Tokyo is worth way more than 36 hours of your time. Tokyo is such a massive sprawling beast of a metropolis that you could never see the many facets of the city in such a short time. That said, 36 hours of Tokyo is better than no hours of Tokyo, and if you only have a bit of time to spare, we’ll do our best to show you Tokyo at its best.
For lodging, I suggest AirBnB as a way to rent a space because it is less hotel and more apartment. Another idea is the capsule hotel, which is not for the claustrophobic. Yet another adventurous idea is getting an overnight comic book or Internet café room. All of these have options in the Shibuya area, so I suggest starting there. Bring your energy because you’ll need it to run all over Tokyo.
Day 1 – Embrace the Touristy Side of Tokyo
9:00 a.m. Shibuya
For many of the AirBnB visitors, staying near Shibuya area means you will need to ride into Shibuya from nearby stations like Sangenjaya Station, Shimokitazawa Station, or Ebisu Station. Trains are known for being absolutely insane during morning and evening rush hour when workers are heading in and out of work. Find a safe corner to watch the insanity unfold with a coffee and a bagel.
While in Shibuya it is practically a requirement to check out the famous scramble crosswalk and Hachiko Square. Tokyu plaza is right next to it with some cute shops to wander as well. Once you have had your fill and the station begins to be less of a madhouse, head into the station proper. It is totally worth the trouble to pay the 500 yen for a PASMO or Suica train card because you can repeatedly charge it and skip the trouble of micromanaging your fare. With your IC card pass, take the JR Yamanote line (look for green JR signs) and head to Harajuku, one stop away.
10:00 a.m. Harajuku/Meijinjingunmae
Harajuku is well known for Takeshita Street, the hub connecting Harajuku Station to the Omotesando area. Takeshita Street is full of youthful energy and shops with goods ranging from crazy costumes to female fashion styles like girlish skirts and blouses all the way to goth and punk attire.
As you leave Harajuku and enter Omotesando, the area gets more sophisticated glam. Omotesando has one of my favorite souvenir shops in all of Tokyo called Oriental Bazaar which is well worth a look for gifts. You can either backtrack to Harajuku to ride two stops on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku Station, or you can head into Meiji-jingumae Station to ride the Fukutoshin line up to Shinjuku-sanchome Station. By then, you probably will be getting hungry and can grab lunch.
12:00pm Bask in the touristy glow of Shinjuku
Shinjuku station is the busiest station in the world so can be quite difficult to navigate, but is a great place to people-watch as you try and find your way around to the correct exit. Shinjuku’s East End is my preferred neighborhood in Shinjuku because unlike West Shinjuku, where the government buildings are, East Shinjuku is more a retail area where you can hang out. Catch lunch in one of the many department stores or street level shops. As a personal suggestion, Korean food in Lumine EST is pretty tasty and easy to access on the upper floors of the department store. Save room though because I definitely have a suggestion for dessert. One of the latest Tokyo crazes for sweets is located right at Shinjuku East End. It is the Croissant Taiyaki. Cronuts (croissant donuts) have nothing on this, I promise you. If you don’t like traditional red bean paste filling, try the custard or a seasonal flavor. If you like sweets, your stomach will thank me.
But what you’ll really thank us for is directing you to the Robot Restaurant, which is one of the craziest dinner shows you will ever experience. Even better, our good friends at Voyagin can get you a discount on your reservation!
After getting your Taiyaki, say goodbye to Shinjuku. From here I would suggest taking the Sobu line to Akihabara Station. This train line cuts across the Yamanote loop.
2:30 p.m. Nerd out like a boss in Akihabara
Akihabara is called Electric Town, and rightfully so since it is a playground for tech-minded people. It is also a highly unique area of Tokyo that has a different feel from other parts of the city. Arcades line the main streets and girls dressed in frilly uniforms call out to passersby to visit their maid cafes. Play a few arcade games, grab some new headphones, or discover what maid/butler cafes are all about.
Optional: If you take one look at Akihabara area and pale at the idea of spending time here, take the Shinjuku line to nearby Jimbocho Station. A book lover’s paradise, the area contains unique bookshops that will delight a different sort of traveler from Akihabara’s tech and anime fans.
An even better option is putting on a costume, renting a Go Kart, and riding around Akihabara to live out your favorite video game fantasy! C’mon, you know you want to. Let our friends at Voyagin help you book your rental!
Spend a bit of time taking in the sights and emptying your wallet before hopping back onto the Yamanote line again to Tokyo Station.
5:00 p.m. Tokyo and Meguro Station combo
Tokyo Station is a thing to behold. It is a massive complex of train lines all meeting near the city centre, where you can go to any other part of Japan via the Shinkansen bullet-trains. Even if you do not step outside of the station, it will truly amaze you to see all the stores and eateries in the sprawling underground hub. If you do decide to head out of the station, make sure to take a look at the newly renovated Tokyo Station—what’s old is new again because the station is modeled to look as it did a hundred years ago.
If you have had your fill of Tokyo Station and have time to spare, go back on the Yamanote line to head to the next destination, Meguro Station. The inside of Meguro Station is connected to shopping centers Arte1 and Arte2. Arte2 has a fun and well-known conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Eating raw fish and rice is an adventure for the new inductee if there ever was one. If raw fish isn’t your thing, Arte 2 also has a fusion restaurant called Yuuan that has heated food.
After your belly is full of raw fish or cooked eats, get back on Yamanote to go one train stop to Ebisu Station.
8:00 p.m. Get your drink on in Ebisu
Yebisu Garden Place Tower can be ridden to the upper floors to sneak a peek of the city skyline without the long lines or payment like Skytree and Tokyo Tower.
There are also restaurants upstairs if you decided to skip Meguro Station. The Ebisu area has plenty of bars for an after-dinner drink, and I heartily suggest Bar Martha, Red Dragon, or Buri. Bar Martha is one part jazz bar, one part Japanese whisky fan, and one part mixology. The dim, relaxing atmosphere will be a nice place to kick back after running all over the city, and the tasty snack jars will keep you from needing a midnight snack. Red Dragon is a Japanese take on a pub, with plenty of beer types to keep you going if you prefer a more excitable location. If you are looking for something a little more club and a little less straight up bar, check out Buri. It has a full bar, but it is well known for its semi-frozen one-cup sake. It is also a place where a lot of hookups happen, if that is your sort of thing.
Once you are done with your evening bar hop, call it a night and head back to your accommodations. Be warned, Tokyo does not have all night trains and buses so depending on time you might have to get a cab.
Day 2—The Triangle Experience
8:00 a.m. Breakfast in Shibuya
A bright and early morning awaits your fast-paced tour of Tokyo, especially if you’re jet lagged. Fight fire with fire by heading to your nearest Matsuya for breakfast. They have breakfast plates, but I would suggest the beef bowl with egg on top. It comes with miso soup and will help nurse any lingering hangovers you might be struggling with. Double dare you to try it with a side of natto!
9:00 a.m. Corner 1: Hipster delights in Nakameguro
Today is a bit slower pace. Take the Tokyu Toyoko line to Nakameguro Station and head out of the city center into a slightly more mellow area using what trains call the triangle ticket. Nakameguro Station’s surrounding area was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown as a hipster neighborhood. The Meguro River cuts across the station, making it an ideal place for cute cafés and small shops to line the tiny street and there are plenty of places to snack, buy gifts, and take photos.
10:30 a.m. European influence in corner 2: Jiyugaoka
Once you have had your fill of Nakameguro’s charm, take the Toyoko line further out of the city center by four stops to Jiyugaoka Station where you can mill about a very particularly styled shopping area and eat lunch. This area is known for being inspired by French culture and has plenty of places to try. I would suggest the taco rice for lunch at the Okinawan eatery Taiyou Shokudou. After you have wandered around to your satisfaction, get on the Tokyo Oimachi line over to Todoroki Station.
1:00 p.m. Escape the city without stepping out of Tokyo at Todoroki Valley
Todoroki Station is a way to escape the city without ever leaving it. Truly the definition of suburb, this adorable neighborhood is not a shopping hub like previous locations. Instead, head into Todoroki Valley to experience another, greener side of Japan. Todoroki Valley is amazing. Others have gone so far as to call it a godsend. After all the experience of the city, the trees and quiet sounds of water flowing downstream is a relief. Walking along the river from the station leads to a set of stairs that go up to the temple Fudoson where you can pay your respects, enjoy the view of the waterfall, or relax at the seated cliffside view. Backtrack to the station and re-board the Omiya line for Futakotamagawa Station.
3:00 p.m. Futakotamagawa: Last corner of the triangle
Futakotamagawa Station is based along the Tamagawa River. The side you are on is the Tokyo Metropolitan area and the other side is Kanagawa prefecture. It is worthwhile to walk a bit out of the area first (approximately 20 minutes) or to cab it to the Okamoto Park Old Farmhouse Garden. The park contains an old thatch roof farmhouse where you can see Japanese architecture and culture from the late Edo period (1860s), and it feels like you are stepping out of time. It is open until 4:30 p.m. and closed on Mondays, so mind your timing to ensure you get to see the house and surrounding area. One of the impressive parts of the area is how seamlessly it blends old and new Tokyo together as new shopping malls exist alongside older establishments. Any last minute shopping you need done can be taken care of at the mall surrounding the station or once you get to your airport.
For more ideas on how to spend a short stay in Tokyo, visit 36 Hours in Tokyo: Kids in Tow.