Instead of asking yourself “Why fly all the way to Tokyo for one weekend?” consider asking how much of Tokyo you can cram into one weekend. With so much ground to cover, there’s no way you can see the entire city, so think of it like this: a limited time allows you to edit and carefully curate your experience. Planning a trip to an exotic city like Tokyo can be anxiety inducing no matter your time frame, but remember that most restaurants can be reserved beforehand and the subway system is incredibly easy to use. Provided you allow for extra time to get lost (not only is it bound to happen, but ambling down the narrow alleyways of Tokyo can be an invigorating experience) it is possible to experience the Japanese capital in just one weekend.
Flying into Haneda is imperative because it’s closer to the city than Narita airport. So if you’ve flown in on ANA’s direct flight from JFK to Haneda, you should be refreshed and ready to begin exploring.
Ask your cab driver to drop you off at HOSHINOYA in the swanky Ginza district. The pioneering Japanese hospitality brand recently added this Tokyo hotel to their collection. The traditional ryokan (no shoes allowed inside!) is an oasis in the city; a simple and minimalistic hotel with a style that stays true to Japanese aesthetics with elements including sliding shoji screens and tatami floors. The rooms are lofty and polished with beautiful fittings by Azuma Architects. On arrival, drop your bags and head straight to the onsen (hot spring) on the top floor and wallow in the soothing waters to rid yourself of any jet lag. (Finding an onsen in the middle of Tokyo is almost unheard of, so take advantage of it.)
For a sake 101, check out the hotels free nightly sake tasting before heading to dinner at Sushi Aoki a short cab ride away. No trip to Japan would be complete without at least one omakase sushi experience – where the chef prepares a sushi tasting menu before your eyes. Don’t let Aoki Sushi’s simple appearance make you believe it’s anything short of amazing, this hole-in-the-wall is one of the most famous sushi spots in the city. Grab a seat at the bar (reserve a seat beforehand) and watch the sushi master chef work his magic.
Make the Tsukiji fish market (in Ginza) the first stop on your morning agenda. Surrounding yourself with raw fish at the crack of dawn might not sound like a great idea, but the earlier you head to the Tsukiji fish market, the better. Spend the most part of the morning wandering down the market aisles, stopping at any stalls that catch your fancy. Rather than sitting down for lunch, purchase street food snacks like grilled squid sticks and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) from the outer market, where you can also buy cool items like kitchen knives and sake.
Ginza is known for its shopping, so go in search of quintessential Japanese brands like Muji and Uniqlo, and homeware items from Akomeya. Then, head for the bright lights of Shinjuku, a buzzing district on the eastern part of the city where you’ll find one of the best bars in the around. Hidden away on a narrow street of Shinjunku, on the ninth floor of a building, Bar Ben Fiddich is a wood-clad, experimental cocktail bar. The bartender Hirosu Kayama carefully creates herby, artisanal cocktails made-to-order. They will without doubt take a fair share of time, but the atmosphere is decidedly dreamy and the wait is certainly worth it.
Kick back with two or three crafted cocktails before heading to Honmura An for dinner. This soba noodle shop specializes in the art of the buckwheat noodle. Diners can choose between hot or cold noodles, or seasonal Japanese dishes – but really, no matter your preference, you can’t go wrong.
If the lights of Tokyo have got you all lit up and you’re keen to keep the party going, head back to Ginza to the Palace Hotel Tokyo located right around the corner of your hotel. Take the elevator up to the sixth floor to the Lounge Bar Prive, order a fancy drink and watch the city lights twinkle around you before slipping off to bed.
At ryokans, meals are traditionally served in the rooms, so expect a morning delivery in your HOSHINOYA room at an agreed-upon time. There are two options: the Western-style breakfast or the Japanese-style breakfast. Order the Japanese-style breakfast… because you didn’t fly to Tokyo to eat eggs and bacon. A member of staff will knock on your door holding a tray laden with Japanese delights: green tea, tofu, miso soup, rice, Japanese pickles and grilled fish. All the components of a successful start to the day.
Your day needn’t begin in a flurry. It’s Sunday, which means it’s okay to slow things down. Make your way to the hip Daikanyama district and browse shops like Tenoha, T-site and Okura. Grab a mid-morning craft beer at Spring Brewery (you’re on vacation) and if you’re up for something touristy, head to the famous Shibuya Crossing – the largest zebra crossing in the world – for the ultimate selfie. Our advice for the rest of the morning? Spend the most part of it getting lost down the narrow streets of Tokyo before heading back to your hotel for one more dip in the hot spring.
Then, take a moment to let your weekend experience sink in… before planning your return.
Main image: Dünz//Ullstein Bild via Getty Images