Because of their close proximity to each other, the districts of Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Shibuya can be finished easily within a day. All are accessible by rail using the JR Yamanote Line, the most popular among tourists and one that goes around central Tokyo.
Spend your morning in Meiji Jingu, more popularly known as Meiji Shrine, which you’ll see near Harajuku Station (JR). In 1920, people donated 100,000 trees to form the now 700,000-square meter forest around the shrine to remember Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.
When you reach the Shinto temple in the middle of the park, you would likely see Japanese children in traditional outfit heading to the temple to be blessed on their birthday. If you’re lucky, you may even witness a traditional Japanese wedding.
We recommend you bring your own food — takoyaki perhaps? — and have a picnic on the open field near the museum.
Takeshita-dori, a street across Harajuku Station, is a pedestrianized area filled with shops and restaurants, reflecting Japan’s teenage culture. Anime and manga fanatics would discover familiar outfits and characters lining the street. There’s a Daiso store near the entrance where everything is mostly Y108 (Y100 plus tax).
Now go to Shibuya Station (JR). Before you make the obligatory walk along the Shibuya Crossing, look for Hachiko’s statue nearby. There is a mural and a museum-cum visitor center, where the admired Akita comes alive in old photographs.
Shibuya is known for shopping and dining. If you fancy a good view of Shibuya Crossing, enjoy a cup of coffee at Starbucks or L’Occitane, but good luck getting seats. A pedestrianized shopping street called Center Gai is just across the station.
Head back to Shibuya Station and ride to Shinjuku. Don’t go out of the station just yet; instead follow the tunnel leading to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This skyscraper offers a free panoramic view of Tokyo.
You can opt to shop in Shinjuku, but we preferred dinner in one of the small, narrow two-story restaurants along Memory Lane, which is near the station. It’s an alley with an attitude — before a 1999 fire, the lane was called Piss Alley because of the lack of restrooms. A rebranding campaign named it Memory Lane, but today it’s more known for yakitori. In restaurants here you can enjoy skewered meat and other side dishes paired with affordable local liquor like genkai (made of barley) or kurokirishima (of potato). A great way to end your day, Kampai!
P.S. Want to visit the countryside for a day? Try Hakone using the Freepass.