There is so much history, culture, and natural beauty in Japan that it’s difficult to narrow down the choices. I wanted to divide my time between the big cities and smaller towns so we started with Tokyo and knew we wanted to visit Hokkaido on the rugged northern island (see my article: A Week in Hokkaido). After that, it was open. We had over three weeks to spend in Japan, with a week in Tokyo.


View of Tokyo from Skytree (Inga Aksamit)

Tokyo is a city that is constantly changing, yet the neighborhoods retain unique personalities. There’s something to fit just about everyone’s tastes, including culture, theater, high fashion, a foodie focus, manga and anime, kid stuff or nature. Our goals were to recover from jet lag, enjoy some good food, learn about the culture, and revisit some places from my childhood visits.

See more photos in the Photo Gallery below.


We split out week in Tokyo between the start and end of our trip: four nights at the beginning and two nights at the end. I picked one neighborhood per day for the time we had in Tokyo based on our interests. It was a fun challenge to go around on public transportation, and there was plenty to see in each district.

A building from the 1600s with a backdrop of modern Tokyo (Inga Aksamit)

The first four nights allowed us to recover from jet lag, and explore Tokyo Station, where we were based. The train station had everything we’d ever need, and we took our first tentative steps on the train and subway and saw some sights. We weren’t sure where we’d stay the last night but chose to return to Tokyo to pick up some small dishes from Kappabashi Street after my foodie interest intensified. Our activities for the five days in Tokyo included the following, which I gleaned from the Lonely Planet Japan guidebook and internet searches. I noted a few things ahead of time, but we didn’t make any reservations or firm plans beyond our first hotel nights.

We love nature so we balanced our city time with plenty of time for hiking. See my articles: Hiking in Japan and Three Hikes in Daisetsuzan National Park.

Tokyo Highlights

Majestic entrance at Tokyo Station (Inga Aksamit)

Tokyo Station

  • Tokyo Station is a tourist destination for a few reasons: it’s a metropolis, it’s the one of the largest train stations in Japan, with 3,000 daily trains transporting 400,000 passengers on 28 tracks (Shinjuku is even larger, being the busiest in the world). It’s historic, having once been located within the moats of the Imperial Palace. New ambassadors still travel by horse-drawn carriage from the station to the palace to present their credentials to the emperor (we got to see this when we were there—what a sight!). There’s a hotel, department store, and many shops and restaurants. It’s helpful to study a map or guide to the station to get the most out of it, paying particular attention to the names of the entrances. The best entrance for our hotel, Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi, was the Nihonbashi Entrance. We ate most of our meals there, including sushi, ramen and tempura, and it was all top notch. Each restaurant serves one kind of food. If the weather is inclement, it’s helpful to use the undergrounds tunnels—we could walk in climate-controlled tunnels all the way from our hotel, through the station to the Imperial Hotel, across the street from the Imperial Palace (1.25 miles).
Sushi Lunch on Tuskiji Fish Market Tour (Inga Aksamit)

Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour

  • Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour through The tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market (the old fish market; if you want to see the new one, look for Toyosu Market ), included the outer public market, inner wholesale market, Tsukiji Buddhist Temple, Namiyoke Shinto Shrine, fresh wasabi demonstration, some food samples and a complete sushi lunch. This was a great way to start our trip because we learned about things that helped us throughout the trip. Once we learned the etiquette involved in visiting both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, we didn’t make embarrassing mistakes. We could recognize fresh wasabi and other common market ingredients and we became familiar with popular street foods such as grilled octopus, rolled omelet, and match tea. We felt the substantial weight of cooking pans but our guide told us to visit Kappabashi Street if we wanted to purchase knives or kitchenware, where quality items could be found at lower prices.
Kabukiza Theater (Inga Aksamit)


  • Kabuki at Kabukiza Theater We watched a fantastic kabuki performance in the Ginza shopping district, located a few blocks from Tsukiji. It was enjoyable for a few reasons. The air-conditioned theater was a welcome relief from a roasting September day and the highly stylized dramatic performance featured an all-male cast playing both male and female parts wearing outlandish makeup and costumes. We couldn’t understand anything, yet the story was well played. Some patrons wore traditional kimonos, but casual dress was acceptable. We bought tickets onsite for an afternoon performance.
Nijubashi Bridge on the Imperial Palace grounds (Inga Aksamit)

Imperial Palace

  • Imperial Palace. The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are perfect for strolling wide paths in expansive gardens while learning some of the history. Some buildings date back from the Edo Period in the 1600s, but the palace has housed emperors since 1868. Visitors can’t visit the palace itself, but I recommend the gardens and the beautifully sited Nijubashi Bridge, which is accessible to all.   
Inga at the Imperial Hotel (Steve Mullen)

Imperial Hotel

  • Imperial Hotel. I had to have lunch at the historic Imperial Hotel, an iconic building that I remember from my childhood visit to Tokyo when I was four, the first and last trip where we stayed in luxury hotels until my mom figured out how to travel more frugally. I loved the displays of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building we stayed in, which was later torn down and replaced. The current building is slated to be replaced by yet another version. The hotel is across the street from the Imperial Palace.
Sashimi at Wakadura Restaurant, Palace Hotel (Inga Aksamit)

Palace Hotel

  • Palace Hotel. We enjoyed a 5-star Japanese dinner at Wakadura Restaurant at the Palace Hotel, across the street from the Imperial Palace, about a mile from the Imperial Hotel. It was a short walk from our hotel at Tokyo Station.

Tokyo National Museum

  • Tokyo National Museum. Visiting the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park gave us the nudge we needed to explore the vast rail system. The Yamanote Loop turned out to be a convenient connection between Ueno Station and Tokyo Station, as well as other popular stops. It stops at Ueno Park, a large tree-filled complex that houses several museums and the zoo. My favorite part was seeing all the orderly groups of uniformed school children and learning about Japanese indigenous cultures, which helped us get ready for our visit to Hokkaido. The unique Ainu culture that has a deep connection with the natural world originated in Hokkaido.
Food model of hamburger, Kappabashi Street (Inga Aksamit)

Kappabashi Street

  • Kappabashi Street (Kitchen Street) was a highlight for the foodie in me, with a wide range of stores selling tableware, kitchen supplies, ceramics, knives and plastic food models used in restaurants. We took the train to the Ueno Station and walked a few blocks to Kappabashi Street to pick up some treasures on our last day, including the pretty dishes that adorn every Japanese table. I wish I had been more knowledgeable about knives, because tourists packed all the knife stores and it was obvious I was missing out. The food model stores were a lot of fun with their outrageous towers of realistic looking food.
Tokyo Skytree (Inga Aksamit)

Tokyo Skytree

  • Tokyo Skytree is a very tall tower, the tallest in the world. From Kappabashi Street, we walked 30 minutes to Tokyo Skytree, which rises 2,080 feet. It functions as a broadcasting tower while the observation deck draws hordes of tourists. It was a good thing to do on our last day because it gave us a bird’s-eye view of the city and we enjoyed picking out places we had been and seeing how vast the city stretches. There’s a lot more for us to explore. We took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus back to Tokyo Station.
Lobby, Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo Manunouchi (Inga Aksamit)


We were based at the Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo Marunouchi, a JR (Japan Rail) hotel at Tokyo Station. This was convenient for being able to reach anywhere in the city through the extensive rail, subway, and bus system. We stayed at the same hotel at the beginning and end of our trip because it felt like home, we had our favorite restaurants and we knew how to get around. It was a well-appointed business hotel with small, efficient rooms, wonderful airy views of the glittering city and rail lines, and easy access to restaurants and shopping (even a Uniqlo store!) in the station, in addition to the restaurant in the hotel. The breakfast buffet was excellent, with a full array of western and Japanese foods.

Train, Tokyo (Inga Aksamit)

Airport Transportation

We flew into Narita Airport and took the train to Tokyo Station, which took about an hour. We departed Japan at Haneda Airport via a 30-minute ride on the monorail from Tokyo Station.

A week in Tokyo wasn’t enough, but it gave us a good overview of some of the highlights and still left enough to explore on future visits.

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Photo Gallery

East Garden, Imperial Palace (Inga Aksamit)
East Garden, Imperial Palace (Inga Aksamit)
Namiyoke Shinto Shrine near Tsukiji Fish Market (Inga Aksamit)
Sushi at Tokyo Station (Inga Aksamit)
Map of Samurai Trail at Tokyo National Museum (Inga Aksamit)
Tsukiji Buddhist Temple near Tsukiji Fish Market (Inga Aksamit)
Steve (author’s husband) at Tsukiji Buddhist Temple (Inga Aksamit)
Inga & Steve trying some tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) on the Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour (Inga A.)
Statues of Kiyoshi Kimura, who paid $3 million for a tuna, are all over (Inga Aksamit)
Poster of the $3 million tuna (Steve Mullen)
School children at Ueno Park (Inga Aksamit)
View from Wakadura Restaurant, Palace Hotel (Inga Aksamit)
Fresh wasabi at Tsukiji Fish Market (Inga Aksamit)
Inga grating wasabi on Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour (Steve Mullen)