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Having led many a tour group around Japan’s capital, Mark Rawlins has perfected the best way to make the most of 24 hours in Tokyo.
How to spend 24 hours in Tokyo
Tokyo, one of the world’s great 24-hour cities, cannot be covered in such a short matter of time. Having said that, with its first-class transport system and the sheer range of activities and experiences on offer, you certainly will have a blast no matter how you choose to spend those precious 24 hours.
A great way to spend breakfast in Tokyo is to start the day with a treat: sushi at the worlds largest fish market, Tsukiji. The original fish market was built close to (what was then) Edo castle in order to feed the Shogun. After the Rice Riots in the early part of the 20th Century the Meiji Government moved the market to its current location. It sits right on Tokyo Bay, and offers the freshest fish in the city.
The current government has plans to move the market again, so now is a great time to see this historical place while its still here. Choose the omakase course if you are stuck on what to order (chef’s recommendation).
After filling up on a big breakfast you will want to walk it off at one of Tokyo’s splendid strolling Japanese gardens. There are many to consider, including Hamarikyu, Rikugien, and Korakuen. My favourite, however, is the aptly named Kiyosumi garden. ‘Kiyosumi’ translates as ‘clear water’, and among all the gardens of Tokyo, Kiyosumi allows the closest interaction between yourself and water. You’ll hop onto rocks placed in its central pond while watching the koi carp and egrets going about their lives in blissful peace and tranquility. It is truly a haven within the big city.
Moving on, it’s time to learn a little about the history of this great city. The Edo-Tokyo Museum is a fantastic introduction of the Edo period (1603 – 1868), and pushes through to the Showa Era of Japanese prosperity. The museum is situated in Ryogoku, next to the famous Sumo Stadium, and covers everything from the miniature model of Edo Castle, through woodblock prints and daily life, right up to the Meiji modernisation.
My personal favourite is the scale model of the ‘cloud scraper’ – a twelve-story building originally built in the Asakusa area of the city. A good alternative to the Edo-Tokyo Museum is the nearby Hokusai Museum (for those fans of the ‘Great Wave’ and other works of woodblock prints).
Next you’ll want to learn a little bit about how some of today’s Japanese live – there is probably no better example than Akihabara. The image you have in your mind of Tokyo is very likely to correspond with this area, also known as ‘Electric Town’.
It got its name from the numerous electronic stores that set up shop in the area post-war, but it has far outgrown these humble beginnings. Check out at least one game centre, as well as a cat café while you are here. To go full ‘wacky’, stop for lunch in one of the numerous Maid Cafés. Here you will be served simple ‘homemade’ dishes while being called ‘princess’ or ‘master’, depending on your sex. For an extra bit of fun, walk west to Kanda Myojin shrine and buy a protective charm for your laptop in the form of a computer chip!
Time to let Tokyo sink in for a while and take a breather. Just a few stop on the train to the north of Akihabara is one of my favourite parts of town, Yanesen (exit at Nippori Station). This area feels almost stuck in a time warp. Due to the high number of Buddhist temples it managed to avoid much of the bombing during the Second World War, and the people here run their family businesses just as they have done for decades. Take a stroll down Yanaka Ginza and try some traditional sweets. Then grab a coffee and breathe in the atmosphere of days gone by.
By this time you will probably be looking towards grabbing some dinner. First, however, I would highly recommend stopping at Shinjuku. The station here is the busiest in the world, but never fear, keep following the signs for the East Exit and you’ll come out right in the midst of the action. On this side of the station you have some of the most prestigious department stores in the city, such as Takashimaya, Isetan, and Marui. All of these have food courts on in the basement, offering a chance to see some beautifully presented (and expensive!) fruits, amongst many other treats.
Walk towards Kabuki-cho to see the neon lights and endless streams of people heading out for the evening. Look out also for the statue of Godzilla (I won’t spoil the surprise, but look up!)
If you would like more time in Shinjuku I recommend the Samurai Museum, offering the chance to not only see, but also try on some armour and hold a sword. Alternatively, great views can be found from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building on the west of the station. For dinner, however, we are heading elsewhere…
Yurakucho and Shimbashi
Yurakucho and Shimbashi stations are back in the heart of the city, surrounded by the corporate offices of many of Japan’s most famous companies. For this reason, these areas are truly ‘where the locals eat’. Under the tracks at the station you will find a wide variety of izakaya restaurants, offering a wide choice of foods at great value.
The atmosphere can be quite raucous, but the locals are far more likely to want to strike up conversation than anything else. Prepare one or two Japanese phrases in advance to make friends extremely quickly. Nearby Shimbashi offers a chance to sit down with the locals in one of a number of cosy bars for a nightcap and a final “kanpai” (“cheers!”) to finish your day in Tokyo.
Caveat: If you are not ready for bed yet (and I recommend getting your full 8 hours for tomorrow…) then head over to Shibuya to a small block of bars at. These bars typically open at around 8pm, but have no closing time – so you really can get your full 24-hours in Tokyo!
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