When I was visiting China and North Korea, I was thinking that I don’t always get the opportunity to travel that far so since I was already there, I wanted to have a quick stopover by a third country. I opted for Tokyo, Japan. Even though my visit was short, I still enjoyed some of the highlights of Tokyo in a short time!
About Tokyo: Japan’s capital
Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world with over 13.5 millions inhabitants. It is known as Japan’s capital city as well as a major economic center. Tokyo has been developing without limits on its ground and without limits on its sky. It is built on an earthquake-prone zone but yet it rises more skyscrapers than any other city in the world. It even breaks unimaginable records of heights. Even though it’s a city of the future, it never breaks away from its traditional past. All of this can be witnessed even during a short layover in Tokyo, where truly, Old meets New!
Landing at Haneda Airport
I was lucky to be landing at Haneda Airport as it is close to Tokyo’s city centre. The other airport being Narita International Airport which is quite far away from the city and thus a short stopover from Narita might not be ideal and instead some recommend to spend the time at Narita City if stopover over for less than 8 hours.
When I landed at Haneda Airport, it took me less than one hour to clear immigration and get my luggage. I was very excited to be in Tokyo finally. I opted for a subway ride to my hotel, located in Tamachi. The subway can be very confusing at the start as the network is very large.
I took the Keikyu Line towards Central Tokyo. It is very practical as it can take 40 minutes to get to popular areas of Tokyo like Asakusa. I stopped at Mita for my hotel but the line continues with further connections to other lines like Yamanote Line for areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku. You can check other transport options here.
Things to do during less than 24 hours stopover in Tokyo
For those on a very short stopover like 8 hours, I would advise you to head to Shibuya for a preview of Tokyo and Japan more broadly. It is the area where most tourists head to as it incorporates the most typical image of the city: neon lights, crowds of business professionals and futuristic skyscrapers. It is also where the popular Shibuya Crossing is.
In Shibuya, you will find everything from shopping malls to games arcades. So it’s perfect to get lost around there and enjoy the day in Tokyo.
Although Asakusa is very touristy and crowded, it might be quite hectic to visit it during a short stopover. However, it is famous for its Senso-ji Buddhist Temple (also known as Asakusa Temple). It’s great to have a little introduction to Buddhism and witness people chanting at the temple or lightning candles. I really loved it!
It’s however possible to wander around Asakusa and get lost in smaller streets. Some shops sell souvenirs and gifts, the owners are very friendly (just like in every shops in Japan). They are polite and they made me feel special despite the huge number of tourists in the area. If you are in Tokyo for a short time, Asakusa is perfect to do some quick shopping at the middle of the stopover in Tokyo.
Watch Keiko: Sumo practice
If you are flying to Tokyo at awkward hours, then take advantage of your jetlag and go to watch Keiko, sumo practice. That was my plan but I was super tired from my travels that I ended up not going (and regretting it for the rest of my life…). Anyway, the practice starts at 7:30AM and lasts until 10AM. It’s totally free. However, there are some rules to respect. Read more about Keiko here.
Onsen Hot Spring
Tokyo has so many hot spring baths. It’s possible to relax at the middle of this urban jungle. The onsen are spread all over Tokyo and vary in terms of size and standard, from small old-school to massive modern complexes. TimeOut Tokyo has a great selection of onsen in Tokyo.
Shinjuku is a massive commercial and entertainment area of Tokyo. It is buzzing with energetic crowds, and a dense concentration of bars and restaurants. It is however similar to Shibuya, but far more crazy! If you want to avoid the”crazy”, you can relax at Shinjuku Gyo-en and enjoy its beautiful gardens.
Tokyo Tower is what Eiffel Tower is for Paris! Iconic, high and grand, the tower is painted in Orange but it is a great addition to the skyline of Tokyo. I climbed up the tower at night to see the view of the city. The view was amazing and goes farther than I expected. Seeing the Japanese capital buzzing from above was one of my highlights.
Where to sleep
There is a diverse range of places to sleep in Tokyo. For a stopover, a capsule hotel can be enough. It can be useful for a quick afternoon nap. However, it is not the best choice if you land from a 10 hours flight and should board another 12 hours flight later… but capsule hotels are part of the Tokyo experience. For extra comfort, I would suggest going for a 3 to 4 stars hotels, I found prices to be fair. I stayed in a 4 stars hotel called Villa Fontaine for 60 dollars per night. The room was excellent, the location ideal in Tamachi and the breakfast was decent. I heard that hotels were extremely expensive in Tokyo but after travelling to Iceland, I now think all other countries are cheap!
Where to eat
Japanese food is definitely one of the best in the world. I had the opportunity to eat in various places during my stopover but my most recommended are the following.
Ichiran Shinjuku Kabukicho
This restaurant chain specialises in Tonkotsu Ramen. Its menu is very simple but the quality of the food is excellent. I usually don’t like Ramen but I slurp it like crazy! It was also quite cheap and the setting was original which adds up to the great experience. Since Ichiran is a chain, many restaurants are available throughout Tokyo, check the list here.
Tsukiji Sushi Say Honten
Sushi with salmon that melts in the mouth? This is the right place for it.Tsukiji Sushisay Honten is a traditional sushi restaurant in the area of Tsukiji. The quality of fish is undeniably contributing to the success of this place but the care and love that I witnessed from the chefs when making sushi is unique. I was treated as an intimate guest by the friendly staff and other people eating there. This was the right place to have an unforgettably foodie experience with locals in Tokyo. The TripAdvisor reviews speak for themselves!
Tokyo is one of my favourite cities around the world. It captured my love very quickly, I only spent a couple of days there between 2 flights. I think it’s a perfect stopover destination but if I have a choice, I would stay even longer and make it the main destination rather than a stopover.