Seeing the top sights of Tokyo in a single day requires a very early start, discipline, and a bit of stamina. This "greatest hits" tour begins with an early morning spin through Japan's largest fish market and a sushi breakfast, and includes a garden tour, a cruise, a museum stop, swanky shopping, and a great meal.
Start: Subway to Shijo-Mae
1. Toyosu Market
You'll need a very early start here, but if you've just flown in from the other side of the globe, you'll be suffering from jet lag anyway, so you should be wide awake by 5am. Head to Japan's largest wholesale fish market for an action-packed morning. Iconic Tsukiji Market, which served as Japan’s largest fish and produce market since 1935, closed on October 6, 2018, reopening as Toyosu Market just 4 days later. That’s some feat, considering that this is one of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world, handling about 2,000 tons daily of seafood consumed in and around Tokyo. Whereas Tsukiji used to allow visitors to roam freely around its tuna auction site and wholesale stalls, over the years an increasing number of visitors forced ever more restrictions. To deal with its celebrity status, Toyosu Market prohibits visitors from its wholesale floor altogether, restricting them to observation platforms from which to view the action. And there’s a lot going on, with men in black rubber boots rushing wheelbarrows and forklifts through the aisles, hawkers shouting, and knives chopping and slicing. Like at Tsukiji, Toyosu has restaurants serving the freshest sushi you’ll ever taste along with shops, but it also offers displays relating to the market and a rooftop garden with views of the waterfront. Its prime location makes it integral to development for the 2020 Olympics. The market is closed Sundays and holidays. See http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english for details.
For the freshest sushi breakfast you'll ever have, head to one of the sushi bars on the market grounds.
Take a taxi from Toyosu Market to Hama Rikyu Garden.
3. Hama Rikyu Garden
There are better, more famous gardens elsewhere in Japan, but Hama Rikyu Garden is convenient for a quick tour. Created more than 300 years ago, today it features a traditional Japanese garden complete with moon-viewing pavilions, teahouses, and other vestiges of its Edo-era origins, as well as a bird refuge. The garden opens at 9am daily.
4. Sumida River Boat Cruise
Inside Hama Rikyu Garden is a pier where you can board a sightseeing boat for a 40-minute cruise up the Sumida River to Asakusa. In the days of old Edo (present-day Tokyo), taking a boat was the most popular way to reach Asakusa and its famous temple, and though the scenery has changed, it's still the most relaxing and interesting way to reach this destination. Boats depart Hama Rikyu at 10:30am and 11:15am, with subsequent departures every half-hour or hour.
5. Nakamise Dori
Asakusa is one of Tokyo's oldest neighborhoods, filled with narrow lanes, traditional Japanese homes, and shops selling handmade crafts and souvenirs. At the heart of Asakusa is Nakamise Dori, a narrow pedestrian lane lined on both sides with booths selling a wide variety of Japanese souvenirs — a good place to stock up on inexpensive gifts for the folks back home. On side streets radiating from Nakamise Dori are also shops offering traditional crafts.
6. Sensoji Temple
Nakamise Dori leads straight to Tokyo's oldest and most popular temple, founded in A.D. 628 to house the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness. Destroyed during World War II and lovingly rebuilt with donations from the Japanese people, it attracts 20 million worshippers a year, giving it a festive atmosphere virtually every day.
This traditional house offers reasonably priced obento box lunches. Try to time your visit to coincide with a free performance of the shamisen or other Japanese musical instrument, given daily at 12:15 and 1:30pm.
Take the Tokyo Shitamachi bus from Kaminarimon Dori (in front of Nakamise Dori) two stops to Ueno; or take the Ginza subway line three stops to Ueno.
8. Tokyo National Museum
This is the most important museum to see in Tokyo, if not all of Japan. It houses the country's largest collection of historic treasures, including swords, samurai gear, lacquerware, ceramics, Buddhist sculptures, calligraphy, woodblock prints, and much, much more. Its most priceless treasures are Buddhist statues, masks, and other religious works of art from Horyuji Temple in Nara, founded in 607. Closed Monday.
Take the Ginza Line from Ueno Station to Ginza Station.
9. The Ginza
The Ginza is Japan's most fashionable — and expensive — shopping address, home to international designer boutiques, art galleries, and huge department stores. My favorite department store is Matsuya on Chuo Dori, with everything from Japanese folk crafts to designer togs for sale, plus an art gallery, restaurants, and a huge food emporium in its basement. There are dozens of excellent restaurants in this neighborhood; pick one that appeals to you for your evening meal.
10. Shinbashi Enbujo Theater
If you've managed to stay awake this long, about a 10-minute walk from the Ginza is the Shinbashi Enbujo Theater, where you can see performances of Kabuki with its gorgeous costumes; plots that revolve around love, loyalty, revenge, and other easy-to-understand themes; and great stage presentations. (Keep in mind that performances end by 9pm.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.