As most trips to Japan begin their story in Tokyo, here is a three days itinerary, which will take you to all the great places this ever-surprising metropolis has to offer.
By taking all of the advantages of your Japan Rail Pass, in this compact travel guide we will show you how to make the most out of your stay in Tokyo: where to go, what to see and what to do, for the best prices!
Table of Contents
- 1 Day 1: Landing in Tokyo, Shibuya and Ueno
- 2 Day 2: Tsukiji market, Ginza and Hamarikyu Gardens
- 3 Day 3: Asakusa, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Day 1: Landing in Tokyo, Shibuya and Ueno
Exchange your Japan Rail Pass at any of two terminals in Narita Airport or the Haneda Airport International Terminal:
- Narita Airport Terminal 1
JR EAST Travel Service Center – Exchange Office
Working hours: 8:15 – 19:00; every day
- Narita Airport Terminal 2-3
JR EAST Travel Service Center – Exchange Office
Working hours: 8:15 – 20:00; every day
- Haneda Airport International Terminal
JR EAST Travel Service Center
(Tokyo Monorail 2F Ticket Gate – Arrival lobby)
Working hours: 7:45 – 18:30; every day
After having exchanged your Pass, take the Narita Express, (included in your Japan Rail Pass) and travel to any of the following Tokyo stations: Shinagawa – Shibuya – Shinjuku – Ikebukuro – Omiya – Yokohama – Ofuna.
Note: The Narita Express requires a seat reservation, which is why we recommend reserving a seat during the exchange process. There will be no extra reservation charges for owners of the Japan Rail Pass (for those coming from Haneda airport, the Tokyo Monorail stops at Hamamatsucho station).
Travel tip: When in Tokyo, you can use your Japan Rail Pass on the following lines:
- Narita Express
- The Yamanote JR line
- The JR metro lines
The Narita Express, as well as the JR Yamanote Metro line, will take you to one of the most famous, visited and pictured places in Tokyo: the Shibuya Crossing . Google already considers it a fully-functional synonym of the Times Square of Tokyo, because it is!.
Let’s be honest – Shibuya is amazing! It is the world center of the city centers, it is where many Tokyo-natives like to drink after work, it is where the story of the most loyal dog – Hachiko – began, and also where everyone wants to take a picture. Pedestrians stand still on red light, but the second it turns green, the river of people in a hurry cannot be stopped.
It is the place where the magic happens and where magic has been captured through the centuries. You can spend a whole day around the ward of Shibuya and still not get to see all of it.
After your visit, take the Yamanote line from Shibuya Station, using your Japan Rail Pass, and visit the biggest and most famous park in Tokyo – Ueno Park.
Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo
It is precisely here, where some of the most spectacular views of cherry blossoming (usually between the last week of March and the first week of April) is happening. Perfect for picnics, long walks and talks.
Just next to the Ueno Park is located the famous Ueno Zoo, where children and adults of all ages can enjoy the experience of seeing over 2,600 animals, including giant pandas, red pandas, pelicans, lemurs, wolves, lions, tigers and more.
Children younger than 12 years of age can enter for free, while the price for students is 200¥ Yen and for adults 600¥.
Day 2: Tsukiji market, Ginza and Hamarikyu Gardens
Tsukiji fish market
After visiting the busiest crossing in the world and the greatest park in Tokyo, it is time to discover the uniqueness of the largest and most famous fish market in the world – the Tsukiji fish market.
The market deals with over 2,000 tons of marine products each day. Before any of this starts, each morning between 5:25 and 6:10, tourists are let in on a fantastic free show of fish auction – one of the most authentic experiences in Tokyo. To make sure you are allowed in, we recommend to get there around 3:00 AM in the morning as only 120 people will be able to watch (divided into two separate groups).
Every single Tokyo guide will tell you to visit the market, and there is a good reason for it. Only by seeing it, you will be able to understand the importance of the seafood in the Japanese cuisine and get to try it first-hand from the little pop-up booths offering delicious and fresh meals.
Ginza shopping area and Hamarikyu Gardens
While in the neighborhood, don’t miss out on the Ginza area, which will sweep you off your feet once again. The Tokyo version of Manhattan attracts many people for its clean, organized and diverse stores and restaurants.
If it is only logical to take a rest, after a long morning and a tiring day of crowded streets and stores, take a deep breath and head to the Hamarikyu Gardens. They may not be the most famous, but sure are what anyone would like to experience after a busy day.
Surrounded by nearby tall constructions, it is a little piece of nature, in between the concrete jungle of Tokyo. The gardens will fascinate you with a little teahouse, located on an island in one of the lakes. Visitors can sip on their tea in peace and quiet while enjoying the Japanese cultural experience.
Day 3: Asakusa, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Asakusa and Senso-ji temple
Last day in Tokyo, a day to remember, a day to take the most out of the old Japanese spirits.
Located in Asakusa, one of the Tokyo center districts lays the area’s most famous and beautiful Sensoji temple. Build in the 7th century, it represents one of the oldest and most famous temples in Japan. However, bear in mind that most of the current building is post-war reconstruction, due to massive bombings, which destroyed large parts of the city.
Most of the district has been rebuilt and has regained its popularity amongst locals and international visitors. It will take you nearly 2 hours to take a walk and enjoy everything there is to see.
Don’t be blinded by the endless typical souvenir shops on the main streets and dig deeper into the hidden narrow streets of the area. You will be surprised to discover traditional kimono tailors, purse tailors, even UFO catchers! There is nothing typical about this neighborhood, just step out of the main streets.
Then, after getting to know Asakusa better and enjoying the diverse and beautiful cultural experiences, cross the river and head to the Asahi Beer Hall, where you can have a cold beer on the rooftop.
Harajuku, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park
Tokyo is a city of contrasts, and you are going to understand this even better by taking a walk down to Harajuku area, located just next to the Harajuku station. Seeing up close the old and the new from Tokyo’s districts will tell you the story of how Japan has changed throughout the years.
Going down the Takeshita Dori (Dori stands for street), you will discover the young and vibrant Japanese shopping and clothing culture. To the east, west, south or north of this point, you will find high-end stores, tiny jewelry shops, broad and diverse streets, all in one: the perfect combination of food, shopping, and culture.
The only thing that might be missing in this combination is the nature aspect – not to worry! The Meiji Shrine entrance is just next to the Harajuku station.
The temple is dedicated to the first emperor of modern Japan (Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken), and it was one of the severely damaged spiritual places during the World War II, rapidly rebuilt shortly after.
Located within walking distance from the Yoyogi Park (picture below), this is a place preferred by many for its serenity, green fields and a chance to sit down, have a picnic and relax with your family and children.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building
Finally, we recommend seeing Tokyo from above, before saying “goodbye.” The spectacular views from different heights and during different times of the day can completely change your perception. Visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku offers the chance to see the entire city from 202 meters height, at the observation deck on the 45th floor.