Deciding how to spend day one in Tokyo was my very first task as a solo traveller. One day is just enough to get a taste of what Tokyo has to offer, but deciding which area to explore is tricky! I chose Harujuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku so I had time to enjoy each area and get a sense of the city through it’s neon lights, gorgeous temples, and even had time to stroll through one of Tokyo’s tranquil parks. Try not to pack too much in or, if you have three or four days to spare, you can check out my longer, alternative Tokyo Itinerary here.
My first thought upon arriving in Tokyo, after 20 hours of travel from the UK, was ‘Man, I can’t believe I was THIS excited to leave London, just to get on another tube.’ Whilst the colourful advertisements and distinctive sound of Japanese pop in the background made me smile, I was underwhelmed (well, let’s be fair, I was just bloody knackered). I shifted my brain nine-hours-ahead, had a good first night’s sleep and woke up feeling refreshed. It’s worth noting, at this point, that Japan is a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for years and never thought I’d get to… Although this meant solo travel in Japan had some inevitable low points because my standards were perhaps so high,
I needed more than super-sized London. I needed culture shock. I needed attitude. I needed…
I’ve not listed prices because all the sight-seeing included this post was free! I also walked everywhere except for the tube to Harajuku at the beginning of the day and from Shinjuku at the end of the day. Those on a higher budget may be interested in visiting the Studio Ghibli Museum or – another famous animation-inspired site – Tokyo Disneyland.
Please note: This post most likely contains affiliate links to things such as products or services. I may receive a small commission if you use the links which costs you no extra but will help me keep this blog going.
The trendy Takeshita Dori street, right opposite Harajuku metro station, is a fabulous place to start any KAWAII hunt. (‘Kawaii’ means cute in Japanese and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to use it). Snacks here come in the form of rainbow candy floss, ice cream in every colour, and crepes with any topping you could think of. I went for a crepe and my god, no wonder the people you might see in Harajuku are so ultra-kawaii if they are feeding themselves so much sugar.
When fashionable youth culture has got a bit much, just five minutes away is the serene Yoyogi Park – which also happens to be home to Meiji-Jingu Gyoen (gardens) and shrine, making it the perfect place to walk off a lifetime’s supply of whipped cream. Despite looking worse for wear, I felt positively serene walking through the tall trees on the approach to Meiji-Jingu Shrine.
The shrine, the first of many I’m sure to witness in Japan, was built in dedication to the Emporer Meiji and his consort Empress Shoken. It is a Shinto shrine, and the English-language pamphlet chooses to explore the virtues of ‘sacred heart’ and harmony with nature as of importance to the ‘religion’. (In quote marks as it has no holy book or founder, but its virtues are rooted in Japanese life.)
On my way out of Harajuku I passed by Togo-jinja, a small, quiet temple next to Takeshite Dori but skipped most of Omotesando. This street is noted in guidebooks but is basically a road full of fancy brands. Perfect if you’re less doughnut and more Dior, mind.
As a Londoner – at least I was until five days ago – I know that tube stops are likely to be closer together than they seem and it’s worth checking the walking distance before getting on the metro. Harajuku is connected to Shibuya by ‘Cat Street’, a winding road with a few boutiques. I took this route to the famous Shibuya Crossing, which I proceeded to, y’know, cross. It is only a fifteen minute walk from Harajuku to Shibuya Crossing.
I know this will surprise you, but I’ve never gone out an area just to cross the road before. Shocking huh?
HINT: Head up to the Starbucks which overlooks Shibuya Crossing for a free view! (And to get a WiFi hit while you’re at it.)
Since I was tired and am not one for browsing (big attractions in these districts of Western Tokyo include their expansive malls – perfect if you’re into shopping), I headed through the back streets in search of veggie food.
Ten minutes from Shibuya station is Nagi Shokudo, a small vegan restaurant – here I got tofu, rice, misu soup and pickles. A worthy first Japanese meal!
My final stop for the day was Shinjuku. It takes about 20 minutes to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku on the Yamanote line. Use a Maps.me offline map by downloading the app or Google Maps if you have data.
I headed to the Government Metropolitan Building – you can get a free view of Tokyo from top! If you’re heading to Tokyo, Shinjuku is known for its fabulous nightlife and places to dine. I, however, was in need of a chilled evening in my hostel. I guess that’s how I found the time to write this post after all that touristing huh?
At the end of the day, I got the metro back to my hostel in Akihabara. This was a chilled location and fairly cheap as it’s slightly outside of the main tourist areas. The hostels in Japan are exceptionally clean and often with private, capsule-style beds. Of course, there are many Tokyo hotel options for couples as well.
What else would you add to a one day in Tokyo itinerary?
FIRST-TIME IN JAPAN?
Get your 7 day JR Rail Pass in advance with a 4G Sim card included.
Or simply save time by purchasing your 4G Sim card in advance – you can pick it up from the airport when you arrive!
Prefer a Pocket Wifi? Rent or buy one from TepWireless before you’ve even left the house.
See the iconic Mt Fuji on a day tour from Tokyo.
Book top-rated travel insurance with World Nomads. They have flexible insurance options which you can even book when you’re already on the road.