Tokyo is one of the world’s largest metropolises and is overwhelming at first glance. One look at the metro map, and you’ll want to give up, crumple it, and never look at it again. In a city with everything from authentic shrines to anime-filled streets, and the busiest street crossing in the world, it’s tough to figure out the best way to navigate the city and make the most of your time.
Getting from Narita Airport into town was far easier than I expected. Thanks to the help of Space Hostel, I was directed to take the Keisei Skyliner directly to Ueno Station. The Keisei Skyliner is located in Terminal 2, which is about a 700 meters from Terminal 1. Once in Terminal 2, go downstairs to B1, buy your ticket, and head to Platform 1. The entire 45 minute journey costs about $22 USD, and is as easy as could be! 5FT Tip: The Keisei Skyliner has assigned seats in assigned car numbers, so be sure to take a look at your ticket before boarding!
Since I’m not a big city girl, I wanted to get a feel for the city without having to spend too much time in the city. With only two days in Tokyo, this is what I suggest.
If you’re in Tokyo for cherry blossom season, as I was, be sure to wake up early and head directly to Ueno Park. Ueno Park is Tokyo’s largest public park and has over 1,000 cherry trees lining the main pathway! If you get there early (pre-7:30am), you can beat the crowds.
Ueno Park is not only known for it’s cherry blossoms, but for its abundance of museums as well. On these grounds you can find the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the National Science Museum. You can also find Japan’s oldest zoo, Ueno Zoo, where you can catch sight of some pandas!
While I’m not much of a museum or zoo go-er, I much enjoyed the temples and shrines located in Ueno Park. Distracted by the cherry blossoms, we only had time for two temples: the Kaneiji Temples and the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. We stumbled upon the Kaneiji Temple by accident; this temple used to be one of the largest and wealthiest temples in Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The original temple was destroyed during the Boshin War (1868-1869), but remnants remain scattered around Ueno Park.
Speaking of which, the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple built in 1631 was actually part of the original Kanji Temple. Here, you could get a great view of some more cherry blossoms, and it’s located near an abundance of food stalls as well (breakfast, hint hint).
We then decided to walk over to Asakusa, for a feel of authentic, traditional Japan. To enter the old town, maneuver through the crowds to the Kaminari-mon gate.
Once through the gate, spend some time wandering down Nakamise-dori Street en route to the Senso-ji Temple. On this street, and the surrounding street, you will find numerous stalls and vendors selling everything imaginable; people have been selling things on this street since the late 17th Century. My favorite stop was at Tokiwado Kaminari Okoshi, an open-air confectionary that has been selling candied rice sweets for the past 250 years! They have many free samples, with my favorite flavors being plum and sweet peanut. Definitely make a stop here!
Following the Nakamise-dori down, you will reach the Sensoji Temple. Founded in the 7th Century, this is Tokyo’s oldest temple. 20 million people per year visit this temple, so be prepared to navigate through some crowds!
We then made a brief detour to lunch in Shinjuku. While I normally wouldn’t have veered so far from Asakusa, but a friend that I met in Mendoza, Argentina two and a half year ago was in Shinjuku, so we just had to meet up! It was my first meal using chopsticks, but luckily she helped me by making me “trainers,” like a child. Ha! Since I never mastered the use of chopsticks, I'm so grateful that she taught me a bit of a trick!
From Shinjuku, we walked over to the Harajuku area. Famed for its teeny bop style and Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls,” the Takeshita-dori is an experience. Lined with trendy shops, clothes stores, crepes, and bubble tea, this street is not to be missed.
After 20 km of walking (since I’m stubborn and try not to use public transportation when possible), we headed back to Space Hostel – our home for our two days in Tokyo – for some rest before dinner. For my first night in Tokyo, Hide, the manager of Space Hostel, took us out to a fantastic, traditional meal at OtoOto. Read more about my fantastic experience at Space Hostel here.
I had figured we were just going to get Ramen or something for dinner, so you could imagine my surprise when it ended up being a 10-course meal at OtoOto! We began with matcha beer and plum wine, continued with incredibly fresh sashimi, udon, nabe, tofu, and an indescribable amount of other foods! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, so I was stuck capturing it with my phone…
Since I decided to pass on karaoke, we ended up in a Japanese arcade, Taito Station Ueno Ameyoko, playing games like Mario Cart and Pop ’n Music. A great way to end our fantastic day!
After a restful sleep at Space Hostel, I awoke bright and early to go to the…
Tsukiji Fish Market.
While many awaken at 3am to make it to the tuna auction, I decided I didn’t care for fish enough to wake up that early. But, if that’s your thing, go for it!
Meiji Jingu Shrine.
While this Shinto shrine looks old, it was actually only built in 1958 after the original buildings were burnt down in the WWII air raids. To pay respects at Meiji Jingu, when approaching a Torii (shrine archway), you are supposed to bow once when entering and once when leaving.
At the Temizuya out front, you’re supposed to do the following:
- Rinse your left hand.
- Rinse your right hand.
- Pour water into your left hand.
- Rinse your mouth.
- Rinse your left hand again.
- Rinse the dipper (allow the remaining water to run down the handle of the dipper).
You cannot take photos in the vicinity of the main shrine; if you choose to pay respects up close or to take a peak inside, however, you will most likely observe some Japanese people putting coins into the offertory box, bowing twice, clapping their hands twice, and bowing again. That is the process when approaching the shrine.
Dedicated to the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, these grounds are absolutely stunning.
It is not uncommon to see a traditional Japanese wedding taking place here, and a traditional wedding we saw…
Deemed the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, the Shibuya Crossing is an absolute must-see when visiting Tokyo. Supposedly it’s best from 5pm to 9:30pm, but I only had the opportunity to go around 3pm. The best view of the crossing is from Starbucks on the 2nd floor. But, don’t worry, you won’t need to buy an overly expensive coffee for the view!
Akihabara Electric Town.
An area of Tokyo known for its electronic stores and, more recently, abundance of anime, this district is vibrant. While you could buy more electronics than you could imagine, it’s the anime culture that sticks out; you could find dozens of anime, video game, and card game stores.
In recent years, anime establishments have popped up; you can find maid cafes (themed restaurants) where waitresses are dressed up as maids or anime characters, and manga cafes where you can find people reading comics and watching movies.
After a busy day wandering Tokyo yet again, it was time to go to Shinjuku to see Tokyo at night. If you only have two days in Tokyo, this is a must!
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office.
Very popular, this indoor observatory offers free views of Tokyo from the 45th floor. Open from 9:30am to 10:30pm, this is a good option if you don’t feel like paying for the Sky Tree. We went at night, but supposedly you could see Mt. Fuji on a clear day!
This “corner of memories” is a fantastic area of Shinjuku! This street, chock-full of traditional Japanese restaurants, came about after World War II.
There used to be stalls selling clothing and products, but today it has transformed into more of a foodie’s paradise. The shops are all divided by single boards and built tightly next to each other.
Each restaurant seems crammed, but if it’s crowded enough to be crammed, you’ll know that you’re in the right place!
We decided to eat traditional Japanese food, and so I tried…
Natto. These sticky and slimy beans served over tofu are quite an acquired taste.
Matsunabe. This intestine soup is prepared in a special Japanese cooking pot, and had a miso base. Add in a few veggies, and you’ve got intestine soup. It’s better than it sounds.
Yakitori. Skewered chicken and skewered chicken skin. Grilled to a crisp, this required the least adapting, as it was crunchy and flavorful.
Stuffed, it was time for…
As the rain starting coming down, we reached Golden Gai. Consisting of six narrow alleyways, Golden Gai feels like a step back in time. In this one area, there are over 200 tiny bars and restaurants! It’s a quaint, beautiful area of Tokyo.
So, there you have it! Two days in Tokyo. Of course, if you have more time to spend in Tokyo, there are plenty more places to see too!
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**Special thanks to Japan Experience for sponsoring my journey. As always, all opinions are my own.