Have 24 Hours Between Flights? Japan is the Ideal One-Day Holiday!
Sleepless in Tokyo: If you’re en route to a holiday and happen to stop in Japan, relish the sights – even for a day.
If you need to come to terms with the Japanese obsession with time, all you need to do is get on a Shinkansen (aka Bullet train).
Trains don’t arrive early or late – they’re usually on time to the minute, every single time.
So when I threw out a challenge to my friends in Tokyo – explore the city and surrounds in 24 hours on a transit stop – they were disapproving initially, but then it was challenge accepted.
The frenzied 24-hour challenge that they had plotted began almost as soon as I stepped out of the Narita airport at 8 am on a chilly Monday.
10:30 am Kawaguchiko Lake, Mount Fuji:
In just 150 minutes, I went from a red-eye flight to rubbing my eyes in disbelief. To see images of Mount Fuji is one thing – but to try to fit the entire mountain on panorama mode on my mobile shooter was just surreal. I haven’t seen a mountain that looked so perfectly sculpted like Mount Fuji. It’s almost the force that drives all that harmony in Japan and has a special place in Japanese society (the locals call it ‘Fujisan’). There are five lakes around Mount Fuji that all boast of spectacular views. (Lake Kawaguchiko has the slight edge.)
12 noon Kosaku restaurant near Mount Fuji:
After an hour of being awestruck and clicking images furiously, it was time for my first meal ever in Japan. The hearty ‘hoto’ broth is a speciality around Mount Fuji – and Kosaku is a popular local institution. The pork and mixed vegetable hoto where vegetables float along with thick wheat noodles continue to cook on your table even as you eat!
4:30 pm Asakusa Shrine
Very few cities in the world can boast of a mountain like Fuji within driving distance – but that was not going to be the last surprise Tokyo threw up. The first was Asakusa in the heart of downtown: a legendary 17th century Shinto shrine with a narrow shopping strip between the Torii (Gate) and the actual shrine that almost always buzzes with activity. Asakusa is a stark contrast to the high-rise buildings in the vicinity – and as the lights began to take over, I was already at the city’s best vantage point to take in the views of the Tokyo skyline.
5:30 pm Tokyo Skytree
The Tokyo Skytree is one of the city’s newest landmarks and at 634 metres, the world’s second tallest structure (after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa). More than the gobsmacking views, it’s the cool animation panels around the entrance deck that make the Skytree a truly engaging experience.
7:30 pm Akhiabara and Ginza
Tokyo is every anime fan’s wet dream come true. The Akhiabara district packs electronics, manga and anime shops – but my packed schedule only allows me to drive through, rather than deep dive. It’s the same at Ginza, a magnet for high-fashion brands and with a reputation for some of the world’s highest retail rentals and dizzy neon lights.
10 pm Japanese Whiskey experience
I almost miss a date with my friend thanks to my indiscretions at Ginza. I can’t remember where she took me; all I remember was the whiskey I sampled – all Japanese including the standout Hibiki 15-year-old. Eventually I found my way to the hotel (almost 12 hours after my scheduled check-in time). I must have slept for two hours and then the 4 am alarms started to toll. There was still one more experience to tick off.
5:30 am Tsukiji Market:
After changing two local trains I arrived at the one place that was high on my Tokyo wish list – the Tsukiji fish market, the world’s largest. I might not have found a slot at the market’s tuna auction (only 120 visitors are allowed in two batches each day) but the one-hour wait outside Daiwa Sushi, a tiny yet iconic sushi bar was well worth it.
I order the chef’s special Omakase set (great value at Rs 1800) – and in no time I’ve polished off everything from sea urchin and chewy shrimp tail to salmon eggs (a breakfast like no other). Tsukiji will unfortunately shut down this year and move to a new location.
I swear I will be back before it does. I only have till November.
As I jumped on to a Shinkansen headed for Kyoto (my next stop) just past 8 am, I realised that it is possible to cover serious ground even in the world’s largest metropolitan area in 24 hours flat. And yes, most of the memories are endearing, not just a blur.
Getting there and around: Tokyo is well connected with major airports in India. Taxis are expensive in Tokyo; the underground Metro is the easiest way to get around.
Accommodation: The Tobu Levant in the Sumida district is well located and if you are on a short visit (like I was) it’s more than comfortable for a two-three hour snooze. (www.tobu-levant-tokyo.hotel-rn.com)
(Ashwin Rajagopalan enjoys communicating across boundaries in his three distinct roles as a widely published lifestyle writer, one of India’s only cross cultural trainers and a consultant for a global brand services firm. Ashwin writes extensively on travel, food, technology and trends)
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