Japan’s electric city begs you to keep up.
Japan’s electric city begs you to keep up.
Text: Eliza Weinreb
Soaring skyscrapers stacked with neon-lit restaurants, delightfully outlandish commercial stores, and karaoke nightclubs. Cobblestone alleyways cramped with 6-person capacity yakitori joints, highly specialized shops, and open air markets. Vast, meticulous gardens housing ancient relics, religious shrines, and temples from past periods. All within the confines of one neighborhood.
With so much to choose from, it’s no wonder taking on the world’s largest metropolis in just one weekend seems like an impossible feat.
But who doesn’t love a good challenge? For a few unforgettable nights, immerse yourself in the best that Tokyo has to offer with V’s jam-packed itinerary. If you can’t hit it all, don’t stress. It just gives you all the more reason to come back.
T-72 HOURS: The adventure begins.
After touching down in Tokyo, head over to the Moxy Tokyo Kinshicho hotel. The brand new boutique-style hotel, owned by parent company Marriott International, officially opened its doors last month and is already shaking things up in the city’s hospitality scene.
The freshly designed industrial-chic space feels like a warmer, more inviting luxury hotel and spares no amenity, all while remaining at an affordable price point. Some of the many perks in this social-centric space include a 24-hour café/bar, foosball table, grab-and-go market, library, meeting room, fully equipped gym, and customizable Udon noodle bar (aptly named “Pimp My Noodles”). Individual guestrooms mix minimalist style with comfort and space efficiency. Notably, the featured peg wall allows you to customize your own space: keep the furniture you want, and hang up anything you don’t. Just a five-minute walk from the Kinshicho subway station, travel accessibility is painless making Moxy the perfect home base for your vacation.
Don’t forget to grab your complimentary check-in cocktail before making your way up the Tokyo Skytree, starting the trip off with awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city you’re about to conquer.
Tokyo’s beauty lies in its delicate balance between old and new. Walk to the neighboring district of Asakusa just across the Sumida River where the ancient Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, stands tall: the city’s modern skyline towering in the distance. The brilliant vermillion structure is said to be Tokyo’s oldest temple and shares a location with a 5-story pagoda equally worth the visit. Savor some local street food or shop for a small souvenir at Nakamise, a centuries-old shopping street lined with vendors, located just outside the temple’s gates.
Next stop on the list is Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. While home to Japan’s national sport, the storied Ryogoku Kokugikan, with its elaborate hand-painted Sumo murals, is an impressive architectural destination in its own right.
If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo during Sumo season (January, May, and September) sit among thousands in the stadium and feel the ground rumbling power of the 300-plus pound rishiki (wrestler). Be sure to purchase tournament tickets (around $38) in advance to catch all the action.
However, if your trip lies outside of the timeframe, not to worry: you can still feel the culture and history of this poetic sport at the Sumo museum located within the building. Also check the website to see about open practices and sumo exhibitions held off-season.
Before the matches even begin, fuel up like a champion at Chanko Kirishima, a restaurant owned and operated by a retired top-ranking wrestler. To get the full experience, order a Sapporo and Chanko-nabe, the Sumo diet staple. This Japanese hot pot filled with vegetables, noodles, and proteins is consumed by the athletes daily to gain weight. But we won’t tell if you indulge—plus, everyone knows calories don’t count when you’re on vacation.
The sun begins to set, but your day is just getting started. Watch the city transform as you take a train over to the Shinjuku district for dinner in Omoide Yokocho. A narrow cobblestone side street, Omoide Yokocho (or, Piss Alley as affectionately referred to by the locals) holds a collection of counter-service yakitori grills. Wander up and down the passageway to snag a seat in one of the many stalls and watch as the chefs prepare your skewers right in front of you.
Continue into Shinjuku proper and get lost in the beautiful, bizarre fantasy of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s entertainment and red-light district. Here you will find love hotels, hostess clubs, pachinko gambling parlors, and a laser light spectacle with half-naked girls dancing on mechanical robots to techno music.
For a slightly tamer night, check out Golden Gai: an enchanting alleyway glowing with softly lit lanterns and filled with over 200 bars, most of them with enough seating accommodations for 10 people or less. Each microbar has its own unique theme and some spots, like Albatross, have been cited as Anthony Bourdain’s favorites.
Continue the party back at the Moxy as the hotel often has live DJs, film screenings, and other exciting happenings on its main floor.
T-48 HOURS: Going deeper.
Though you may be operating on just an hour of sleep, the first stop of the day requires your full attention.
Tsukiji Fish Market is an institution. At the same location since 1935, Tsukiji is the world’s oldest and largest wholesale market of its kind. It’s comprised of two parts: the outer market, a produce and seafood wholesale area, and the inner market, smaller restaurants and retailers catered toward the public. Arrive at dawn during peak business hours to watch the fishermen speed past on carts as you stroll through endless stalls of seafood.
For a truly life-changing sushi experience, sit down at one of the many restaurants along the perimeter of Tsukiji and watch the chefs prepare fresh catches right in front of you. A few recommendations include Sushi Sei Honten and Sushi Dai (the latter only if you have the stamina to wait on line starting before 4:00 AM).
From Tsukiji, walk over to the glamorous Ginza neighborhood, known for its luxury stores and Michelin star establishments. Start off at Chazen and experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony: a practice that’s deep cultural history is rooted in togetherness. Sip matcha and eat a small wagashi (Japanese sweet) prepared by a skilled tea master while learning more about the customs of this intricate art form.
From matcha to Maison Margiela: enter the wild wonderland of visionary Rei Kawakuba at Dover Street Market, Ginza. The 6-story fashion mecca is basically an art installation in and of itself. With larger-than-life sculptures and expertly crafted displays that mirror the aesthetics of each designer, you could spend hours perusing the racks.
A few other must-see stores include cult favorite Japanese chains Uniqlo and Muji, department stores Mitsukoshi and Matsuya, kitchenware and artisanal rice market Akomeya, and handmade Japanese paper, incense, and calligraphy supplies store Kyukyodo, in business since 1600.
Wishing you could get a taste for the rest of Japan? Luckily, with Ginza’s antenna shops you can travel around the country without ever leaving Tokyo. These concentrated clusters all within a few blocks of one another, many within the same building, offer local delicacies directly from their specified prefectures. Bounce from Hokkaido (Hokkaido Dosanko) with its utterly smooth melon soft serve all the way down to Okinawa (Washita Ginza) for its sweet, fluffy doughnut holes and stop at Ishikawa (Hyakumangoku Monogatari) in between to try over 100 varieties of sake. The perfect catchall for travelers short on time. (And most importantly, lots of free samples available.)
Back in Tokyo, slurp some tonkotsu broth ramen in solitude for dinner at Ichiran and walk to the Imperial Palace East Gardens to explore the spacious grounds of the former Edo castle. If you’re in the mood to visit some of Japan’s finest works, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo has an extensive Japanese art collection dating back to the Meiji period and is located just north of the Palace grounds.
End the day on a high note and grab a drink at the New York Bar & Grill located in the Park Hyatt hotel if not for the “Lost in Translation” nostalgia, then for the genuinely delicious drinks and the million-dollar views that evoke pure magic.
T-24 HOURS: Finishing up, but not done yet.
With just 24 hours left, there’s no time to waste. Start your day off in Shibuya at the Meiji Shrine, located through a forest and past the giant cypress wood Torii Gate. The tranquil Shinto shrine provides a much needed reprieve from the dense, bustling city below.
Just a few steps from the Shrine’s entrance, Harajuku girls hang around Takeshita Dori. Spot some kawaii styles and walk down into Purikira Noa, a basement shop filled with coin-operated photo booth stations. Customize your photo strips with brightly colored backgrounds, symbols, and Japanese characters. If you want to look like a local, pick up some pastel colored costumes along the way and bring them with you into the booths.
When in Shibuya, its famous namesake Shibuya Crossing is a must. Head to the nearby upstairs Starbucks overlooking the street for a particularly impressive vantage point of the massive crowds.
For a strictly Tokyo experience, check out one of the many quirky animal cafes in the area that allow customers to sip coffee while cuddling cats, dogs, hedgehogs, and even owls. If you’re looking for some serious brews, opt for Koffee Mameya instead. This unmarked, tucked away coffee shop offers a multitude of roasted bean varieties that they steep to a science at a single counter. The knowledgeable baristas will give recommendations based on your personal taste preferences.
Close to Koffee Mameya is the tree-lined fashion street Omotesando Dori, home to architecturally beautiful stores including the ultra-modern glass structure designed by Herzog & de Meuron for Prada. Worth the window shop. Just off the main drag you can find carefully curated vintage shopping for a variety of price points, from unknown Japanese labels to decades-old Chanel and Dior. Qoo Vintage, Pass the Baton, and Chicago Vintage are the best places to start.
At the very end of Omotesando Dori lies the Nezu Museum in the Minato neighborhood which houses a private collection of Japanese and East Asian artifacts including lacquerware, textiles, ceramics, and painted scrolls. But the main attraction is nestled behind the museum: a stone path Japanese garden complete with serene rivers, Buddha statues, tea houses, and lush greenery.
Chomp on some buckwheat Soba noodles at Sobakiri Miyota and then savor one last drink at JBS (Jazz Blues Soul) while listening to the owner’s old school vinyl selections from his expertly curated musical library before you’re off to the airport.
Until next time, Tokyo!