Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things to See and Do with Four Days in Tokyo, Japan

Japanese Shrine
I traveled to Tokyo over March of 2008; strangely enough, some other people have been looking to travel there as well. However, they seem to desire no more than four days, and three nights, in the highly regarded World Class city. Be it the allure of Kyoto, the call of the north, or the desire to experience the other islands – perhaps it is simply all the time they can afford away from work - it is for those of you that I write this.

If I was on this trip I would try to rush in as much as possible. Tokyo is a big city, and I, personally, managed to see a large section of it in ten days. This required walking 30 - 50 kilometers a day. However, if you just want to hit up all the important places, here's what I would do.

You arrive at night on Thursday. Take the N’ex from Narita airport and make your way to the place where you will be staying. Go drop your stuff off, and run back to the streets as quickly as you can. There is so much to do, and so little time. First, you will head straight to Shinjuku. It is there that Japan is at its best at night. This is where you will see hundreds of signs lit up, and flooding the street with their eerie incandescent glow. Walk down past all of the red light areas, and perhaps stop by a restaurant there for a bowl of noodles. Note the members only root vegetables, floating in jars filled with yellow-tinted brine, on the shelves like Dr. Frankenstein's brain collection.

Shinjuku at Night
Once you’ve finished your meal, make your way back to the train and head towards Akihabara. This is another night spot that should be in full swing, with an altogether different type of people. It will make you think, "Hey, these roads aren't closed, and yet they're flooded with people. And cars just accept this? Crazy."

Swing by Super Potato and check out thirty years of video game history, all yours if the yen in your pocket can match the exorbitant amount on the price tag. With eight bit melodies coursing through your brain head to a vending machine, they’re all around you, and then buy a can of Dr. Pepper (which has a very different design in Japan). In the same location a 500 yen coin will get you a great capsule toy to take home as a keepsake. If you don’t like the selection there, just head down any alley. There will be more.

Next, while fighting the urge to pass out, I would head to Shibuya and stop in at a bar. You might have time for one drink and a plate of pickled squid before you need to rush back to the train. Remember, they stop running at midnight. Once returned you can find your bed, and crash for the night.

Phew! What a long day, and what a rush through Shibuya, but don't worry. You'll be back.

It's Friday morning and you over slept! It's probably almost noon by now. But that's alright; with all the planes, trains, and running around you needed the sleep. So it's a beautiful Friday afternoon. What do you do?

Ueno Park, TokyoHead over to Ueno park, of course. Here you'll see street performers, and enjoy a very lovely park. It's a beautiful place, and if the mood strikes you might even want to visit the zoo. Provided you can face the line.

You’re hungry, and while you might be thinking about getting yourself a filling Japanese meal, take this opportunity to grab a slice of pizza. There's a pizza spot just outside the zoo gates which offers a delicious variety that are very Japanese. You'll never see them anywhere else.

Spend at least two hours in this park, just relaxing and acclimatizing to all the differences.

The time for resting is over! Now, it's back to Shinjuku. This time you’ll explore the other half. Not the night life and wild party that lies in one direction, instead you’ll head the other way, where all the businesses are. Take note of the escalators that run outside on the street, and the towers reaching up.

Head to the Tokyo Tocho building (the city hall) for a free elevator ride up, up, and up so you can view out the building’s windows and be amazed that the city extends all the way to the horizon in each and every direction. Maybe you'll even buy a souvenir from this floor? Not only that, but there are maps of all the districts - for free! - with tourist information, and things to do and see. Don’t worry, they're all in English.

After spending some time in Shinjuku it's back to Shibuya. It's a different place in the day, and it's quite beautiful. When you exit the train you'll notice a green train car. This is the Hachiko museum. It explains the statue of the dog opposite (a very famous meeting spot.) Be sure to take a picture of the statue, because you will see it in many movies, and video games. The time will come when you'll want to say "Yes, I was there." and without a picture...

Shibuya Crossing
Now look out into Shibuya crossing - the largest scramble crossing on the planet. Wait for all the lights to go red, and get lost in the hoards of people flooding through. Try not to be distracted from the video screens covering the walls of every skyscraper you can see.

There are all number of shops in this area, but you'll walk up until you start seeing pac-man signs acting as alley gates. Go through them and explore the area. Further up you'll come to Love Hotel Hill with "Hotel White Box" and other such places. They're beautiful at night, and just as delightful to see during the day.

At this point you'll need to decide on how you want to spend your Friday night. I would suggest, if you're with people, going to a Karaoke bar and experiencing the Japanese tradition of two hour drink-all-you-can karaoke sessions.

But remember, at some point you'll drag yourself home to sleep. And if you can't, then you might think to explore the other Japanese tradition of paying 1000 yen for an all night internet cafe, and passing out in there (as there are few other options when one has missed one's train.)

Now it's Saturday.

This is a day you can use to explore "Old Japan" which might actually be tourist Japan. But hey, who is to say?

If you really want, get up early and check out the fish market. You will be sleepy later though.

Asakusa TempleHead over to Asakusa. This is one of the most important stops you can make if you don't want to find the smaller temples. You'll find a pagoda, and a very large temple. Making your way towards this location is an experience in and of itself, passing through a laneway of little shops - Try some Rose ice cream - Then suddenly things open up, and you'll watch people cover themselves in smoke to cleanse their bodies before heading any further. It's a beautiful location, and one not to be missed by any means.

When you feel you’ve fully experienced this location, heeding the signs to not feed the pigeons, and you’ve made a prayer - toss in a 100 yen coin - walk the side streets away from this location. Be sure to watch as Japan becomes less beautiful and much more seedy. You'll find broken pavement, rusted fair-rides, and men on bicycles stopping outside of strip clubs trying to decide if they want to go inside.

You'll also see many Tanuki statues.

Japanese Imperial Palace
After this, I'd recommend you take the Yamanote line to Shinagawa and make your way to the Imperial Palace. Take your required photographs of the bridge, and the outlying building. Unless you’re there one of the two days a year when the palace is open, you’ll not get any further. Then, if the mood strikes you, head to the shopping district in Ginza. There is a Godzilla statue hidden here, standing litte more than a foot tall. Try and find it, if you dare. Be sure not miss the public bathrooms in the Sony building with the heat up seats, and water spraying, auto opening features. Then head out of the Ritzy area, and treat yourself to a public squat toilet experience. What a contrast only a kilometer apart.

At this point you will be most exhausted, and you've a plane to catch tomorrow. So back to the hotel for sleep.


You'll wake up early and head to Harajuku. Walk through Yoyogi and take in short tour through Meji Jingu. Finally, head to the bridge to see all the cosplayers, and Elvises, and other crazy sights. Hopefully they'll be out that early.

Harajuku GirlsOnce you're done, it's time to rush to the N'ex and get back to the airport, check in, and take off.

What a whirlwind tour, but you saw so much. Ikebukuro and the back streets there, the replica Statue of Liberty down by the water, and other numerous hot spots can be seen, perhaps, on a future trip.


  1. that was incredibly helpful as i will be in tokyo for only 7 nights. do you have a recommendation for a hotel or a good part of town to be in?

  2. Any suggestions for accommodation in Tokyo or Kyoto would be appreciated. Heading to JP next month for two weeks. Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima-Osaka-Tokyo. Looking for hotels in the 15-20K price for 2 people.

    Excellent post by the way, thanks!

  3. Fab article. Has been a really useful start for us planning our four days in the city!


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