So many things to do in so little time! That is often the woes of a visitor to Tokyo. It seems like there is just not enough time to do everything here. So, for first time visitors with time constraint, one should categorize the places of attractions into geographical divisions for a more convenient movement within the day. That said, expect to walk a lot (like, really A LOT! )
Where to start and what to do?
- Plan your journey with a Tokyo Handy Map (very handy indeed).
- Get a SUICA or PASMO card. It’s a reloadable and refundable prepaid card which can be used on many major forms of transportations within the Kanto region inclusive of Kyoto and Osaka. It can also be used for purchases at convenient stores, vending machines, and many retail establishments.
- Get a transportation network map – one as comprehensive as possible. Not just the subway map, but including JR and special lines as well. It is not surprising to get lost in the vast and complicated subway systems or taking the wrong train even if you are on the right platform in the right station.
- Eat sashimi at Tsukiji Market. It’s the biggest fish market in Tokyo after all. Surely nobody comes here without eating fish!
- Watch Sumo wrestlers’ asageiko (morning training). The one thing that I would really like to do on this trip but due to my very “perfect” time of visit, I was unable to do it. The only time they rest is the week after a major tournament, which happens to fall on the week of my visit. 🙁
Pic: The most comprehensive map I can find & the most complicated transportation network I’ve ever seen.
A geographical division of Tokyo attractions may be generalized into :
West : Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi
East / South East : Ginza, Tsukiji, Imperial Palace, Shiodome, Odaiba
North / North East : Asakusa, Sumida, Ueno, Yanaka, Nezu, Akihabara
Although each of the above areas is possible to be covered within a day, expect to be (or close to) limping by the end of the day.
Shinjuku – The Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest transport hub, serving millions of commuters each day. Having over 200 exits will roughly give you an idea how big and busy it is. So make sure you know exactly which exit to go for your destination. Or else it would be miles of endless maze-like arcades walk both underground and above ground.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – There are many observatories and viewpoints in Tokyo but this is the only one which is free, nice and convenient to visit. Panoramic cityscape of Tokyo and beyond (and all the way to Mount Fuji on a clear day) from the 45th floor of either the North Tower or South Tower, or both if you have time.
Meiji Shrine & Yoyogi Park – The park famous for sakura viewing during spring.
Harajuku & Shibuya
Lots of young people, modern looking buildings and crepe at every corner. It must be the ‘crepe town’ of Tokyo. 😉
Shibuya scramble – the huge cross junction where hundreds of people cross at the same time in all directions at a fast pace yet never knocking into each other.
Famous statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station. There are also Hachiko community buses and Hachiko images on vending machines in Shibuya. The story of Hachi started in 1923. Every evening, Hachi would walk to the Shibuya station to greet his owner coming home from work, until one day, Professor Ueno did not come home. He had died from a cerebral hemorrhage while at work. But Hachiko continued to wait for him, and kept on waiting at the same time and same place everyday, for the next 10 years, until his own demise.
Hence a bronze sculpture of the loyal dog was placed outside the Shibuya Station, where he had sat waiting for his owner for 10 years. Another statue of Hachiko was recently erected at the University of Tokyo where Professor Ueno worked, in this version Hachiko was seen joyfully reunited with his owner. Finally, a happy ending after all these years of waiting. 😀
Tsukiji Fish Market – biggest wholesale fish market in Tokyo. You can watch the tuna auction too, but be prepared to sacrifice time and sleep, as you need to start queuing at 2-3am, as the daily auction is limited to 120 pax.
Fresh sashimi and seafood in abundance here. Not to be missed. But long queue to all the tiny cramped restaurants in the market.
East Gardens of the Imperial Palace and the Nijubashi Bridge.
View of the city from the Imperial Palace
A man-made island in the Tokyo Bay area, across the Rainbow Bridge from Central Tokyo. Popular for shopping, sightseeing and amusement parks.
Attractions include : Tokyo Big Sight, Fuji TV, Aqua City, Palette Town, Rainbow Bridge and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Walking across the Rainbow Bridge in winter was quite an experience. Up on the 7th floor, with the strong chilly winds, booming sounds with deep vibrations as heavy vehicles vroomed past. The length from end to end is about 1.5km. There are 2 walking routes on the bridge, the North Route with views of Tokyo city, Skytree and Tokyo Tower; and the South Route with views of Odaiba Island and Mt Fuji. We chose the North Route because of the direction of the sun.
Gundam Front Tokyo, Divercity, featuring a life-size 18-meter tall Gundam statue in full details, which is colorfully illuminated at night.
Akihabara – anime, manga, cosplay, maid cafes and gamer heaven. Unfortunately, it was my last stop for the day and I was almost limping already at this juncture, so didn’t really get to explore this area full of hidden curiosities. It was interesting to observe all the bright colourful buildings decorated with big posters of the latest or popular anime or games characters, and shy “maids” (from the many maid cafes) distributing flyers to potential customers at every corner of the streets.
Asakusa Sensoji – the oldest temple in Tokyo, founded in the 7th century.
Asakusa Nakamise Shopping Street – the road leading into Sensoji, with lots of cute Japanese omiyage and snacks. This area is one of the most crowded tourist attraction though.
Ueno Park – Japan’s most popular city park, Ueno Koen is one of the biggest, oldest and most historical parks in Japan. Ueno Park houses a lot of museums, shrines and famous for hanami (sakura viewing) and picnics during spring.
A very rare sakura tree in full bloom during winter? Even the locals find it curious.
Ueno Daibutsu – Only the face remains of a great Buddha statue which was destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
Nezu Jinja – a 1900 year old shrine according to legend. Famous for its Azalea Festival in April. Beautiful and historical, full of “National Important Cultural Properties” but curiously, very few tourists here. It’s not even a recommended attraction in many tourist brochures or in a typical Nezu-Yanaka Teramachi Course (temple walk), which is a real breather from Asakusa Sensoji and other crowded sites in Tokyo. A real quiet and serene place, I enjoyed walking here despite a little hard to find, zig-zagging in the residential areas of Nezu.
Yanaka – the older part of Tokyo. Known as teramachi, or temple town, there are hundreds of temples and shrines scattered around this area since the edo period. Yanaka is also known as Cat Town; many cats and cat themed shops in the area, including DIY maneki neko store, cat goods shops, etc.
Yanaka Ginza (Cat Street) – a 170m shopping street with traditional handicrafts, japanese sweets and more cat goodies.
A staircase at the end of this street called Dan Dan Staircase, known as the local felines’ popular hangout joint. This is where I met this little cutie and some of its shy friends. 🙂