Back in February, Colin and I headed to Southeast Asia for three weeks. On the way there and back, we had stops in Tokyo. On the way there, we only had time for a quick sushi dinner. But on the way back to Vancouver, we had 24 hours in Tokyo and we sure made the most of it!
This wasn’t my first time in Tokyo. I actually spent a month in Tokyo back in 2014 working as a guide with a language program. I was responsible for ensuring the students, mostly from the US, were doing okay, attending classes and adjusting well. At the same time, I got to live with a Japanese homestay and attend language classes myself. It was a very cool experience and probably some of the best eating of my life, though I’ve retained zero of the Japanese that I learned.
But this time, we only had 24 hours in Tokyo to explore as much as we could. I was excited to revisit some old sights and show Colin this amazing city, as it was his first time in Japan. And after 24 hours in Tokyo, we both can’t wait to come back!
Here’s the best way to spend 24 hours in Tokyo:
Our first stop was Senso-ji Temple. Actually, our first stop was Denny’s for breakfast. It was the closest open restaurant to our hotel and right next to the temple, so we went for it!
Senso-ji Temple is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Tokyo. And even first thing in the morning in February, it was pretty busy. But it’s still worth it. Check out the giant red lantern, walk down the streets of Nakimase with a million little shops, and visit the grand temple at the back. Tokyo is a city where old meets new, and the Senso-ji Temple is a great spot to embrace traditional Japanese culture.
From there, we hopped on the subway to Akihabara. I thought Colin would love this modern part of Tokyo where video games, eletronics, arcades and manga reign supreme. As it was early hours on a weekday, the area wasn’t quite as bumping as the last time I went on a weekend night. But it was still a cool experience strolling through Electric Town.
Colin browsed through some old games and consoles, as well as what was on offer in the vending machines and comic book stores. And then, because you have to do it while in Japan, we indulged in a little Pirikura. Pirikura is a photobooth on steroids. If you’re ever feeling a little blah about your appearance, just give yourself a Pirikura makeover!
Tokyo Station – Ramen Street
We jumped back on the subway and headed to Tokyo Station, which is one of the prettiest stations I’ve ever seen. After getting a little lost, we finally made our way to Ramen Street. FYI: Ramen Street is an underground hallway in the labyrinth of stores beneath Tokyo Station. When we finally found it, we couldn’t wait to tuck into a delicious lunch. And despite the name, we actually opted for udon noodles with beef and tempura instead of ramen.
Channeling our inner Gwen Stefanis, we next headed to Harajuku. This is one of the coolest and most touristed areas of Tokyo. It’s absolutely filled with everything cool, kooky and colourful. We had a great time admiring the wild food on offer, browsing the cheap finds at Daiso (Japan’s dollar store), heading into fun little shops (including one that only sold stickers), and walking down Cat Street. If you have money to spend, Harajuku is a great place to spend it.
From Harajuku, we walked to Shibuya to check out this busy shopping area and the famous Shibuya Crossing. It’s no longer a secret, but the Starbucks on the corner has a great view of the crossing from its second floor. We joined a bunch of other tourists up there to take it all in from above, and then crossed the road ourselves to experience it firsthand. It’s pretty impressive to watch that many people cross the road!
We also visited the Chiyoda dog statue and browsed in the shops to pick up a few souvenirs for home.
Of course, we couldn’t spend 24 hours in Tokyo and not have sushi, right? I did some research online and came across a really excellent sushi place in Shibuya. I’m blanking on the name, but it’s a hidden little restaurant at the back of a grocery store in the basement of one of the malls. This sushi was the real deal. It was incredibly fresh and crafted with such care. We also bought some sushi from the grocery store to take to the airport with us, but it just didn’t compare.
Tips for 24 hours in Tokyo
- The subway in Tokyo is so incredibly efficient. Colin and I were even impressed with the way people line up to take the subway. It’s a great mode of transportation and I highly recommend it for your Tokyo travels. It’s convenient, well-connected and easy to navigate.
- Yes, the toilets are pretty cool. I’m sure you’ve seen online all of the fancy Japanese toilets that sing, spray and do cartwheels. I was more scared of hitting the wrong button and getting a spray where I didn’t want it to mess around with them. So I suggest simply figuring out which button makes it flush and leaving the fancy stuff alone, unless you’re more confident than me. I still remember pressing what I thought was the flush button during my 2014 Tokyo stay, only to find out I was pressing the emergency button and staff members kept coming to check on me. Whoops!
- As modern and hi-tech as Tokyo is, credit cards still aren’t as widely accepted as they should be. While we were only there for 24 hours, we did find that we had to take out some Japanese yen to use. Luckily, we were able to spend the remaining yen on yummy Japanese snacks at the airport!
- Japan is a land of amazing food. And funnily enough, some of the best food is found at convenience stores (look out for 7-11 or Family Mart). These stores are frequented by both locals and tourists, and are a great place to buy a snack or little meal. I’m a big fan of onigiri!
- One of the reasons why I was so in love with Tokyo this time? The weather! Yes, it was a little chilly in Tokyo in February. But after the intense heat of Southeast Asia, it was so nice to be shivering and not applying sunscreen. My first visit to Tokyo was in July and the heat was awful. So I can’t wait to visit again in a cooler month.
- Japanese people are known for being very polite, respectful and helpful. This is so nice as a visitor. Everyone we interacted with was so sweet and friendly. Many people would go out of their way to not only give us directions, but actually walk us to our destination. The only thing to note is that English isn’t as widely spoken as in some other big tourist cities, but that doesn’t stop Japanese people from being some of the most warm and kind people on the planet.
- If you’re planning a trip to Japan, keep in mind that they’re hosting the Olympics next year, so things are likely to be booked, expensive and crowded. My plan is to head back to Japan after the Olympics, maybe in 2021 or 2022, and catch cherry blossom season in the spring.
Of course, 24 hours in Tokyo is not nearly enough time. I would suggest giving yourself at least three days to explore Tokyo properly. You need at least that many days to try as many awesome restaurants as you can! But if you only have 24 hours, you can make the most of it and see a lot of Tokyo.
I can’t wait to come back to Tokyo and Japan. I love the culture, the food and the fact that it’s not always oppressively hot (unlike some other Asian destinations). And I would really love to make it back for cherry blossom season one year and to see more of Japan, like Kyoto and Mount Fuji. Putting a Japan trip on the bucket list!
Have you been to Japan? What’s your top tip for Tokyo?
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