Exploring Japan – What would you do if you only had 2 1/2 Days to spend in Tokyo?

When you visit Tokyo, chances are, you will most likely choose to stay in Shinagawa…. we did! And, if you do your research properly ahead of time, you will realise it is actually a great place to use as a base (in retrospect, I wish I had).

Day 1

Arrive in Tokyo

We arrived in Tokyo in the evening and headed straight to the hotel where we were staying.

We stayed close to the Shinagawa Station which gave us great connectivity to places in Tokyo.  Depending on what time you arrive, there are some places in Shinagawa worth seeing even late in the evening.  The kids and I walked around exploring the area but sadly missed visiting the Aqua Park.  We were so absorbed with the food, the sights and sounds of the area on the first day that we neglected to check the closing time of the Aqua Park.  We thought we would visit on one of the other days but it so happened there is SO much to see in Tokyo that we never came back to the hotel before 10pm on the other days we were there. So, the tip I would like to share is this:  If you have a free evening in Shinagawa, please to check out the Aqua Park… from what I heard later, it is a pretty cool place to visit, especially if you have kids.

Day 2

Tokyo Skytree – Day or Night it is up to you, but, either way, the views from the top are spectacular!    You cannot appreciate how large an area Tokyo along with the surrounding areas really is until you look out the observation deck in the Skytree.  We visited the tower during the day but, can really imagine what the areas would look at night.

Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple) and Nakamise Shopping Arcade – A beautiful temple at the end of a very interesting shopping arcade.  Depending on the time of the year, it is so packed that you may feel claustrophobic or ecstatic!  If you feel ecstatic, then you will notice all the beautiful little things that are available there that you can pick up as souvenirs from your Japan visit – Maneki-neko cats, Daruma dolls, Japanese textile purses, kimonos, etc.  I did not bargain as I was told by a friend that there is no bargaining in Japan (and it seemed like it).  If you are into Feng Shui, there a lot of “good luck” helpers available for sale as well.  On the way to the temple I keenly observed what was available and on the way back filled up my shopping bag : )

The Senso-ji Temple itself is beautiful.  Unfortunately, because of the large crowds, it is difficult to concentrate if you are looking for an opportunity to sit and meditate in the temple. There are some nice spots however, between the inner gate and the temple that you can find where you can sit and enjoy some time to your self.

Plan to spend around 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours here.  Having been to many tourist areas within Japan, I would strongly recommend buying souvenirs when you see them (esp. uniquely Japanese ones).

Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) – If you have kids, then do not miss the opportunity to visit this centre.  From trying out the UNI-CUB (age restrictions + additional cost), to watching ASIMO showing off his skills to watching the movie in the theatre to checking out the many interactive displays on the different floors, Miraikan is a beautiful exploration space for kids of all ages!

Ginza – It is pretty much the Time Square of Tokyo!  If you haven’t tried the local trains, you can travel on the Yurikamome Transit line (driverless, automated train) from a station close to the Miraikan to the Shimbashi station and then start walking towards Ginza.  In Ginza, there are so many amazing places to eat that you will find it hard to decide.  Of course, once night falls, the magic begins.  The lit up stores (luxury brands or otherwise), people walking on the wide sidewalks, the Ginza crossing … all make it a nice evening out.  From Ginza we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 3

This day can pretty much be reserved for exploring the cultural treasures within Tokyo.  We made the mistake of making this a travel day as well which did not give us enough time to explore each place worth visiting.  If possible, arrange your outbound travel for the next morning… it will be worth it.

Imperial Palace – It is a nice walk up to the area where you can take pictures.  But, all said and done, it is pretty much a photo stop (assuming you are going on most days when the Palace is closed to the public).

Shrines – Some of the more popular shrines to consider visiting include:  Hei Shrine, Meiji Jingu Shrine

Ueno Park and vicinity attractions – Ueno Park is another really nice area in Tokyo where you can spend the whole day IF you have the time.  From the Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo National Museum, Western Art Museum to the beautiful trees and garden that make up the park, it is indeed a world in its own and to explore it you need at least a day or more!

Final thoughts

A couple of years ago I purchased the “International Cities” plate set from Crate & Barrel and I always admired the “Tokyo” plate.  It seemed like a beautiful, exotic city – the perfect mix of modern and ancient.  I was right.  It is an absolutely beautiful place and you can probably spend months in the city and not run of out places to see or experiences to take in. 

Unfortunately, in my quest to see as much of Japan as possible in as little time as possible, I truly did not allocate enough time to Tokyo.  Almost 3 days does not work… at least 3 days may actually work… a week, go for it!  There is of course this practical matter of cost — Tokyo can be expensive… but it is possible to stay in reasonably priced places, eat reasonably priced food and travel by reasonably priced public transport. 

So the next question that comes up is:  will it be really worth it?  Unfortunately, the only answer is: it depends on what you are looking for. 

  • The shrines are indeed peaceful oasis’ where you can just forget about whats next on the itinerary. 
  • The parks are amazing.  IF you are lucky enough to visit during Cherry Blossom time, then, it is truly magical.
  • Looking for a metropolitan night life?  Yep, many options available
  • Want to enjoy some great Japanese food?  Too many choices.  We were honestly floored by how juicy and sweet the fruit and how delicious the vegetables truly are.
  • Ease of using public transportation – amazing!
  • We did not even get a chance to explore anime, Manga, and the fun and quirky side of Tokyo – but research shows cool opportunities.

But, of course there are downsides.  Depending on people knowing English was stupid on our part.    If we were smart, we would have taken a printout of common questions in the local language.  In most cases, we were not able to ask people for directions as they couldn’t understand us (we did not know the local names for places — locals do not relate to the English names).  And finally, as mentioned previously, it is very important to budget properly so that you do not feel pinched.

Would I visit Tokyo again?  Definitely.  I think the next time though, I would concentrate more on the cultural history of Japan and the lifestyle of Japanese people.

Have fun… it is indeed a city worth visiting!


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