So, you’ve gone to Japan, may be for work, may be as a tourist. Chances are you are arriving/leaving via Tokyo, and have a few hours to kill before catching your onward train or flight. So, what do you do?
First thing to do, is to find a locker to temporarily store your belongings, whilst you visit the city. Japanese train stations don’t seem to have “left luggage” offices, but most of the large stations have very good locker systems – These usually cost 500 to 600 Yen (~£3.00 – £4.00). They are easy to operate and accept cash or card. Pick an available locker, put your stuff in there, close the door and follow the instructions (available in English) on the display. You will get a receipt, like the one shown below, detailing your locker details and the PIN required to retrieve your belongings.
Next, master the metro system – this might seem complex at first, but I assure you, it is not as bad as it looks and help is always near by. A map near the ticket machine will show all the stations on the metro system. Each station has a number (E.g. 170, 230, 410). This is the cost of the ticket in Yen. So, on the ticket machine, pick the language as English and choose the cost of the ticket and follow the instructions on the screen.
The machine accepts cash or credit card. It will issue a ticket stub, which you will need to enter at the entry barrier. Hold onto the ticket for the duration of your trip as you will need it to exit the station.
If you need to use the metro and another line (E.g. Keikyu line) to get to where you need to go, this is slightly more complicated. In this case, I recommend going to the station ticket office, where the staff will be able to issue the necessary ticket. But for vast majority of the attractions in Tokyo, you can get to using the metro system. For longer train trips in Japan, you need reserved seating, so it is best to go to the ticket office anyway.
Now you’ve mastered the subway, here are a few places you could visit:
Asakusa Senso-ji Temple
Dating back to the 645 AD, the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa is the oldest temple in Tokyo. This is a large complex consisting of a number of Tori gates, Shrines, a pagoda and many beautiful gardens.
There is also Nakamise-dori, a street lined with many small shops, perfect for souvenir shopping. Just make sure to look for “made in Japan” labels for truly authentic mementos.
The temple can be visited anytime, but bear in mind the shops on Nakamise-dori close around 5 pm.
The crossing at Shibuya is rumoured to be the busiest in Tokyo, if not the World, and when you are there, it is easy to see why. It is a junction with 5 pedestrian crossings in different directions. Every 2 minutes, the pedestrian crossing turns green and commotion begins, with people crossing in 10 different directions. However, what should be utterly chaotic isn’t, with everyone managing to avoid bumping into each other with smooth agility.
The most popular place to view the crossing is from the Starbucks cafe on the 2nd floor of the QFront building. Although it is very hard to get a front row street.
For best views visit in the evening or at night, ad if you can brave the crowds, go at rush hour for the full effect. Going at night will also allow you to take in the bright lights of the Shibuya shopping district.
The crossing also comes in at No. 157 of the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist.
You can also visit the nearby statue of Hachiko, a dog famous for his loyalty. As a puppy, Hachiko used to wait at Shibuya station daily for his owner to return from work, and he carried on waiting for 9 years after the owner had died.
The Imperial Palace is a “not to be missed” attraction if you are visiting Tokyo. But bear in mind that it is closed to the public on Mondays and Fridays. Even if it is closed, you can get a glimpse of the palace from the outside. The Palace is a short walk from Tokyo central station.
If you have not been to a cat cafe before, and is a fan of felines, this is one not to be missed. Japan has more cat cafes that anywhere else in the World, and many of those are in Tokyo. So, wherever you are in Tokyo, it won’t be difficult to find one nearby. The basic of all the cafes are the same. You pay for how long you spend inside the cafe. You can stroke and play with the cats, but not pick them up, chase them or feed them. You also need to disinfect hands and wear slippers provided for you.
I visited Cat Cafe Mocha in Shibuya. There were about 20 cats in the cafe. All of them seem to be well looked after and didn’t seem to mind people. There are plenty of places for them to lounge/rest, sleep and play, or hide away altogether if they feel like it.
The “cafe” element varies from place to place. Some offer reasonable drinks and some only offer machine coffee. I also found it to be quiet and cosy, so a good place to take some time out from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
And of course, you are not a cat person, other animal cafes are available. Take your pick from owls, dogs, rabbits or even snakes!
If you only have half a day, I would suggest either Asakusa or Imperial Palace, followed by Shibuya crossing and cat cafe in Shibuya in the evening.
These are my experiences of what to visit in Tokyo if you are short for time. But I’m sure there are many other must-see places in Tokyo. I would love to hear your top tips on what to visit. Leave a comment below and let me know.