visitors during peak tourism months like December. So again, check the website before you go.
Even though it's known as the main attraction, we skipped waking up before sunrise and headed to the market around a respectable 8:30 a.m. Go hungry, and get excited to eat breakfast sushi.
Here's a map of the market. We spent the most time touring the shops and stalls in the Outside Market area. The Restaurants area is packed with sushi spots consisting of about 8-seats each, so if you want to eat there, be prepared to wait in line.
If you want to buy a Japanese knife, head to Masamoto Tsukiji, which has been making cutlery since its founding in 1845. Seventh-generation owner Misao Hirano runs the shop now. You can get your named engraved in Japanese and bring the knife back anytime for sharpening.
Make sure you wander the outside market and try everything that's being cooked right in front of you. Tsukiji gave me an entirely new perspective on street food -- just fresh ingredients simply prepared. It's amazing what one can do with a fresh scallop and a blow torch.
Midday: Head to Asakusa
Since you’re already on the east side of the city (assuming the market hasn’t moved locations), head north to Asakusa, Tokyo’s historic temple district. From the market, head to the Higashi-Ginza satiation and take the Asakusa line 7 stops to Asakusa Station.
From the metro, walk down Nakamise, a street filled with local snacks and souvenirs for tourists, until you reach Senso-ji, one of the most famous sites in the city. The temple has a golden statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, which was reportedly fished out of the nearby Sumida River by two fisherman in 628 BCE.
From here, walk 10 minutes to Kappabashi-dori, a wholesale kitchenware and restaurant supply district for bizarre kitchen gadgets and other food-related items.
Mid-Afternoon: Explore Omotesando
Omotesando is a main shopping street in Shibuya. It’s filled with everything from luxury designer stores to trendy shops to fancy restaurants to tiny ramen places scattered throughout. From the Omotesando metro station, walk west until you reach the Harajuku subway station, which is across from Takeshita street, the center of Tokyo’s teen culture.
While walking along Omotesando, be sure to explore the streets to the south of the main drag, which are some of the most charming streets I’ve ever walked through. As my dad repeatedly said throughout our trip, Tokyo is an urban planner’s heaven. Everything is beautiful and intentional, making a walk through any neighborhood truly special.
From Harajuku, walk south toward the famous Shibuya crossing just as the day turns to night. The famous intersection outside Shibuya Station is one of the busiest and biggest in the world. You can head to the Starbucks on the intersection for a view of the crossing, but don’t miss your chance to walk the massive crosswalk. We went back and forth a few times.
Dinner: Make a Reservation at Kyubey in Ginza
This tiny sushi spot is one of the best in the city and only takes reservations from hotels. So ask your hotel to book in advance and request to sit at the second floor sushi bar. After dinner, walk through Ginza, which is Tokyo’s fanciest shopping area, and slip into a cafe for some coffee and dessert.
Nightcap: Bar hop in Golden Gai
It looks like Daigon Alley in Harry Potter, but filled with tiny thematic bars featuring 2-6 seats each. Be wary of cover charges -- most places will have a sign out front if they charge one.
A few other details...
Getting there: If you can, fly into Haneda instead of Narita airport. It’s closer to the city and will save you time and money when getting to your hotel.