Greetings Internet Stranger! I’m excited to take you on a tour of Tokyo in a day featuring the Harajuku neighborhood. Like most women my age, I learned about Harajuku in Tokyo as a young lady from watching Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls sing backup for her. This is unfortunate because the Harajuku fashion subculture is so much bigger than one, admittedly tres cool, former lead singer of a ska band.
Harajuku, the neighborhood in Tokyo, is even much bigger than Harajuku, the fashion subculture. Join me for Tokyo in a day with fruit sandwiches, extreme eating challenges, horrifying mannequins, and sacred bottles of wine. Also we might get pooped on. You’ve been warned.
Tokyo in a Day
Where to Stay?
Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world. I’m from New York City, and I sometimes feel like a small-town girl in Tokyo. That’s why it’s important to choose the neighborhood for your hotel carefully for your Tokyo in a day itinerary. My favorite neighborhood in Tokyo is Asakusa because it’s quieter than some.
Also, it has a lot of historical significance because it’s so near Senso-ji. If you’re looking for someplace affordable, convenient, and comfortable, you can’t do better than Hotel Hokke Club Asakusa! The staff is also very friendly and speaks excellent English.
Tokyo in a Day
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Japan is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Japan or the US, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Japanese electrical outlets don’t work with UK or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Tokyo in a Day
Morning: Meiji Shrine
We’ll start our Tokyo in a day at one of the most important places in the city. The Meiji shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji who presided over the Meiji Restoration. (That is the most times I’ve ever used the word Meiji in one sentence.) This period of Japanese history featured a “restoration” of the power of the emperor over the shogun, as well as a supersonic period of economic and technological growth and expansion for the Japanese. On top of that, there was the abolition of the samurai.
After Emperor Meiji died, the Japanese Parliament dedicated the shrine to him and his wife, making them Shinto deities. The shrine itself was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt later. Like most Shinto shrines, the entrance is marked by a giant gate, or torii, that marks the entrance into the sacred space. You are supposed to bow when entering and when exiting, to be polite to the gate.
Even though it is just to the side of Tokyo’s major shopping district, the shrine lies in the middle of a beautiful evergreen forest. I was touched to learn that the thousands of trees that make up the forest were not indigenous to the area. The trees were donated by the Japanese people and planted by hand. This is just one of the many reasons monarchy is so fabulous. Do you think the American people would do something like that to honor some old President? Doubtful.
24 Hour Tip
Don’t miss the Azalea Garden hidden inside the Meiji Shrine. It’s an extra 500 Yen to enter, but since you paid nothing to enter the shrine itself, I think that price is more than reasonable. Also, there’s a sacred well at the end!
I have to admit that visiting this well made me feel like a terrible tourist because you have to stand on a (short) line to get up close to the well, a well which, as I am not a practitioner of Shinto, is not sacred to me. But if you practice Shinto, you would see a place of religious importance. I don’t know how I feel about religious sites being tourist attractions. If you have any deep thoughts on the subject, please leave them below. Just don’t write them in all caps.
If you do not want to visit the sacred well, stop at this not-sacred lake in the Azalea Garden. It’s a charming place to sit, read a book, and look for ducks so you can run at them really fast while screaming and scare them into flying away so you can take a really pretty picture of ducks in flight for your Instagram account.
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite feature of Meiji Jingu is the racks of consecrated alcohol. There are barrels of sake that have been donated to the shrine from sake brewers all over the country. Apparently the sake is used in festivals at the shrine as wine might be used in Western religious rituals.
Speaking of wine, our French friends have not been neglected. To symbolize the friendship between Japan and France, there are barrels of wine from the famous French wine-producing region of Bourgogne here, and the Burgundy has been blessed as well. I wonder if they use this wine in festivals too. It seems like a shame to let it go to waste.
Tokyo in a Day
Now’s the time in our Tokyo in a day tour to go shopping! Omotesando is Tokyo’s high-fashion street, and a number of the buildings there are destinations in and of themselves because of their unusual appearances. There are so many fun high-end brand palaces to explore, but I’ll get you start with…
APPROXIMATELY TOP FIVE: OMOTESANDO edition
1) Lunch at Kyobashi Sembikiya
Before we get to the shopping portion of our Tokyo in a day, it’s time for lunch! I recommend the Japanese specialty, a fruit sandwich. A fruit sandwich is a kind of tasty snack that exists mostly in Japan. It consists of two pieces of light sandwich bread with whipped cream and sliced fresh fruit in the middle. I got mine at a fruit café. Yes, Japanese businesses can be so specialized that there are even restaurants that focus mainly on serving fruit. I chose one called Kyobashi Sembikiya that, according to Time Out Tokyo, has existed for over a hundred years.
The restaurant certainly does not look this old, mostly because it has beautiful large glass walls to better provide an excellent view of the ultra-modern Omotosando street. It also has numerous chrome and glass cases filled with fruit pastries. Though there was nothing stereotypically feminine about the décor, the place seemed almost entirely frequented by women, much like tea shops in the United States.
I don’t really understand why tea shops and fruit cafes wouldn’t appeal to a dude. Gentleman readers, do you not enjoy yummy pastries and fine, warm brewed beverages? I’ve heard that Charles de Gaulle enjoyed a pain au chocolat and Winston Churchill partook of a nice cuppa when they weren’t busy taking down Hitler. Did this make them less manly? Maybe this is one of those hopelessly retro notions about gender that we need to take down, like the idea that women aren’t smart enough to be doctors or something. Think about it. Macho tea. I think it could be pretty awesome.
24 hour treat: fruit sandwich
I ordered a lunch set that came with fruit tea, one fruit sandwich, one chicken sandwich, and one dessert. I don’t know that anyone needs a fruit sandwich AND a dessert for lunch, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain.
The chicken sandwich was tasty, but the fruit sandwich was the star of the show. You would think that white bread + cream + chopped fruit would be heavy and disgusting but it really wasn’t at all. The bread was light and fluffy, as was the cream, and the fruit was plump and juicy. I definitely think fruit sandwiches should catch on in the US, ASAP.
The dessert was a smokey yet light caramel-banana-praline-custard. I actually think “fruit restaurant” could be a really good Top Chef challenge. “Cheftestants, create a restaurant menu in which each dish uses at least one FRUIT”. Actually, maybe they have already done that. I’m not up-to-date on Top Chef.
2) Check out the insane architecture
Omotesando has the most deranged examples of contemporary architecture I have ever seen. Is this a landfill composed entirely of broken ladders?
Could this be a honeycomb made by glass bees?
Is this a Louis Vuitton building or a high-tech game of Tetris?
Is this building finished? That can’t possibly be a complete building. It looks like it’s going to fall over any second.
And this is a building completely made out of bubble wrap, which is pretty cool. But how do they stop people from popping it?
But we are not just here for the fashion! We’re also here for the BIRDS!
3) Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
At this point in our Tokyo in a day, you might want a snack. At the end of Omotesando, on a little side street, is the charming Bird Cafe, aka Kotori Cafe. If you need more specific help, it is located at 6-3-7 Minami-Aoyama. Pet cafes are huge in Japan right now and you can spend time in a dining establishment featuring anything from normal pets like cats and dogs to freaky-deaky pets like owls and snakes. (PS. No one let the snakes in the bird cafe.) I chose Kotori Cafe because it fit in conveniently with everything else I wanted to do.
There are three easy steps to take if you want to dine with birds.
Order a drink. I had a lovely iced latte that came with a side of bird cookie.
Fear not, Internet Stranger! The cookie is merely shaped like a bird. It tastes like a sugar cookie.
Book some bird time. Even though this is a bird cafe, it would not be pleasant or sanitary for either humans or birds for the birds to be flying around all the time. So the birds are kept in a separate room and you pay 500 Yen to spend 5 minutes in the Bird Room.
Chill with the birds. For the sake of the birds’ well-being, you can only spend time with one bird at a time. I chose the lovely yellow cockatiel above as well as the teeny tiny jade sparrow.
I preferred the jade sparrow because he was cuter, but also because the cocktatiel got a little sassy and pooped on my arm. Fortunately he didn’t poop on my clothes, and the attendant wiped it off right away, but still.
Look at his smug face. You can practically hear him say, “SORRY, NOT SORRY!”
Tokyo in a Day
Late Afternoon: Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi Park is lovely any time of year, but you simply cannot miss it if you are seeing Tokyo in a day for cherry blossom season. It is full of Tokyoites with their best buds and their best picnic blankets getting ready to celebrate the power of flower.
But even if there aren’t cherry blossoms in season, Yoyogi is a beautiful place to stroll and watch the sunset.
I hope you don’t need me to give you more specific instructions on what to do in Yoyogi Park than that, Internet Stranger. Get off the grid a bit and put the itinerary away. LIVE!
24 Hour Tip
Because we are seeing Tokyo in a day, one of the cleanest cities in the world, there is a very nice free public restroom near the entrance of the park. No need to wander the world searching for one!
Tokyo in a Day
I say things like this so much that it starts to sound like a cliché, but it truly boggles one’s mind that right next to a sacred shrine to an emperor, in the middle of a forest that exists only because of the devotion of the Japanese people to the ancient imperial institution, is a street devoted to that most ephemeral of things: fashion trends for teenage girls.
This street, Takeshita-dori, is right next to Omotesando and though they are both shopping streets dedicated mostly to stores for women, that’s about all they have in common. Omote-sando is the high fashion street, equivalent to Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in LA.
Takeshita-dori is more like if you put Delia’s and Hot Topic in a blender and then flung the remains over several city blocks. I mean, the photo above of the entrance to Takeshita-dori kind of says it all. I don’t think Louis Vuitton is going to have a giant Raggedy Ann doll made of balloons outside of their stores very soon.
Unlike Yoyogi Park, Takeshita-dori is a bit overwhelming and you might need my help to narrow down some of the options, especially since we are only seeing Tokyo in a day. So here are:
APPROXIMATELY TOP FIVE: TAKESHITA-dori
1) Go Shopping!
As a not-short person, I found that some of the women’s clothing in Japan seemed to be made in US Petite sizes. I couldn’t wear any of the skirts because they didn’t cover enough of my leg to be decent. But that shouldn’t stop you from shopping for makeup! I really liked Etude House, which is a Korean makeup brand I had never seen before. Their makeup was reasonably priced and their eyeliners are creamy and long-lasting. I wish I had bought about ten.
2) Take pictures!
Takeshita dori is full of random weirdness to photograph. It could be anything from this adorable mascot…
to Girls! Girls! Girls!
to this horrifying mannequin that I can only assume was created by murdering Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and then combining them in a cruel effort to terrify children.
But I’m sure you can find odder photos than this! Feel free to email them to me at [email protected]
3) Eat a crepe!
Crepes are so popular in this neighborhood that there are three big Crepe Stands on Takeshita, but I chose Marion Crepes because it looked like the most popular. Because I am a sheeple (sheeperson?) I got their most popular flavor, chocolate custard.
This was a delicious combination of paper-thin crepe, vanilla ice cream, rich vanilla custard, and syrupy chocolate sauce! Who could ask for more?
Further Reading: Tokyo in a Day!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Tokyo right now? Then let me give you some suggestions for further reading for your itinerary. I like the Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo. It’s divided according to neighborhood, which is very helpful.
If you’re a fan of fantasy literature, I really think the Japanese are some of the best in the world at the magic stuff. Read Kappa by Ryonusuke Akutagawa. It’s like Alice in Wonderland if Alice in Wonderland were about underground lizard people.
And if you prefer mysteries, settle in for a cozy evening with Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Ranpo. (Ranpo was a Japanese writer, but he admired Edgar Allen Poe so much, he changed his name to sound more like his idol.)
If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend one day in Tokyo, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Tokyo. If you want to add one day in Tokyo with Shinjuku, click here. And if you’d rather try one day in Tokyo with Asakusa, give this a try. And if you want to add a Japanese Alps itinerary, click here.