Tokyo is like a big, hot bowl of ramen that you can never reach the bottom of. There’s always more noodles and salty pork broth to go, and you’d need a few solid weeks to really explore the city from edge to edge.
But what should you do if you only have 24-hours to see it? First, fire your travel agent (one day in Tokyo? Seriously?). Secondly, follow this handy, idiot-proof guide. This is how we’d do one action-packed day in Japan’s neon capital.
2:30am – Tuna auction
Your day begins with an angry alarm at 2:30 in the morning. We hope you weren’t out all night singing karaoke in Shinjuku. That’s how early you’ll have to get up to catch the world-famous tuna auction at Tsukiji fish markets. Grab a taxi through the dark streets (your hotel will help you book one from the front desk) and make your way to Tsukiji. You’ll have to wait for a few hours for the auction to start (it’s a bit like queuing for a new iPhone), but there’s a reason people do it. A Tokyo tuna auction is just one of those things you’ve gotta see to believe.
After the auction is over and you’re seriously considering vegetarianism, take a while to wander through the Tsukiji market proper. Watch out for three-wheeled carts zooming through, piled high with seafood and polystyrene crates – white-gloved traffic cops will show you where to go. The market is due to be moved in November this year (and tourists will apparently have way less access at the new site), so soak up some of the building’s 1930s charm. Try not to bump into anyone and make them angry. Those knives are big.
Breakfast time. Head to one of the sushi restaurants in the outer market. Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai are two of the most popular, but if the ravenous queues put you off, try Nakaya or Iwasa Sushi. All the sushi restaurants here serve an omakase (a sort of eight-piece combo plate), but for a more legit experience, ask your waiter about their shun no mono (seasonal produce). My fave was definitely the toro (fatty tuna) – trust me, it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted. Buttery soft and dissolves on your tongue. A bit more expensive but totally worth it.
At midday, make your way to Ginza to get your shop on. Ginza is like Tokyo’s answer to Champs Elysees or 5th Avenue – big department stores, big labels and amazing food. Every square metre of land here is worth ten million yen. For real. Definitely check out the Sony Building for all your tech needs, and Ginza Wako for some high-end boutiques. When you get hungry, head to Yurakucho Gado-shita, a 700-metre stretch of restaurants and bars built into the brick arches below the train tracks around the Yurakucho Station. Definitely one of the city’s cooler lunch spots.
Head back to your hotel, drop your shopping bags and nap. You’ve earned it.
All refreshed? It’s time to hit the town. Start with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck. The northern deck is open until 10:30pm, but if you get there early you’ll get 360-degree views of the sun setting over Tokyo. After that, head a few blocks south to the Park Hyatt and catch the lift up to the iconic New York Bar (the same one Bill Murray made awesome in Lost in Translation). Order a Suntory whisky and a bite to eat and soak up the ambience – most nights there’s live jazz or a pianist playing some mood music in the corner. Classy.
It’s time to head to Shinjuku’s Kabukicho distrcit, Tokyo’s capital of vice and all things neon. You’re dining at a Robot Restaurant, which is just like other restaurants, if other restaurants had lasers and gladiators riding animatronic unicorns. Don’t expect the best meal of your life (it’s not called Robot Fine Dining) but the show more than makes up for it. According to legend, just fitting out one of these places costs about 10 billion Yen (it must be all the hot pants, horse masks and giant sharks). Each night features a 90-minute show – all you have to do is cheer, wave your glow sticks and try to keep up.
The night’s nearly over, but you need a night cap. We recommend Shot Bar Zoetrope, one of Tokyo’s better-known whisky bars (but not so well known that it’s full of American tourists). You’ll find it just round the corner from Siebu-Shinjuku station. Order a 12-year Hibiki up at the bar, then sit back and watch the silent movies projected onto the back wall. Not a bad way to end your Tokyo stay. Sweet dreams.
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