Saturday, March 30, 2013

Advice: What to do in Tokyo for one weekend?

I'm often asked for tips on where to go and what to do in Japan so I thought I'd write a quick summary of ideas and suggestions that I usually give people for an generally all-encompassing weekend experience.  

Usually, people visit for more than a few days but my suggestion is that if you're coming to Japan for at least a week, only come to Tokyo for the weekend.  I'd suggest spending time in Kyoto or other areas as it's much more beautiful and cultural if that's what you're looking for.

Please note that I'm writing this from the perspective of an expat who's only lived here for 1.5 years and that it's for first-timers coming to Japan.  I'll probably updated this as time goes on.

I'll start out by listing some ideas:

1.  Where to stay
2.  Main areas to cover 
3.  Food or activity suggestions
4.  Sample itinerary
5.  General tips

1.  Where should I stay?  

I think most people don't realize just how massive Tokyo is and how much time it takes to get from one place to another.  Where you're staying can really affect the logistics of your visit and I would definitely check that you're near a convenient train station.

I'm biased and would suggest staying around one of the areas I've listed below since you're definitely going to be there.  I'm biased to Roppongi area since I live nearby and I find it very central and convenient to go anywhere else from there.  I've also heard of people staying in Shinjuku (but I am easily overwhelmed by the area so I'm not so familiar).

2.  Main Areas to Check Out: 

Shibuya - Shopping, shopping and more shopping. This is where the famous "Hachiko" dog is at and Shibuya Crossing as well. For girls, you may want to check out the famous 109 building which is where trends are started and every style is represented.

Harajuku - More shopping with the famous Takeshita Street that is rammed with small shops at usually lower prices. This is the street that celebrities are often spotted in (I've run into KE$HA there).  There is also the lovely shrine, Meijingumae, and Yoyogi Park to walk through.

Omotesando - Just down the street of Harajuku that has more expensive designer shops and a convenient souvenir shop for you to pick up a few trinkets at reasonable prices (Oriental Bazaar). There's also a famous toy store called Kiddy Land that many celebrities, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, go to shop for cool toys and gifts.

Ginza - The posh area of Tokyo (like the Beverly Hills) where you have all the major designers' flagship stores represented. Including a massive 8-story UNIQLO store that you can easily spend 2 hours in (seriously, everytime).  Every Sunday, they close the main road to traffic so that you can meander around.

Shinjuku - The home to the world's busiest train station and also the most confusing, it has a little bit of everything.  Famous for its lights and redlight district, Kabukicho, it's fun to eat and drink around Golden Gai and looking at all the different Love Hotels.

Roppongi - The foreigner-friendly area for nightlife and clubbing. Popular clubs: Feria, Vanity, Muse, and Color (newest). If you want along the whole street you'll see a load of bars to hop around. 

3.  Food and Activity Suggestions

*Disclaimer: Food suggestions are endless and people have created whole websites and blogs just on this topic so please don't burn me for my limited list. These are just some ideas that I hear from people and that I think are common in Japan, but don't be afraid to try non-Japanese food; they have every type of food in Tokyo and they make it AWESOME.  I'll list a few restaurants that I've taken guests to at the bottom.

Ramen/Udon - Variety of soup noodles
Tempura - Deep-fried vegetables
Katsu - Deep-fried meat
Shabu Shabu - Soupy, hotpot
Izakaya - Smokey, typical drinks and tapas
Yakiniku - BBQ meats
Takoyaki - Fried balls of octopus

Shibuya 109
Oriental Bazaar
Yoyogi Park
Tsukiji Fish Market
(to be continued...)

4. Sample Itinerary (Friday-Sunday)

I've combined the activities above but into what I think is a more logistical efficient plan. I always get annoyed when I go traveling and realize that I've had to back and forth between different areas just because I'm so disoriented. But maybe that's just my general lack of direction.

Like I said, I'm biased to Roppongi area since I live in the area. Also, I apologize for how disorganized it is right now, I'm losing focus.


Early afternoon: Get into Tokyo and eat lunch
Check out Tokyo Tower or Sky Tree
Go to Shibuya and shop or check out the Crossing
Slightly pricier dinner at Gonpachi, which is where Kill Bill has an inspired scene (Yes, I know it's touristy, but it's cool to see as a tourist)
If you want a cheaper but still cool experience, check out Uoshin near Nogizaka Station.  It's affordable but super fresh seafood and one of my favorites to bring friends to. You should make a reservation since space is limited.
Yurakucho is also a fun place to check out on a weeknight and is popular with the salarymen.
Barhopping (Library Bar is very near). Usual haunts for foreigners is A971, Orange, R2, Agave, Geronimo's (shots bar), and many more...
Can also check out this massive clusterf*k of a store, Donquihote.  It basically has anything and everything normal to bizarre. Good place for souvenirs, too.
Around midnight, maybe head to a club like Feria (R2 is right across it), Color, Vanity, Muse (that's my order of suggestion, too.).
If you're one of those people who's super keen to go to Tsukiji Market, just go after the club.  It's closed on Sunday.


Sleep in until you need to recover
Brunch. After a heavy night, might I suggest ramen, udon or shabu shabu?
Walk it off at Yoyogi Park where you can see the dancing Greasers, music performers, etc.  They start leaving around 4PM though.
Walk through Meijijingu Shrine which is right next to it and write a positive prayer on a tablet to be blessed. 
Walk through Takeshita Street. Eat a crepe, some takoyaki, a good bowl of ramen.
Walk down Omotesando and visit Kiddyland and Oriental Bazaar for souvenirs and gifts. I also like the MoMA store which has some cool things to look at.

- Maybe you need a break to take your shopping back to your hotel or just rest after so much walking -

Dinner around Shinjuku. Maybe this place could be fun since you can catch your own fish, Zauo. Reservations needed!
Check out Golden Gai which is a small, historical area that is full of standing bars and yakitori places. 
Go see something like this, Robot Restaurant.  Reservations needed!
Check out the rest of Kabukicho which has lots of bizarre or themed bars, restaurants and clubs. Love Hotels are nearby, too.


Sleep until recovery. Brunch. 
Check out Ginza as everyone seems to love the UNIQLO Flagship store when I take them. 2 hours can be spent if you're a fan.
Look for a dessert; their cakes and tarts are amazing.
You're probably tired from the weekend so maybe do some last minute shopping or revisit what you didn't get enough of. 

5. General Tips

- You don't have to tip.
- If you're traveling to other areas like Kyoto, buy the JR Pass.  You can only buy it OUTSIDE of Japan and it will save you money.
- Come during the Spring or Autumn. It's too hot or too cold otherwise.
- Cherry Blossoms bloom typically the first week of April. It was, however, extremely early this year and bloomed before the end of March. 
- Taxis are expensive by comparison so I wouldn't depend on them to get everywhere if you're on a budget.

Okay, I've officially lost focus.  I'll try to come back and refine/update this from time to time.


  1. I've been meaning to do a write up like this for about 6 months now. Now I'm tempted to simply add a link to this post.

    1. Haha well I'm sure yours would be more interesting than mine...I still need to add and refine to this because I lost focus halfway!