24 hours in Tokyo
Sprawling? Crowded? Confusing? Japan's capital is all it stands accused of and more. But once you touch down you'll find these qualities are alluring, only adding to the charm that draws visitors back time and time again. Tokyo is a city of cherry blossom charm, moments of zen, top-notch ramen found down every side street, boundary-breaking fashion and world-class cosmopolitan cuisine. What better place to spend 24 hours?
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Haneda Airport is about 20km from central Tokyo, while Narita is about 65km away. You can fly direct from Sydney to Haneda on Qantas and ANA; JAL fly direct from Sydney to Narita, Qantas from Brisbane, and Jetstar from Melbourne. Stay at The Peninsula Tokyo, an inner-city haven just a stone's throw from Ginza, the shopping capital of Japan. If a boutique base is more your style, try the nearby Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills. And if it's sunrise views over Mount Fuji - or Lost in Translation moments - you're after, you can't go past the Park Hyatt Tokyo over in Shinjuku, the city's business district.
The view from Park Hyatt Tokyo.
While you won't want for melt-in-your mouth sushi in Tokyo, its breakfast offerings are fewer and farer between. Make a pit stop at Café de l'Ambreto fuel up for the day. This Ginza institution has been keeping locals well-caffeinated since in 1948. The impressive aged espresso will soon quieten any growling stomachs. If you're in need of extra sustenance before sightseeing, head to Yakumo Saryo for the traditional Asa-cha breakfast of rice porridge, sun-dried fish, pickles and wagashi (Japanese sweets) washed down with Hōjicha (green tea). Or jump on the Ginza Metro line to Shibuya and walk the short distance to World Breakfast All Day. With a superb public transport system at your fingertips - and limited time - you'd be a fool to travel any other way.
While you're down that way, tick off the Shibuya Crossing. The "busiest intersection in the world" may be one hell of a commuter and tourist trap, but there's something quite magical about traffic coming to a complete standstill and pedestrians pouring out in every direction at this iconic junction.
Next, head 30 minutes west to Asakusa, where you'll find Sensō-ji, Tokyo's oldest and most-visited temple. Admire the original Tokyo skyscrapers - the two gigantic entrance gates, browse the trinkets along the Nakamise-dōri, hold the elements of ancient Edo culture in esteem and rub yourself with incense that's said to bestow good health.
Could it be lunchtime already? Time to pay Kaia visit. The relatively new ramen shop is making waves with its shellfish ramen - the clam broth base is spectacular. Or make your way back to Ginza to Ippoh to try one of Tokyo's greatest exports on its home turf. The tempura here is Kamigata-style - made with vegetable-based oils, instead of goma abura (sesame oil), by a third-generation tempura master. The result? Light, delicate and subtle batter that heroes the main ingredient instead of distracting your taste buds' attention away from it.
Now, a spot of retail therapy. Make a beeline for luxury department store Matsuya. Here, you'll find a decent mix of local and international fashion, plus the Design Collection and gallery on level seven, where all wares have been hand-picked by the Japan Design Committee. With two Membership Rewards points per AUD$1 spent on your American Express ExplorerTM Credit Card*, it's the perfect opportunity to stock up on Sori Yanagi kitchenware, Comme des Garçons tees and a pair of Yohji Yamamoto frames. Make the most of the mall's delivery service, which will take your new purchases to your hotel or straight to the airport for you to collect before you jet out. Depachika at Mitsukoshi Ginza is also worth a browse, it's the basement food hall of your dreams.
You can't leave Tokyo without first experiencing true Japanese sushi culture. Lucky for you - after a day spent dashing about - you don't even need to leave Ginza. You've got two options. For a more formal experience, try Kyubei and opt for the omakase - a set menu selected by the chef. You'll be delighted and decision-free in equal measure. Or head to Sushitake and savour Fumie Takeuchi's tender kohada paired with akazu-seasoned rice for a surprisingly moderate price, given the quality.
You're in the right neighbourhood for an after-dinner cocktail. Ginza boasts a high number of watering holes, but too much choice can be overwhelming if you don't know what you're looking for. For upscale concoctions served with a side of flair, pay the master mixologists at Bar Orchard Ginza a visit. Or sip on a Silver Bullet over looking the Kabukiza Theatre at Classic Bar Oribe. Night owls should head to Rage. Ignore the name; the late-night haunt is revered for its impressive selection of aged whiskeys and always-attentive staff.
If you've got time to spare before your next flight in the morning, join the hordes of early-morning hopefuls keen to see all the action from the maguro (giant bluefin tuna) auctions at Tsukiji Market. Viewing operates on a first-come, first-served basis so you'd be wise to pitch up around 3am to avoid disappointment. You can always sleep on the plane, after all.
This article is presented by American Express Membership Rewards
*Membership Rewards terms and conditions apply. Bonus Points offer has minimum spend criteria of $1,500 and conditions apply. Visit American Express Explorer for more information.