TWO DAYS IN TOKYO
Exploring Tokyo is a great way to immerse yourself in two very different aspects of Japan. Take time to experience the ancient and the modern. Feel the discrepancies between the calm and the chaotic. For an incredible blend of both city buzz and zen serenity, follow this itinerary for our favorite spots to walk, learn, sip, sit, eat, and enjoy.
HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
We provide a number of hidden and popular sites that we highly recommend for our guests while visiting Tokyo. For each set of activities, read the descriptions, and select 3-5 activities per day that sound especially interesting to you. Don’t try to do more than 2 activities in a morning or afternoon—you’ll be exhausted and won’t have time to truly enjoy the place you’re in. In our experience, it’s always better to thoroughly experience a few places than to sprint through many different ones.
Now, let’s get into it!
$ Convenience Store: Japanese convenience stores, affectionately called “conbini’s”, are everywhere you look. There are three major chains that exist all across Japan: Lawson, 7-11, and FamilyMart. For a quick and delicious snack, look out for their neon logos, lining every street in Tokyo. Japanese convenience stores are extremely clean and offer a variety of great options. Try out the pastries, onigiri (rice balls), ramen bowls, bento boxes, multi-flavored kit-kats, and more. We recommend immersing yourself in Japanese city culture by checking out the different options at these convenience stores. If you are traveling with kids, this is a great place to explore; conbinis offer something for every appetite.
$$ Suke6 Diner: When this shop opens at 8am there is usually a good crowd of hungry folks ready to enjoy freshly-baked pastries, coffee/tea , and western-style breakfast plates. Suke6 is known for its hip interior design, good food, and massive drink menu. Check out this diner-style restaurant to kick your morning into high gear!
From Asakusa, take a taxi/uber to Yoyogi Park, or hop on the train from Asakusa to Harajuku Station (one transfer).
Japan’s first successful aircraft flight took place on this site in 1910. And in 1945, it became “Washington Heights”, the base for U.S. officers during the Allied occupation of Japan.
Since its transformation to Yoyogi Park, this has been a popular gathering place for locals and travelers alike. You’ll find nature-lovers, martial artists, dancers, photographers, rock music fans, jugglers, cosplayers, picnickers, and more. In spring, we highly recommend coming to the park in the early morning to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms during hanami. Try to beat the crowds for a truly inspiring and serene experience.
Just adjacent to Yoyogi Park is the famous Meiji Jingu, a shinto shrine memorializing Emperor Meiji and his partner, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the first ruler of modern Japan. By the time he ascended to the throne in 1867, Japan was at the peak of the Meiji Restoration. The feudalism of the Edo Period, which dominated in Japan for nearly 300 years, came to an end. During the new Meiji Period, Japan modernized, industrialized, and joined the world’s major powers.
Initially built in 1920, the Meiji Jingu was destroyed during World War II. It was then resurrected during Japan’s Post-War reconstruction efforts. The grounds are a beautiful place to take a morning stroll. It’s also an excellent park to learn about Japanese religion and history. As you continue walking, you’ll come across a massive torii gate–this is the main entrance to the shrine. Allow the buzz of Tokyo to fade into the background, and let the surrounding nature take you to a new world. Step into the Meiji Jingu’s forest: 100,000 trees that were brought to Tokyo as offerings from all corners of Japan.
If you choose to enter the main hall of the shrine, in the middle of the forest, you can make offerings, purchase charms, or write out your hopes and wishes on an ema board (small wooden plaque). At the northern end of the shrine grounds, enter the Treasure House. This building displays the personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage that the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. You can an entire morning enjoying the lively, yet serene, confines of the Meiji Shrine!
Harajuku is world-famous for its quirky and unique street style. Take a stroll on Takeshita Dori and don’t be afraid to gawk a bit! The self-expression here is unlike that of any other fashion district in the world. If you enjoy the kawaii, modern, and sometimes bizarre Japanese aesthetic, this is a great place to explore. The streets in Harajuku are lined with many boutique shops, vintage stores, and themed cafes/restaurants.
From Harajuku Station, take the Yamanote Line directly to Shibuya Station. If it’s a nice day out, we recommend the pleasant 1.5km walk down Cat’s Street, which is considered the “Hipster Hub” of Tokyo. Follow the many signs and maps that guide you from Harajuku to Shibuya.
If you enjoy people-watching, there is no better place than Shibuya. The best seats to enjoy the organized frenzy are at the second-story Starbucks in the Tsutaya building on the crossing’s north side. Sit down near the cafe’s windows with a hot drink, and enjoy!
We love this description of Shibuya Crossing from Time Magazine:
“It would be a shame to come to Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station. On sunny afternoons or clear evenings, the surrounding area is packed with shoppers, students, young couples and commuters. When the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time in every direction. Traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides, like marbles spilling out of a box.
After experiencing the “scramble,” follow the trendy teens into Shibuya 109, a big shiny mall with more than 100 boutiques, for a look at the latest in disposable fashion. Or duck back into Shibuya Station and down to the bustling Tokyu Food Show for an elegant array of gourmet eats and an education in local tastes: grilled eel, fried pork, tiny fish salad, octopus on a stick, seafood-and-rice seaweed wraps and much more.”
JAPAN’S LARGEST DON QUIXOTE
You might not find this recommendation in guide books, but we suggest stepping into a Don Quixote at some point during your time in Japan. Often described as a “discount store”, Don Quixote is so so much more. In between aisles of common items such as beauty products, snacks, appliances, and electronics, you’ll also see products that are unique to “DONKI”. For a bit of humor, intrigue, and surprise, check out Japan’s largest Don Quixote for a look into the some of the bizarre products lining the shelves in this modern Japanese mega-store.
From Shibuya, take a taxi/uber to Roppongi, or enjoy a 3km walk through Tokyo.
Roppongi is the the elite playground of Tokyo’s wealthy influencers, stars, politicians, investors, and expats. Enjoy strolling the clean streets of this hip and relatively-new neighborhood. If you enjoy art museums, go check out the Mori Art Museum, located on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower. Most of the exhibits feature international contemporary art, but you’ll also find installations influenced by Japanese culture and tradition. Check out their page of current exhibitions before you purchase your tickets.
Even if you aren’t fascinated by modern art, we recommend going up to the 53rd floor for the Tokyo City View observatory deck. Catch a stunning view of the massive city below, comparable to SkyTree’s! Roppongi’s streets are full of restaurants, luxury stores, bars, clubs, and museums, most of which are English-friendly. Explore to your heart’s content!
DINNER @ ROPPONGI
$ Afuri Roppongi Hills: located just adjacent to Roppongi Station, this local ramen chain dominates the Tokyo ramen scene. Their menu offers options from cool to hot bowls, with both meaty and vegan options. (Picture on right is the Signature Shoyu Ramen)
$$ Gluten Free 61 Cafe & Bar: This cafe is a warm and relaxed place to enjoy healthy and delicious foods/drinks. We recommend this place for all travelers, with or without wheat allergies. If you’re looking for a nutritious meal, with both Japanese and western options, check this place out!
$$$ Ise Sueyoshi: Traditional “kaiseki” style Japanese cuisine, freshly-made, and inspired by the countrysides of Japan. Ise Sueyoshi opened in 2015, inspired by the cuisine and ingredients from the ancient Japanese city of Ise.
Karaoke (カラオケ) is originally from Japan and is now a sensation around the world, especially in East Asia. If you are still energized after this full day of exploration, we recommend diving into this essential aspect of Japanese nightlife. Karaoke establishments usually open around 8pm and close shop at 2-3am.
If you want to stay in the Roppongi Hills area, check out FIESTA, which provides a great variety of both Japanese and English songs.
Once you’re done singing your heart out, return to your ryokan hotel in Asakusa, and get ready for another day of adventure!
From Asakusa, take a taxi/uber to Tsukiji, or hop on the train from Asakusa to Higashi-Ginza Station (no transfers on the Asakusa Line).
Tsukiji used to be the site of Tokyo’s open fish market. It has since moved to a new location, but we still highly recommend taking a walk through Tsukiji to visit its unique restaurants and street vendors.
$ Street Food Vendors: For travelers who want some variety, walk through the market road to see what looks appetizing to you. We recommend following the local crowds. On Tsukiji, you’ll find unique items such as organ stew over rice, sea urchin, and eel skewers. You’ll also see familiar foods, such as sushi, fried/grilled meats, and chicken rice bowls. One of our favorites is tamagoyaki, or Japanese omelet, full of both savory and sweet flavor. Look out for the rectangular pans (photo on the right). It’s fun to watch the master egg chefs cook these unique, yet familiar, breakfast foods.
$$ Sushizanmai: This is a world-famous chain, known for having the “freshest fish in the world”. Beat the lines and crowds! Enjoy a freshly-made sushi breakfast at this local favorite.
From Tsukiji, take a taxi/uber to Ueno Park, or hop on the train to Ueno Station (no transfers).
Ueno Park was originally part of Kaneiji Temple, one of the family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan during the Edo Period. The Japanese built the temple it to protect the city from evil spirits.
During the Japanese Revolution, also known as the Boshin Civil War, Kaneiji was nearly destroyed. After the battle between the loyalist shogunate and the new Meiji government, Japan transformed the temple grounds into one of Japan’s first Western-style parks. You’ll find a memorial statue of Saigo Takamori, a prominent leader of the imperial faction, near the park’s south entrance.
TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM
The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest of Japan’s national museums. Established in 1972 at Yushima Seido Shrine, the TNM is now located in Ueno Park.
The TNM collects and displays art collections and antiquities not just from Japan, but also from many other countries in Asia. Explore the art and culture of Japan, from centuries of history. From Japanese woodblocks and sculpture to calligraphy and samurai swords, you’ll be able to imagine Japan from a different time through the TNM’s vast collection of ancient treasures.
Take a direct train, or taxi/uber back to Asakusa for lunch.
$$ Sometaro: Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese dish that originated from southern Japan. These thick, savory pancake contain a variety of ingredients, and you can order versions with or without seafood/meat. The okonomiyaki experience can be a hands-on one too! Once you order, your waiter will deliver your ingredients. You are free to take the reins and cook it yourselves, or your waiter can do it for you.
$$$ Asakusa Imahan: This local restaurant has tatami mat seating, and is known for its traditional ambiance. We recommend their sukiyaki lunch sets and hot pot options, especially on a chilly day. Choose your desired meat cuts, and enjoy a hearty lunch.
Sensoji (浅草寺) is one of Tokyo’s most colorful and popular temples. See and feel the difference between the Shinto Temple you explored yesterday, and this 7th century Buddhist Temple.
Common legend says that nearly 1400 years ago, two brothers fished a statue of the goddess of mercy from the Sumida River. Each time they put the statue back into the water, it always returned to them. Inspired by this event, the brothers built the Sensoji Temple to honor the goddess, Kannon. Completed in 645, the Sensoji Temple is the oldest in all of Tokyo. Today, Senso-ji is a historical landmark, shopping area, and sacred shrine, all in one!
ASAKUSA NAKAMISE SHOPPING STREET
Nakamise Shopping Street is a 250-meter market adjacent to the Senso-ji Temple. This popular gathering area has served temple visitors with all types of traditional snacks and interesting souvenirs for centuries. For travelers looking for street food, pottery, Japanese yukata and kimono, this is the place to find all those traditional items!
Previously one of Tokyo’s entertainment regions, Asakusa became the center of kabuki theater during the Edo Period. Now, it is a traditional Japanese marketplace and one of Japan’s most traveler-friendly markets.
While it’s nice to visit any time of day, we recommend exploring Nakamise Street in the early evening. Experience a quiet, yet lively, shopping experience, as opposed to the daytime crowds.
TOKYO SKY TREE
From Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree is a 20 minute walk across the Sumida River. You can also take a taxi/uber if you would like to skip the stroll.
For the thrill-seeking travelers, take flight to Tokyo Sky Tree’s observation floor, at nearly 2000 feet. In 2011, Sky Tree became the tallest tower in the world, with a full tower height of 634.0 meters (2,080 ft). It also became the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa (829.8 m | 2,722 ft). We recommend heading up to the observation deck an hour prior to sunset time. Find a good place to enjoy the changing colors as the sun sets behind downtown Tokyo. On a clear day, you’ll even catch sight of Japan’s Big Friendly Giant: the infamous Mount Fuji!