There are many interesting things to do in one week in Tokyo. It is one of the largest, most modern, most fascinating, most exotic cities in the world, but also one of the most westernized in all of Asia. Public transport is incredibly efficient, the streets are excessively clean, and Tokyoites are wonderfully polite! And since it is a city that is disproportionately large and certainly difficult to navigate, here is a short summary of the most interesting things to do and best addresses to visit… for when time is running out.
Spending more than a week in Japan with the kids? Check out this 3-week Japan itinerary from Thrifty Family Travels!
Begin One Week in Tokyo: Arrival, 9 hours
Tokyo Narita is a modern and simply organized airport.
Those who like to buy a SIM card at each of their destinations might be surprised: networks, laws and the smartphones themselves are very different in Japan than elsewhere. All the same: NTT Docomo offers visitors a SIM card, data only, of 1 gigabyte over 14 days and is available at the airport.
Same warning applies to ATMs: many refuse cards that come from outside Japan. Here’s a tip: 7-Eleven convenience stores have bank machines that will accept your card.
To reach Tokyo, four options: the bus, to avoid at all costs because of traffic jams; the taxi, also to avoid in addition to the fact that it is extremely expensive; the JR train, which costs $11 and takes about an hour and a half; and the Shinkansen, high-speed train, which costs about $25 and takes half an hour.
Continue One Week in Tokyo: Noon
First things first: in Tokyo, there are no addresses! The neighborhood, the block, the name of the building, the floor where the place is and the name of the place are precisely described, but there is no number on the door. It can sometimes be a difficult task to find your destination!
Food in Japan is serious business. The most famous dishes are obviously sushi and ramen, two excellent options for lunch. Also, these two dishes are relatively complicated and deserve articles on their own! We have two on the subject (see below). Also, at noon, expect to wait in line to eat at the restaurants suggested here. If you do not want to wait, go to the third suggestion…
– Ramen: Check out our article on the best of ramen in Tokyo! It includes addresses!
– Sushi: Check out our interview with Chef Shinji Nagai who teaches us how to eat sushi!
At lunch, sushi is often consumed in small restaurants where customers order, standing at the counter, what they want to eat, directly to the chef at the bar. One of these places is called Uohgashi Nihonichi Shimbashi Hibiyaguchi (the English name is also written on the sign, Standing Sushi Bar.) Note that other addresses of this company exist everywhere in Tokyo.
Uohgashi Nihonichi Shimbashi Hibiyaguchi – 1-15-6 Shimbashi, Tokyo – Ground Floor (Metro Station / JR Shinbashi)
What Next in One Week in Tokyo: Lawson Convenience Stores
There are hundreds of Lawson convenience stores in Tokyo and, believe it or not, the food sold there isn’t horrendous (like, say, in the US…) Rice takes the spotlight: rice shapes, in ball or triangle form, are stuffed in different ways and covered with a sheet of nori. In order to keep the seaweed leaf crisp, it is individually wrapped. You have to unpack the package yourself and repack your rice in the nori! Bentos (lunch boxes with many interesting bites) are also on sale and freshly prepared.
Tokyo is so huge that it is difficult to make an effective selection of particular tourist attractions not to be missed. Tokyo is such a gigantic city that many people prefer to book Japan tours and leave the planning to professionals. It is however more efficient to choose a neighborhood and visit it. The most visited areas are near Shibuya, Roppongi, Asakusa, Shinjuku, Akihabara and Harajuku stations. Nevertheless, here is a list of tourist attractions not to be missed:
Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing
Opposite Shibuya subway station is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. Millions of pedestrians pass this intersection every day. You can, of course, cross with all other pedestrians, but a Starbucks branch is located on one side of the intersection, and its 2nd floor lounge is a great place from which to take in the action.
This is the Mecca of video games, manga, anime, but also electronics in general. In Akihabara, when the sun goes down, you almost do not realize it: huge illuminated billboards and twinkling, flashing lights draw the eye in all directions; young women dressed in child’s clothes hand printed ads to passers-by; buildings of about ten floors each offer cartoons for children and adults – some extremely suggestive, others fun, others downright weird – on each floor and in each corner; several pachinkos, these huge, croupier-free casinos where the sound is thundering and cigarette smell is ubiquitous, are available at any time; camera and second-hand computer stores offer their merchandise…
It is one of the most iconic areas of Tokyo. One month would not be enough to explore each of its buildings, businesses, shops, bars. Here too, the JR / Shinjuku subway station is simply disconcerting. The number of people passing through and the huge buildings – the most recognizable being the municipal government building – that surround the station make the place amazing. It is also a destination of choice for Japanese gastronomy. For more details on its restaurants, go to the next section…
Next in One Week in Tokyo: Where to eat?
The options to eat in Tokyo are endless. There are almost 100,000 restaurants in Tokyo. It is in Tokyo that the Michelin guide has awarded the most stars. Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin guide, has also declared Tokyo “the world capital of gastronomy.” So the question “where to dine” can become a full-bodied debate. You will understand that the list here is by no means exhaustive!
Sanzo – 3 Chome-17-9 Higashiueno, Tokyo – basement (metro station / JR Ueno)
This is not an exceptional restaurant. This suggestion is rather included in order to live the authentic local experience. This is a small traditional izakaya located in the basement near the Ueno station. Businessmen eat and drink; beer on tap, sake, and shochu + hoppy (a popular combination in Tokyo) are consumed in large quantities; all smoke cigarettes and speak loudly; the prices are right; the yakitori is excellent.
For Wagyu Beef
Hayama Restaurant, 4 Chome-10-14 Ginza, Tokyo – Basement (Ginza Subway Station)
This restaurant used beef where fish is normally used in traditional Japanese recipes. Read our full article on the restaurant in question for more details!
For Yakitori and Horumonyaki
Omoide Yokocho, 1 Nishishinjuku Chome-2, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo-to 160-0023, Japan – (JR Shinjuku Station)
Omoide Yokocho is a tiny area of about two tiny side streets adjacent to the JR rails, close to Shinjuku station. Yakitori is marinated and grilled chicken. Horumonyaki, literally translated “grilled hormones”, is seasoned and grilled offal. At Omoide Yokocho, we can eat and drink in tiny restaurants that accept between 6 and 12 customers crammed at the bar. These restaurants serve almost exclusively meat and beer. Moreover, look for “Yokocho” in general: there are several in Tokyo and these streets are really interesting! You can enjoy fabulous street food during the whole of your one week in Tokyo.
Tempura Tsunahachi, 3 Chome-318 Shinjuku, Tokyo – ground floor (subway station / JR Shinjuku)
Tempura, another classic of Japanese culinary art, is available in every conceivable form. One of the most famous and busy places is in Shinjuku. Warning: there will be a line, they do not take reservations, and do not try to take a picture of the place, you will be rebuffed.
For a bit of luxury
Makimura Restaurant, 3 Chome-11-5 Minamioi, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo – (Omorikaigan metro station)
It is extremely difficult to choose a place to eat in Tokyo. However, if you feel like splurging, take a reservation at this traditional Japanese restaurant holding three Michelin stars. The experience is worth it. Do not forget to book well in advance.
Continue One Week in Tokyo: Where to go out?
In Japan, like everywhere in Asia, drinking alcohol is mostly done during a meal. This is one of the main reasons why meals last so long. Izakayas are ready to accomodate their customers for long hours. Some have plans where alcohol is discounted at a particular time; others have lower prices but a price at the entrance. There are even restaurants that offer all-you-can-drink meals! Make sure you ask before sitting down.
Also, there is no need to enter a bar or club to enjoy Tokyo at night. It is a city that only beautifies when darkness descends on it. Neighborhoods like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara and Ginza are simply spectacular after dark, and a long stroll through the streets of these neighborhoods can be more enchanting than visiting a drinking establishment. Don’t forget to enjoy the city nights of your one week in Tokyo.
Warning: when the metro closes (midnight) and the JR stops its operations (half past midnight), the only transportation options in the city are taxis, which can be very expensive!
1 Chome-1 Kabukichō, Tokyo
This is a Tokyo classic: tiny bars stacked on top of each other serve alcohol at exorbitant prices to tourists and locals alike. The majority of bars charge entry fees only to their Japanese customers, and booze is very expensive, but the experience is obviously unique in the world and worth the trip.
This is the “hot” area of Tokyo, if you can call it that. It hosts plenty of clubs and bars. This is one of the only neighborhoods that remains lively after midnight, especially on the weekends.
– Trump Room – 1-12-14 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo – 4th Floor (JR Shibuya Subway Station)
The most rococo bar in the world. Half-club, half-bar, this place has it all. The number of candlesticks and stuffed animal heads will surprise you.
Because when in Rome, live as the Romans do…