48 hours in Tokyo… I’ve been racking my brain for days trying to come up with the ultimate to do list. It really shouldn’t be this difficult—I first visited this city in 1996 and have returned as a tourist countless times since… I now call the Big Toke home and have done so for almost 2 years. After all that, you’d think I’d be qualified for the job. The thing is: when it comes to Tokyo, it seems the more you know, the less you know, and condensing it into 48 hours is like trying to stuff a cat into a trash can.
So, for sanity’s sake, I’ve decided to split the itinerary into 2 parts. The first 24 hours (this post) is centered around my stomping ground—the Harajuku/Shibuya area. A jam-packed day in the life if you will. First stop: Meiji Jingu. Jya, ikimashou! (Let’s go!)
Meiji Jingu: Start the day—as early as you can manage—with a visit to Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine in the heart of Harajuku. Meiji Jingu is surrounded by forest and especially peaceful in the wee small hours of the morning. Wash your hands before entering, say a prayer, create your own ema, or read the hopes and dreams on those created by fellow temple-goers.
Queues & Pancakes: Queues and pancakes are all the rage right now. If you can handle the wait, these pancake parlors serve up tasty breakfasts and a chance to live like the locals. When in Rome, right? Take a pancake break at Sunday Jam, Rainbow Pancake or Bills.
Ota Museum: While in Harajuku, pop into the Ota Memorial Museum of Art. This quaint two-story museum showcases a small but fantastic selection of ukiyo-e prints. It is bite-sized and accessible, and offers a great introduction to one of Japan’s most iconic art forms.
Takeshita Dori & Omotesando: Stumble out of Ota into the craziness in and around Takeshita Dori, the home of Japanese pop culture. Eventually, when claustrophobia sets in, make your way over to Omotesando for a leisurely stroll up Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées.
Lunch at Maisen: Tonkatsu lunch after a breakfast of pancakes is not for the faint hearted but if you think you can stomach it, Maisen is a tonkatsu treasure trove. YOLO!
Haircut: After lunch, wind your way through the back streets of Aoyama and Harajuku to Watanabe Hair Salon. A haircut by Chie will set you back about 7000yen but this gets you a world class cut, the best shampoo ever and a heavenly head massage. Reservations required.
Shibuya Shops: With the energy of a brand new look, head to Shibuya. Spend the rest of the afternoon checking out Tokyu Hands (a craftperson’s paradise) and stocking up on silly souvenirs at Don Quijote. On your way to dinner at Sora no Niwa, marvel at the immense crowds of the Shibuya Scramble.
Tofu, Tofu, Tofu: Dining at Sora no Niwa is a Zen-like experience. These guys are tofu specialists and the soy-bean product features in everything from dumplings to salad to tiramisu. For me, a fancy dinner here would be the perfect end to your first day in the city. But, if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s always nearby Dogenzaka, home of Womb nightclub and numerous karaoke spots. Just remember, if you miss your last train, you’re in for a very long night! :)
Part 2 coming up next…