If you plan ahead and ingest a lot of caffeine, you can turn a layover into miniature vacation, exploring a “bonus” city or country. When booking long-haul flights with inevitable layovers, I either want the layover to be under 3 hours – painless – or over 8 hours – long enough to leave the airport.
Tokyo is a fantastic place for a layover- while downtown is about an hour from the airport, it’s densely populated with touristy activities. You can squeeze a whole lot of Japanese culture into very little time, which is exactly what we did during our 12-hour layover.
Here’s a breakdown of how we maximized our time:
10 PM: Plane lands at Tokyo Narita Airport. We pay to stow our bulky baggage and carry-ons in their luggage lockers, taking only our handbags into Tokyo.
10:20 PM: Catch shuttle bus from the airport to downtown Tokyo.
11 PM: Arrive at Tokyo Station- pay a visit to the coffee shop next door and take espresso shots. Once buzzing, we hail a taxi to take us to Ninja Restaurant.
11:15 PM: Arrive at Ninja Restaurant, and begin “Ninja Training.” The famous restaurant’s “ninjas” teach us how to duck, dive, and maneuver through the dark passageways until we make it to safety – our table. Halfway through our sushi rolls, a “ninja master” approaches our table and performs an incredible magic show.
12: 30 PM: Ninjas take the underground to Shinjuku Station, known for being Tokyo’s busiest station (you could also take a cab). Here we wander among bright lights, crowds, and arcades until we find the perfect karaoke place: Karaoke Kan (http://karaokekan.jp/index.html ), easily recognizable with its big blue neon sign that say its name (in Japanese) in red letters- it also may look familiar from its appearance in Lost in Translation with Bill Murray. This karaoke spot has complimentary Pokemon onsies you can wear while belting out Beyoncé lyrics and a super chill BYOB policy.
4:30 AM: After much karaoke, rice wine, and wandering the streets of Shinjuku (which never seem to sleep) we rode the subway to Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest and busiest fish market. (To get there via subway, take the Oedo line to Tsukiji-Shido Station, or the Hibiya line to Tsukiji Station). We wanted to arrive at the market by 5 AM, when the tuna auctions happen. But for once in our lives we were running early, so we walked to the Kochidoki Bridge next to Tsukiji Market to watch the sunrise over the Sumida River.
5:00 AM: More coffees in hand, we watched the fish auctions and explored the smelly market, in awe of the ginormous tuna fillets. We had sushi for breakfast- several sushi restaurants are in the market and surround the market. Not your typical breakfast, but we couldn’t pass up the freshest sushi in the world.
6:00 AM: We are quite delirious at this point, but manage to navigate the subway system from Tsukiji Station to infamous Harajuku Station. “Harajuku Girls” hang around the station and main street, showing off their outlandish hair styles and cutting-edge Japanese fashion. We wander the streets for about an hour, since the best thing to do in Harajuku is simply shop and people watch.
7:00 AM: We take the subway from Harajuku Station to Tokyo Station, then catch the JR Narita Express to Tokyo Narita Airport. The Tokyo Station to Narita train ride will take one hour, and costs 3,000 Yen.
8:15 AM: We check into our flight and bid farewell to Tokyo. It’s time to go to bed. Sayonara!