Japan is high up on the list of best destinations we've ever been! We have returned several times because the food, history, culture, and natural beauty are one of a kind. There is so much to see and do, the people are incredibly kind and helpful, the country is spotlessly clean, and the public transportation system is in a league of its own. So, let's go! Here's a plan for how to see Tokyo in 5 days.
Day 1: (Arrival/ Shibuya)
There are two international airports in Tokyo. The first and closest is Heneda International Airport. If you can, you should fly into this airport, as it is only a quick 30 minute train ride to get in to Tokyo Central Station, and from there you can easily transfer to any area you happen to be staying in. (Japan's public transportation is state of the art, so this is one country where you should not rent a car!) We flew into Narita International Airport, the farther of the two airports, because we happened to find the best airfare deal through it, though. So if you stumble across a great deal like us and find yourself landing in Narita, the fastest and cheapest way to get from the airport into Tokyo, is via the Narita Express.
For accommodations, we have stayed in both hotels and rentals and we by far prefer the latter option for accommodations in Japan. Japanese hotel rooms are notoriously small, extremely expensive and primarily cater to business travelers. Besides, Japan is a country where you will want to be out exploring all day (and night!), so even if you book a fancy hotel room, you probably won't be using it much anyway. You can find very nice full apartments for rent right in the heart of the city and for great prices on AirBnb. Besides being cheaper, apartments are more ideal for family and tourist travel, because you can prepare small meals in your home kitchen and do your own laundry which enables you to travel much lighter (especially important in Japan, where you'll want to take trains across the entire country and need as few bags as possible for navigating all those stations!)
We highly recommend staying in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, because it is a vibrant neighborhood where you can truly experience Tokyo's heartbeat. Shibuya boasts unique shopping, a lively nightlife, great restaurants including the Japanese vending machine style ones and conveyor belt sushi (both of which you should totally try!), and it's also a transportation hub granting you easy access to the rest of Tokyo.
While most of your first day will be eaten up by arrival details and getting situated, we recommend you definitely get out a little and see some sights, but not too far lest the ol' jet lag sets in. Walk around, soak in the vibe, go out to eat, visit the local stores and get a feel for your new neighborhood. While you are exploring Shibuya, be sure to check out the famous Shibuya Crossing, the world's busiest intersection. Embrace the chaos, and then view it from above at the Starbucks perched above the intersection. Make sure to also stop by and visit Hachiko, the famous dog statue. If you are looking for a place for a night drink, check out Nonbei Yokocho (Alley for the Drunks), where you'll find rows of tiny bars. If you are visiting in the Spring, don't miss Sakuragaoka-cho street which has a tunnel of cherry blossoms in full bloom and will make the perfect end to your first day in Tokyo.
Day 2: (Toyosu/ Tsukiji/ Marunouchi/ Odaiba)
1. Toyosu Fish Market: Explore the world's largest seafood market! This market is brand new and has recently been relocated from its old famous spot in Tsukiji. If you can wake up early enough, you can observe the famous Bluefin tuna auction, where Maguro tuna are auctioned live from upwards of $10,000 and even as high as 3 million dollars each! (Check in at the Information Desk at the market entrance before 5am as the auction officially begins with the ringing of the bell at 5:30am). Pro-tip: Take a taxi to the Shinjomae station because the trains will not be running early enough to catch the live tuna auction. Otherwise, if you sleep in, you will still want to take some time to wander this unique fish market, admiring rare seafood creatures, seeing the comings and goings of the fishermen at work, and while you're there, make sure to visit the Uogashi Suijinja, a shrine to protect the fishermen.
2. Tsukiji Outer Fish Market: This was the old site of the huge fish market, and the outer stalls are still open. It's a worth a visit to go see the historic site where the market used to be, as well as to sample fresh sashimi off the street. It's only a short 15 minute taxi or bus ride away, so after viewing the auction, go here to eat breakfast! Also, visit the Namiyoke Inari, the original fishermen shrine.
3. Hamarikyu Onshi-Teien Garden:
This gorgeous Japanese garden is just a short half mile walk south from the fish market. Entry for adults is 300y while children are free. Spend some time meandering through, admiring the perfectly manicured paths and unique plants. Cross the cedar bridge and in the middle of the river is a traditional Japanese tea house built in 1704. Take off your shoes, go on in and enjoy a warm cup of matcha green tea and Japanese sweets served in the traditional style at Nakajima No Ochaya Teahouse.
4. After your break, walk west about a quarter mile to the Shiodome Station and take the JR Yamanote Line to Tokyo Central Station, Marunouchi North Exit. The Central Station is an architectural marvel in itself and you may want to take some time exploring it. If you are hungry for lunch, check out the Marunouchi and its twin the Shin-Marunouchi buildings across from the station with restaurants on the 5th floor and a nice view.
5. Otemon Imperial Palace East Gardens: Built in 1888, it was the largest palace of its time. The actual palace is closed to the public, but you can tour the East Gardens and still get fabulous photographs of the palace in the background. From Tokyo Central Station, it's just a short stroll up Naka-dori, a pretty tree-lined avenue with upscale cafes and shops to reach the palace.
From Tokyo Station, take the train to Shimbashi station and ride the Yurikamome monorail through skyscrapers and across the rainbow bridge to the artificial island of Odaiba. Odaiba island was built in the 90s and has a modern and futuristic look. Walk through the Las Vegas- inspired promenade and visit Kaihin-koen a lovely seaside park. In Odaiba, you can ride the ferris wheel, explore Toyota City, see a replica of the Statue of Liberty and pose with a giant and we mean GIANT Gundam.
Day 3: (Ueno/ Asakusa)
1. Tokyo National Museum: Take the JR Yamanote line to Ueno and walk to the Tokyo National Museum (adults are 600Y and children are free). If you only visit one museum in Tokyo, this should be it, as it houses the world's largest collection of Japanese art, pottery, Samurai swords, and kimono.
2. Ueno Park: The Tokyo National Museum is located in this big, beautiful park, so while you are in the area, be sure to take some time to explore! This is the best viewing area for cherry blossoms if you find yourself in Tokyo in the Spring. Some highlights of the park complex include the Kiyomizu Kannon-do (Tokyo's oldest temple), Toshogu a beautiful shrine and Shinobazu pond where you can rent swan shaped paddle boats.
3. Tokyo Sky Tree: Take the Hanzomon line to Oshiage Station. It costs 2000y per person to ride to the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree, and be prepared for lines, but it is worth it! On clear days you can spot Mount Fuji from the top of this tower, which is the second tallest in the world!
4. Senso-ji Temple: This beautiful temple is open 24 hours and is especially nice to visit at night when it's all lit up. Take the Ginza line to Asakusa, and take exit 1. The entrance to the temple complex begins at the vibrant red Kaminarimon gate. Walk up nakamise dori, a great street with little shops and visit the 5 story pagoda inside the comp
Day 4: (Harajuku/ Ebisu/ Roppongi)
1. Meiji Shrine: Take the JR Yamanote line to Harajuku, and exit at Omote-sando. Tour this shrine built for Tokyo's first modern emporer. The area of Harajuku is also where Tokyo's fashionistas like to shop and show off, making it a great place to people watch. Stroll along Omote-Sando street and marvel at the Dior, Louis Vaton and Prada buildings.
2. Walk the Ebisu Skywalk to explore the Yebisu Garden Place, a micro-city filled with shops and restaurants. To get there, take the JR Yamanote line to Ebisu Station, East exit.
3. Sengaku-ji: This location is particularly interesting if you watched the movie 47 Ronin and are familiar with its history. Take the Asakusa line to Sengaku-ji, and exit at A2. Here you will find the actual tombs of the 47 ronin soldiers who didn't have a samurai and who avenged their master by committing seppuku (ritual disembowelment).
4. Zojo-ji and Atago-jinja located in the area of Roppongi are two temples with a short walk in between them and are both prettiest all lit up at night. Also in this area is Tokyo Tower, so you might want to take another ride to the top, this time to see a different view of Tokyo, one of the sparkling night lights. But, if you only desire to go to the top of one tower, let it be Tokyo Sky Tree, as it is the grander and taller of the two towers.
Day 5: (Shinjuku/ Iidabashi/ Akihabara)
1. Shinjuku: Start your morning by exploring the unique area of Shinjuku. There are several places of interest here, including the Hanazono shrine and the Ghibli Museum. Fans of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away will love this museum, as it contains the original sketches. Tickets must be purchased online ahead of time.
2. Iidabashi: To explore this area, start at the Yasakuni shrine, the shrine for Japan's war dead, and if you are interested further, there is a Japanese military and war museum next door called Yushu-kan. Next walk a quarter mile north, across the Sotobori Moat, and find yourself in an eclectic neighborhood called Kagurazaka. This is the old geisha quarter with winding cobblestone streets, that feels like you stepped into Tokyo 100 years ago. After meandering awhile, walk another half mile East to the Koishikawa Korakuen. This incredible Japanese garden is arguable the best in central Tokyo and encompasses the Tokyo Dome Stadium. Don't miss the Engetsu-kyo (Full-Moon bridge) there, built in the early Edo period.
3. Akihabara: A short 10 minute train ride away on the JR Yamanote line will take you to the neighborhood of Akihabara. Exit at Electric Town. This lively neighborhood is the center of Tokyo's manga and anime scene. Another great neighborhood for people watching as it is common to see cosplayers. If you are looking to reminisce a little and want to buy or play retro games, check Super Potato Retro-kan.
Don't let this be in the end of your Japan trip! While a visit to Tokyo is a must, we still prefer the beauty and culture of Kyoto in the south. Make sure to leave plenty of days on your trip to explore the other amazing areas of Japan and follow along because we will be posting itineraries for the rest of Japan soon! What's your favorite place in Tokyo? Let us know in the comments!