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Tokyo is a sprawling city of contrasts. From the high rise office buildings in Roppongi Hills to the weird and wacky stores in Akihabara it is impossible for the city to leave you untouched. Do you only have 4 days in Tokyo? Are you overwhelmed with the choice and the size of the city?

Don’t worry, this post will help you decide what to do in Tokyo in 4 days as I wrote it after my own Tokyo itinerary so it is curated and tested. With so much on offer it is important to plan your time well so my itinerary to discover Tokyo in 4 days is perfect to decide what to include and what to leave out.

For those with limited time, rest assured that you can make the most of your visit to Tokyo in 4 days with a generous dose of subculture, of the weird and wonderful and of heritage.

If you prefer a much longer, slower and more affordable travel, this guide to travel in Japan will be very useful. But be sure to be prepared for the cultural shock with my post about 10 Things to know before visiting Japan.

While this post is a detailed Tokyo itinerary for 4 days, I also want to give you the chance to build your own Tokyo itinerary based on how much time you’ll spend in the city. So here is quick guide to various itineraries for 2 days in Tokyo or for 3 days in Tokyo.

If you only have 1 day in Tokyo, then you will be short on time and will be better off taking a day tour.

Itinerary for 2 days in Tokyo

If you only have 2 days in Tokyo, you are best of focusing on the main attractions in the city.

Day 1: From Asakusa to Akihabara

– Senso-ji Temple

– Akihabara

– Shibuya Crossing and lunch at the basement foodcourt

– Robot Cafe

– Dinner at Narisawa or Ninja Restaurnt

Day 2:

– Tsukiji market in the early morning

– Meiji Shrine

– Harajuku and lunch in the area

– Imperial Palace

– SkyTree tower

– Inakaya restaurant for dinner and Golden Gai for a drink

Itinerary for 3 days in Tokyo

If you have 3 days in Tokyo, you are best of focusing on the main attractions in the city as mentioned in the 2 day itinerary and then use the third day to explore more of the weird and wonderful aspects of the city.

Day 1: As mentioned in the 2 day itinerary

Day 2: As mentioned in the 2 day itinerary

Day 3: Weird and wonderful

– Sumo wrestling morning

– Geisha studio transformation

– Owl or hedgehog cafe

– Dinner at the Robot Cafe or Ninja restaurant (the one not chosen for Day 1)

You could also use your third day to take a day trip to Mount Fuji, an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site and a wonderful day out. This best selling tour offers a bit of Japan’s countryside.


Day 1 – Discover Asakusa + itinerary of Akihabara

If you asked anybody who has been there what to do in Tokyo for 4 days one of the first things they would suggest is Akihabara and the temples in Asakusa. Start your Tokyo 4 days itinerary strong with a full heritage and subculture day with plenty to browse and lots of culture shocks.

Senso-ji Temple


Senso-ji Temple

Senso-ji Temple

In the morning, ideally early, reach  Asakusa , the spiritual and historical center of the city and one of the most relevant places of interest in Tokyo where you can explore Senso-ji Temple and the intricate blend of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.

I very much recommend you do as I did and book a tour with a private guide, otherwise you will get lost in the crowds without fully understanding half of what all the shrines and alleys tell you about. The best way to get immersed into the complex Japanese culture explosion of this part of Tokyo is with a guide.

A private guided tour usually is for half a day so you can choose to visit Asakusa’s main shrines and area around it which should take about 2h and then head to another part of Tokyo, for example, you could go to Akihabara as mentioned in this Tokyo itinerary. You could also start the morning with a 30 minute rickshaw tour before you continue with your private guide. Or if you want something more affordable, there are also tours that only take you through Senso-ji temple and then you can stroll the area on your own.

Either way, I highly recommend that you take a guide at last for a portion of your time in Asakusa because the area is teeming with history which needs to be heard to understand a lot of Tokyo.

Akihabara

From Asakusa, walk (45min) or take a taxi or the subway to get to  Akihabara , the mecca of anime and possibly the most famous place to go for the best of Tokyo to continue your Tokyo itinerary through some of the city’s most emblematic and infamous neighbourhoods.

Akihabara will fulfil all your manga and Japanese subculture dreams. If you want to visit one of the famous Maid Cafe, this is the place. The streets are filled with girls dressed as maids and calling you into one of the hundreds of them. For the best experience join a guided tour of Akihabara with a maid who will tell you all about the culture and the area and you will have the chance of visiting one of the cafes with her. A very fascinating discussion. Or have a full-on entertaining adventure tour that covers karaoke (a very Japanese experience), a visit to a Maid Cafe and then some time at shopping emporium and house of all things kitch and fun Don Quijote.

For the original experience head to Cure, although you will need to become a member to be able to book ahead, and a Japanese friend to help mediate as they don’t speak English. It was a rather cumbersome experience and without anyone to tell you more about it you probably miss half the story, at least that is how me and my friend felt. For other weird and wonderful cafes in Tokyo this is a list of the best, Tokyo certainly delivers in that very special skill!


Akihabara

Akihabara

After a coffee and some food to recharge at a maid cafe wander along the main boulevard, Chuor Dori, where you can find lots of different stores that may pop in your mind when you think of Akihabara.

Anime stuff, collectibles, gambling stores, game stores, everything and anything is available here so spend some time just wandering and getting in and out of the stores that pique your curiosity. If you want to learn more about why the area is known as the Electronics heart of the city, there are private walking tours that let you customise your own fun experience and take you to the other part of the neighbourhood beyond karaoke and maid cafe.

Yodobashi

Afterwards, head to Yodobashi, the center of all things electronic. Beware, Japanese electronics are not cheaper in Japan than back home and come with the extra challenge of being in Japanese only. Beware, that Panasonic or Sony camera you were trying to snatch at a cheaper price will actually come only in Japanese language but the store is a great place to get advice.

I managed to find the lens that I really wanted to buy but couldn’t remember what it was called there and a couple of their staff members did actually speak English. The range on display is extraordinary and the place overwhelming.

As you walk along you may spot all the maids and locals dressed in cosplay outfits hanging out in the cool neighbourhood. If you want a photo of or with either make sure to ask. The girls do not like photos and many will be holding a sign stating so and it is safe to assume even those who don’t have the sign do not appreciate it either. Ask or be sneaky, and make sure not to be caught!

Mandrake

The most impressive store in Akihabara is Mandarake. This building version of a Batmobile is the center of all things anime and weird. Think porn comic books, all the robots and little figurines of every potential cartoon or Japanese character available on any size, old Game Boys and Nintendo, in short, all sorts of collector’s stuff to fill your wildest hoarder dreams.

This is the place to spend money on things you don’t need and will not have a place for when you get home. But they look oh-so enticing and underground. This is Japanese subculture paradise and the heartbeat of Akihabara, at least in my mind. Climb up all the floors because every one of them is devoted to a specific topic from J Pop CDs to comic books, from the oldest items to the newest raging trend.

Make sure not to get lost in a world of magic and role play. Mandarake has other branches in other parts of town but the one here is the most authentic because of its location at the center of Tokyo’s subculture play.


Mandarake

Mandarake

After Yodobashi and Mandarake you might want to take a break. Walk over to AKB48 for a dose of J Pop and fanatism for the pop girl groups.

AKB48 and various cafes

AKB48 is the name and performing headquarters of Japans’ largest girl group. The group is made of over 140 girls today although it started with just 48 (hence the name). Go in and take a seat at the theatre/bar where you can enjoy some awful food and drink while watching some of their performances on the large TV screen. It is slightly strange to the visitor but permanently full.

If you are a robot fan, you could try Gundam Cafe instead. Or if you aren’t fussed by either, Anime (and regular) cafes can be found everywhere so just pick one for a quick break. If you want something a bit better try the Akiba Ichi inside UDX center where there are several stores selling food of better qualities. I settled for the J Pop option because I was hot and it was the closest but the food was admittedly unsatisfying yet the surroundings fascinating.

Other things to watch out for in Akihabara are general celebrity meet and greets. As we were walking around there were two of them where the characters of anime movies or J Pop groups come to meet their fans. The queues in the street will be telling. You won’t get anything but it is fun to watch.

If you want to explore all of Akihabara and get good insights into the subculture that makes Tokyo and Japan so fascinating, get under the skin of the city’s subculture with a Manga and Anime private tour. Hopefully by the end of it you really understand the Otaku subculture.

After Akihabara you will no doubt be tired so head back to your hotel to shower and freshen up, the night is young!


Robot Cafe

Robot Cafe

For dinner, make sure to book tickets for the Robot Cafe for a night show before dinner, you must book them ahead of time as the sessions are almost always full. O-M-G this is one of the craziest things you can do in Tokyo. Ideally, the 5pm slot should work best if you make it but they also have 7pm. Just make sure not to order any food, it is overpriced and not nice, Tokyo has great food so it would be a shame to spoil your appetite here. The Robot Cafe is one of the most famous things to do in Tokyo in the recent years since it opened. No words can describe it so you will have to see for yourself. Money well spent. Here’s my experience in more detail.

Completely shaken and surprised, you will come out of the Robot cafe thinking: What just happened? It’s time for a bit more Japanese culture at another themed restaurant but this one is less about the tricks and more about the food: Ninja Asakasa. Beyond being a cool themed restaurant, Ninja Asakasa serves some really good food with some Ninja tricks to match and some funky role plays parts by the waiters. I promise you will not be disappointed. This should close the night as tomorrow is another long day.

But if you liked the whole samurai experience and want to learn to be one, there are private Samurai lessons you can take to learn to handle the sword or you can visit the Samurai Museum.

Scroll down for Day 2

Read more about Asakusa, Akiharaba and the Robot Cafe

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GUIDE ON WHAT TO DO IN AKIHABARA WITH THE BEST CAFES

Things to do in Akihabara, places to see and activities including anime stores, maid cafes  and electronic shops.

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THINGS TO DO IN ASAKUSA, FROM “PLAY” TO “PRAY”

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Where to stay in Akihabara or Asakusa

Gate Hotel Karimanimon

Gate Hotel Karimanimon

If you are looking to book a hotel in Asakusa, The Gate Hotel Karimanimon by Hulic is your best bet and it even comes with a side of great views. There are not a lot of high end properties in the area (in fact this is the only 4* hotel) but in case you want to immerse yourself in what was once the home of geishas, this is your best bet.

Intercontinental ANA Hotel

Intercontinental ANA Hotel Tokyo

If you would like to book a hotel that is near the end of the night at Ninja Asakasa, there are a few good options there. I love the Intercontinental ANA (and I stayed there). It is comfortable, has everything you need and it usually reasonably priced (for Tokyo standards). It is also walking distance from a few of the places in this guide, including the hedgehog cafe, Narisawa and GyuRyo.

The Ritz Carlton Hotel Tokyo

Ritz Carlton Tokyo

For a more refined option nearby (taxi ride) check the Ritz Carlton with all its glitz and glam. The Ritz is sure to deliver the best luxury

Looking for something different?

Check out all the hotel options in Tokyo

Day 2 – Shibuya and Roppongi


Shibuya/ Harajuku

Shibuya/ Harajuku


A Tokyo itinerary would not be complete without indulging into people watching and shopping. Start the day in  Shibuya  where shopping has no end and no beginning.

The neighbourhood has anything and everything, from the high end brands to all the local designers, the funky stores, the strange, the weird and the wonderful. Shibuya 109 is not to be missed as the disposable fashion center of the Earth, if you go during Sales, like I did, expect to be met by hordes of store assistants yelling “short sale” non stop at the top of their lungs.

There are also lots of stores with collectors trainers (remember that Michael Jordan Air trainers you wanted to get when you were a teenager but your parents never bought you? I challenge you to buy them and wear them), cute clothes for all your cosplay needs, Japanese too cool for school hip hop fashion, you name it and they have it.

Harajuku

Wander around  Harajuku  as well, starting from the subway station of the same name, where the new fashion trends can be first spotted. Along with clothes, you will also find the famous Calbee potato chips, pink cute crepe stores galore and pretty much any dress up and halloween outfit need.

Don’t miss Laforet shopping mall, with half floors of endless fashion. Great photo opportunities all along but I particularly enjoyed the view from inside Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku which is lined with mirrors.


Crepe store in Harajuku

Crepe store in Harajuku


Before leaving Shibuya, make sure to stop by at Shibuya Hikarie where you can find some of the more stylish and refined items for those picky relatives you can’t buy a tacky mange souvenir for. For a very special and insightful exploration of Harajuku, get a private guide for a walking tour of the area if you want to to get the local insider’s tips and knowledge. You can customise your tour the day before by telling the guide what you like.

But Harajuku is not just a place to go shopping or get oversized crepes, it is also a great place to admire the architecture and the design which is apparent the moment you leave the main pastel colored thoroughfares. If you want to truly learn more about it, there is little info online in English, so a guided walking tour with an expert is a must. This one offers just that.

Lunch should be had late at one of the many ramen places. For an extra original experience look for one with a vending machine. Shibuya is full of them and they make for a very fun way to get your food, with a low failure rate because the machines have pictures!

Zojoji Temple


"Zojoji Temple "

Zojoji Temple


After a shopping overload and a full stomach (I could never finish any of the bowls of ramen) find some respite in one of the most unique temples in Tokyo: Zojoji Temple back in the  Roppongi  business district.

A much bypassed temple, Zojoji is a colorful temple complex made of several buildings and gardens near Tokyo Tower. Despite its location in the busy business district, the temple is almost always empty and provides a respite from the formal streets around.


"Zojoji Temple"

Zojoji Temple


Like many other temples in Japan, Zojoji has been destroyed by fire and attacks from WWII several times, and reconstructed as many. Today, only the main gate, which is two storeys high, is original from the 16th century, when the temple was built, and is the oldest building in Tokyo. The temple complex is made of several buildings and is also the final resting place of several members of the Tokugawa clan, the rulers of Japan during the Edo Period when the temple was constructed, who used it as their family temple.


"Main gate in Zojoji Temple"

Main gate in Zojoji Temple


Inside the temple you can explore several parts such as the mausoleum of the Tokugawa shoguns (the last military feudal rulers of Japan), the main temple and the gardens. Look out for the pretty fountain where a ladle is set for anyone to wash their hands with water. There are several paper lanterns adding to the beauty of the temple and, at times, a tree of wishes with pens and cards for anyone to add theirs in.


"The Garden of Unborn children in Zojoji Temple"

The Garden of Unborn children in Zojoji Temple


Aside from wandering the temple grounds, going inside and admiring the beautiful garden, a sobering but insightful parts of the complex is the Garden of Unborn Children, located by the side of the temple. You will find rows and rows of stone statues representing unborn children which parents have chosen and decorated with hats, scarfs dressed in hats and scarves and other pieces of clothing usually accompanied by offerings to Jizo such as toys, the guardian and patron deity of deceased children, which can help them pass to the afterlife successfully.

Hedgehog Cafe


Harry hedgehog cafe

Harry hedgehog cafe


Next, head over to Harry hedgehog cafe, a cute hole in the wall place which, as the name indicates, is an animal cafe giving you the chance of playing with this spiky animals. Thy are as adorable as they are dangerous so be careful how you gold them. You should book ahead online and choose between 30min to 1h. I reckon you will want to give it an hour. The cafe also has lizards you can hold, they are bigger than a gecko but smaller than an iguana.

Tokyo Observatory


Tokyo observatory

Tokyo observatory


Completely animal-ed up, see if you want to walk upstairs from Harry into the bunny cafe, another adorable animal place. But if it is too much and you’ve had enough, just go back to Roppongi Hills and up onto the Observatory fat the top of the Mori Tower which also has a super cool digital museum. the views over the city will be stunning. The tower is pretty tall and at the top there is a cafe and outdoor area that looks like the helipad. It is pretty cool to enjoy the 360 degree views.

Make sure to get a ticket that takes you to the helipad at the top for 360 degree views. Tokyo is not known for its skyline but at sunset, if you are lucky and the weather is good, the views will be pretty neat and you will realise how sprawling and huge the city is. Tokyo expands as far as the eye can see in all directions.

For other great city views from above, there are other viewpoints in Tokyo. The most famous one is Tokyo Skytree which is the pointy tower with a restaurant at the top. You can get the simple Skip the queue tickets, or buy he same skip the queue tickets and a meal so you can sit down and enjoy the view from the restaurant. The restaurant sits at 345m above sea level and you can see all the way to Mount Fuji. Result!

Narisawa restaurant

After sunset, dinner tonight should be at Narisawa Tokyo, Asia’s 2nd Best restaurant (in 2016) and the recipient of 2 Michelin stars. Chef Narisawa serves satoyama inspired modern Japanese cuisine focused on the forest and local ingredients. The meal is a set course and you need to book ahead. Get the 9,30pm slot so you have time to go back home and freshen up. Dress code: smart casual as this is a fine dining venue. For more of the best places to eat in Tokyo read this article.

Scroll down for Day 3

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Where to stay in Tokyo's Minato area

The Peninsula Tokyo

The Peninsula Tokyo

Roppongi Hills is filled with amazing hotels, perhaps one of the nicest is The Peninsula, Asia’s most legendary chain (remember when I did yoga on the helipad of The Peninsula Bangkok?). Classic and elegant with a touch of Japanese minimalism

The Conrad Tokyo

The Conrad Tokyo

The Conrad Tokyo is another of the best luxury hotels in the city and regularly ranks in the top-5. A great choice if you can afford it.

The Okura Tokyo

The well-known Okura brand delivers in Minato and usually offers more affordable options than fellow luxury hotels in the area and I love that the rooms have views on the parks in the area since Roppongi is a hilly part of town

Looking for something different?

Check out all the hotel options in Tokyo

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Keio Plaza Hotel

Keio Hotel Tokyo

For something a bit different or if you are traveling with children, Keio Plaza Hotel has Hello Kitty fully themed rooms in Shinjuku. Shop to your hearts content then retire to childhood’s dreams

The Granbell Hotel

Granbell Hotel Tokyo

The Granbell Hotel in Shinjuku is a great affordable option. The lower price does come with very small rooms but you are unlikely to spend any time in them.

Mandarin Oriental

Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental is another gem of Japan’s capital. Their usual refined luxury with Asian touches is befitting of Tokyo’s urban organised chaos

Looking for something different?

Check out all the hotel options in Tokyo

Day 4 – A tale of Sumo wrestlers, Geishas and Samurais

Your last of your 4 days in Tokyo includes a more humanistic and cultural side to the city, where you will explore the various ancient art forms of Japan, Sumo, Geisha traditions and Samurai.

Sumo Wrestling


"Sumo Wrestlers"

Sumo Wrestlers


Start the day with a  sumo tournament  or a sumo practice at one of the stables. As these events are rarely accessible to foreigners without a Japanese speaking guide you will have to join one of the tours. If it is tournament season (3 months of the year in Tokyo) then you can buy tickets to attend one of them. The tour I suggest includes a traditional lunch so you will be sorted.

Geisha makeover

Geisha

The day must continue with another immersive Japanese activity: a full  geisha and samurai make over  at the Geisha Studio. Here you will get he full make up and dress up experience and will emerge as a true Geisha. This is not a touristy thing, locals actually do this at the studios like the one I went to, in order to take photos. The entire transformation takes between 3-4h depending on how many there are of you and how many photos you want to take.

The longest part is the make up, which takes up an entire hour with layers and layers of paint and make up applied to the skin. If you are a man and want to transform into a samurai, the process is significantly shorter.

You can also transform as a couple, either two samurai, or two geisha or a geisha and a samurai and take individual or couple photos. The wig fitting and the kimono fit out are also lengthy and delicate processes.

Once you are kitted out there is a professional photo shot in the studio upper floors where you can immortalise your transformation for all to see, if they can recognise you! It is a fascinating insight into the life of this mesmerising world. Needless to say this must be booked ahead. Start earliest 2pm as the sumo tour usually ends between 11am-12pm. Here is my full experience.

If you want to complete the cultural exploration into this eminently Japanese tradition, you can join a geisha performance. While geishas are more traditionally found in Kyoto, you already know that there are also some performance theatres in the area around Sensoji Temple.

After you return back to being yourself a shower will be needed to get the paint off your hair and back properly to go back and take a shower. Your Tokyo itinerary is about to hit some of the most popular parts of the city.

Inakaya restaurant


Inakaya

Inakaya

Have dinner early, around 7pm, at the famous and very local  Robatayaki restaurant  Inakaya, a Japanese traditional barbecue place of which there are two very near. You must book ahead.

Point at the vegetables, meats or fish you like and get the waiter to cook them for you in between the screams and yells of the entire staff every time a new order is made or served. You will not understand anything and might be a bit overwhelmed in the beginning but watch others and see what they order to make up your mind. Wash down with some Japanese beer.

The oysters they serve are GIANT, and have a price tag to match so be careful. There is a menu but it is only in Japanese so you will not be given a copy unless you ask as it will be mostly useless. Try the ginko nuts, the corn on the cob and the beef. The red mullet type of fish is also great and the asparagus were delicious. Chicken teriyaki is also a winner.

Shibuya Crossing


Shibuya crossing

Shibuya crossing

After dinner explore the very last stop in your authentic best of Tokyo trip:  Shibuya crossing , in its full glory at night. The only lookout place to see it fully is from the inside of the Starbucks cafe above it where you will see the hundreds of people crossing the 4 pedestrian crossings that zigzag along the many traffic joints.

I was a little disappointed as it is nothing more than a crossing, but at night, the crowds and order that reigns in the apparent chaos was quite impressive. There are more strange and fun cultural experiences to be had which you can read about here.

It’s not easy to get tired of Tokyo, but if you do want an escape from the hustle and bustle, try Niseko in the north for some calm, adventure and natural beauty.

Read more about my Geisha transformation and the beauty of Niseko
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This article was first published in Sept 2016 and updated in Oct 2017, in November 2018 and in may 2019.

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The Best of Tokyo Itinerary