1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary: Ueno, Asakusa & Akihabara

This 1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary covers highlights including Sensoji Temple, fish markets, museums, and the SkyTree. This touring plan is an efficient step-by-step route for visiting the best of what the city has to offer. It’s a jam-packed day that covering the best of Eastern Tokyo’s highlights, all in a time-saving manner.

Tokyo is commonly divided into the low city and high city. The former is on the delta of the Sumida River and it’s what remains of the historic Tokyo, or old Edo. The latter is the modern metropolis, and where most visitors spend the vast majority of their time.

Only experiencing the west side’s high city is a huge mistake. Districts like Kanda, Nihonbashi, Kyobashi, Ueno, Asakusa, Honjo, Tsukiji, Fukugawa, and Akihabara are vibrant in their own right, and provide a different flavor of culture than do the ‘headliner’ areas to the west.

In Eastern Tokyo, you’ll find temples and shrines from the Edo period and remnants of the Meiji era. While much of these areas have been redeveloped following the Great Kantō Earthquake and subsequent firebombing air raids, this side of Tokyo retains a historic charm, and is imbued with a sense of character cultivated over the course of 600 years.

The history and character of Eastern Tokyo is a stark contrast to Western Tokyo, which feels like the city of the future. These two halves of Tokyo form a more interesting, deeper whole, and we’d encourage you to spend roughly equal time in each half of the city if you have the time. With that said, here’s our 1-day Eastern Tokyo touring plan…

Tsukiji or Toyosu Market – Tokyo now has now two iconic fish markets: Tsukiji is the old option where a bunch of stalls are still located and Toyosu is the new market where there’s a marketplace of vendors, wholesale operation, and tuna auction.  Toyosu Fish Market is housed in three interconnected buildings and there’s a lot to see, do, and eat there. If you’re up early, go to Toyosu Market.

If you’re not an early riser but still want to get a flavor of the market, we’d recommend Tsukiji Market, which is the original and still-beloved Tokyo fish market. There’s a lot of great food to eat and some activity to see. Plus, it’s way easier to go from Tsukiji Market to our next destination.

Hamarikyu Gardens – A short walk from Tsukiji Fish Market is Hamarikyu Gardens. Here you’ll find what’s essentially a nicely-landscaped stroll garden with exemplars of traditional Japanese architecture around a large pond with a teahouse in the center. Here, you can enjoy matcha and Japanese sweets.

From here, it’s about a 15 minute walk to Shiodome Station where you’ll catch the Oedo Line to Ryogoku Station.

Museum Madness – From Ryoguko Station, you’ll be a stone’s throw from two great museums. First, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which we praise as one of the best museums in all of Japan, and an absolute Tokyo must-do. This is a great survey of Tokyo and Japanese history, with varied and engaging displays that could entertain you for hours.

Second, there’s the Sumida Hokusai Museum, which offers intimate exhibitions featuring the work of internationally-famous Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. This museum is a nice companion to the Edo-Tokyo Museum; it’ll take you an hour or less, but is still worth doing, especially if you use the Grutto Pass program for free/discounted museum admission. From there, it’s back to the station and on the Oedo Line to Ueno-Okachimachi Station.

Ueno Park – You’ll start at the south end of Tokyo’s museum district, and have the chance to wander through, seeing some of the beautiful gardens, temples, shrines, and museums. What, if anything, you do in Ueno Park is your call. You could spend the entire day here museum-hopping (on hot days, we have!) and still not see it all. With limited time in the city, we wouldn’t recommend that.

Our favorite museums here are the Tokyo National Museum and National Museum of Nature and Science, home to the above–and other–dinosaurs. The National Museum for Western Art and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum also rank highly. We do not recommend the Ueno Zoo, which we think is a colossal disappointment.

Kitchen Stadium..err…Street – After exploring Ueno Park, walk over to Kappabashi Street. This is a shopping street between Ueno and Asakusa is aimed at restauranteurs, but is also fun for tourists. Kappabashi Street is a cool place to visit not because you’ll purchase anything but because it’s really fascinating to see.

If you’ve ever wondered where all of those plastic food displays that every restaurant in Japan seems to have come from, this is your answer. It’s a lot cooler than it might sound, and even if we’re wrong, it’s on the way to Asakusa.

Old Tokyo – Next, head east to Asakusa, where you can experience the Tokyo of a bygone era. It’s not historic in the same way as Kyoto, but Asakusa does feel like a time capsule that time has passed by. Be sure to peruse the side streets that offer shopping arcades, particularly Nakamise Dori, which has souvenir shops and food vendors that have been serving visitors for centuries.

Nakamise Dori and its vendors line the approach to Sensoji Temple, which one of the top tourist attractions in Tokyo. Sensoji Temple doesn’t do a ton for us, but if you aren’t visiting Kyoto, it’s a must-visit. Even if you are continuing on to Kyoto, it’s worth seeing how it stands in contrast to the towering, ultra-modern skyscrapers in Tokyo.

Tokyo SkyTree – Our “Review: Is SkyTree Worth Doing?” post is not the most ringing endorsement for the observatory, but it does offer a nice bird’s eye view of Tokyo. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Fuji. On a less clear day, you might struggle to see Tokyo Disney Resort.

Time your visit so you arrive at the Tokyo SkyTree shortly before sunset. Stay at the top for 45 minutes or so, watching the city transition from day to night. Afterwards, dine at one of the many restaurants in the shopping complex below the Tokyo SkyTree. Alternatively, head to Akihabara, which is less than 20 minutes away via the subway.

Evening in Akihabara – Wandering around and marveling at the neon signs and vibrance of Akihabara is a great way to end your night in Tokyo. This area is famed as the city’s electronics district, and there are many stores, arcades, maid cafes, cat cafes, etc. that you can check out in Akihabara.

It’s not a hip or luxe district, so those of you who want normal shopping will feel more at home here, too. Stores we recommend visiting (even if you’re just window shopping) include Yodobashi, Laox Main Store, Sofmap, Don Quijote, Super Potato, Mandarake, and Radio Kaikan. The last one is an Akihabara landmark, with many smaller shops selling everything from electronics to anime, manga, models, and more.

This agenda is pretty jam-packed, and it’s very different than the day you’ll likely have exploring western Tokyo. The two sides of the city are very different from one another, with one or the other likely resonating much more with you. This is perfectly normal, and the good news if you have 3 or more days in Tokyo is that you can call an audible and easily spend more time on the side of Tokyo that appeals to you, and less time on the side that doesn’t.

For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Eastern Tokyo? Did you visit any of these districts or do these things? Do you prefer “Old Tokyo” or the modern megapolis? What would make your itinerary for these areas of the city? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? If you haven’t been to Tokyo, what interests you most about the city? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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