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Tokyo in 3 Days
Tokyo is a metropolis that confounds with its complexity: 34 million people occupy a greater metropolitan area that includes soaring towers of glass and steel, rolling expressways, numerous temples, parks, and square mile and after square mile of concrete housing blocks. Since the end of World War II, the city has constantly reinvented itself with new building developments and cultural trends. Few things have remained static other than its preeminence as Japan's economic center.
Day 1: Tsukiji and Ginza
Start very early (around 5 am) with a visit to the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market (Tokyo Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba) in the Tsukiji district to have the finest, freshest sushi for breakfast. Take a morning stroll through Ginza to explore its fabled shops and depato (department stores). Then hit a chic restaurant or café for lunch (more-reasonably priced ones are found on the upper floors of most department stores). The Sony Building and its showroom of electronics are worth a stop, as are the art galleries. The skyscrapers of Shiodome are just down the street, in the direction of Shimbashi. Take a peek on the first floor of the Shiodome Media Tower; aerial photographs show Ginza as it was roughly 100 years ago—a network of canals. In the evening, head back up towards Ginza and enjoy yakitori (grilled chicken) at one of the many small restaurants in Yuraku-cho.
Day 2: Asakusa and Ueno
Spend the morning at Senso-ji and adjacent Asakusa Jinja in Asakusa. If you're looking for souvenir gifts—sacred or secular—allow time and tote space for the abundant selection local vendors at the Nakamise Shopping Arcade have to offer. Consider taking a tour with one of the numerous jinrikisha (rickshaws) lined up here. Kappabashi is a nearby street dedicated to outfitting restaurants and bars with dishes, cups, chopsticks, and even plastic food models. From there go to Ueno for an afternoon of museums, vistas, and historic sites, and take a break at Ueno Park. Keep in mind that in the evening the crowds in Asakusa are not as intrusive as during the day, and many of the major attractions, including the five-tier pagoda of Senso-ji, are brightly lit. It's worth it to loop back to get a different view of the area.
Day 3: Shibuya and Shinjuku
Start off at Hachiko Square and the famous "Scramble Crossing" intersection and hit the nearby stores. Inside the station building is the once-lost masterpiece by avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto, "Myth of Tomorrow." In the afternoon see the Shinto shrine, Meiji Jingu, and walk through the nearby Harajuku and Omotesando fashion districts. Spend the rest of the afternoon on the west side of Shinjuku, Tokyo's 21st-century model city; and savor the view from the observation deck of architect Kenzo Tange's monumental Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office; cap off the day visiting Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden. For those seeking a bit of excitement, the red-light district of Kabuki-cho, just to the east of JR Shinjuku Station, comes alive once the sun goes down.
Tokyo in 5 Days
Add these two days onto the three-day itinerary.
Day 4: Akihabara and Imperial Palace
Spend the morning browsing in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics quarter, and see the nearby Shinto shrine Kanda Myojin. Stop at a maid café for a glimpse of one of Japan's many subcultures; come for the spectacle but don't stay for the food. Then use the afternoon for a tour of the Imperial Palace and environs. The Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery has a wonderful park and a boat-rental facility—both great for unwinding. If the Yomiuri Giants are in town, catch a game at Tokyo Dome in the evening.
Day 5: Various Sites
Fill in the missing pieces: see the Buddhist temple, Sengaku-ji, in Shinagawa; the remarkable Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan in Ryogoku; a tea ceremony; a Kabuki play; or a sumo tournament, if one is in town. Or visit the Kokugikan, National Sumo Arena, in the Ryogoku district, and some of the sumo stables in the neighborhood.
If You Have More Time
With a week or more, you can make Tokyo your home base for a series of side trips. After getting your fill of Tokyo, take a train out to Yokohama, with its scenic port and Chinatown. A bit farther away but still easily accessible by train is Kamakura, the 13th-century military capital of Japan. The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of the Kotoku-in is but one of the National Treasures of art and architecture here that draw millions of visitors a year. For both Yokohama and Kamakura, an early morning start will allow you to see most of the important sights in a full day and make it back to Tokyo by late evening. As Kamakura is one of the most popular of excursions from Tokyo, avoid the worst of the crowds by making the trip on a weekday, but time it to avoid rush-hour commuting that peaks roughly at 8 am and just after 6 pm.
Still farther off, but again an easy train trip, is Nikko, where the founder of the Tokugawa Shogun dynasty is enshrined. Tosho-gu is a monument unlike any other in Japan, and the picturesque Lake Chuzen-ji is in a forest above the shrine. Two full days, with an overnight stay, would allow you an ideal, leisurely exploration of both. Yet another option would be a trip to Hakone where you can soak in a traditional onsen or venture a climb to the summit of Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji).
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