Last month I traveled to one of my bucket list countries - Thailand. It had been a personal must see for the longest, but before I made it to that majestic land, I had a 7.5 hour layover in Tokyo, Japan (technically). Interestingly, Japan was the first country I visited (outside of America) and I fell in love with this amazing island nation. People always ask me 'which country was my favorite to visit' and I always say that “hands- down Japan is my favorite!
The culture, the traditions, the people, THE FOOD!! Man, their food is world class and their preparation of food is an art more than anything else! So... when I purchased my plane ticket to Thailand, I made sure that I picked the flight that stopped in Japan!
One may say that 1) 7.5 hours is not enough time, and 2) leaving the airport could be pushing it. I mentioned earlier that technically I was in Tokyo, but in reality Narita airport is 1 hour away from Tokyo ( so that is 2 hours shaved off). So if you explore during a layover, don’t forget that you have to go through customs. This can take 30 minutes to an hour on any given day. So to be generous, lets just agree that we only have 4.5 hours to enjoy Tokyo. :)
4.5 hours is enough time to visit a temple, sit and dine in a restaurant and tour the city! By the way, you will need cash on hand to exchange or you will have to make an ATM stop (and there's a minimum withdrawal of $100 USD).
**Disclaimer: Exploring a layover city requires planning early. If you don't feel comfortable leaving the airport, then I suggest you stay. If you want to venture off, mind your travel times, because airlines will charge you if you don’t catch your connecting flight.
For those who dare to explore Tokyo during a layover.... here is a list of things you can do once you leave the airport:
1. Visit Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya crossing literally feels like the New York City of Japan. If you seen any picture or film about Tokyo you have seen this world famous crossing. There are restaurants and shops located in Shibuya that you can visit as well. So even if you don’t want to do anything else you could spend all of your time at Shibuya.
2. Visit Senso-ji Temple and nearby Asakusa-jinja Shrine
Sensoji (浅草寺, Sensōji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. It is one of Tokyo's most colorful and popular temples.
Beyond the Hozomon Gate stands the temple's main hall and a five storied pagoda. Destroyed in the war, the buildings are relatively recent reconstructions. The Asakusa Shrine, built in the year 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the temple's main building. (source Japan-guide.com)
3. Try a Sushi go round
Aw man Sushi go round is amazing!! It is a conveyor build of amazingness. You can’t come to Japan without eating some sushi.
How it works:
As the different varieties of sushi go around on small plates you pick the one you want. Most restaurants do pay-by-plate or by which sushi you choose (different color plate, different price).
4. Buy something at a Vending machine!
You haven’t experienced a vending machine until you experienced a Japanese vending machine. There are thousands of them around! From beer to full meals - you can find almost anything in these bad boys. So make sure that you stop for that experience.
5. Hangout in or around Tokyo station
Tokyo Station is the central station in Tokyo between the Imperial Palace to the west and Ginza in the east. It welcomes around 450,000 daily users and more than 4000 trains per day. However it is very well organized.(source Japan-rail-pass.com)
It looks like a mall and it is packed. There are shops, restaurants, and a supermarket in the train station, so this famous train station is another place you can spend all of your time (should you wish to)!
There are also number of sightseeing adventures to have, including Imperial Palace grounds.
6. Actually hangout in the town of Narita
Narita City is also just an awesome cultural experience in itself for first-time visitors to Japan. From the train station, head to Omotesando Street for shops, restaurants, and the Narita Tourist Pavilion, which provides area information and often features traditional performances and demonstrations.
The city also operates a special tour bus specifically with Narita Airport layovers in mind. Hop on board a retro bright red and green bus at the JR Narita station to tour the idyllic streets surrounding the station. You are likely to see local housewives shopping for traditional Japanese goods in the open air market, as well as inside the various traditional Japanese ceramic shops, basket-shops, sushi restaurants, and more. (source Tripping.com)
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