Tokyo is a city unlike any other. The past and future fuse together to create a captivating, bustling metropolitan area with no shortage of entertainment. How can you possibly see everything in a day? You can’t. But you can visit some of the most memorable and worthwhile locations in a single day by tackling public transportation like a master Tokyo urbanite.
The first thing you need to do is buy a Tokyo Free Ticket. Purchasing one of these saves a ridiculous amount of money, because you will be relying trains. For adults, the Tour Ticket is 1590 yen. Kids are 800 yen. You get access to unlimited rides on any public transportation service—trains, subway, monorail, bus. Pick one up at any JR East Ticket Office called Midori-no-Madoguchi (みどりの窓口) or View Plaza Travel Service.
You will be depending on the JR Yamanote Line, the Tokyo Metro Ginza line, and the Toei Oedo Line. These three lines form a circuit around the Tokyo Metropolitan area, granting access to must-see attractions.
It’s important to note that anytime you see a notation like (E20), it is a Metro line and station number. For example, E20 refers to Daimon Station near Tokyo Tower.
Depending on when and where you plan on starting your day in Tokyo, the route alters slightly. The earlier you get moving, the more you can see.
Also consider ending your day near your departure point. If you have one day in Tokyo but plan on moving on to Kyoto or Osaka the next, get yourself close to a shinkansen (bullet train) or night bus station for convenience. If you’re catching a plane, be sure to give yourself enough time to get there—typically two hours before your scheduled flight.
The first train is at 5:00 AM. Being your day then, unless you can get yourself to Ginza the night before for a more relaxed start. If you can get up early, consider 5:00 AM the commencement point. Skip to No. 3 or 4 if that’s a no.
1. Tsukiji Fish Market Accessible from the Yamanote line, Shimbashi Station. Tsukiji is a world famous fish market that is open to the public the instant the first cargo crate hits the dock. This is your one shot to getting the freshest, most delicious sushi available in Japan. Line ups outside of sushi shops start as early as 5:00 AM, so make sure you secure a spot fast. Closed on Wednesdays.
2. Ginza Kabukiza and the Shopping District After your done fueling up on sushi from Tsukiji, walk towards the famous Kabuki theater Kabukiza for some photos then continue on to the Ginza shopping district, where world famous fashion brand stores line the streets. Be sure to check out the Ginza Yonchome Intersection, which features a fantastic architectural line up.
From Ginza Station (G09), ride up to Kyobashi (G10) using the Tokyo Metro Ginza line. Kyobashi station is right in front of some incredible landmarks.
3. Tokyo International Forum The doors open at 7:00 AM. The Forum is a humongous hall for concerts, musicals and dozens of other events. At any time, there are exhibitions set up, as well as some beautiful artwork and architecture. Head through the Forum to exit on the western side, facing the Imperial Palace.
4. Marunochi Nakadori A famous road lined with stunning greenery, traditional Japanese food stories, and souvenir stalls. You feel as if you’ve traveled back to the era of the samurai.
5. The Imperial Palace Check out where the Imperial family resides and the Double Bridge (Nijubashi), featuring a wooden bridge and the Eyeglass Bridge. Though you can’t get onto the royal grounds, you can walk through the East Gardens (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen), where foundations of the original Edo Castle stand amongst marvelous landscaping.
If you opt to see the gardens, you will most likely exit from the north, so go to Takebashi Station (T08) and take the Tozai Line to Ootemachi Station (T09), putting you within walkable distance of Tokyo Station, where you can hop on the Yamanote Line.
Take the train bound for Akihabara.
6. Kaiyodo Hobby Lobby Tokyo For the tinkerer or Lego-lover. The only retail shop for Kaiyodo, a renowned model manufacturer, in Tokyo. You can find anything from your favorite anime character to beloved Japanese landmarks and mascots along the aisles. Hours are from 11:00 AM-8:00 PM.
7. Chuo Street and Electric Town Home of Yodobashi Camera, a 9-story mega-market of low-priced otaku goods and electronics. Day or night, Akihabara’s Electric Town is a blazingly bright and crazy place to visit. There are maid cafes, souvenir shops, cosplayers, video game outlets, and much, much more lining the streets.
8. Kanda Myojin Shrine Built in the year 730, this shrine is a marvel, a place where nearly 1300 years of Shinto traditions blend with otaku culture. Two gods, Ebisu and Daikoku, are supposedly enshrined here. Since they are gods of fortune and favor, throw them a coin or two. You might be rewarded with witnessing a technological blessing ceremony, where companies pray for protection from identity theft and hacking. No joke.
After seeing the madness of Akihabara, head towards Suehirocho Station/末広町駅 (G14 on the Ginza Line). Next stop: Ueno (G16).
9. Ameyoko South of the station, this is super narrow street crammed with Western clothing, Japanese sundries, fish, fruit, souvenirs and an overabundance of tourists.
10. Shinobazu Pond You don’t need to see the entirety of Ueno Park to be amazed by the beauty of it. Shinobazu Park is a quiet retreat in the middle of a bustling area.
11. Ueno Park – Museums and Attractions If you have time to see a few attractions, I highly recommend checking these out:
Ueno Zoological Gardens: Open from 9:30 AM-5:00 PM. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum: Open from 9:30 AM-5:30 PM. National Museum of Engineering Science and Innovation (Miraikan): Admission for adults is 620 yen, and for 18 years or younger it’s 210 yen. Open from 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.
Now, you can make a choice here: Do you want to see Asakusa and Sky Tree? Or would you rather head towards Ikebukuro? If you choose Ikebukuro, take the Yamanote Line from Ueno (skip to Number 14). You’ll arrive at Ikebukuro station in less than 15 minutes.
If bound for Asakusa from Ueno, take the Ginza line to Asakusa Station (G19). There you can connect to the Sky Tree Line. However, you can see Sky Tree clearly from just about any high point in Japan. Skip it if you want.
12. Nakamise Shopping Street and Sensoji Temple This is a journey you have to take. Walking through the massive Thunder Gates to a bustling shopping street bursting with treasures from over 90 stores is a tourist rite of passage. Upon arriving at Sensoji Temple, join the locals in prayer and take pictures of the beautiful buildings surrounding you.
Ride the train back to Ueno and board the JR Yamanote Line bound for Ikebukuro.
13. Animate Ikebukuro Headquarters If you didn’t get enough anime at Akihabara, Ikebukuro has its own home for otaku culture. The Animate building is several floors of manga, DVDs, CDs and various collectible merchandise.
14. Sunshine City Probably the biggest attraction in Ikebukuro, simply because there are multiple must-sees mushed into one monolithic building. Sunshine City has an aquarium, an international forum, clothing and home goods stores, Namjatown (a cutesy indoor amusement park), a Pokemon Center, restaurants and an observation deck on the 65th floor. Since there’s so much to experience in Sunshine City, I recommend sticking around for a meal. Not only are there the “Sky Restaurants,” there are great mini-stops scattered throughout the lower floors.
Return to Ikebukuro Station after your jaunt through Sunshine City. Board the Yamanote Line bound for Shibuya. Yes, you’re skipping hyped-up Shinjuku. Instead, the next stop is at one of two destinations—Yoyogi or Harajuku—for a historical landmark or shopping mecca.
15. Meiji Jingu Built in 1920, Meiji Shrine is a popular tourist spot but also a place of lively cultural activities and events. The shrine is accessible from Yoyogi station.
16. Yoyogi Park This park encircles Meiji Shrine. Sprawling green gives way to impromptu parties and busking. There is never a dull moment in Yoyogi Koen. South you’ll find National Yoyogi Stadium. Unlike other parks around Tokyo, Yoyogi has no admission fee.
17. Takeshita Doori and Omotesando The beauty of Harajuku station is that you are dropped off right in front of Takeshita Doori, a road crammed with specialty and used clothing shops, affordable purikura booths, ethnic food stores and thousands of people. Continue down Takeshita Doori to find H&M, Forever 21 and the way to Omotesando, a premiere shopping district.
Recommended food stops:
Marion Crepes or Santa Monica Crepes. Both taste the same, but one is usually busier than the other. Go for a shorter line. Sushi Nova – Part internet café, part sushi restaurant. 2nd floor of the Ito building on Takeshita Dori. Café Hohokam – The top-ranked burger joint in Tokyo seconds from Takeshita Dori, along Meiji Dori. Address 2F, 3-22-14 Jinguumae, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture.
If you want to walk to Shibuya Station, head south along Meiji Dori. It’s about 10-15 minutes. Otherwise, return back to Harajuku Station and take the 2-minute ride. Unless you need a picture of the Hachiko statue or Shibuya 109, there’s nothing particularly special about Shibuya. Take my advice and ride the Yamanote Line to and disembark at Hamamatsucho Station.
18. Zojoji Temple The main temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism and dates back to the 1600s. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s family mausoleum is one the temple’s grounds. Open from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.
19. Tokyo Tower Unless you want to enter for the views, you can see the tower in its glory from Zojo-ji temple and save yourself the 900-yen fee. The nighttime sights are worth it though. Open from 9:00 AM-11:00 PM.
If you didn’t stop to eat at Harajuku, Daimon Station (E20) is surrounded with bars, tonkatsu and ramen shops with meal sets as low as 1000 yen.
From Daimon Station, if you’re flying out of Narita Airport, you can head north to Shimbashi, get the Ginza line and go to Ueno or Nippori. If you’re leaving out of Haneda Airport, you can get the monorail from Shimbashi.
The beauty of this plan is that it can also be done backward. After visiting the Imperial Gardens in Yurakucho/Ginza, go to Tokyo Station and ride the southbound Yamanote line for Shimbashi and Hamamastucho Station instead. From Zojo-ji, you can use the Toei Oedo Line from Akabanebashi Station (E21) to bring you to Roppongi or return to Hamamatsucho to fly to Shibuya. Follow the circuit backward from there and end in Asakusa or by Tokyo Sky Tree.
This is by no means Tokyo in its entirety. Going to these mentioned destinations barely scratches at the surface of the multi-layered city, but you can certainly immerse yourself in the most scintillating facets of Japanese culture and history. From the architectural beauty of temples and shrines to the congested streets of Ginza and Takeshita Dori, you will depart from Tokyo with hundreds of happy memories.