Tokyo is one of my favorite places for one reason: possibility.
Whatever you’re into, Tokyo has something that caters to that interest. And you’ll probably (definitely) discover new things that are right up your alley.
But what if you only have one day in this sparkly metropolis? If I had to choose, these are the places I’d go and things I’d do. If you like fun, history, and plastic miniatures, you might like my itinerary too.
Starting Point: I’m starting this “One Day in Tokyo” plan in the Bunkyō ward, so keep that in mind if you wanna try it out for yourself.
BREAKFAST AT MISTER DONUT + KONBINI (8:00 – 9:00 A.M.)
I don’t get to sit and enjoy my mornings very often. So if I had a full day to myself, in Tokyo or anywhere else, you know I’d spend a half hour drinking coffee. In this scenario, I’d pair that coffee with a donut at Mister Donut.
What makes Mister Donut special? It’s not special, not for someone living in Japan anyway. And that’s why I like it. I have a lot of good MisuDo memories and the bouncy, chewy Pon De Ring is a great way to relive them.
The coffee is… fine. But it’s not called “Mister Coffee,” so who cares? I’d go for the Japanese donut experience and to sit a spell before a flurry of activity.
Of course, donuts are not part of a complete breakfast (caffeine and sugar will ensure I crash before lunch), so I’d supplement my unhealthy meal with a semi-healthy onigiri from a konbini. I’d also buy a BalanceUp bar, but that’s for later.
With belly full, I’d walk seven minutes to the nearby Nezu Jinja.
NEZU JINJA (9:30 – 11:00 A.M.)
A walk through the picturesque gardens of Nezu Jinja is a perfect way to start the day, especially because of the long line of torii gates.
There are lots of Shinto shrines all over Tokyo, but this one is extra special. First of all, it’s gorgeous. The architecture was modeled after Nikkō Tōshō-gū, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since we can’t go to Nikkō today, this is a fine substitute.
Second, it’s legendary. Legend has it the shrine was founded by Prince Yamato Takeru, a King Arthur-like son of the twelfth Emperor Keikou. This probably didn’t happen but it’s a neat story.
Third, it’s historical. Almost all of the shrine has remained intact since its founding in 1705 (unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most buildings in Tokyo, which were destroyed in fire bombings in 1945).
A WALK THROUGH THE PICTURESQUE GARDENS OF NEZU JINJA IS A PERFECT WAY TO START THE DAY, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE OF THE LONG LINE OF TORII GATES.
The shrine as we know it was moved from its original location in Sendagi to its current location in Nezu by the fifth Shogun Tsunayoshi. He’s the reason it looks so awesome today. Also, when the Imperial seat moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868, the Emperor sent envoys to Nezu Jinja to ask the gods for protection.
But the best reason to visit this shrine is the long rows of torii gates leading to yet another shrine, Otome Inari. That’s two shrines in one visit! Otome Inari overlooks Nezu and an adjacent pond, so after your stroll through the tunnel of torii, you get a wonderful view.
With plenty of gorgeous scenery, Nezu Jinja is the perfect place to experience the world’s busiest city. I can’t think of a better way to spend a morning.
After my morning shrine stroll, I’d head to Todai-Mae Station and take the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line toward Hiyoshi. Getting off at Kōrakuen Station, I’d walk south toward the giant ferris wheel.
FERRIS WHEEL AND SEGA ARCADE AT TOKYO DOME CITY (11:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.)
With morning almost over and lunchtime coming, a visit to an amusement park would have to be a quick one. Luckily I’d only have two goals:
- See the city from way up high
- Play some damn UFO Catchers
The only place in Tokyo to do both of these things is Tokyo Dome City, an amusement park in the center of town (“town” being the biggest metropolis on earth, but whatever).
I could pay ¥3,900 for a day pass, allowing me to ride everything until the park closes at 9:00pm. But I only want to ride the Big O Ferris Wheel, which costs ¥820 for one go.
The Big O is the world’s first hub-less ferris wheel and one of the tallest at 197 feet. Because the Big O has no center spokes, there’s a big open space for Tokyo’s largest roller coaster, the Thunder Dolphin, to pass through.
Once my carriage reached the top, I’d be able to see the city in every direction. At midday, I should be able to see pretty far too.
Sure, there are other, cheaper ways to get a high-up view of Tokyo (like the many free-to-enter municipal buildings). But a ferris wheel is one of the only ways to get this experience sitting in a chair by yourself. Maybe you could rent a helicopter, but that would cost you way more than ¥820.
And remember the BalanceUp bar from the beginning of the day? I’d save it for this ferris wheel ride. This “health bar” is very なつかしい for me, so it’s the perfect snack to savor as I take in the Tokyo skyline. Plus, it’ll hold me over a little till lunch.
THE BIG O IS THE WORLD’S FIRST HUB-LESS FERRIS WHEEL, AND ONE OF THE TALLEST AT 197 FEET. BECAUSE THE BIG O HAS NO CENTER SPOKES, THERE’S A BIG OPEN SPACE FOR TOKYO’S LARGEST ROLLER COASTER, THE THUNDER DOLPHIN, TO PASS THROUGH.
Besides the Big O, there are twenty-two other rides to try, but with only one day in Tokyo, I wouldn’t have time for any of them. Especially with UFO catchers so close by.
I’d head into Tokyo Dome City’s attached Sega Arcade. I could play UFO Catchers almost anywhere in Japan, but you gotta play where you are. Also, these UFO catchers are part of the larger Tokyo Dome City operation so the prizes and challenge should be higher quality than your run-of-the-mill game center (or so the thinking goes).
I’d wander quickly through the rows of crane game until I found a prize worth me not winning, probably some sort of statue or video game thing. I’d sink several hundred yen before winning or cutting my losses.
With a stomach rumbling for lunch, I’d head to Suidobashi Station and take the Chuo-Sobu Line toward Mitaka. Once the train hit Nakano Station, I’d disembark.
LUNCH – TONKOTSU RAMEN HAKATA FURYU (1:30 – 2:00 P.M.)
Exiting Nakano Station, I would head straight into the nerdy shopping arcade known as Nakano Broadway. But before getting to all the otaku stores, there’s a long stretch of “regular” places, like watch repair, drug stores, and ramen restaurants.
If I’m only in Japan one day, you know I’m eating ramen. You can pick just about any Tokyo ramen joint on Tabelog and (probably) get a winner. But at Nakano Broadway, I’d head to Tonkotsu Ramen Hakata Furyu.
This is a Tokyo chain that serves Fukuoka style ramen. It’s cheap, oily, and delicious. You can add toppings à la carte and even specify the amount of time you want your noodles cooked (more time for softer noodles, less time for firmer).
There are a few different soup options, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t order tonkotsu ramen with extra pork and a half boiled egg. The special feature of this restaurant is a free refill of noods. If you’re still a tad peckish after your first bowl, you can ask for another helping of noodles at no extra charge.
Once full, I’d walk (slowly) into the mini otaku kingdom.
NAKANO BROADWAY SHOPPING (2:30 – 6:00 P.M.)
There’s always a vintage robot or retro game waiting for me somewhere in Japan. Most would (and should) head for Akihabara, but personally I enjoy a more compact shopping experience.
So it’s Nakano Broadway for me. It has plenty of nerdery, so much that I could spend all day in just a few shops. Most people’s main stop should be Mandarake, one of the largest anime and manga stores in the world. But I’d likely spend most of my time in ガオッチ, a vintage Japanese toy store I wrote about previously.
The store owner, Kosaka Takayuki, is nice and talkative. He’s one of the world’s top Batman collectors and is featured in the Batman toy documentary, Tokyo Toy Guy 2.
This place is a marvel to take in, a little slice of heaven for toy aficionados. Though you could easily drops hundreds on a few Godzilla figures, there’s plenty of reasonably priced vintage goodness for the budget toy seeker. Last time I was there, I picked up two Shin-chan figurines and some stickers for less than ¥2,000.
Of course, there’s a lot more to see in Nakano Broadway. There are Gunpla model kits, One Piece statues, and manga galore. I’d browse through the other shops briefly in case there’s anything else that catches my eye. I’d be sure to flip through a few racks of Famicom games and grab some hidden gems before moving on to dinner.
Once back at Nakano Station, I’d take the Chuo-Sobu Line toward Nishi-Funabashi and transfer at Shinjuku Station to the Yamanote Line bound for Shibuya.
DINNER – CURRY HOUSE COCO ICHIBANYA (6:30PM – 7:00 P.M.)
Dinner for me is another なつかしい meal: Curry House Coco Ichibanya. I ate this a lot while living in Japan and it’s one of my favorite places. Foodies may scoff. Sorry, I don’t have Coco in my daily life, scoffing foodies! I’m eating Coco, Shibuya or no.
Japanese curry is the ultimate comfort food and Coco is incredibly customizable. You can choose your rice portion, curry type, spice level, toppings, and more. You could say it’s akin to pizza in that way and that way only. The price won’t hurt your wallet either. You walk away stuffed for around ¥1,000.
WANDERING IN SHIBUYA (7:00PM – 10:00 P.M.)
You can’t beat Shibuya at night. If I have only one night in Tokyo, this is where I’d go.
What would I do here? There are plenty of clubs, but I’m not a club person. Lots of izakaya, but I already ate. Tons of karaoke, but I’m alone on this trip (if there were people with me, it would definitely be karaoke).
Actually, I would wander. Wandering in Japan is probably one of my favorite things to do, no matter how many times I do it. No matter where I am, city or country, it’s always a good experience.
YOU CAN’T BEAT SHIBUYA AT NIGHT. IF I HAVE ONLY ONE NIGHT IN TOKYO, THIS IS WHERE I’D GO.
Wandering in Shibuya means countless streets, alleys, and destinations. I’d pop in to whatever place looks interesting, but only briefly. Wandering times is precious times, so no getting sucked into buildings.
It’s a wonderful way to spend my last few hours.
I know this sounds like a cop out “thing to do,” but if I don’t have some time to wander and explore while visiting Japan, I feel like I missed out on something essential to my trip.
That said, I would go to one more place after wandering aimlessly through the city streets. I’d end my night drinking in a high-end bar full of tiny trains.
GINZA PANORAMA SHIBUYA (9:00 – 11:00 P.M.)
This place can be tough to locate, so here’s some walking directions:
From Shibuya Station, find the Hachiko memorial statue. Walk south a bit, till you see a bunch of buses. Walk under the bridge and turn left. Cross the street and follow the road, with the train tracks immediately on your right (above you, on the aforementioned bridge). Keep walking about six minutes until you see a small street sign for Ginza Panorama Shibuya on your left.
This is the Shibuya branch of a bar in Ginza called Ginza Panorama. It’s a very fancy bar filled with model trains you can watch as you drink. The bar encircles a miniaturized city, complete with working trains, passing by every so often. You order a drink, pull up a stool, and watch.
The bar’s website describes the place as a “railway healing space for adults,” and I couldn’t agree more with this idea.
As we established earlier, I like toys, but more than that, I like miniature worlds. There’s something about drinking quietly around the soft buzz of tiny trains. All those little people. Where are they going? What do they want out of their miniature lives? Will they make the train on time?
After a good amount of alcohol, I’d start toward my hotel. It’s been a full day, a happy day. Donuts, toy shopping, shrines, ferris wheels, wandering, and tiny trains. Who could ask for more? Maybe you. Send us an email, Twittertweet, or Footbook Messengz and let us know the places you would go with one day in Tokyo so we can discover this city together.1