48 Hours in…Tokyo

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott April 4, 2013 10

Tokyo. Japan’s capital city. 13 million people. Business, fashion, shopping, and all things futuristic. It’s the home of anime, neon lights, cosplay, and outrageous piles of raw fish.


One cannot understand a country by only visiting its capital city. Likewise, one cannot fully understand a place without visiting its capital. So after we explored Japan for two weeks on the Discover Japan tour, we stayed an extra few days in Tokyo. Here’s what we found.

The First 24 Hours

Visit: Tsukiji Fish Market. If you’re feeling really ambitious, wake up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the tuna auction. There are a limited number of places for tourists at the auction, so be sure to get there around 4-5 AM.

Otherwise, enjoy the market between 9-11 AM when restaurants, seafood buyers, and ordinary people buy directly from the fish vendors, some of whom have families who have worked at the market for 20 generations (yes, do the math). Finish up your visit with a sushi breakfast at one of the tiny restaurants.  Sushi Dai (Daisha) along building #6 is the most famous, but if you don’t have three hours to wait in line, try BenTomi Sushi a few doors down. We can recommend one of their dons (sushi rice covered with sashimi).

Note: The market is expected to move to a different location in 2014.

Tsukiji Fish Market, where sushi gets its start.

Visit: Senso-ji Buddhist Temple in the Asakusa area of Tokyo. It is the city’s oldest temple, dating back to the 7th century, and one of its most revered. Just nearby is the Asakusa Shrine, a Shinto shrine. The area around it is filled with shops, restaurants, and markets. If you visit in the late spring, check to see if the Sanja Matsuri, one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo, is taking place.

Senso-ji Temple during the big Sanja Festival in May.

Eat: Tempura at Tsunahachi Restaurant in Shinjuku. Take a seat at the bar to watch the tempura masters at work as they meticulously prepare everything – from asparagus to scallops – in some of the world’s greatest tempura batter. The lunch menu involves three main options ranging from $15-$30. Though it’s missing some of the more exotic bits of seafood, the basic menu offers the best value.

Visit: Akihabara, Tokyo’s center for gaming, anime and electronic pop culture. Get lost in the sea of lights, shops and anime characters popping out at you at every turn. It’s also the mecca for gadgets and electronics.

Electronics and anime overload on Akihabara’s main street.

If you want something a bit on the “this is different” side, try an experience at a Maid Café for a quick drink or meal. You’ll come away with your head spinning, trying to make sense of what you just witnessed and where you’ve just been. (Don’t worry, it’s completely clean.)

Eat: Do-It-Yourself Monjayaki in Shibuya.  Monjayaki is Tokyo’s version of Okonomiyaki, a combination of chopped vegetables and seafood turned in a thin pancake-like batter cooked on a hot grill. Not only is it hearty and cheap, but when you can make it yourself, it adds to the fun. Ask all the locals around you if you are lost; they will be more than happy to help.  Not only is Monjayaki one of the least expensive meals you’ll find in Tokyo, it’s one of the most social.

Our neighbors at a DIY Monjayaki place show us how it’s done right.

Visit: Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku. Head up to the observation deck on the 45th floor and treat yourself to a fantastic view over the city at night.  The deck is open to the public until 11 PM on weekdays and is free.  Be sure to leave a bit of time to poke around the gift shop.

The view of Tokyo at night as seen from 45 floors up.

48 Hours Later

Visit: Harajuku, bridge near subway station. The wall-to-wall scene-to-be-seen neighbourhood known for cosplay (short for “costume play,” a type of living performance art where teenage kids dress up in hip, anime costumes) and goth, especially on Sundays.

Visit: Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. A slice of peace and nature in the middle of Tokyo’s cosplay hipster neighborhood.

Eat: Conveyor belt sushi in Shinjuku. Sushi aficionados, purists and snobs:  Don’t be put off by the conveyor belt, as some belts serve up sizable portions of quality sushi at unbelievable prices. The big secret to conveyor belt sushi dens: almost every one will also feature an a la carte menu so that you can order up your favorite sushi, maki and sashimi combinations – made to order fresh so you don’t have to wait for them to show up on the belt. Our favorite stumble-upon-it sushi: Tototoriton Sushi Go-Round near Shinjuku subway. Most plates were under 130 Yen ($2).

Conveyor belt sushi at its finest – and cheapest – in Shinjuku.

Visit: Shibuya Crossing at night. With the sea of lights, traffic, and people, this is where you get the classic “Lost in Translation” moment.

Shibuya crossing at night.

Local: Karaoke. There are endless options for karaoke places all over the city, which means competition. This is a good thing, as many offer discounts on beer, karaoke rooms, and food for the first few hours. We found our favourite place not too far from the south entrance of the Shinjuku station. Be sure to venture out of your private karaoke room and crash the room of a group of locals. You never know – you might soon be leading them in Michael Jackson songs for the rest of the night.

Everyone loves karaoke…and Michael Jackson.


  1. Audrey | That Backpacker April 7, 2013 at 2:35 am - Reply

    Mmm, eating and karaoke! Great combination. If I were in Tokyo, I’d be spending my time the same way. ;)

  2. Turner - Around the World in 80 Jobs May 8, 2013 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Man this is an awesome city. I am def. going to grab a teaching job that for one of my 80 world jobs.

  3. Daniel Smith July 31, 2013 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Tokyo is one of the global cities contributing to global economy. One of the greatest cities to enjoy and have fun.

  4. Dhruv Thaker September 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Nice post. Tokyo is amazing city. Would love to explore it, hope that time comes.

  5. Natasha Chowdory October 11, 2013 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Brilliant!! I did 3/4 of the stuff on here and I wish I’d done the other stuff. :D It’s an amazing city and I definitely one to go back one day.

  6. S Lloyd November 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    How does it work at the sushi coveyor belt: can I just drop by or is it so busy that I need to book in advance?

    • Jason November 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Conveyor belt sushi is easy. Notice the different colored plates? Each color has a set price. Just grab what you want. Enjoy free green tea from the hot water tap near your seat. At the end of the meal, they just add up your plates based on color and that’s it. Cheap, easy, and delicious.

  7. MACH May 12, 2014 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Great insight and valuable info. Really appreciated the photos also. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Birdie September 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Do you have a recommendation for where to stay, if only staying 48 hours in Tokyo? Affordable, does not have to be a business hotel. Thanks!

    • Audrey | Uncornered Market November 29, 2014 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      Birdie, what we did for the additional days we stayed in Tokyo after our G Adventures tour is book something through Expedia as it had a lot of sales at the time. We ended up finding a double room in Shinjuku area for $80/night at Hotel Sunlite Shinjuku (2012). Enjoy your trip!

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