Tokyo is a fascinating city, with a greater Tokyo population of nearly 40 million, and deserves far more than 24 hours, but if that’s all you have, en route to another destination in Asia, I have some recommendations for making the most of your visit.
1. Arrive refreshed in ANA First Class, JAL First Class or JAL Business Class
If you plan to hit the ground running, you’ll want to have slept on your flight and arrive refreshed. Fortunately, Japan’s two major airlines, ANA (All Nippon Airways) and JAL (Japan Airlines) have stellar first class beds, and JAL has my favorite business class bed. Both the ANA First Class and JAL First Class beds are 33 inches wide, full flat beds with well cushioned mattress pads that are placed on them. I give the edge to JAL First Class’ airweave mattress, which even has a choice of firm or soft. You’ll also be able to enjoy excellent Japanese or Western cuisine, and Japanese cuisine tends to be ideal for travelers, with its emphasis on seafood, vegetables, and lighter preparations. And both ANA and JAL First Class crews are consummate professionals, polite and attentive, so you’ll lack for nothing.
JAL Business Class offers my favorite business class bed, since it also provides a thinner airweave mattress pad, the only business class product to do so. Pick a window seat, as this offers the greatest privacy for sleeping.
2. Take the Narita Express
Assuming you arrive into Narita Airport, take the Narita Express, both to avoid surface road traffic, and as the most economical option, at a current cost of about 3000 JPY, or less than $30, compared to taxi fares of about 22,000 JPY, or $200 or more each way. Use your savings instead towards one of Tokyo’s top luxury hotels or a great sushi meal.
3. Stay at one of Tokyo’s best luxury hotels
Tokyo is one of the world’s best luxury hotel cities, and competition keeps standards very high. If you have an early morning arrival or a late evening departure, opt for The Peninsula Tokyo, since depending on how you book the hotel, you could enjoy flexible check-in and check-out. This enables you to gain early access to your room or suite or, if it’s not available, to another room until your room is ready, a godsend when you only have limited time in the city and may be in need of a shower or power nap. There’s also a good lap pool for those wanting an invigorating swim before or after sightseeing in Tokyo.
If you want to experience the best Tokyo luxury hotels have to offer, head to the Aman Tokyo, opened in 2015, with entry level Deluxe Rooms the size of suites at other hotels, at 764 square feet, each a peaceful sanctuary and with a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, from the shoji doors separating the bathroom from the bedroom, and an ofuro (Japanese soaking tub) with fragrant cedar salt and housemade Aman bath products. Don’t miss the gorgeous pool, my favorite among Tokyo luxury hotels, with panoramic views of the city.
If you’ll be spending more time elsewhere in Japan and will be departing Tokyo by shinkansen, or if you’re like I am and prefer a plusher bed, head to Four Seasons Tokyo, one of the Four Seasons’ smallest, boutique style hotels, right by Tokyo Station. The considerable advantage of the Four Seasons Tokyo when arriving by Narita Express or departing by shinkansen is that one of their team members will actually meet you when arriving on your train, or escort you to the correct platform when you’re departing, so your arrival and departure are seamless, yet you enjoy the advantage of taking the train. The Four Seasons Tokyo offers the new Four Seasons bed, with a choice of 3 different mattress toppers (our choice was the Signature Plush) and we slept better at this hotel than any other.
If your brief Tokyo stay is due to business, and you know you won’t have time to sightsee or even leave the hotel much except for meetings, I recommend the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, thanks to its many fantastic dining options, including sushi bar Sushi Sora, great pizzas at Pizza Bar on 38th, plus Cantonese and French cuisines, as well as molecular gastronomy at 1 Michelin star at Tapas Molecular Bar. Another great aspect of the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is the high level of service, which we experienced when one of us inadvertently left our laptop 1 hour outside of Tokyo. One of the bell staff actually went and retrieved it for us, and refused to take any more compensation than the actual transport cost. The Concierge was, meanwhile, able to help find and procure a new camera battery charger for me overnight, to replace one I’d misplaced. Simply fantastic service.
4. Savor a splurge sushi meal at Sushisho Masa
While I’ve lived in Japan for a year and been fortunate to dine at several excellent sushi bars, my current favorite is Sushisho Masa in Tokyo. Make your reservation through your hotel concierge, and be aware that a meal here will run 25,000-30,000 JPY, or about $250, per person for food alone. But for us, it was worth it, given the variety of excellent nigiri, sashimi, and side dishes that we enjoyed, including many pairs of the fresh fish contrasted with a cooked or smoked version. Come hungry–we thought we were sufficiently hungry, but didn’t manage to make it to the last dishes of the 50 or so that the chef wanted to serve us.
5. Take a private tour with the backstreet guides
We’re so glad we reserved a private tour with the Backstreet Guides, particularly as our guide, Yoko, skillfully guided us through the busy Tsukiji Fish Market, including checking where we could take photos (many vendors, who don’t want the distraction and inconvenience of being surrounded by tourists, prohibit photos), got us efficiently from place to place on the Tokyo subway system, and shared with us the history and traditions at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. There’s also a popular Night Out Tokyo Tour that takes you to some of Tokyo’s top nightlife spots, from Harujuku’s Takeshita Dori and Shibuya, with a stop at a Yaketori Izakaya, to the Golden Gai.
Of course, the above is just a taste of Tokyo, but it can whet your appetite for another longer visit.
Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.