Trying to decide how long to spend in each destination of your Japan trip is tricky as, the more you research the more you find to do so, let us help you decide how long you should spend in each place – starting with how long you should spend in Tokyo.
My quick answer to how long you should spend in Tokyo is at least 4 days. That will allow you to cover the main sights that are on most people’s first-time itineraries – however, it doesn’t allow for day trips, a more relaxed traveling style, or, deep dives like exploring the shops of Akihabara or Shimokitazawa and the backstreets of Asakusa or finding cool older areas like Sugamo. For that, you’ll need 5-6 days – at least.
Read on to find my basic 4-day itinerary plan – and, some suggestions for when you might want to spend more – or less – time in Japan’s biggest city.
The 4-Day Basic Tokyo Itinerary
Tokyo is a series of areas each with its’ own personality and list of things to do. Spending half a day in 5-6 of these will cover all the main sights and give you a good grounding of the city. So, here’s a brief outline of how I suggest you split up your time to see as much as possible in 3-4 days.
If you like the sound of it, I’ve also written a longer version with more details, and some extra sights, plus ideas on how to spend each evening as well.
Day One – Asakusa and Akihabara
In one day you can easily visit Tokyo Skytree, Senso-ji temple (above), and the atmospheric Asakusa backstreets. You might also want to head to Kappabashi Street with its fun plastic food replicas – and this is also a must-stop for any chefs who want to stock up on Japanese knives or other equipment.
Then go to Akihabara where you can spend all your 100 yen coins on fun gachapon, visit the Kanda Myojin shrine with its cute shrine pony, or get waited upon in a Maid Cafe or an anime-themed cafe.
Spend your evening in bustling Ueno, or head back to Asakusa which teams with izakayas and bars.
Day Two – Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku
Start your day at the venerable Meiji Shrine. Firstly to beat the crowds but also, because there’s no point visiting the other areas on our list until the shops open at around 11 am.
From Meiji shrine, head to Takeshita Street and try the latest food trends. If you want to visit an animal cafe, Harajuku is a good place to do it.
Now, walk, or catch the bus, down to Shibuya. Take in the Shibuya Crossing, visit the Hachiko statue, and do some shopping.
Head to the Shibuya Sky observation deck at sunset (you’ll need to book a month in advance) or go back to Shinjuku for the evening to see the lights and the roaring Godzilla above Hotel Gracery.
Night owls might then carry on to the bars of Golden Gai or Omeido Yococho.
Day Three – Toyosu and Odaiba
Toyosu is the new location for the Tokyo Fish Markets and, while the market here is not worth visiting. The restaurants here are worth a visit for an amazing fresh fish breakfast.
From Toyosu, you can easily head to the digital art installation teamLab Planets. Book this well in advance to try and get the first slot of the day.
From here, head to Odaiba. This man-made island has all sorts of activities and is a must if you’re traveling with children. Highlights include the Miraikan Science Museum, the giant Gundam Robot, the Poop Museum, and my absolute favorite Small Worlds which was one of the highlights of my last trip. See more pictures and buy tickets in advance here.
You can easily spend the whole day in Odaiba.
Day Four – Tsukiji and Ginza
Start your day at Tsukiji Market. Either wander around the rabbit warren of stalls yourself or take a tour. I did this half-day Tsukiji tour on one of my trips and it was excellent.
Don’t miss the two shrines at Tsukiji – they make the list of our favorite shrines and temples in Tokyo.
From Tsukiji, it’s an easy walk to Ginza where you can check out Japanese shopping at its finest, visit some traditional sights like the Imperial Palace (you can apply in advance here), or, visit Hama Rikyu Garden, one of Tokyo’s prettiest gardens. Its’ beautiful tea house is also a good place to try Japanese tea in Tokyo. Find the opening hours here.
If you only have three days, you can pick from day three or day four depending on your interests, and still leave Tokyo feeling like you’ve seen a great snapshot of all it has to offer.
If this all sounds fun, then we’ve also created a longer version of this plan as a proper four-day Tokyo itinerary that you can follow.
When You Might Need More Time in Tokyo
The above is a whistlestop tour and, some of you might need a little longer in Tokyo to fully experience it. Here’s when you might want to add (or swap) an extra day or two.
1. If You’re a Slower Traveler
The above itinerary has you rushing around the areas picking off the headline sights, but, if that’s not your style of travel, then you can easily spend a day in each area pottering around the backstreets, wandering into shops, sitting in cafes or, just explore some more off the beaten track areas (there’s suggestions of a few of those below).
With a more chilled itinerary, you can also visit some museums, and take in some art like the works of Yayoi Kusama in Shinjuku. You can spend a few hours at a sumo stable learning about Japan’s national sport, or, take some time to relax in a sento (a public bath) or spa experience like Thermae Yu in Shinjuku.
2. If You’re Doing Tokyo Disney Resort
Each of the Tokyo Disney Resort parks needs a day to see everything and ride as many rides as you can. Also, if you are doing both parks, you might want to spend a night staying closer to the resort as, as we discovered, the travel time makes nipping back and forth a bit annoying – and makes taking a break in the middle of the day impossible.
You can buy evening tickets for Tokyo Disney Resort, but, do remember that the queues for rides in Japanese theme parks can be very long – trying to ride The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast will likely chew up your whole evening (unless you can buy a Premier Access pass when you arrive), so if you do use one of these, then plan to go mostly to soak up the atmosphere, watch the evening parade, eat some very cute food – and maybe jump on a couple of the less popular rides.
3. If You’re into Manga and Anime
Then you’re also probably going to want to spend a bit more time in Akihabara than our plan above allows. Also, you should make some time to go to Nakano, which is the ‘new’ Akihabara, and Ikebukuro which has the mind-bendingly confusing Namjatown. You’ll have no idea what’s going on in here, but the themed desserts will more than makeup for your confusion.
Also, spend some time at Hard Off and Book Off – these secondhand shops are great places to pick up collectibles at cheaper prices.
You’ll probably also want to book some of the themed cafes in Tokyo like Pokemon, Kirby, or Animate whose cafes do many anime pop-ups, and perhaps spend half a day at the Ghibli Museum.
Check our guide to how to book tickets to some of these as they can be a bit tricky to get.
Oh and if you are following our itinerary above, Small Worlds has Sailor Moon and Evangelion exhibits you probably won’t want to miss.
4. If You Want to go to teamLab Borderless
This incredibly popular digital art installation reopened in February 2024 and I’m saying to allow more time if you want to visit it for two reasons – it’s going to be PACKED and so you want your itinerary to be as flexible as possible to get tickets and, you’re not going to want to rush through it.
The second reason is that it’s not really near any other attractions so, it doesn’t quite fit into the itinerary above.
If you don’t have any extra time though, it’s probably most easily combined with our Day Four itinerary.
Booking for teamLab Borderless is now open, so check for tickets here.
5. If You’re a Shopper
Then, you might want to spend more time in areas like Harajuku and Shibuya than the plan above allows. Also, if you’re into thrift shopping, you might want to add half a day in Shimokitazawa which is famed for its vintage shops.
If you’re more into gadgets and gizmos, then look for Hard Off stores – Mr Japlanease spent his entire trip going to one every day looking for broken things he could fix!
There are also a couple of flea markets you might want to add to your plans like the Oedo Antique Market at Tokyo International Forum. This happens twice a month on Sundays, check the timetable here.
6. If You Want to See Mount Fuji?
Then, you’ll need at least one day to head over to Lake Kawaguchi or Hakone. You can book organised tours to both, or, take the daily trains that visit each from Shinjuku station.
For Mount Fuji, the quickest, easiest route is to take the Fuji Excursion train which runs from Shinjuku Station. See more details here.
For Hakone, get on the Romance Car from Shinjuku.
If you’re also intending to use attractions like the ropeway and pirate ship in Hakone, you can also use the Hakone Free Pass which includes the return trip from Shinjuku.
7. If You Want to Find Some Hidden Gems?
Then, add at least half a day in one or more of the following areas which will let you see a different side of Tokyo.
Sugamo: Known as Granny Harajuku, it’s where the older citizens of Japan like to shop and it’s full of atmospheric old shops and ladies and gents taking a stroll. See a bigger post on Sugamo on Japlanease’s sister blog, Differentville.
Sunamachi Ginza. This is the street for foodies. It’s very, very local and lined with shops selling snacks and nibbles. The best way to experience it is with this excellent food tour. Not only will you try all the foods, but the guides know all about the people who run the stalls and have a great rapport with them.
Yanaka. Another atmospheric shopping street, which oddly has a thing for cat-themed goodies. You can also visit the Nezu shrine with its scarlet torii and also visit the old cemetery.
Shibamata: About an hour outside the big city, this small town is most famous as the setting in a series of famous Japanese movies. Tourists though will enjoy its retro architecture and old-fashioned shops.
But you could jump off trains all over Tokyo and find something amazing to see just wandering the backstreets. This is why I’ve probably spent eight weeks in Tokyo on my various trips and am still nowhere near bored with it. In fact, I don’t feel as if I’ve even touched the sides.
Once you decide how long to spend in Tokyo, your next decision is deciding where to stay, so, take a look at our guide to the best areas of Tokyo for your first trip.
When You Might Want to Spend Less Time in Tokyo
If you’re not a big city person or are more interested in the traditional side of Japan, you might not need as long in Tokyo as someone interested in the buzz, the kawaii cuteness, the shops, the bars, and the restaurants on offer.
You’ll probably want to spend just a couple of days here and then head to Kyoto, spend more time in Mount Fuji or Hakone, or head along the Izu Peninsula and get away from it all.
But, if you do have more time, there are a lot of traditional and quieter areas in and around Tokyo to explore if you know where to look.
In your case, I would focus your itinerary around the sights of Asakusa, and the traditional section of our day four itinerary, and skip most of the other sights in our itinerary above – but then wander outside the obvious areas. Our hidden gems section above was made for you – the temple above is in Sugamo.
You might also want to visit a few of the temples and shrines on our Tokyo list.
Other day trips you could explore include Nikko (see our Nikko Day trip guide from a local here), and the retro-looking Kawagoe. Or, take a trip to see the giant bronze Buddha at Kamakura.
So, I hope that helps answer the question of how long to spend in Tokyo. If you found it helpful, you might also want to check out our similar guide on scheduling Kyoto – and how many days you might want there and how many days you need in Osaka.
If you do have any more questions, then why not head over to our Facebook group where I or one of our other keen Japanese travelers will do our best to answer you?
Who Writes This Blog?
My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a journalist and author. My travel articles have appeared in publications including The Australian, RAC Horizons, Jetstar Magazine, Sainsbury’s Magazine, and more.
I’ve traveled to Japan five times before- solo and with my partner – and I’ve just returned from trip six in June 2023. So, everything here is pretty up to date.