Let me start out by saying that 48 hours in Tokyo is not nearly enough time, and that if you have only planned to have 48 hours, then you need to rethink your plan.
Ok, now that I have gotten that out of the way!
We spent 5 nights and 4 days in Tokyo, one of which was spent on a day trip to Nikko, and I can firmly tell you that it was not enough time. Not even close to enough time. The itinerary that I am about to present will give you a snapshot of Tokyo, and will take you to a variety of different sights and places, but it is by no means comprehensive. It will however, give you a taste of Tokyo.
I’ve tried to set up this itinerary to provide sensible transfer times between stops using the Tokyo metro lines. You can find a comprehensive map in English here.
Morning – Tsukiji Fish market
Closest metro station: Tsukiji (Hibiya line)
The Tsukiji fish market seems an unlikely tourist attraction, but this market is now one of the busiest in Tokyo. Many visitors come here to witness the famous Tuna auctions, however, admission is strictly limited. If you want to see the Tuna aution you have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00am (or earlier on busy days) on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50, while a second group of 60 visitors will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15. If you are really keen, you will want to arrive much earlier than 5 AM to start queuing.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t care enough about tuna to get up that early. Luckily, visitors can walk around a section of the regular fish market after 10 AM to get a sense of the importance of seafood in Japanese culture. It’s an interesting experience, but it’s still an operating market, so please be respectful of the vendors trying to do business here.
In the streets around the fish market, there is another excellent market where you can buy anything and everything. We stocked up on these custard strawberries.
Afternoon – Asakusa temple
Transport: Either walk or take the Hibiya line one stop to Higashi-Ginza, then change to the Asakusa line to Asakusa
Asakusa temple, or Sensoji, is Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temples. The temple was built in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple as well. Sensoji used to be a popular pilgrimage site, and like all places where the masses congregate, merchants have come here to do business. After you enter the main gates, you must walk down a short shopping street before you reach the temple. The shops sell your usual tourist tatt, but there is some good stuff here as well, and lots of good little spots to grab a snack. My favourite part of Asakusa and it’s surrounding shopping streets were the colourful murals painted everywhere.
Evening – Akihabara
Transport: Take the Ginza line to Ueno, then change to the Hibiya line to Akihabara
Akihabara, also known as Electronics town used to be the place in Tokyo where you would come to buy all things electrical; from televisions, to electric parts. Now the district is a more eclectic mix. Electronic stores are now interspersed between manga and anime shops, maid cafes, and all sorts of weird and wonderful homages to Japanese pop culture.
The whole district is an overwhelming array of flashing lights, loud music, and activity. We were severely jet lagged after a red eye flight, and Akihabara was probably the only place crazy enough to keep us awake and wired.
Morning – Roppongi Hills and Tokyo City View
Closest metro station: Roppongi (Hibiya and Oedo lines)
Start your day off with a dose of arts and culture at the Roppongi Hills Mori art gallery and Tokyo City View. The Mori art gallery is a modern art gallery located in the same building as Tokyo city view. The exhibitions are always changing, but the museum strives to keep the art as accessible as possible. When we visited there were two exhibitions on; one of marvel superheros (which Jacob loved!) and another contemporary exhibition out of India. You can buy combined tickets which include access to the exhibitions as well as to Tokyo city view.
Afternoon – Harajuku
Transport: Take the Hibiya line to Ebisu, and change to the Yamanote line to Harajuko station.
It’s time to shop until you drop. Welcome to the famous shopping and youth district of Harajuku. Here you will find everything from vintage to high fashion, and everything in between. Also be prepared to face some crowds, as some of the most popular streets get very, very busy indeed. The most famous, and most crowded, street is Takeshita street. Here is where you will find the bulk of the vintage and teen fashion stores. Some of the stuff is quite fun and trendy, while other shops have clearly given in to tourist tatt. For something a little more upmarket, visit Omotesando street, which is much less busy (but also much more expensive).
From here you can walk towards Shibuya (or take the train one stop along the Yamanote line), which is home to the most famous street crossing in Japan. This crossing is just outside the stations Hachiko exit, and everytime the light turns green the street is literally flooded with waves upon waves of human bodies.
Evening – Shibuyu
Transport: Walk from Harajuku, or take the Yamanote line one stop to Shibuyu.
Shibuyu is home to the world famous Shibuyo crossing, as well as being a fashion and youth culture mecca as well. There are also some great night life spots around Shibuyu, making this a good place to end your day. Kick back, grab something to eat, and explore the lights, sounds, and ambiance of Shibuyu.