Got an express stopover in Tokyo? Leave the airport lounge behind with these must-see destinations curated by Jonelle Patrick, author of the Only in Tokyo mystery books and founder of the blog Only in Japan.
STOP 1: ASAKUSA
The Asakusa area with its spectacular temples is on everyone’s must-see Tokyo list. But there are additional little-known things to do here, like visiting the world’s most beautiful lollipop store, Ameshin, and learning how to craft intricate sculptures from candy (or trying to). Pray to meet the love of your life at the Imado shrine, where ‘lucky cat’ ornaments are meant to act as matchmakers, and visit Nakamise-dori, the shopping street in front of Senso-ji temple, to sample strange ice-cream flavours (purple sweet potato and buckwheat noodle, anyone?)
STOP 2: ODAIBA
From Asakusa, take the waterbus down the Sumida River to the Oedo Onsen hot spring theme park, which is a great bad-weather plan as it’s mainly indoors. You can jump in all kinds of springs, from milky white to rusty red water. Men and women bathe in separate areas, but everyone can meet up to eat and drink and enjoy a fish therapy pedicure.
STOP 3: MONZEN NAKACHO
Five times a day, this temple hosts a spectacular (and free) fire ceremony featuring an indoor bonfire and buff priests beating giant taiko drums. The temple also houses over 10,000 crystal god figures, a room filled with glow-in-the-dark bodhisattva deities and a dragon fountain where you write your wish on dissolving paper and throw it in.
STOP 4: AKIHABARA
A shopping area where the newest electronics are sold (think smart toilet seats), Akihabara has also become the centre for ‘cosplay’ – the practice of people dressing up like characters from manga or anime – so have your camera at the ready. Under the train tracks, visit the Aki-Oka artist’s co-op where local makers sell handcrafted items like intricate wooden keyboards.
STOP 6: SHINJUKU
This nightlife area is a riot of neon filled with clubs, bars, and all kinds of entertainment. If you’re in the mood for an only-in-Japan extravaganza, then book seats at the Robot Restaurant where ‘fembots’ (imagine scantily clad cyber-women) serve your dinner. It’s not for kids, but is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacular. For a gentler evening, next door is a warren of small streets called Golden Gai, with alleyways lined with tiny bars that seat between eight and 10 people.
STOP 5: KOSHINZUKA MARKET
Visit this shopping street lined with food vendors to dine on delicacies from a bygone era, like dried snake tea and snacks made from crickets and squid guts. If you want to include an ‘animal cafe’ on your itinerary, The Owl Cafe in the Sugamo shopping arcade is close by (or visit animalcafes.com for animal-themed venues).