Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a hell of a lot to see and do – cat cafes, owl cafes, maid cafes, robot cafes… And that’s just cafes! With that in mind, is 48 hours in Tokyo enough to do it justice? And more importantly… Is it worth the 24 hour round trip to get there?
Firstly, let me explain before you think I’m as mad as the inventor of the owl cafe (I still don’t get it…) Every year, my company sends a few of its staff away on an all expenses paid holiday to say thanks for their hard work. This year, people wanted to go somewhere a bit different from their usual Cancun and Vegas party type holidays and chose Tokyo. Not wanting us to be out of the office for too long, we did it over a long weekend – hence the 48 hours.
We had an awesome itinerary planned that would pack a lot of the main sights in, but was I left wanting more? I’ll let you decide:
15:00 We arrived in Tokyo airport after a 12 hour flight from London. It was our first time flying Japan Airlines and apart from the man sat next to me that complained to the air steward that my colleague and I were making too much noise, it was pleasant enough. Just for the record… we were most definitely talking at a normal volume – he was just expecting the flight to be silent!
Despite a bit of a kerfuffle at customs when one of our group tried to unknowingly smuggle in an acorn, everything went smoothly. We were met by our tour guide and coach driver in Arrivals, and were then taken to our hotel in Shinjuku.
17:30 Our hotel was incredible. We stayed at the 5* Keiyo Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, which is primarily a business hotel but I guess we were there on business?? We had a couple of hours to settle in, shower and admire the view out the window of our 45th floor room.
19:30 The whole group met in the hotel lobby for dinner. We had a whole teppanyaki restaurant to ourselves on the top floor of a Shinjuku skyscraper, where we all sat on the floor around a teppanyaki grill watching skilled chefs cook up fried vegetables, scallops, red snapper, lobster and the biggest steak I’ve ever seen. Everything was washed down with Asahi beer and sake. The whole experience was a fantastic way to start our trip.
22:30 It was back to the hotel bar for a few drinks before I finally admitted jet lag defeat and headed to bed at midnight. Some of my colleagues were out clubbing until 5am the next day! No idea how they managed that…
8:30 I allowed myself a bit of a lie in before getting ready for our full day of sightseeing. There are 4 different hotel restaurants where you can eat breakfast – some typically Japanese and some Western to keep everyone happy. I tucked in to my usual holiday breakfast of whatever I can fit on my plate (or two) before meeting the bus and our tour guide.
10:00 Our bus drove us to Asakusa – the oldest temple and one of the most popular tourist spots in the city. Unaware of the Japanese holiday we had just interrupted, we were shocked to see so many people crammed into the temple complex. The temple itself is a beautiful sight, and probably my favourite place in the whole of Tokyo. Our guide told us all about the history of the temple and then showed us some Buddhist rituals that we could join in with. After that, we had 45 minutes free to take photos and explore the sprawling markets for souvenirs.
12:00 Lunch! Most of the hungover group was dreading this part of the day… Raw fish and dumplings on a queasy stomach? I, however, couldn’t have been more excited. I love trying new foods, especially if they are ‘native to the country I am visiting. I feel it gives such an insight into the ordinary lives of others, right? And I often wonder what visitors must think of British people when they try our food.
We (some of us) tucked into sashimi, dumplings and ramen served by smiling waiters that wondered what on earth they had done to deserve us as guests.
13:00 We met the bus again to take us to Tokyo Skytree – a 634m tall structure with a viewing platform at the top where you can see over all of Tokyo and (if you’re extremely lucky) as far away as Mount Fuji. The view really put perspective on the size of the city and made me wonder whether we were really doing it justice.
Because of the national holiday, the queues back down to the bottom were huge, meaning we didn’t get long at the top, but we still managed to get all the way round once and were satisfied we had spotted everything we wanted to.
15:00 In need of a rest after such strenuous activity (I’m joking) we headed to Akihabara to visit… a maid cafe! Seriously, you can’t come to Tokyo without visiting some kind of weird cafe.
We had the whole of Maiddreamin booked out for drinks and a private show (that makes it sound really dodgy, but I promise it’s not!) of maids talking in high-pitched squeals at how cute everything is. Their drinks and foods are decorated with animal faces drawn on with sauce, so I couldn’t resist an ice cream float made to look like a cat.
The show was… Interesting. The girls sang teenybopper songs on a stage with pink flashing lights. They even grabbed some of the older guys in our group and got them to prance around with them. I loved it!
17:00 Time for our tour to finish! We headed back to our hotel via Shibuya where we saw a huge number of people crossing the famous pedestrian intersection. I remember last time I was in Tokyo, I saw a total of 20 or so people doing it, which wasn’t nearly as impressive. Today, with it being a holiday, there must have been hundreds, if not thousands. Great to see.
18:00 Back at the hotel, we had a free night to spend as we wished. I have an old friend in Tokyo that met me at the hotel before we headed out on a night to see what Japanese people do in the evenings. She works in Shinjuku so knew the area quite well. She took me to a restaurant nearby that was famous for its tempura. I am famous for my love of tempura! It was perfect. The tempura was served individually on a stick, and each piece was different. We must have tried about 8 each (they’re surprisingly filling!) – prawn, okra, cream cheese and seaweed (this was AMAZING), some kind of omelette, fish, baby squid, and I wish I could remember the rest!
All around me were friends and family chatting happily in Japanese while tucking into their meal. This shows the benefit of having friends all over the world- there is no way in hell I would have stumbled across this place, and if I had, there would be no way of deciphering the menu. My friend made it possible, and that’s awesome.
When our bellies were full of tempura and beer, we visited an arcade to re-enact what we did when I last visited Tokyo. We played a drumming game that’s a bit like guitar hero but with big Japanese drums, and then went to a photo booth where you can decorate your pictures and turn yourselves into anime characters! It was so much fun, and even better to do it with a local.
23:00 Bed time. I know, I know, I should have been partying, but I had a very early start in the morning and I wanted to be fresh for it.
5:30 Wake up!! Today was a free day, and what do you do if you only have 48 hours in Tokyo? While most of the group headed into the centre to explore some more, a like-minded colleague and I were off to… DISNEYLAND!
6:30 We were already in a taxi and feeling like children on Christmas morning. We had asked our taxi driver to take us to DisneySea – a separate theme park only found in Tokyo that is dedicated to rides and characters centred around the theme of water (pirates don’t count apparently, gutted.)
8:00 The park opened and we headed in. We spent the day going on rides, meeting characters and not understanding anything that was going on. We only counted 7 or 8 other western tourists while we were there, so if you want to be immersed into Japanese life, go to Disneyland. Honestly! That explains why none of the cast members spoke English or why there were no subtitles on any of the rides! We had to guess what was going on in a magic show and use the locals around us as a cue for when to laugh. It was actually really funny 🙂
13:00 We ate lunch in a New York diner and found it fascinating to see what their choice of ‘American’ dishes would be. Still, the food was delicious and kept us going for the rest of the day. There were a few rides we didn’t manage to go on because it was just so busy. Instead, we were quite happy to finish off in the gift shops and explore the shopping precinct outside the park.
15:00 We took the metro back to central Tokyo and headed to our hotel to get ready for the night’s festivities. The canny ones among you will have noticed that I’m over my 48 hours now, but I’m flying home first thing tomorrow morning, so it’s only a little over…
17:00 With the group all glammed up, our bus took us down to the river to meet our private boat. It was a traditional long boat with Japanese lanterns down the side that took us down river all the way to Rainbow Bridge, passing Tokyo Skytree and hundreds of other skyscrapers all magically lit up. It was a beautiful sight!
While we were on board, we were served more food than I care to remember: sashimi, salads, tempura, miso soup… And it just kept coming! The beer and champagne was flowing when one member of the group spotted a karaoke machine in the corner… Uh oh! People sang their favourite songs, clearly preparing for our night of karaoke at a club later on.
22:00 Our boat trip finished back where it started, and we made our way to Rapponghi for a wild night ahead. We were allowed in! We had VIP wristbands giving us entry to private karaoke rooms where we sang the night away to classics like Livin’ On A Prayer and Born In The USA. The club was full of young locals who treated us like rock stars- everyone wanted to hold our hands and dance with us, and we even had bouncers follow us across the dance floor to make sure we didn’t attract too much attention. It was all a bit… weird, but fun all the same.
02:00 Some people stayed out until the club closed and even beyond that. But, knowing I had an early flight, I was on my way at 2am – heading to my room to pack.
06:00 It was an early start for all of us to make our morning flight home. Leaving early last night definitely paid off – most of my group was hungover on the flight so I bounded up to them with a cheery ‘Good morning!’ that just might have made it worse. Mwahaha.
11:00 At the airport, we had enough time to buy some last minute souvenirs before boarding our 12 flight back to London and onward journey.
48 hours is rarely enough to do anywhere justice, and in Tokyo’s case, 48 hours in Tokyo was a bit of a stretch. Luckily I had been before, otherwise I would have passed up Disneyland to see more of the sights and local haunts. Despite the lack of time, we managed to cram a lot into our trip and, like any decent city, Tokyo left us wanting more. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend such a short stay, but if you’re not paying for it, then why would you say no?
Have you ever been somewhere that you wished you could spend more time at? What’s the smallest flight:holiday ratio you’ve ever experienced? Was it worth it?
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