So you bought your tickets and decided to spend a whole week in the bustling city of Tokyo… Now you are wondering what the heck to do. The following is a rough guide on how to plan your week in Tokyo.
While Gary and I were very keen to see more of the country, we decided to stay an entire week in Tokyo. This decision was mainly reached in order to save on costs. Booking a hotel over a longer period (especially on Expedia) often drastically cuts down the price. It also meant that we were able to buy a one week JR Pass rather than a two week JR pass– which saved us about 100£.
We certainly didn’t regret spending a whole week in Tokyo. There is so much to see and do here. In fact Tokyo ended up being our favourite city in Japan and actually trumped Kyoto in our mind. If you are keen to explore both the ancient traditions of Nikon, as well as Japan’s far more modern side, Tokyo has to be your go-to city. You might even find that seven days in Tokyo, simply isn’t enough.
Tokyo is a very big city. In order to see as much as possible within a week, you are going to want to group the sites you visit by district. This will save you time, as well as money. Far better to walk from site to site than to spend half of your day in the underground system.
While we were in Tokyo we also took the opportunity to go on a couple of side-trips in the surrounding areas. There is a lot to see in the city centre of Tokyo, but there are also some amazing towns on the fringes of the city, that shouldn’t be missed.
This Tokyo itinerary is perfect for travellers who are planning to spend a week in Tokyo. If you only have 3, 4, 5 or even 6 days in Tokyo, feel free to cherry-pick from below. Each day is a mini-itinerary of its own. If you are fortunate enough to have a little more time on your hands, this itinerary can easily be stretched. Just spend a little more time at each site.
As always, the suggested journey is something of a whirlwind trip. This first-timer’s itinerary will, however, introduce you to some the main sites that Tokyo has to offer. You could of course book an all-inclusive package tour. Indeed, this can be a very reasonable option if you don’t have the time or patience to plan your own journey. You will, however, without a doubt, save quite a chunk of cash, by planning and booking everything yourself.
DAY 1: FLIGHT TO TOKYO
The first day of our holiday was spent on a long-haul flight to Japan with Turkish Airways. Our flight from London took over 15 hours, with a one and a half hour long stop-over in Istanbul. You might be very jet-lagged when you first arrive. The time difference between London and Tokyo is 9 hours after all. But don’t worry, you have plenty of time to recover in Tokyo. Tokyo has two Airports, but Narita Airport (成田空港) handles most international flights. Narita Airport is located 60Km to the North of Tokyo. Terminal 1 and 2 of Narita Airport both have a railway station in their respective basements. Terminal 3 (which serves low-budget airlines) is connected to Terminal 2 by a pedestrian walkway. Narita Airport, formerly also known as New Toyo International Airport, is connected to Tokyo by a multiple of rail and bus lines. No need therefore to shell out on an expensive taxi. The most comfortable way to travel to Tokyo Station is to board the JR Narita Express (NEX). The journey takes approximately an hour and will set you back around 3000 yen (currently 16£). There is however a cheaper alternative. The JR Sobu Line is a little slower (90 minutes to Tokyo Station) but only costs 1320 yen ( currently 7£).
DAY 2: GINZA, YURAKUCHO, MARUNOUCHI AND THE IMPERIAL GARDEN
We arrived in Tokyo at 7am. By the time we went through passport control, picked up our passport, boarded the JR Sobu Line and checked into our Hotel, it was 1pm. Our hotel the Grand Arc Hanzomon was located right next to the Imperial Garden. The Imperial Garden and adjacent Ginza, Yurakucho and Marunouchi were therefore obviously our first port of call.
THE IMPERIAL PALACE
The current Imperial Palace (皇居) is located on the former site of the Edo Castle. It is surrounded by a large park, moat and impressive stone walls. The inner grounds of the palace are closed to the public more often than not. Visitors do however have access to the public Imperial East Garden and Outer Park on a daily basis. Japanese Guided Tours of the palace grounds are offered on rare occasions. If you are determined to catch a rare glimpse of the Inner Gardens, you might want to book this tour a long time in advance.
Located to the West of the Imperial Palace, Maranouchi (丸の内) is one of Japan’s most prestigious business districts. Together with Otemachi, Maranouchi is now home to the headquaters of many of Japan’s most powerful companies. Many older buildings have recently been replaced by large skyscrapers, with shops and entertainment on the lower floors, whil offices are located on the floors above.
Adjacent to Marunouchi, Ginza (銀座) is Tokyo’s most famous upmarket, dining and entertainment district. This is where Tokyo’s most prestigious businessmen come to play. The area features numerous up-market department stores, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and night clubs. If you fancy splashing your cash, you can do so on one of the infamous $10 cups of coffee. The best time to visit Ginza is on the weekend when the central Chuo Dori is closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a large pedestrian zone.
Just like the adjacent district of Ginza, Yurakucho (有楽町) offers a wealth of shopping and dining opportunities, but with a more relaxed and approachable atmosphere. Head to Yurakucho’s lively restaurant district built up under the brick arches of the train track. Known as Gad-Shita (below the Girder), this is one of Tokyo’s best watering holes. The restaurants extend for hundreds of meters, nearly all the way to Tokyo Station. This is the perfect spot to enjoy your first Japnese dinner and a pint or two of beer.
DAY 3: SHIBUYA, HARAJUKU AND SHINJUKU
Shibuya (渋谷) is one of Tokyo’s most colourful and busy districts, particularly famous for the popular shopping and entertainment area surrounding Shibuya Station. Shibuya is a center for fashion and culture and the birthplace of many worldwide trends. A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the grand intersection in front of Shibuya Station. Similar to Time’s Square, the intersection is highly decorated by giant neon advertisements and video screens. When the pedestrian lights turn green, all vehicular traffic on this huge junction is stopped, and pedestrians flood the street. The statue of Hachiko, the dog, is another popular tourist attraction.
Harajuku (原宿) is the center of one of Japan’s most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, known as Cosplay. The focal point of Harajuku is Takeshita Dori and its side streets. Lined with trendy shops, fashion boutiques and crepe stands, this area is aimed at the fashion conscious teenagers of Japan. Watch teenagers in outrageous outfits parade down Takeshita-Dori or pop into a Purikura Photo Booth for a souvenir Snap-Shot
MEJI-SHRINE AND YOYOGI PARK
Next head to the nearby Yoyogi Park and Meji-Shrine (明治神宮), for a little bit of traditional Japanese culture. The Meji-Jingu, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meji and his consort, is one of Tokyo’s major and most popular Shinto Shrines. It is located just west of Harajuku Station in the large green oasis, shared with the Yoyogi Park. Visitors can participate in typical Shinto Rituals such as making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets or writing one’s wish on an ema. If you are lucky you, you might ven be able to witness a traditional Shinto Wedding.
SHINJUKU SKYSCRAPER DISTRICT
Shinjuku (新宿) is a large entertainment, business and shopping district around Shinjuku Station. Handling more than two million passengers a day, Shinjuku is the World’s busiest Railway Station. Shinjuku’s Skyscraper District is located to the West of Shinjuku Station. It is home to some of Tokyo’s tallest buildings, such as the Metropolitan Government Buildings (東京都庁). The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s two free observation decks, provide panoramic views across Tokyo and beyond. You might even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on a good day (we didn’t). The North Observatory remains open late at night and is an excellent spot to watch the sunset in Japan.
DAY 4: DAY-TRIP TO HAKONE
Hakone (箱根) located 100 kilometres North of Tokyo, is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It is particularly famous for it’s hot springs, natural beauty and the potential to catch a glimpse of nearby Mount Fuji. Hakone makes for a great one or two-day side trip, if you are looking for a break from Tokyo and want to be surrounded by nature. There are two possible routes from Tokyo to Hakone. The one-way journey on the “Romance Car” of the Odakyu Railway, from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station takes approximately 85 minutes and costs 2080 yen (currently 11£). Alternatively, a journey on the Kyuku express train takes around about two hours and will set you back 1190 yen (6£). My advice is to purchase the Hakone Free Pass, which includes a return ticket from Tokyo to Hakone-Yumoto and unlimited use of selected trains, cablecars, ropeways, boats and buses in the Hakone Area. The Hakone Free Pass currently costs 5140 yen (currently 28£).
LAKE ASHINOKO AND HAKONE SHRINE
From Hakone Yumoto board a local bus and head Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖). this lake was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the Volcano’s last eruption over 3000 years ago. Today Lake Ashinoko with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. If you are lucky and you visit on a cloudless day you might catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. The best views can be enjoyed from Moto-Hakone and visibility tends to be best early morning or late afternoon during the colder seasons. Hakone Shrine (箱根神社) sits at the foot of Mount Hakone, along the shores of Lake Ashinoko. Although the shrine is hidden in the dense forest, its location is marked by a Huge Torii Gate that stands proudly in the Lake. A path leads from the Torii gate up a series of steps, flanked by beautiful lanterns that light the way. This has to be one of the most atmospheric shrines we visited in our two weeks in Japan. Once you have had your fill of the Hakone Shrine, board a Hakone Sightseeing Boat to cross the lake to Togendai.
OWAKUDANI OR SOUNZAN
From Togendai board the Hakone Ropeway and head to Owakudani. Owakudani (大涌谷) is an active volcanic zone where you can experience the sulphurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers of Mount Hakone. A ten-minute walking trail leads from the ropeway station to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. The more adventurous can follow a two-hour hiking trail to reach the peak of Mount Kamiyama. Note that due to intense volcanic activity, access to Owakudani is currently (at the time of writing) prohibited. Instead, a substitute bus operates between Togendai and Sounzan.
In Sounzan board the Tozan Cable Car to Gora. Gora (強羅公園) is a western style landscape park located built into the steep slope of Gora. Relax, unwind and enjoy the magnificent views across Hakone. Inspired by French landscape gardens, Gora Park features a large fountain, rose garden and two Greenhouses. If you purchased the Hakone Free Pass admission is free.
HAKONE TOZAN RAILWAY
From Gora head back to Hakone-Yumoto on the Hakone Tozan Railway (箱根登山電車), Japan’s oldest mountain railway. The 35-minute journey winds itself through a narrow and densely wooded valley, over bridges and through tunnels, stopping at several stations on the way. This train ride is particularly beautiful in June and July when the tracks are lined with beautifully blooming Hydrangeas.
HAKONE HOT SPRINGS
End your day trip in Hakone-Yumoto with a meal and a dip at one of Hakone’s popular Ryokans. Hakone’s multiple hot springs heat the numerous bathhouses and Ryokan’s of the area. Many Ryokan open their baths not only to residential guests but also to daytime visitors. Although staying guests can use the baths for free, day-time visitors will need to pay an admission between 500 and 2000 yen (currently 3-10£). Personally, I would recommend Ryokan Tenzan, a beautiful traditional Japanese bathhouse with a collection of various outdoor hot spring pools. Note that female and male baths are separated and that swimsuits are prohibited.
DAY 5: SUMIDA AQUARIUM, TOKYO SKYTREE AND RYOGUKU
The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) is a 634-meter tall television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo that offers spectacular panoramic views of the city from two enclosed observation decks. This Tower is the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world. The lower Tembo Deck is 350 meters high (50 meters higher than The Shard) and spans over three floors. Whilst the top floor is completely glazed, the middle floor houses the souvenir shop and restaurant and the lower floor features a vertigo-inducing glass floor. The lower observation deck is connected to its 100 meters higher brother, the Tembo Gallery, by a separate set of elevators. Also known as the World Highest Skywalk, this sloping ramp spirals its way up to a height of 451.2 meters and promises dizzying views of the Kanto Region. Access to the lower observation deck costs 2060 yen (currently 11£). Tickets to the top observation deck are sold separately and will set you back an additional 1030 yen (currently 5£).
The Tokyo Skytree is built on top of a large shopping complex which contains one of the best Aquariums, I ever had the pleasure of visiting. This moderately sized and beautifully designed Aquarium houses over 10 000 Sea Creatures. The Sumida Aquarium (すみだ水族館) is located on the fifth and sixth floor of the Tokyo Solomachi Shopping Center. The centerpiece of the aquarium is a 350 000 litre penguin enclosure. This tank designed with almost no visible supports is a masterpiece. Entrance to the Aquarium costs 2050 yen (currently 11£).
EDO TOKYO MUSEUM
The Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館) is housed in a crassly modern and very unique building. It’s permanent exhibition features beautifully crafted models, life-sized figures and vehicles that illustrate how Tokyo has developed since 1869. It is a wonderful introduction to the culture and life in Tokyo. In addition various special exhibitions are held on a monthly basis. Tickets to the permanent exhibition cost 600 yen (currently 1£).
A SUMO MATCH AT THE KOKUGIKAN
Sumo – a Japanese style of wrestling and originally a performance aimed to entertain Shinto Deities – is Japan’s National Sport. The best way to fully grasped the beauty of Sumo is to attend a Sumo Tournament at the Kokugikan. The Kokugikan, Tokyo’s Sumo Stadium, seats over 10 000 visitors and hosts three of the six sumo tournaments (in January, May and September). In order to acquire tickets to a Sumo Match, you will need to contact the official vendor through buysumotickets.com. Alternatively, if you are lucky, you might be able to find a couple of tickets in a local convenient store. I have written a detailed Blogpost about buying Sumo Tickets and attending the match if you want to know more.
Ryogoku (両国) is the area surrounding the Sumo stadium. It is Sumo heaven. Sumo matches have been staged in this area for a long time but the stadium was only built recently, back in 1985. If you are planning to have dinner in Ryogoku you might want to consider heading into one of the numerous restaurants that feature Chanko Nabe (the staple food of Sumo Wrestlers) on their menu.
DAY 6: UENO, ASAKUSA AND ODAIBA
Ueno Park (上野公園) is a large Public Park and the location of some of Tokyo’s main Shrines and Museums. The park grounds originally belonged to the Kaneiji Temple, one of Tokyo’s largest and wealthiest temples. In 1868, Kaneiji was almost completely destroyed and the grounds converted into one of Japan’s first western-style parks. Many Museums can be found in Ueno Park including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. It is also home to Japan’s first zoological garden, Ueno Zoo.
TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM
The Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is Japan oldest and largest national museum. Its permanent exhibition features a very large and beautiful collection of Japanese art and archeological artifacts. In addition, the museum holds regular special exhibitions. The Tokyo National Museum is a large museum complex with six different buildings, each one large enough to be considered a museum by itself. If you are following my suggested itinerary, you will probably only have time to visit the main exhibition in the Honkan Building.
Asakusa (浅草) has an amazing atmosphere and will transport you back to old Tokyo. The main attraction of the area has to be Sensoji, an incredibly famous Buddhist Temple. The temple is approached via Nakamise, a popular shopping district, which provides temple visitors with a wide selection of traditional snacks and souvenirs. Although Asakusa is easy to explore by foot, you might consider hitching a ride on one of the local rickshaws (jinrikisha). A 30-minute tour for two will set you back 9000 yen (currently 48£)
When you have had your fill of Asakusa head to the river and board one of the sightseeing boats. Located in a bay and crisscrossed by rivers, Tokyo has several ferry companies. A ride on a water bus always makes an enjoyable alternative to the crowded underground. Most of the water buses are operated by Tokyo Cruise Ship Company. The most popular route has to be the Asakusa-Odaiba Direct Line, a 50-minute ride from Asakusa to Odaiba in a very boldly designed Himiko Boat with panoramic windows (1560 yen, currently 8£).
Odaiba (お台場) is a popular highly modern shopping and entertainment district on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Modern city planning provides Odaiba with plenty of green space and a very pleasant division between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. All pedestrian walkways are elevated above the traffic below. Odaiba boasts some of Tokyo’s boldest architectural creations such as the Fuji Tv Building, Telecom Center and Big Sight. All the man-made islands in the Bay are connected with the elevated Yurikamome Train Line, not dissimilar to the DLR in Canary Wharf. I would suggest you head to Palette Town for some fun on the Ferris Wheel and the massive Arcade, before sitting down for Dinner in Aquacity.
DAY 7: TSUKIJI FISH MARKET, AKIHABARA AND KANDA
BREAKFAST AT TSUKIJI MARKET
Tsukiji Market (築地市場) is Tokyo’s main and largest wholesale market for fish fruits and vegetables. It is one of the World’s largest Fishmarkets, handling over 2000 tons of marine products per day. I promise you will be amazed by the variety of fish and seafood on display and completely engrossed in the very busy atmosphere of the markets, a mayhem of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers. The famous Tuna auction is held in the inner market. In the outer market, retail shops and restaurants cater to the Public. The number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day. If you wish to see the auction, you will need to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center. You then need to turn up very early in the morning. Entry is on a first come, first served basis and entry through the Kachidoki Gate starts at 5:00 am. A visit to Tsukiji Market should definitely be combined with a fresh Sushi breakfast or Kaisen Don (1000 yen, currently 5£)
Akihabara (秋葉原) is a district of Tokyo famous for its plethora of electronic shops, arcades, manga and maid cafes. Hundreds of electronic shops, from tiny stalls to giant shopping malls, line the main street Chuo Dori. You can buy anything from the newest computers and cameras to second-hand PlayStations, hugely expensive retro memorabilia and electronic junk. In recent times, Akihabara has gained a reputation as the center of Japan’s Otaku culture. Head to Akihabara if you seek stores that specialize in anime, manga, retro video games, figurines, card games and other collectible. The most surreal experience we had in Japan must have been lunch at a Maids Cafe – hugely popular establishments, where waitresses dress up and act like anime maids and you are turned into their master.
I bet you are now in dire need for some culture and traditions. Kanda (神田), although not typically a tourist destination, used to be the site of a Confucian School and still an academic center for young and old. The district offers several interesting neighborhoods, such as the Ochanomizu Music Instrument Area and the Jimbocho Book-District. Kanda is also speckled with some delightful shrines, such as the Myojin Shrine and the Yushima Seido Shrine.
DAY 8: DAY-TRIP TO KAMAKURA
Kamakura (鎌倉) is a coastal town an hour south of Tokyo. It was once the political centre of Japan. Today the small town of Kamakura is a very popular tourist destination. Also know as the Kyoto of the East, it offers numerous temples, shrines and monuments to its visitors. In order to get to Kamakura head to Tokyo station and board the JR Yokosuka Line. A one-way trip costs 920 yen (currently 5£). Along the way, the train will stop at Shinagawa station, Yokohama Station and Kita-Kamakura. Alight the train at Kita-Kamakura and then head south to Kamakura, popping into as many temples as you like on the way.
Engakuji is the second largest Zen Temple Complex in Kamakura and a leading Zen temple in Eastern Japan. The Temple was built to honour the fallen Japanese and Mongolian soldiers of the Mongolian invasion. Engakuji was built into the sloping hills of Kita-Kamakura’s surrounding forest. Within the Temple complex lies Shariden Hall, where a tooth of Buddha is said to have been enshrined. Admission to the Engakuji Temple will set you back 300 yen.
Meigetsuin Temple (明月院) is also known as Ajisaidera, the Hydrangea Temple. Hydrangeas, especially the Hime Ajisai variety, bloom in abundance in the Temple’s surrounding grounds. The temple was originally built by a son to commemorate his belated father. It later became part of the larger Temple Complex called Zenkoji. Within the Temple grounds lies its main Hall. A beautifully designed circular window frames the scenery of the inner garden that lies behind. Known for its irises, the inner garden is only open to visitors in June and late November. Admission to the Meigetsuin temple costs 300 yen.
Kenchoji is the most elaborate of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples. It is also the oldest. Kenchoji is a large Temple complex that stretches far into the forested hills of Kamakura and consists of a large number of temples and sub-temples. The Kenchoji Temple Bell Bonsho has been designated a national treasure in its own right. Behind the Butsuden Hall lies the largest wooden Temple building in eastern Japan. It houses a statue of Kannon and features a beautifully painted ceiling.
THE KAMAKURA DAIBUTSU
The Daibutsu, Great Buddha of Kamakura sits on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple. Kamakura is probably most famous for this large bronze Statue. At a height of 13.35 meters, the Kamakura Daibutsu is Japan’s second tallest bronze Buddha, surpassed only by the Daibutsu of Nara. Whilst the temple and its grounds were destroyed multiple times by Typhoons and Tidal Waves, the Daibutsu, built in 1252, has survived until today. If you arrive before 5pm, you can enter this great statue to view the inside of the Great Daibutsu.
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HEADING TO TOKYO ?
If you are planning a trip to Japan, you might want to consider buying one of the following guidebooks. All of these books are ones that we used ourselves on our trip and that I highly recommend.
Read reviews for Hotels, Restaurants and attractions in Tokyo, Japan on TripAdvisor
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