Exploring the past, present and future—all in 72 hours
If there’s any place you can truly do that, it is in Tokyo. Its soaring skyscrapers, sacred temples and sushi bars are neon havens for everything you’ll ever need. Despite a 35 million population and over 10 million tourists each year, the city is incredibly clean, organised and quiet (you might think you’ve gone deaf because you don’t even hear a car honk). Though Tokyo’s subway system gives you easy access to every nook and cranny, it needs a good seven days for any traveller to do it justice. But if you have all but 72 hours, here’s what you should do.
Visit the temples and shrines
Of the thousand of temples and shrines, you mustn’t miss out on the Meiji Shrine, which is surrounded by the expansive, wooded Yoyogi Park (it has over 1 lakh trees!). A sunrise walk here—because you shouldn’t leave the Land of the Rising Sun without witnessing day-break—will be worth your time. You might even catch a glimpse of a traditional Japanese-style wedding here, something you might not ordinarily be invited to. During the cherry blossom season, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden makes for a glorious picnic stop for a midday break.
Get a clear view of Mt Fuji
Although Mt Fuji can be clearly seen just as you land in the city or even during inter-city travel (especially while riding the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo), it’s hard to fathom how close the previously-active volcano is to the metropolis. One of the best ways is to get atop the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which gives you one of the clearest (weather permitting) bird’s eye view of the city and Mt Fuji from hundreds of feet above the streets. Skip the Tokyo Skytree, if seeing the skyline is your only reason to go there—thank us later.
Become one with the crowd at Shibuya
Probably the most viewed visual of Tokyo is the Shibuya crossing. Rumoured to be the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, The Scramble, as it’s called, sees a movement of over thousands of people dodging each other at every signal change. In the evenings, particularly around weekends, neon lights, giant video screens guarantee an awe-inspiring feeling unique to Tokyo’s inescapable energy. There’s a good reason why Time magazine names this as one of the top 10 Tokyo experiences.
Visit the fish market for breakfast
One of the largest of its kind across the globe, the Tsukiji Fish Market is abuzz with activity as early as 4.00 AM. Line up for its world-renowned tuna auctions—where wholesalers and retailers alike create a cacophony of the only loud sounds you might hear in the city. You’ll also find food counters for a fresh batch of sushi. Ask around politely and you’ll be escorted to the fugu (blowfish)
section, where the poisonous delicacy is expertly cleaned and cut with surgical precision by certified fugu chefs to make it edible.
You cannot visit the country of karaoke origin and leave without experiencing it. While most bars will see Japanese tunes being belted out, give them a little time (to get drunk) and you’ll hear Japanese-accented English performances soon enough. It’s like the Bollywood of Japan—the party starts off cool and sophisticated but it ends up with gyrating Bollywood American pop music.
Play video games
Tokyo is dotted with video game parlours all over – you just can’t miss them. Think of them as casinos in Vegas, which run round-the-clock without giving away the time of day. One of the key experiences is to walk in closer to midnight—as the subways are beginning to shut for the day—and play these manic machines until the wee hours, when the subways come to life.
The legendary Kamiya Bar, located 20 minutes from the Tokyo SkyTree, was established in the late 1800s and is the oldest
western-style bar in the city. Those who love their cocktails but are on a budget must visit the 130-year-old Fujiya Honten, where you place your money budgeted for the night on the counter and the bartender ensures you never over-order. If you’re backpacking on a string budget, head to Golden Gai neighbourhood, where three winding alleys are home to over 200 bars.
If you’ve been to the samurai districts in cities such as Kanazawa and Kyoto, you’ll wonder if ninjas were just stuff of myths. Although no one denies their historical presence, places of interest are few and far between. Wait, don’t give up just yet. Tokyo is home to the unique and very special NINJA AKASAKA restaurant—where the ninja-dressed staff provides you with an intriguing
experience. Secret passageways and trapdoors lead you to your table and discreet buttons and a fascinating magic show complement a decadent dinner.
…and make merry
Do not miss out on a show at the Kabukiza Theatre—ask for headphones with English translation—for a morning of dance and drama performances reminiscent of the Edo era. In January, May and September, Sumo wrestling tournaments take place at Ryogoku Kokugikan. The action-packed event starts off with a ceremonial rikishi parade before two big bodies tangle, toss, throw and thrash around.