Last year in April, I was writing about the NYC cherry blossom festival and (wistfully) dreaming about a trip to Japan some day…well, lucky enough for us, work took me to Tokyo this year. So of course, we did what most people in our circumstances would do…squeezed in a few days for sight-seeing around town; i.e. being a tourist and all! What’s that about life handing you lemons? We made some sparking lemonade outta this one! 🙂
“Limited time” translated to just over 2 days to go sight-seeing around Tokyo (the rest of the week was all work). And boy, does this city have a lot to offer!! skyscrapers with crackling neon signs, eccentric fashions, colorful nightlife under railway tracks, museums, historic shrines…phew
To help you out, here’s our quick guide to covering the top sites in Tokyo in 48 hours:
Take a deep breath…this is just a first of many trips – trust us, you will definitely be back 🙂
1 Meiji Jingu Shrine (Harajuku)
Located in the middle of the bustling Harajuku district in Shibuya, the Meiji shrine is located in a tranquil forest, covered with evergreen trees that were donated by people across Japan.
A beautiful green pathway leads into Tokyo’s most famous Shinto shrine; a peaceful setting with not many tourists makes this a great start to your travels!
The Meiji shrine is Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrine, and was built in the 1920s as a dedication to the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji ascended to the throne in 1867 at the peak of the Meiji restoration, and was the first emperor of Modern Japan. During the Meiji period, Japan modernized and westernized by putting an end to the feudal era, and restored the emperor back to power (read more here).
While the shrine was destroyed in WWII air raids, it was restored back to its glory in 1958.
To make a wish at this Shinto shrine, toss some Yen into the offering box, bow your head twice, clap twice and bow a final time. You can also leave a wish on a wooden tile and tie them on the prayer wall.
2. Stroll Through Takeshita-Dori
This is Tokyo’s famous teen-shopping bazaar offering an insight into the pop culture of the new Japan! After the visit to Meiji-Jingu, stroll through these few blocks of crazy packed stores with colorful tutus, victorian goth outfits, beauty products and sweet crepes. You will notice lost of local teenagers in school uniforms shopping for small “cute” goods (Hello Kitty was so last year!)
Pick up a crepe topped with fresh fruit, cream and chocolate drizzle. Fancy something more local – choose from dozens of options showcased outside!
3. Walk along Omote sando street
Alright, so you checked out the teen culture of modern Japan, now off to some grown-up shopping! This fashionable tree-lined boulevard has all the high-end boutiques and designer shops, packaged in designer bags, and offered in designer buildings! Omote-Sando is one of the best places to check out high-end fashion and nouveau architecture.
Stop by Kinokuniya International for its amazing building, good food and a gorgeous flower selection! (Disclaimer: we are huge fans of the Kinokuniya bookstore and this was a necssary stop for us)
4. Find your way through the Mad Scramble at Shibuya Crossing
Make your way towards Shibuya to witness the busiest intersection in front of the Shibuya Station. This crazy crossing has people coming in from all directions with every light change, and has been appropriately named the “The Scramble”!
Before: Red light
Most people head over to Starbucks across the street (from the station) for a good view of the crossing-in-action. The building also houses a large music store (Tower Records) with the best selection of headphones and all kinds of music equipment.
We grabbed a spot at the L’occitane cafe for some tea and yes, more dessert! The window seat here is a much more pleasurable experience than the starbucks bar stool!
And because you simply must pay homage to the flagship Uniqlo store in Tokyo! If you’re not familiar with this store, it has the best daily staples of clothing (read: high quality essentials) at extremely reasonable prices.
For more shopping, check out Shibuya 109, 10 floors for all the fashion and accessories for women’s shopping! Yes, this one requires some serious level of energy, so pace yourself 😉
For a helpful shopping guide for Shibuya, click here.
Grab dinner at one of the food courts of Shibuya malls (i.e. Depato). These usually have one of the best restaurants and offer an incredible selection of foods (more on this in our next post 🙂 )
5. Start the day with Tsukiji Market
This is one of the largest wholesale fish and seafood markets in the world! While the inner wholesale market is restricted for visitors, the outer retail market, restaurants and associated restaurant supply stores are a major tourist attraction. One of its most popular attraction is the morning auction of Tuna!
The auctions start around 5:20 a.m. and ends by around 10am. The tickets to enter the auction are first come first serve basis, so you’d have to line up at 4-4:30am to ensure an entry! We were too tired for this, and opted for the 9am tour of the market instead.
Always check the market timings before you go; the market is closed on Sundays, most Wednesdays and holidays.
We first walked around the outer circle and grabbed a Japanese omelette and few quick bites, to survive the next hour of photos.
Next, we lined up to enter the gates of the inner market sharp at 9:00 am! watch out for these crazy trucks transporting fish as you make your way in – they’re everywhere whizzing by at top speed!
Faced with several rows of seafood of all forms, colors and sizes; we were caught between clicking photos and staring wide-eyed at the organized nature of the seafood market. The seafood was being neatly packaged and sent off to shipping containers, while locals to choose from a few trays of neatly marked seafood trays.
Fresh crustaceans anyone?
Several loads of fresh catch being neatly packaged and transported to the loading dock, so it can be shipped to its rightful owners. This organized chaos is alone worth the trip!
Famished from this tour, we were ready for a brunch of sushi! The sushi Donburi bowl of Toro (fatty tuna) from Sushi Zanmai. Incredibly fresh sushi from one of the top restaurants in Tsukiji!
6. Walk around Roppongi
while Roppongi is most famous for its raucous nightlife, the day time vision of this area can seem to be quite sophisticated. Walk over to Roppongi hills which remains as one of the highest standards of real estate developments in Tokyo. Don’t miss the Eiffel tower look-alike; Tokyo Tower. Painted a bright orange and white to comply with the international aviation safety standards, this tower is the symbol of the post WWII rebirth of Tokyo.
This was a glimmering sight at night!
7. Head over to Shinjuku
For dinner and some shopping, head over to Shinjuku to see the quintessential busy Tokyo; upscale department stores, shanty bars, crowds surrounding a bunch of street performers, and of course, the soaring skyscrapers.
The restaurants at the food courts of these high-end malls are excellent in their own right, but more on this later. Don’t miss one of the largest Tokyu Hands store; an eclectic store where you can spend hours buying things you thought you never needed, but now seems a sheer necessity! 😉
8. Ride the Shinkansen and view Mt. Fuji
And your 48 hours are almost up! We then took the Shinkansen to Kyoto for the next couple of days.
The Shinkansen (new trunk line) is a network of high speed railway lines in Japan operated by Japan Railways (JR). Started in 1964, the network has expanded to connect most major cities on the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and the northern island of Hokkaido, with an extension to Sapporo scheduled to complete in March 2031. Often referred to as the “Bullet train” by expats, the maximum operating speed for the train is 320 km/h (200 mph) on the Tohoku shinkansen. We were seriously impressed with the efficiency, speed, comfort and most of all, punctuality of this train!
We bought tickets for the ordinary (regular) seats on the Tokaido Shinkansen (Nozomi line) that took us from Tokyo –>Nagoya –>Kyoto in approximately 2 hours. For more information on the train schedule and tickets, read here.
And finally…don’t miss the incredible sight of Mt. Fuji from the train
Hope you enjoyed reading!