Last week, we now know what are the ten things we should prepare for when you go to Japan. But with so many places to choose from, where do I begin? Is it worth it to go to Yokohama first or Mt Fuji? Well, I kid you not. With all the choices out there, it’s easy to set fill up an itinerary but be left with dismay.
Fret not. You don’t need to waste your precious Japan time finding the wrong itinerary mix. Based on my experience, I give you my ultimate guide to the best of Tokyo (and what to avoid in it).
Take Note: I decided to post separate articles for different day-trip itineraries. Aside from it getting really long, I would want to make it modular so that you can interchange the itineraries whichever may fit your needs.
BUT FIRST, I HIGHLY SUGGEST. In the First Days, Book Your Hotel in Ueno Area
If you will start your Japan journey, most of you will fly to Narita Airport. If this is the case, I highly suggest booking your first hostel/hostel in the Ueno area.
Why is this? Well, I suggest this for convenience. Taxis in Japan are ultra expensive. The airport is a ¥30,000 ride to the city. You don’t want to waste money on it.
From Narita, the most convenient transport is the Narita Skyliner. But it stops until Ueno station only. You have to transfer to another train line to get to your destination.
You don’t want to lug your luggage to transfer to the crowded Tokyo Metro just because you booked your hotel in another area. It will save you time and the hassle. You want this trip to be as relaxing as possible, not a preview of the amazing race.
Foodie Tip: you might be really hungry upon arrival, try out the Yoshinoya in the 2nd floor of Narita Terminal 2. It’s really different from your country’s Yoshinoya. I swear. The Japanese beef, the salmon. In my case, it’s even better than other Japanese restaurants in the Philippines. It’s relatively cheap too!
Head to Ueno Park
After you relaxed quite a bit, head to Ueno Park roughly before sunset. It’s one of the largest parks in Japan. It houses numerous temples, 1000 cherry blossom trees, and multiple other florae lined up for your soothing walk in nature.
Check out this link for all the sites in it. But honestly, whether you are a city person or a nature person, just walking through the park is enjoyable for both already.
Next to your nature walk, head to Ikebukuro station for Sunshine City. This whole building is like a literal city. There are hundreds of shops, an aquarium, a museum, an observation deck, an indoor theme park (Namja Town), and many more.
You can lose track of time just by strolling around its corridors. For me, the most notable area in this place is the Pokemon center! I practically grew up with thousands of hours with my Gameboy. Imagine my happiness when I saw a real-life Pokemon hub.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pick up an English Map of the building so that you know exactly where to go. Japanese efficiency at its finest.
Shop at Ueno’s Ameyoko
After your fun-filled stop in Sunshine City, pass by Ameyoko before you head back to your hotel. Ameyoko is a market filled with relatively cheaper shops and some good finds.
There are second-hand luxury shops here. Tax-free Matsumoto Kiyoshi for your skincare needs. Or some fancy Japan embroidered souvenir Jackets. If you’re lucky, you can even find some on sale as low as ¥5000 (normal price at ¥10,000 up)!
There are numerous Izakaya’s (Japanese pub) here where you can drink at your heart’s content.
Avoid: If you want to be adventurous also, there are pubs who offer dolphin sashimi. But honestly, I don’t like the taste. Better try the normal ones like oysters and normal sashimi!
Start of the Day Tour:
Tokyo Sky Tree. But Avoid Going Up.
We will start our day in the Tokyo Skytree. The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan with a panoramic view of Tokyo skyline. Although it may be a must to go up there, I don’t suggest it. The queue before you can go is just too time-consuming. And it’s really crowded. (And expensive!)
Even with this, it’s a magnificent structure you can enjoy without going up. I’ll suggest somewhere better and cheaper as this article progresses. So calm your altitude seeking self.
What I really liked in this place beside the towering structure are the shops on the fourth floor. It’s placed with traditional but quirky Japanese stuff. There are also stores with high-quality crafts (chopstick, artisan knives, etc.), a Studio Ghibli Totoro emporium, and another Pokemon center!
Also, there are museum exhibits on the 5th floor for free. The last time I went, there was an interactive digital planetary exhibit, a samurai sword made of meteorite, and a Life-size Macross F Robot.
If you’re done exploring, let’s go to the next site.
Asakusa Kaminarimon and Sensoji Temple
Arguably one of the most iconic sites in Japan. No Tokyo tourist should miss Asakusa’s Sensoji temple. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and boasts millions of visitors per year. And you will really feel the millions when you arrive will all the tourist flocking.
But even with the barrage of sightseeing people, it’s definitely a sight to behold. The temple is just so beautiful. It makes you want to just stare at it.
Must do: Additionally every year, I always get an omikuji for the next year’s fortune.
Basically, it’s a piece of paper that predicts your future. You get it by picking a stick after shaking the box. The stick has a designated number. Get your paper fortune corresponding to the number on the stick.
I don’t know if it’s true. But it became my yearly tradition. If you get a bad fortune, just wrap the omikuji in the pole. Do not take it out of the temple!
Japanese Goods and Edo-Inspired Back Alley
The shops in the vicinity also offer some traditional keychains and charms. You may want to get some before you leave.
Cheapo Tip: The shops near the main temple towards the end have cheaper prices compared to those in front for THE SAME ITEM! You have been warned.
But the real beauty of this temple complex is the rustic area behind it. If you explore, behind Sensoji temple, you will see some shops designed as if you were in the Edo period. You may want to take some pictures or eat at the side restaurants. It’s truly an experience.
You now finished touring the area. On to the next sight.
Spot the Asahi Golden “Thing”
Walking just beyond Sensoji, you can see the Asahi building. You wouldn’t miss it because it has this golden “thing” shaped-like a pseudo gourd. It’s peculiar actually. With research, I found out that it represents Asahi’s golden flame of passion.
Ride the Sumida River Cruise
Moving forward, I implore you to ride the Sumida River Cruise from Asakusa to Odaiba. It might be quite pricey, but it’s a relaxing ride. You can see Tokyo from a different vantage point. You can even be lucky and ride this futuristic alien-like ship!
Towards the end of the route, you can go up the deck and see the rainbow bridge! Go on and take out your camera as you immerse yourself with its architectural beauty.
Odaiba: Tokyo’s City of Water + More
After the cruise, you now alight in Odaiba. Odaiba is a reclaimed manmade island in the Tokyo Bay area. In its vicinity, you can find multiple tourist areas, island-themed shopping malls, and even indoor amusement parks.
Aqua City: Statue of Liberty and Humanoid Robot
When you arrive, you will be docked right in front of Aqua City. Aqua City is a shopping mall famed for their Statue of Liberty replica and the humanoid robot receptionist inside (Terminator?)! You can also find a lot of outlet stores inside the mall.
Decks: Theme Parks, Japanese Lucky Box, and Takoyaki Museum
Just beside Aqua City is another mall with a different highlight in itself. The Decks mall boasts a “boat deck”-like motif amidst multiple attractions. Inside it, you can find the Joypolis theme park (think Sonic the Hedgehog, Ace Attorney, and Tokyo Ghoul!), Madame Tussaud’s and Legoland.
But what I really liked in this place is the fourth-floor “Daiba Itchome Shotengai”.
It compares to a somewhat quaint retro Japanese festival bazaar area. The one unique store you can consume most of your time in is the Japanese Luck Box Store.
Basically, the lucky box store scatters multiple boxes where certain “lucky boxes” have premium prizes. Some even get apple products from them. You may try your luck and win some prizes!
Pro Tip: And after the shaking of the boxes, you can head to the takoyaki museum on the same floor. Basically, it’s just a collection of stores with different Takoyaki themes. But honestly, I really love the mainstream Gindaco than their offerings. Sorry.
Fuji TV Tower: Tokyo Skyline
After all the fun in those theme parks, just one block away is the Fuji TV Tower. It’s the eye-catching building with the orb-like observatory embedded in it. Remember when I told you not to climb up Tokyo Skytree? It’s because of this.
You can go up the observatory to view Tokyo’s skyline without so many tourists and at just ¥500! It’s best to head here during the night.
Diver City: Lifesize Gundam
Enjoying the skyline? Now, you can head to a robotic destination in Diver City with Lifesize Unicorn Gundam display. Better be there at around 730 PM to 930 PM because you can see the large robot transform with matching Gundam theme song. This plays every 30 minutes starting 730 PM.
Palette Town: Ferris Wheel, Toyota Museum, and Venus Fort
This will probably be your last stop. Just a few steps away, you can go to another outlet store named “Palette Town”. Upon entering, you will see an illuminating Ferris wheel. Almost like an icon of this place, it’s like Japan’s answer to the London Eye.
Exploring further, you will see a free museum by Toyota. The 2nd floor has installations of futuristic cars and free VR experiences and activities for all ages.
After this, you can enter Venus Fort. The special thing about this place is its Venetian interior coupled with artificial blue skies. At the center, you will see a Victorian-inspired fountain held by statues of beautiful women.
Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari
If you still have the time, there is a service bus from Tokyo Teleport station (just near Palette Town) for the next attraction.
With this, you can visit Odaiba Oedo Onsen Monogatari for a quick relaxing soak. Oedo Onsen is the most popular onsen or “public bathhouse” in Tokyo. In here, you can choose a yukata and enter the festival like installation inside.
The hot spring inside is really relaxing after a long day. You can stay here until 10 PM – 11 PM before you head back to your hotel. If you want to stay longer, better check the last train to Ueno from your Google maps. Also, take note that you can’t bathe if you have tattoos.
Phew, so much done. Did you enjoy your first day? Watch out for the next part of this comprehensive itinerary next week.