Cultural Experience | Japan

12 Hours in Tokyo

An on-the-go 12 hour guide to Tokyo that will show you that “you can’t just do one” day in Tokyo, but you can sure try!

Congratulations! I am so happy for you. You are flirting with the idea of going to Tokyo. Or you are already there. You have chosen one of the most dazzling, adorable, busy and indeed, safe and nice cities in the world. Who doesn’t like sushi, karaoke and Pokémon?! If you don’t, you will after you visit Japan! Welcome to Tokyo, the capital of the country, the most populated metropolitan area in the world, and one of the most unique cities… ever. You have entered a world where you can experience the special, traditional culture of Japan side by side the modern, technological cartoon wonder world that is Tokyo! And when you visit, you need to see it all to get a real feel of the city. You could spend days, weeks, or months exploring this fascinating land, but sometimes you have other places to see and things to do! I attempt to counter this problem, and I give you a rundown of how to make the most of your 12 hours in Tokyo!

Let me first start with what you will need, and that is a little Japanese language book, because, somewhat refreshingly, very few Japanese people speak English. And you will be asking for directional help, often. You will also want to get a day pass for the Tokyo subway! Tokyo has a fabulous public transportation system that is cleaner than any other subway you’ve seen before, complete with cute little music-box songs that play whenever you reach your tube stop. It is adorable, and it will be your best friend as you try to navigate this big, exciting city. Now armed with your Tokyo travel necessities, let us begin your one-day exploration!

10 AM: For a delicious start to your day, head to a local coffee shop, there are many near most big metro stations, and grab a Belgian waffle to go! This is not so strange a suggestion for a Tokyo breakfast- Belgian waffles are all the rage right now. While you can pick up some coffee at any café in Japan as well, I recommend going for one of the coffee vending machines that exist on nearly every street corner. The vending machine coffee is surprisingly really delicious, and it comes out cold… or hot. So fancy! Then, go pick up your Tokyo metro day pass for 710 yen, to save you the trouble of buying a new ticket whenever you want to go somewhere, and hop on the subway!

11 AM: Head to Akusaka station to experience a bit of traditional Japan. Venture around on foot, or get pulled around in a rickshaw to explore this more quaint area with a bit of an old-Tokyo feel. Once the entertainment center of Tokyo, Asakusa remains as one of Tokyo’s geisha districts. Walking distance from Asakusa is a road called Nakamise-Dori that leads up to the famous Sensoji Temple, which is next on our itinerary. The path is lined with a little market where you can buy anything from a Kimono to Pikachu socks. A tad touristy, but you gotta get your best friend a gift somewhere.

12 PM: Some of the most amazing sites to see throughout all of Japan are the massive temples and shrines! Sensoji Temple is great big beautiful Buddhist temple. Stroll around, burn some incense, toss a coin to Buddha for good luck and get your fortune! It will probably be written in Japanese, but at least you know you’re lucky now. It’s really neat to observe a solemn, ritualistic place in the center of such a bustling world city.

1 PM: You are probably going to be hungry by now, so get back on the subway and head toward the Shibuya subway stop to see the famous crossing outside of the station, and experience one of the busiest, big-city areas of Tokyo. Check out the popular mall, Shibuya 109 and then go get some lunch! If you want to eat like a local, go to Ichiran, a famous ramen chain in Japan. We have all had microwaveable ramen in the college dorm, but this is the real deal. You get to choose and pay for your type of ramen from a little noodle vending machine, where you get your meal ticket. You bring it over to a counter, where you get your own little cubby-section, with little walls on each side, to eat your noodles in peace and quiet. You put your meal ticket on your personal counter, and the meal is magically delivered straight to you, no effort required! And the ramen is fabulous.

Jenna Peck- Ichiran Ramen photo image

Ichiran Ramen!

2PM-4 PM: Let’s go shopping! For an extremely unique-to-Tokyo shopping experience, get your handy subway pass out and get yourself to Harajuku, a particularly eccentric area of the city. Harajuku is known to be the place where the trendy teens of Tokyo all gather to hang out, dressed in outrageous cartoon-cosplay outfits. This crowd likes to come out the most on Sundays, no school! Go people watch and also check out the cute boutiques! You can spend a good amount of time in this area exploring. I would like to add that Tokyo is one of, if the not the most, safest big cities in the world. That is no reason to let your guard down as a traveler, but it is a good reason to take the opportunity to wander away from popular tourist districts and just go check out a local neighborhood to get a feel of the city.

4 PM: Time to get moving again. Get back on the subway again towards Akihabara station (I told you the day pass would be a necessity!). Take a little coffee break from one of those handy Tokyo vending machines and go investigate the main street, Chuo Dori, of this area, which is known as the classic Tokyo electronics district! You will find anime characters staring at you with their big adorable eyes from every shop window. Also notice the abundance of cute Japanese girls dressed in costumes trying to invite you to various “maid cafes,” which are a trendy type of café in Tokyo where you are served by waitresses dressed as cartoon maids. Sounds fun.

5 PM: Check into your hostel, hotel or ryokan. There are plenty of great hostels in Tokyo, but for a real Tokyo overnight experience, try staying in a “capsule hotel” or perhaps a ryokan. Capsule hotels were originally meant to be a convenient overnighter for a businessman working too late to take the subway home. However, anyone can stay in them, and they function like a normal hotel, but you sleep in capsule like room where there is only a bed. The bed is the room. It’s an interesting thing to do. Alternatively, you can stay at a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan, which is complete with some welcoming green tea, a bed on the floor and a public bathroom! They can be cheap or pricey, but I recommend staying in one of these for an even more Japanese experience.

6 PM-10 PM: Spend your evening out in Tokyo in the Shinjuku district. This area is famous for its nightlife! Restaurants and clubs are abundant, so go walk around and find a little road off of the main street for some of the best sushi you will ever eat. Try a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, where you can get delicious sushi per the plate, choosing each dish as it rotates around in front of you on a belt, normally for a fairly good price. And don’t forget the sake! After dinner, join in one of the national pastimes of Japan and do some karaoke! There are many karaoke bars and clubs in Shinjuku, and the best part is that many of them are themed. Japan is famous for themed bars, so go have some fun pretending to be Disney, a cowboy, Hello Kitty, in jail, or really anything else you can ever come up with. And then, you will probably want to extend your stay in this enchanting city!

Jenna Peck - Robot battle bar in Shinjuku image

Robot battle bar in Shinjuku

Jenna Peck

Southern Methodist University | 17 stories

Jenna Peck is a senior majoring in History and English at Southern Methodist University from Long Beach, California. She has studied abroad in Italy, England and has recently returned from a voyage around the world on Semester-at-Sea. She loves to travel and really finds it difficult to stay in one place for a long period of time, but when she does she loves to read, explore the world of the internet, blog and find exciting things to do right at home in Dallas, Texas!


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