Tokyo is the biggest city in the world, so it makes sense to break the city into smaller regions to get the most out of your time. My itinerary for one day in Northern Tokyo covers Nishi-Nippori, Yanaka, Asakusa and Ueno and includes a variety of temples and shrines, shopping streets, charming neighbourhoods, Ueno Park and the magnificent Senso-Ji Temple.
Morning: Temple Trail in Nishi-Nippori, Northern Tokyo
Starting from the Nishi-Nippori train station, we walked through the backstreets of Nishi-Nippori towards Yanaka, passing a number of Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples along the way.
Midday in Yanaka: Strolling Old Tokyo
Historic Yanaka has managed to avoid many of the fires, earthquakes and the US air raids during World War II, which so drastically shaped most of Tokyo. This charming, pre-war residential neighbourhood is a slice of Old Tokyo, and has a much more relaxed pace than neighbourhoods like Shibuya or Shinjuku. We bought breakfast at a small traditional food store, before heading to Yanaka Ginza, the main shopping street.
Bustling Yanaka Ginza is a pedestrian-friendly cluster of shopping streets, with few buildings more than a few stories tall. This charming shopping precinct is a great place to find traditional Japanese handcrafts, homewares and produce.
It’s a side to Tokyo that few tourists ever see, and a far cry from the bright lights of Shibuya and Akihabara.
Afternoon in Ueno: Ueno Park & Surrounds
Ueno Park is Tokyo’s most popular city park, especially during cherry blossom season. We were there in summer, so we were too late for cherry blossoms, but we did spot a bonsai competition, brass band buskers, beautiful temples and the lotus-covered Shinobazu Pond.
Ueno Park covers 300 acres and is home to museums, temples, a zoo and the University of Tokyo (the Harvard of Japan). We didn’t visit any museums, which I do kind of regret. It was just such a beautiful day, I couldn’t bear to be indoors!
We stopped at the large fountain for one of the snacks we bought at the food store, before venturing further into the park.
Another section of the pond is lotus-free, and you can hire swan paddle boats. However, legend has it that any couples who uses the swan paddle boats is doomed to break up! I’m not usually superstitious, but I decided to play on the safe side this time 😉
We exited from the opposite end of Ueno Park, in the neighbourhood of Ueno. Unlike Yanaka, Ueno was much more modern – although not as futuristic as Shinjuku or Shibuya. Ueno was everyday, modern Tokyo.
Dinner in Asakusa: Sometaro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese dish, much like an omelette but with a Japanese twist. “Okonomi” translates roughly to “what you like” and “yaki” translates to grill, which pretty much sums it up. Usually, okonomiyaki involves flour, eggs, cabbage and some sort of protein topped with condiments like mayonnaise.
At Sometaro, you sit at low tables with a hot plate and make your own okonomiyaki. Or at least, that’s the idea – our host had to step in a few times to avoid total okonomiyaki catastrophe.
Okonomiyaki is delicious – and I don’t like traditional omelettes. I could definitely have eaten here several more times if it wasn’t on the opposite side of town to where we were staying (and if there weren’t so many other Japanese dishes to try!).
After Dark: Senso-Ji Temple, Asakusa
The magnificent Senso-Ji Buddhist temple is around a ten minute walk from where we had dinner, at Sometaro. Senso Ji is Tokyo’s most popular temple, and was my favourite of the many temples I saw in Tokyo.
Have you been to Tokyo? Where would you like to go in Japan?