With a population of almost 14 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area that exceeds 13,000 square kilometers, Tokyo requires a good prior planning to get to know it thoroughly.
If your trip to Japan lasts a total of 7 days, I recommend that you focus on the metropolis and its surroundings. There are enough attractions to see in Tokyo and you just need to be clear about what to see and how to get around.
Day 1: Shinjuku, get to know the city center
Shinjuku is a business district that develops around Tokyo's busiest train station. In my opinion, it is an ideal first stop to understand Japan and immerse yourself in the busiest area of the city.
The first day is usually a bit complicated: the trip is very long and you need to make a stop at the hotel to drop your bags. This is why I have thought of a simple itinerary that does not require too much effort.
Visit the Samurai Museum
The first stop is a cultural institution that will take you back to Japan's glorious past. The museum houses the best armor and katanas from the Muromachi, Edo and Kamakura periods. In fact, Japanese warriors par excellence had three types of swords: Ootachi (long), Katana (intermediate) and Tachi (short).
You will learn more anecdotes in the museum, which is located within walking distance of the station. If you want to deepen your knowledge, please note that free group tours are held every 10 to 20 minutes. For more information you can consult the official website.
If you are interested in this topic, I also recommend you to read the post about the ninja/samurai experiences in Tokyo.
Stroll around Shinjuku Gyoen
After the tour, you can get some fresh air in Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the largest and most popular parks in Tokyo.
It was born during the Edo period (between the 17th and 19th century) as a residence for feudal lords and in 1903 passed into the hands of the imperial family who used it to house their guests.
Don't arrive too late. Many attractions in the capital - and Japan in general - close quite early. Shinjuku Gyoen is no exception as its doors only stay open between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm.
You can also buy tickets to go up to the Skytree, one of the tallest communication towers in Japan, which is 634 meters high and houses, among other things, a restaurant, two observation decks and the most impressive views of the Japanese skyline. You can choose between two heights, Tembo Deck (350m) and Tembo Galleria (450m), and if you book your tickets in advance you will save time and queues.
End the day with a nice bowl of ramen
Before going to bed - and I assure you that you will be tired - you can have a cup of ramen. Both in summer and winter, it is a good option to end the day.
In Shinjuku, the restaurant of reference is Ichiran. It is a chain but the quality is very good. Keep it in mind if you find it in other parts of the city.
If you prefer another place, you will have no problem. Not in vain, Shinjuku is part of many gastronomic tours in Tokyo and walking through its famous Drunkard's Alley is a unique experience.
Day 2: Asakusa and Ueno, a day in its most important temples and museums
The second day usually starts quite early: jet lag is unforgiving. Take advantage of your early wake-up to see a busy attraction....
Stand in awe at Sensō-ji
It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and a must on any trip to the land of the Rising Sun, so it is best to hire a tour to see this area. Its construction dates back to the seventh century and is linked to a legend.
According to local folklore, two fishermen brothers found a statue of the goddess Kannon. Despite their attempts to return it to the river, the statue seemed to follow them everywhere.
Only then did they understand the divine message and so they decided to erect the temple. Sensoji issurrounded by impressive gates, a five-story pagoda and stalls selling souvenirs and traditional items.
Don't miss the Tokyo National Museum collection
It is the oldest of Japan's museums and houses a vast collection of art objects and archaeological finds. It is located just 25 minutes from the temple, so I recommend you take a leisurely stroll between the two points.
Among the most important works, we can mention the following:
- Honkan, the Japanese gallery. Its highlights are the Zen paintings and samurai clothing.
- Toyokan, the gallery dedicated to Asian civilizations. It gathers pieces from China, India, Cambodia, Korea and Egypt.
- Horyuji, the gallery of treasures. It houses the gifts of the Japanese imperial family and gigaku, colorful demonic masks from local folklore.
Beware: it is open every day except Monday. I recommend you to book tickets for the Tokyo National Museum in advance.
Take a break in Ueno Park
Right next to the museum is Ueno Park, a must stop if you travel to Tokyo in spring. It is one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms, a phenomenon that in Japan is called Sakura and symbolizes human life, the transience of time and nobility.
After sunset, the park is even more magical: countless lanterns and the lights of the food stalls illuminate the trees.
This green area is home to a number of attractions: the Shinobazu pond with its rental boats, the statue of the last Samurai (Saigō Takamori), the zoo, gazebos and more.
Conclude the day at Yamabe Okachimachi
After such a busy day, I'm sure you'll want to reward yourself with a nice dinner. Within walking distance of Ueno Park is a good, nice and cheap restaurant - Yamabe Okachimachi.
The house specialty is Tonkatsu, a breaded and fried pork cutlet (6 Chome-2-6 Ueno, Taito City). And a good option to know in detail all this tour is to do it by bike, and for this, you have a very complete tour that you can book.
Day 3: Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya, a day out of the center of the city
The Harajuku district is located between Shinjuku and Shibuya and is easily accessible by subway. The Chiyoda and Fukutoshin lines pass through here.
Lose yourself in Meiji Jingu Shrine
This splendid Tokyo landmark is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan, and Empress Shoken. It was completed in 1920, but did not survive the bombings of World War II. Like other buildings of the Rising Sun, it was completely rebuilt after the end of the conflict.
As you enter, the noises of the metropolis linger at the door. It is surrounded by a forest that covers an area of 70 hectares and is home to more than 200 different varieties of trees. It is open every day of the year from dawn to dusk and admission is free.
Take your kids to KiddyLand
In case you are traveling to Tokyo with children, I recommend making a stop at this store, just 5 minutes away from the previous point of your tour. Actually, more than a store, it is a real institution of the city.
On its four floors you can find all the main characters of the Rising Sun (Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Studio Ghibli, etc.), as well as international franchises (Marvel, Disney, etc.). To get an idea, you can take a look at the official website.
Get lost in Shibuya
Shibuya is known for both shopping and lively nightlife. Actually, there are two emblematic things in the neighborhood: the busiest crosswalk in the world (right in front of the station) and the statue of Hachiko the dog.
If you don't know his story, you can read the synopsis of the movie about his story.
Day 4: Toyosu, Odaiba and Ginza, a day of shopping
The fourth day opens with a classic of the Japanese capital: the Toyosu fish market.
If the name doesn't ring a bell, it's because it was originally located in Tsukiji. However, this was closed in 2016 and the new one is located here.
Start the day at the fish market
The structure was built in less than two years and stands on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. The new market is less chaotic and you can't see the famous tuna auction up close. However, it is worth seeing how the fish that will later end up in the city's best sushi restaurants is bought.
Access is free but you must pick up a special pass at the main entrance. It may be a bit complicated - in Japan few people speak English and Spanish is even less known - and therefore, I advise you to find out a bit in advance.
Take a close look at the Gundam statue
Leaving the market and walking for a few minutes you will reach the second attraction. The Gundam statue in the Odaiba district is a 1:1 scale model of the robot from the animated series.
When you look at it closely you will notice the resemblance to the original model and if you stay a few minutes you can see some light effects, the movements of the head and the steam coming out of its thorax.
After a walk through Odaiba, you can take the subway (Yurikamome line to Shimbashi + Asakusa line to Higashi-ginza) and in a few minutes you will have arrived in the most exclusive district of the city.
This area concentrates the best national and international brands. You can take advantage of your stay to enter these stores:
- Wako (multi-brand)
- Uniqlo (clothing)
- Onitsuka Tiger (sneakers)
- Mitsukoshi (multi-brand)
- Hakuhinkan (games)
- Senjafuda (phone straps)
- Six (multi-brand)
Day 5: Kawaguchi, an excursion away from the hustle and bustle of the city
Tokyo is wonderful and surprises you every day. However, it is also a huge metropolis, with large buildings, a jungle of billboards and countless people in the streets.
For a break from the hustle and bustle, I suggest a trip to Kawaguchi, one of the five lakes of Mount Fuji.
Admire the silhouette of Mount Fuji
Taking a bullet train excursion or hiring a tour to Mount Fuji from Tokyo are two of the best ways to escape for a few hours from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Mount Fuji, in particular, is one of the symbols of the country and a place with a strong spiritual bond with the Japanese. It is also the highest peak in Japan and the destination of numerous excursions.
If you travel to Tokyo in winter you will not be able to climb it - access is closed - but nothing prevents you from admiring its figure.
From Kawaguchiko station, you can take a bus to Kawaguchiko 5th station. From here you have a wonderful view over the lakes and the mountain.
Try Hoto noodles
In this area of the Rising Sun, the star dish is Hoto Noodles, handmade noodles cooked in miso soup with pumpkin and other ingredients. It is believed that Takeda Shingen, the local warlord, used to eat this recipe before going into battle.
In Kawaguchi you will find it in many places but there is one restaurant that prepares the best: Houtou Fudou. It is typically Japanese and if you sit inside you can enjoy lunch sitting on a tatami mat (3631-2 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi).
Cruise the lake
While you're on the shores, why not treat yourself and book a mini cruise. You will go to Mount Fuji in a luxury bus, sail on a boat on Lake Ashi, and take a cable car to see Hakone and return to Tokyo by bullet train. How about that?
In both cases, the trip takes about half an hour and the cost is around €100.
Day 6: Nikko, get to know rural Japan
With its forested hills and splendid temples, Nikko is an ideal destination for exploring rural Japan. If you book a tour to Nikko you will discover some of the most beautiful temples and shrines in Japan, riding a comfortable bus as transportation and with a professional guide.
Enter Toshogu Shrine
Nikko is located at the entrance to the national park of the same name and is best known for the Toshogu Shrine. The complex is richly decorated and is located in the middle of a forest.
It contains Shinto and Buddhist elements and one of its landmarks is the five-story pagoda two steps from the entrance. The combined entrance + museum ticket costs approximately 2100 yen (15 €).
Immerse yourself in nature
Kanmangafuchi Chasm is a gorge a few hundred meters wide. It was formed after the eruption of a volcano and its peculiarity lies in the 70 stone statues (Bodhisattva) facing the river.
I recommend you to get here for a nice walk. Kanmangafuchi Abyss can be reached in about 30 minutes on foot from the shrine.
Look for the primates at Tōshō-gu Shrine
You know the famous "I don't see, I don't hear and I don't speak" monkeys. They are not just emoticons but a true symbol of Buddhist culture. They are called Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru and they refer to evil. Let me explain better: "see no evil", "hear no evil" and "speak no evil".
In all probability they come from the writings of Confucius and arrived in Japan from China around the VIII century.
In the Edo period (between the 17th and 19th centuries), the refiguration of these primates increased considerably. Indeed, the temple of Tōshō-gu was built at this time and houses some perfectly preserved sculptures.
Day 7: Naka Meguro
Before returning to everyday life, I recommend exploring a quiet neighborhood, somewhat off the beaten path. Getting there is easy, Nakameguro station is on the Tokyu-Toyoko and Hibiya subway lines.
Breakfast in style
The district is developed around a small river and hosts different bars where to start the day with energy.
Personally, I recommend you try I'm Donut? All their doughnuts are made with an original blend of Japanese flour and trans fat free butter. You can choose between different glazes (pistachio, raspberry, lemon) at an individual price of about 200 yen (about 1.5 €).
Travel back in time at the Asakura Old House
As you can imagine, this is a century-old two-story wooden house. It was built by Torajiro, a man who came to Tokyo to seek his fortune and quickly became a successful timber merchant.
The house has survived several earthquakes and also the bombings of World War II. You can visit it for about 100 yen.
Say goodbye to Japan at Yebisu Beer Museum
In the Land of the Rising Sun, beer first appeared at the end of the 19th century. The Dutch were the first to produce it in Nagasaki for their personal use while the first brewery was founded in 1869 in Yokohama. Yebisu made its debut a few years later (in 1889) and distinguished itself from the start for quality.
When the company was in its infancy, the factory was located in the countryside, whereas today it is in a heavily urbanized area. Getting there from the old house in Asakusa is easy: a 20-minute walk is all you need.
The Yebisu Beer Museum traces the history of the brand and shows how the precious amber-colored liquid is produced. You will also see old advertising posters and TV commercials.
Of course, the tasting room where you can sample a few pints is a must. The museum is open all week except Monday and admission is free. You will only have to open your wallet to taste the beers or in case you want to buy a souvenir in the store. For more information I recommend you take a look at the official website.
Is it worth staying a week in Tokyo?
In my opinion yes. To explore Japan, 7 days are not enough. In case you have only one week of vacation, staying in the capital and taking advantage of its good connections is a splendid idea.
You can easily visit Yokohama, Todoroki Valley, Enoshima Island, the coastal city of Kamakura or book an excursion to Mount Fuji and Lake Ashi from Tokyo.
Budget for travel to Tokyo
The Japanese capital is quite expensive but not as much as you might think. True, there are things that cost more in Japan than in Spain - for example, fruit, some imported products or bullet train (Shinkansen) tours - but, in general, you can find all price ranges.
When it comes to eating you have very affordable options: a bentō (assorted boxed meal) costs about 400/600 yen (between 3 € and 5 €), a plate of gyudon with miso soup costs about 400 yen while for a bowl of ramen you will have to spend between 500 and 800 yen.
In addition, at 7/11 you will find various local snacks at affordable prices (and all hours of the day).
As for accommodation, a night in a good hostel is around 20 € per night. If you want to experience a local tradition, karaoke, renting a room for two hours with a drink included costs about 3000 yen (about 25 €).
In general, for a beer and a drink you will have to pay respectively 600 and 800 yen.