I did not originally realize how far Narita airport is from Tokyo. The best way to reach there is by coach bus service that serves the hotels. I stayed at the Park Hotel in an area called Shiodome and is mainly a corporate centre, which was selected mainly due to getting a sensible corporate rate (I was back-and-forth and spending the money to stay at the Park Hyatt owing to my love of “Lost in Translation”, which I abandoned after sensibility kicked-in on how much one should reasonably pay for a hotel). When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the front-desk if there was an place I could find some restaurants and he pointed me to an area about a 5 minute walk away called Shinbasi. This area was actually quite good for walking around in the evening and taking-in some local after-hours culture: there were a couple Pachinko parlours, small restaurants, shops and bars, all lit extravagantly as you would expect for Tokyo. Only local people could be found here – complete tourist avoidance. I don’t necessarily recommend making a trip to this area, but if you happen to be staying in the Minato area it may be worth walking around in the evening.
Time Magazine had an on-line count-down of 10 Things To Do in Tokyo that I thought was pretty good. I chased down a few things on this list. One strategy I have is to find places that have a high-density of things to-do in the surrounding area, especially when on a short trip. You don’t want to spend a lot of time criss-crossing a foreign city.
Using this strategy, I focused a lot of time on the corridor along this line between Harkuju and Ebisu on the JR Yamanote Line. The area along here contains the Meiji Shrine, Yogoyi Park, Shibuya Crossing, the trendy Ebisu neighbourhood (each of these listed in the aforementioned time article). Also, right across from the Harkuju station is Takeshita Dori which is trendy youth fashion street that is great to taking in some local culture, and your pre-teens or teen would love to get some trendy stuff from here.
In summary, the cluster of things to do in this area was:
- Meiji Shrine (including the shrine and Yoyogi Gyoen garden) – a bit of Japanese history in the city
- Yoyohi Park – a nice walk
- Takeshita Dori – taking in Japanese urban culture and people watching
- Shibuya Crossing – for people watching and the Japanese urban spectacle
- Tokyu Food Show – check out the department store and the spectacle of the food hall
- Tokyu and Tokyu Hands Department Stores – interesting to do some shopping with a local flare, and a good place to pick-up some souvenirs (impressive variety of chop-sticks, I might add)
- Ebisu – for getting a sense of the Japanese trendy neighbourhood and off-the-beaten track dining
The hotel was right near the Shinbasi and Shiodome metro stations, which was convenient. And, while you might think the hotel could be better located – it was actually a 10 minute was to the Tsukiji fish market (again, in the Time Top Ten above). This is another must-see, and must eat experience. I missed the fish auction, but I managed to eat at Sushi Dai, which is the most famous and most written-up sushi spot in the market. Everything is in Japanese so make sure you know how to find it. The surest way is to look for the place that has the enormous line-up. Make no mistake, if you want to go to Sushi Dai you need to be prepared to get up at 4 30 AM in the morning and wait for two hours – the line-up is long, and unless you are there super-early, you can expect to wait 2-3 hours. For me, it was worth the wait, of course, there are a dozen other little restaurants at the market and I would be curious how they compare. A lot of people say it is too busy, and because its been written-up in every tourist book almost every international and Japanese tourist goes there. Your best plan would be to leverage your jet-lag, get-up super early and get in line.
The bottom line: Make your short time count by finding things to-do in clusters, focus on immersion and just go experience stuff; Sushi Dai is probably not worth it for most people, Ebisu and Takeshita Dori were the most interesting highlights from my day.