You’ve just landed in the surprising, thrilling and ever-changing city of Tokyo. Every single day here is a surprise; because this fast-paced capital just never stops moving. But you have a dilemma; you have just 24 precious hours to get the most out of Tokyo’s neon lights and endless noodle bars. So where do you start? Take a look at our perfect itinerary…
Upon arrival, both your belly and your curiosity will need filling. A hearty bowl of Tonkotsu (prok broth) ramen will set you up for the evening, and Ichiran is debatably the best. It’s tucked just behind the steam locomotive on display at Shinbashi station just south of Tokyo, and if ramen isn’t your thing there are dozens of excellent value sushi bars with handy picture menus in the area where you can mingle with the locals.
After refuelling, take a short subway ride to Ginza. At its heart is the original stone bridge and streetlamps of Nihonbashi bridge, the symbolic centrepoint of the city. A stroll down the road from here are Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya, the oldest and grandest department stores in Japan which stand proud amongst the countless modern designer shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Once you’ve had your luxury shopping fix, take a turn down ‘yakitori alley’ leading from the Ginza area under the tracks at Yurakucho Station. Find izakaya joints (bars) and yakitori (grilled fast food) joints under the train tracks of Tokyo Station where you can sit back and people-watch as salarymen, students, shoppers and night-time revellers grab a pit-stop dinner. Watch out for the chicken cartilage and diaphragm though!
Head from here to Asakusa and take in mighty Senso-ji temple with its giant red lantern at the gate and bustling Nakamise arcade with kimono fabrics amongst other traditional wares on display. Take a short taxi ride to the famous Tokyo Skytree. It’s Tokyo’s newest and tallest skyscraper building, dwarfing everything else in this low-rise area of Tokyo, but make sure you book ahead if you want to go up to the top. It has the highest viewing platform in the city and the panoramic sights are something out of science fiction.
For the best sushi in town, head to Ichibancho Teruya just by the Hanzomon Metro Station. Not only will you taste some of the finest high-end sushi in the whole of Japan, but you will also have the unique experience of chatting with an English-speaking chef – and everything will be prepared right in front of you. Opt for the he Omakase course (chef’s selection) for ¥19,000. Pricey but worth every penny.
It’s time to head twenty minutes across town to the heart of the nightlife in Shinjuku, Shibuya and Kabukicho. The key thing to get your head around in Japan is that it’s a multi-level experience, with different restaurants, bars and clubs on each floor. Have fun riding tiny elevators and ducking through doorways to explore until you find what you’re looking for. Again, picture menus are available in many places and food is usually served tapas-style so have as many courses as you like!
With not too far to stumble home, the Park Hyatt is the perfect place to rest your head after a night out. This hotel is the last word in sophistication and service standards in Tokyo, with an incredible complimentary rooftop pool and gym where you can see the city panorama at night. Its bars open into the early hours, then see Mt Fuji in the distance on a clear day at sunrise.
For those pushing on through until departure, don’t miss the bustle and drama of Tsukiji fish market. Get down there early to enrol as only 120 people are allowed in on guided tours of the inner tuna market each day. The fish are sliced, diced, and distributed at amazing speed – the epitomy of Japanese efficiency. If you’re not sushi’d out yet, the outer market has the best and freshest selection you’re ever likely to eat.
Another must-see sight is the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, which is less than 5 minutes away from your brunch spot. Head to the Mori Art Museum on the 53rd floor and take a lift all the way to the observation deck on the 54th floor.
For even more culture, head to the National Art Center (Japan’s largest and most prestigious art museum), which is also in the Roppongi neighbourhood.
With your flight time looming, take an hour’s transfer to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and the stunning Naritasan Park; situated close to Tokyo Airport. Take an hour to explore the temple and the incredible blossom tree lined gardens and tranquil temples.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.
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