Tokyo is a fascinating city, with a Greater Tokyo population of nearly 40 million. It deserves far more than 24 hours, but if that’s all you have, en route to another destination in Asia, make the most of your visit and of 24 hours!
ARRIVE REFRESHED IN ANA FIRST CLASS, JAL FIRST CLASS OR JAL BUSINESS CLASS
If you plan to hit the ground running, you’ll want to have slept on your flight and arrive refreshed. Fortunately, Japan’s two major airlines, ANA (All Nippon Airways) and JAL (Japan Airlines), have stellar first class beds, and JAL has my favorite business class bed. Both the ANA First Class and JAL First Class beds are 33 inches wide, full flat beds with well cushioned mattress pads that are placed on them. I give the edge to JAL First Class’ airweave mattress, which even has a choice of firm or soft. You’ll also be able to enjoy excellent Japanese or Western cuisine, and Japanese cuisine tends to be ideal for travelers, with its emphasis on seafood, vegetables, and lighter preparations. And both ANA and JAL First Class crews are consummate professionals, polite and attentive, so you’ll lack for nothing.
TAKE THE NARITA EXPRESS
Assuming you arrive into Narita Airport, take the Narita Express, both to avoid surface road traffic and as the most economical option, at a current cost of about 3000 JPY, or less than $30, compared to taxi fares of about 22,000 JPY, or $200 or more each way. Use your savings instead towards one of Tokyo’s top luxury hotels or a great sushi meal.
STAY AT ONE OF TOKYO’S LUXURY HOTELS
The Peninsula Tokyo - Tokyo is one of the world’s best luxury hotel cities, and competition keeps standards very high. If you have an early morning arrival or a late evening departure, opt for The Peninsula Tokyo, since depending on how you book the hotel, you could enjoy flexible check-in and check-out. This enables you to gain early access to your room or suite or, if it’s not available, to another room until your room is ready. A godsend when you only have limited time in the city and may be in need of a shower or power nap. There’s also a great lap pool for those wanting an invigorating swim.
Aman Tokyo - If you want to experience the best Tokyo luxury hotels have to offer, head to the Aman Tokyo, opened in 2015, with entry level Deluxe Rooms the size of suites at other hotels, at 764 square feet, each a peaceful sanctuary and with a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, from the shoji doors separating the bathroom from the bedroom, and an ofuro (Japanese soaking tub) with fragrant cedar salt and housemade Aman bath products. Don’t miss the gorgeous pool, my favorite among Tokyo luxury hotels, with panoramic views of the city.
Four Seasons Tokyo - If you’ll be spending more time elsewhere in Japan and will be departing Tokyo by Shinkansen, head to Four Seasons Tokyo, one of the Four Seasons’ smallest, boutique style hotels, right by Tokyo Station. The advantage to Four Seasons Tokyo when arriving by Narita Express is that one of their team members will actually meet you when arriving on your train, or escort you to the correct platform when you’re departing, so your arrival and departure are seamless. The Four Seasons Tokyo offers the new Four Seasons bed, with a choice of 3 different mattress toppers (our choice was the Signature Plush). We slept better at this hotel than any other.
Mandarin Oriental - If your brief Tokyo stay is due to business, and you know you won’t have time to sightsee or even leave the hotel much except for meetings, I recommend the Mandarin Oriental
Tokyo. Thanks to its many fantastic dining options, including their sushi bar Sushi
Sora, great pizzas at Pizza Bar on 38th, plus Cantonese and French cuisines, as well as molecular gastronomy at 1 Michelin star at Tapas Molecular Bar, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo has a very high level of service. We experienced this when one of us inadvertently left our laptop 1 hour outside of Tokyo. One of the bell staff actually went and retrieved it for us, and refused to take any more compensation than the actual transport cost. The Concierge was, meanwhile, able to help find and procure a new camera battery charger for me overnight, to replace one I’d misplaced. Simply fantastic service.
TO START THE NIGHT KICKING, CHECK OUT THESE BARS
Gen Yamamoto is a small, exclusive Tokyo bar offering a selection of seasonal cocktails made from only the best locally sourced ingredients. The focus for every drink here is not on the alcohol content, but on the harmony of the flavors; the establishment aims to serve creative and refreshing taste combinations with every cocktail it offers. The mandarin, kiwi and akane apple drinks here are divine.
Tokyo Pub Crawl is not a bar; it is actually Tokyo’s largest and longest running nightlife bar tour. Participants get to visit at least three different bars and clubs on this trip, with drink discounts, free shots and a dynamic atmosphere all night. If Tokyo visitors want to have a great time and meet interesting people, then this is the place to be. 1Kara - Throwing the social aspect of karaoke out the window,1Kara takes a different approach and offers karaoke booths for one. For first-timers, it’s the perfect place to practice before your next party. And for seasoned singers, nothing is more therapeutic than belting out your favorite tunes without worrying
if the neighbors are listening. A basic booth will set you back around 800 yen an hour on weekdays and 900 yen on weekends, with luxury upgrades available. Headphones are used instead of speakers, so if you forget yours, rentals are available for a 300 yen fee.
WHAT TO EAT
While I’ve lived in Japan for a year and been fortunate to dine at several excellent sushi bars, my current favorite is Sushisho Masa in Tokyo. Make your reservation through your hotel concierge, and be aware that a meal here will run 25,000-30,000 JPY, or about $250 per person for food alone. But for us, it was worth it, given the variety of excellent nigiri, sashimi, and side dishes that we enjoyed, including many pairs of the fresh fish contrasted with a cooked or smoked version. Come hungry–we thought we were sufficiently hungry, but didn’t manage to make it to the last dishes of the 50 or so that the chef wanted to serve us.
Sukiyabashi Jiro - It’s a classic, but it still deserves a mention as one of the most iconic sushi spots in the city. After winning 3 stars from the Michelin Guide, Sukiyabashi Jiro has become one of the most famous sushi restaurants in the world. The chef and owner, Jiro Ono, has been celebrated in David Gelb’s 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams
of Sushi, and Obama stopped off here with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014. The restaurant is tiny and you’ll have to reserve ahead, but it’s worth the effort for some of the freshest and finest sushi in Tokyo. Don’t expect a menu; diners are presented with individual sushi portions, one after the other, dependent on what the kitchen has been preparing.
Takazawa - Only serving 20 dinners per month, with two to six guests per sitting, Takazawa is an exclusive restaurant tucked behind an unmarked door in Minato. In a room with only three tables, chief Yoshiaki Takazawa creates dishes inspired by both French and Japanese techniques. He prepares the meals in a kitchen in the centre of the room, putting him just a few feet from curious diners. Takazawa’s wife acts as waitress, dishing out delectable and innovative treats such as deep fried mushroom cap with leafy greens and curry ice cream. Ichiran Ramen - If you’re up late and need a food fix, Ichiran is a ramen chain with several locations operating 24 hours. With lots of customization options available, Ichiran is sure to satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
Make your way to Harajuku’s Takeshita Street for shopping and peoplewatching. Takeshita Street contains tons of quirky shops and trinket sellers. So whether you’re looking for offbeat souvenirs or unique pieces to add to your wardrobe, you’ll find them here. Harajuku’s unofficial specialty is crepes, so grab one before heading toward Omotesando.
Outside Shibuya Station you’ll find the landmark pedestrian scramble and the Hachiko statue along with droves of stylish youth shopping for the latest trends. If that isn’t enough, the fashion forward trio of districts Harajuku, Aoyama, and Omotesando are within walking distance.