Whether you’re headed to Tokyo for the first time or returning and looking for new things to do, we’ve put together the perfect 7-day Tokyo itinerary for you.
It’s extremely difficult not to love Japan. Beautiful and rich in culture, it’s sure to stir your imagination and then steal your heart. It is a country of contrast, both proud and protective of its culture, as well as at the cutting edge of innovation and progress. Temples, shrines, and centuries of tradition are mixed with skyscrapers, bullet trains, and funky pop-culture. Also, so. much. cuteness (“kawaii!”)! Product packaging, advertisements, and seemingly everything has the cutest characters and colors to catch your eye.
Shibuya Scramble Crossing
Shibuya. Home to Tokyo’s youth culture. There’s a good chance you’ve seen footage of what looks like a million people haphazardly crossing a massive intersection in what appears to be total chaos. It’s not actually chaos, but that’s the famous Shibuya Crossing, a.k.a. “Shibuya scramble,” and you’ve gotta check it out! There’s a, shall we say, “very well-known American coffee shop chain” located on one side of the street here, and its dining room and seating is on the second floor. It’s the perfect vantage point to watch “the scramble!” It’ll be a challenge scoring your window seat, but be patient and persist, as it will provide you with one of the most awesome people watching opportunities of your life.
Just down the block, Shibuya Station is another fantastic spot for people watching and soaking up the electric vibe of the city. There’s also a very famous statue you should see there at the station of a dog named “Hachiko.” As legend has it, Hachiko was a Japanese Akita dog (1923-1935) that used to meet his owner at the station every day after his commute home. In 1925, his owner died at work of a cerebral hemmorage, and from then until Hachiko’s death in 1935, we would return to the station every day to await his owner’s return. If you’re a sucker for a dog like we are, this is a must-see.
Standing Sushi Bar
Grab yourself a tasty, quick, and cheap bite at the Standing Sushi Bar right in the middle of Shibuya! As the name would imply, it’s a tiny sushi restaurant where you stand around the sushi bar and order sushi just like you would order drinks at a bar! There are a few chefs behind the counter crankin’ out the sushi, and it’s a really fun experience. Just pop in real quick and satisfy your sushi craving in the middle of your hustle-bustle-y day.
Nighttime and Lowriders In Shibuya
We just happened upon this while vsiting, but apparently there is a huge underground lowrider community here. They meet every first Saturday of the month near Tower Records (yep, Tower still exists in Japan!), and from 10:00 pm until around 1am cruise the streets in their tricked out, big American cars, just like their American hip hop idols made famous years ago. It’s quite the scene, and there’s no shortage of “more typical” Japanese-sized cars in the mix as well.
Toyosu Fish Market
If you’ve ever heard of Tsukiji Market, A) it was wonderful, and B) unfortunately it is gone. Toyosu Market is now the “new Tsukiji.” After many years in the making, the long standing and aging Tsukiji Market finally closed in 2018. We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to experience it just a year prior, as it was an extremely memorable day. While we haven’t been to the new Toyosu Market, the idea is the same. It’s a huge wholesale market for fish and fruits & vegetables, and it’s where the chefs go to bid on their fresh fish! Toursists are able to observe tuna auctions from either windows above or a large deck. You’ll need to get there extremely early in the morning (5:00am or so), but the advantage at Toyosu vs. Tsukiji is that you don’t need a reservation in advance or someone to escort you. Just show up and vie for a good vantage point before they’re gone! There’s all kinds of fresh, delicious bites for you to eat all throughout the market as a payoff for getting such an early start for that auction.
Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous district for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Think 5th Avenue in NYC. Department stores, boutiques, galleries, cafes, and nightclubs – even if you can’t spend the coin, you’ll have a great time strolling and window shopping. One destination we highly recommend adding to your Tokyo itinerary is Dover Street Market. The multi-brand fashion destination was founded by Rei Kawakubo of Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons. The Ginza shop is one of only seven locations in the world, and it is a highly curated collection of some of the hottest designer brands.
You might be catching on by now that there is a lot of strolling involved in this itinerary. It really is the best way to see Tokyo, or any city for that matter. Another area you need to experience is Harajuku. While you probably won’t run into Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls” specifically, you’ll definitely see no shortage of the wild and unique clothing they, and Harajuku youth in general, are widely known for. You’ll find this “outpost” area packed with people-watching, shopping, and food… ALL the food! We recommend grabbing a crepe. You’ll not be able to miss them – they’re crazy! Trust us.
Shinjuku is another area right near Harajuku, full of all kinds of cool things to see. Just head over there and explore. You’ll find some very narrow foot-path streets (more like alleys) lined with tiny, and very old little restaurants, shops, etc. Stephen swears the best Chinese food he’s ever had was here, in a little counter-dining restaurant that only seats about 10 people at a time. Hopefully you’ve got a bit of room left in your tummy from snacking in Harajuku, because you probably won’t be able to resist the smells here in Shinjuku.
Your Tokyo itinerary won’t be complete without a visit to one of their many theme restaurants. Our choice was the infamous Robot Restaurant. It’s an explosion of crazy, wild, Japanese creativity, and none of it seems to make much sense together, yet it works! The fun starts as soon as you walk in. Hot Tip: give yourself time to hang in the pre-show lounge. There’s a lounge band consisting of a glamorous female vocalist backed by a band of robot costumed musicians. You’ll be alerted when the main showroom is opening so you can go inside and take your seat. The show is an onslaught of vibrant costumes, lots of drummers, dancers, and robots, of course. But it’s not only robots – It’s more like a motorized parade including sharks, monsters, and fire breathing dragons. There is even popcorn and drinks for sale. Like, in between every act. Here’s a preview of the Robot Restaurant in one of our YouTube shorts. Hot Tip: You should book online in advance to be sure you get a seat for the main show. For more Unusual Things That Are Totally Common In Japan, go here!
There’s no shortage of things to see in Roppongi, but for starters, it’s where the Hard Rock Cafe, Tokyo is. Fun story: when Andie was little she got a Hard Rock t-shirt here, and on one of my Japan tours decades later, I swung by to grab her a new one just like her original.
Just a bit more “artistic,” you’ll also find the Mori Arts Center gallery nearby as well, which we highly recommend! It’s an artspace adjacent to the observation deck on the 52nd floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. High-quality exhibitions can be found here on a variety of themes, including anime and film, manga, top museums of the world, fashion and design from Japan and beyond. And outside the building is equally as impressive. Take a walk under the giant spider sculpture if it’s still there!
Tokyo Tower is one of my favorite attractions in Tokyo. It’s gorgeous. I’ve stayed in the Shiba-koen district many times, so I’d get to stare at it on the daily. During the day, at night, in rain, fog, and even a rare snow storm once. It is absolutely breathtaking in every one of those situations. And the views of the city from up inside the tower? Stunning! Nearby is Shiba Park, which you should also spend some time exploring. Shiba Tosho-gu shrine and Zojo-ji Buddhist temple are also within the park, and if you’re there at 5:00 p.m. (if memory serves), you’ll get to witness a monk ringing the Bonsho (bell) with a large suspended beam.
We always try to keep a free day in our schedule and can’t recommend enough that you do the same. This allows for bad weather or any other unexpected things that might pop up, and it also gives you flexibility to shift your days around to suit your mood as you travel.
This is how we ended up at the Ramen Show at Komazawa Olympic Park one November day. We just poked around online to see what we could find to do on a whim and there it was. Little did we know that this would also be our first J-pop concert experience! In typical festival fashion, there was one act after the other on a small stage for the entire day. If you have the chance to experience a J-pop concert, you must! And the ramen was incredible, with loads of vendors to choose from. The extra cool part is you can also vote for your favorite, which of course we did, but we weren’t able to stay til the end to find out the winner. And since we’re talking food, here are 11 foods you have to try in Japan (that aren’t sushi)!
If your time in Tokyo includes a Sunday, you must get over to Yoyogi Park to see the Rockabilly Dancers just inside the park’s entrance! You should visit the park no matter what days you’re there, but these dancers have been rocking this tradition every Sunday for at least 30 years! Andie first saw them when she was in Tokyo with her family in the 80s, and we were so pleasantly surprised to find out they were still there in 2019. Check them out in this YouTube short! As far as we can tell The Strangers are the “main” group, and it’s really interesting to see the hierarchy with the other groups bringing them gifts of beer and such, and waiting for their turn to dance.
The park itself is one of the largest city parks in Tokyo and wonderful for exploring. In addition to the many food & craft vendors, wide lawns, forested areas, and ponds, the park is home to Meiji Jingu, or Meiji Shrine. Built in 1920, the shrine is a memorial to Japan’s first modern day royal rulers. While we were there we happened onto a large gathering of people waiting for what turned out to be a beautiful traditional ceremony. With so much to offer, you absolutely can’t go wrong visiting Yoyogi Park.
While there are guided tours of the inner grounds available (but none of the buildings), simply heading over to Imperial Palace for relaxation and sightseeing on the surrounding grounds will make for a beautiful few hours or so. You can view the two bridges that form the entrance to the inner grounds (Nijubashi), the fantastic moats and massive stone walls that surround the palace, some of the gorgeous structures, and the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Bring snacks and kick back on the lawn for a bit, taking in the flora, vegetation, and history of Japan.
For your evening, you should drink with the locals. Famous for its architecture and nightlife, you may have heard tales or seen images of absolutely tiny old bars with steamed windows and a max-capacity of around 10-20 people. This is Golden Gai. There are 6 narrow alleys that are connected by even more narrow pathways (as in, wide enough for 1-2 people!) and contains over 200 shanty-style bars and eateries. It’s really, really funky-cool, and you gotta check it out!
Any way you slice it, Tokyo’s ability to dazzle is endless. The largest city in Japan, it’s difficult for anyone to see “everything” in just 7 days’ time. But it’s also difficult for this city to disappoint, and no matter what you decide to do we’re pretty confident that you’ll be in awe and find yourself in love by the time you leave.
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[…] Everyone travels differently. Some like to plan every move, some like to take it as it comes and let themselves “get lost” in their adventure with little to no plans. Neither is right or wrong, just a matter of personal preference. Personally, we’re way more on the “planned” side, but we don’t choreograph every single move. We build in room for flexibility, including a floatable “free day,” which we’ll probably mention more than once here. A free day allows for the unexpected (like weather), or to mix & match partial days. We like to have a nice balance between a structured plan that we actually follow, but with the flexibility to be spontaneous or to pivot when necessary. Check out what we did with our free day in Japan here! […]
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[…] Tokyo […]
[…] Tokyo […]
Brilliant travelogue! What a beautiful endeavor merging many your talents! Now I’m off to Chattanooga.
Thank you, Suzi! We’re happy to inspire! Did you get to Chattanooga after all?
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