Have one day to spend in Tokyo and want to see the ultra modern skyscrapers and shopping areas of Japan’s busy capital? This 1-day itinerary offers an efficient step-by-step touring plan for visiting Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Roppongi. Along the way, we’ll cover architecture, museums, parks, and even a couple of historic sites.
For most visitors to Japan, this is the familiar side of Tokyo. It’s what you’ve seen depicted in movies like Lost in Translation, and is definitely the more popular side of the city for tourists. It’s certain alive with activity, and simply wandering around soaking up the bright neon lights, standing under the towering buildings, and shopping at the array of stores–from luxury boutiques to approachable shops–is a great way to spend a day in Tokyo.
With that said, we do not recommend only a single day in Tokyo. If you can, add another day in the ‘old Tokyo’ districts of Asakusa and other eastern areas (see our 1-Day Eastern Tokyo, Japan Itinerary). To that end, our 2-Day Tokyo, Japan Highlights Itinerary is a good culmination of these two plans for seeing more of this incredible city…
While this is presented as a set itinerary with steps to follow, you can have a great day in Western Tokyo simply by getting off at Shibuya Station, slowly meandering north, discovering random spots, and stopping to do whatever strikes your fancy. You’ll eventually end up in Shinjuku, which is one of the more ‘colorful’ nightlife districts in Japan.
Basically, this whole post takes that loose plan and organizes it into something easier to digest, and with some specific recommendations for things to see, do, and eat as you meander your way from Shibuya to Shinjuku…
Shibuya – Even if you don’t like to shop at high-end retailers (I don’t), you should have a good time strolling the zelkova tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando, which is essentially Tokyo’s version of the Champs Élysées. Omotesando is clean, pretty, and dotted with eye-catching modern architecture (here’s a walking tour with more photos of the buildings–my favorite is Prada). Along the side-streets, you’ll find smaller upstart boutiques and excellent restaurants, so don’t be shy to stray from the path.
We recommend beginning your walking tour of Shibuya at Omotesando Station or Roppongi Station (for a longer walk). The latter gives you a chance to pass through the posh Roppongi Hills area and see more before continuing up Omotesando, through the world-famous Shibuya Crossing, and then arriving in Harajuku.
Harajuku – Harajuku has a reputation that precedes it, famous for its street wear, vivid outfits, and non-conformist culture. Or at least, it did. Harajuku’s scene is a shadow of its former self, but the good news is that you’ll still see the eclectic and elaborate outfits that define public perceptions of Harajuku.
Stroll up towards Takeshita Dori, which is considered the heart of Harajuku. Along the way, for a truly on-brand and bizarre Harajuku experience, make a stop at Kawaii Monster Cafe for desserts. For something quicker, Harajuku’s grab and go crepes are not to be missed. Our favorites include Angel’s Heart, Marion Crepes, or Santa Monica Crepes.
Urban Park & Shrine – After a few hours in the Tokyo’s most modern and chaotic areas, a walk through Yoyogi Park should be a welcome reprieve. The highlight of this massive green space is Meiji Jingu Shrine, and while temples and shrines are best saved for Kyoto, you’re already here so you might as well see it.
In addition to exploring Meiji Jingu Shrine, the area makes a good place to rest and reflect. Do some people watching (weekend weddings are common at the shrine), and get off your feet for a few minutes before moving on. Meiji Shrine is set in a lovely wooded setting that gives it a lot of appeal, plus it’s free. From this shrine, continue towards Yoyogi Park’s northern entrance. This will lead you towards Shinjuku Gyoen’s Sendagaya Gate.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden – Tokyo’s most popular green space and garden, Shinjuku Gyoen is an excellent spot for cherry blossoms during spring sakura season or autumn foliage in fall. Any time of year, this dynamic space has impressive gardens inspired by different international horticultural styles, including French and English landscape gardens.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is also a great spot to grab some matcha and a snack, or just enjoy the scenery from the lawn. If you don’t want to buy food at one of Shinjuku Gyoen’s teahouses, we’d recommend stopping at Lawson or 7-11 before visiting, and having a makeshift picnic in the park.
Single-Subject Museums – We view Shinjuku as the heart of Tokyo, and there’s no shortage of things to do here. The options are fairly open-ended and diverse, with a variety of different stores, restaurants, and things to do. The bulk of our time is usually just wandering around, but we are also big fans of the many corporate or niche interest museums.
For the first-timer to Japan, we’d recommend choosing a couple of these museums. Around here, you can find pretty much any topic you can imagine: coffee, toy, paper, costumes, music sumo, beer, swords, transportation, cameras, and so on…museums. Our favorites within walking distance of Shinjuku are the Fire Museum and Samurai Museum. If you want to find the right museum for you, simply Google “Tokyo Museum + [insert your interest].”
Robot Restaurant – It’s true…all of it. If you’ve done any research about Tokyo, you’ve probably heard of Robot Restaurant. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve no doubt seen it featured in montage commercials for TripAdvisor and travel segments about Tokyo. Its popularity has exploded in recent years, in large part because literally everything you’ve heard about this bizarre show is true.
Even if you go in expecting something totally crazy, Robot Restaurant will defy your expectations. We’ve visited countless times in the years since it opened (before its popularity exploded), and it has definitely gone more mainstream and touristy. Nonetheless, we love and highly recommend it–there’s a reason we keep going back! We have multiple posts about Robot Restaurant, including our original (and regularly-updated) Robot Restaurant Review, so we’re not going to rehash all of the praises we’ve sang for it here.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – When you’re done with Robot Restaurant, it might be time for either dinner (unfortunately, Robot Restaurant is not an actual restaurant) or you might still be able to catch sunset transition to dusk at the Tokyo Metro Government Building’s observation deck.
This observation area is free, rarely has much (if any) line, and the location in Shinjuku offers some really interesting views amidst Tokyo’s city-center. It’s a very different perspective than the Tokyo SkyTree, and arguably the superior experience for all of the aforementioned reasons. (We’d recommend doing both if you have the time, or just the Metro Gov’t Building if you’re choosing one.) After doing some ‘observing’, it’s time for dinner…
Dinner & Roppongi – Comprehensive dining recommendations are beyond the scope of this itinerary, but we do have a list of the Our Favorite Ramen Restaurants in Tokyo. On that list, you’ll find Fuunji Ramen, which is a stone’s throw from the Tokyo Metro Gov’t Building.
Following that, you can either succumb to your ramen coma and call it a night, or finish your ‘loop’ of western Tokyo by returning to Roppongi via the train. Roppongi has a vast selection of dining and shopping amidst some of the world’s largest malls, and some more intimate locales that make for good nightlife. It’s also Tokyo’s expat epicenter, so if you want some comforting American cuisine, you have a ton of options, including common chains and even stuff like Shake Shack!
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.
Have you been to Tokyo? Did you visit Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, or Roppongi? If you also visited the eastern side of Tokyo, which did you prefer? What stops would make your itinerary of western Tokyo? 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!