Tokyo is a not a friend to the early riser – or the jetlagged. On my recent trip, I woke up every morning around 5 am and, after a couple of hours enjoying lounging about, I was raring to explore this exciting city – but, nothing, it seemed, was open much before 11 am. Until I started looking more closely, and realised there is actually a lot to do in Tokyo before breakfast. So, here’s my guide to early morning Tokyo…
13 Fun Things to Do in Tokyo – Before 10 am
1. Go See Thousands of Waving Cats
Shrines and temples are great things to do in the early morning in Tokyo; they are often open 24 hours, or at least open extremely early and by going before breakfast you usually beat the crowds.
One place where this definitely pays off is Gotoku-ji in Tokyo’s South East. Known as the temple of beckoning cats, this is actually a large space with an impressive pagoda, numerous outlying buildings and a cemetery to walk around, but what brings the tourists here is the area of the temple which is lined with thousands of white maneki-neko, the lucky, waving cat.
The area containing the cats, however, is very small, if there are more than about four people in it, it feels crowded. Getting there first thing gives you more opportunity to have the place to yourself – and the best chance of awesome pictures.
Gotoku-ji opens at 6 am and is about a 30-minute journey to Gotokuji station on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku. Miyanosaka on the Tokyu-Setagaya line is a little bit nearer to the temple entrance and you can connect to this via the Odakyu line or the Keio Line.
One piece of advice – download the Hyperdia by Voice app shortly before you leave. This app gives you details of all the train lines in Japan – it’s essential if you’re using the bullet train, but it also helped me out here when I couldn’t work out which Odakyu line platform I needed. You only get free access for a month though so don’t peak too early.
2. Soak in an Onsen
Onsens are the hot springs of Japan – gorgeous, warm baths in which you can soak away your cares, your aches, or the early morning hours when everyone else is asleep!
Although when you look at the opening hours of the biggest onsen in Tokyo, Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba you might not think this is the case, as these say it opens at 11 am – but look closer.
While it’s true it opens at 11 am, it then actually stays open for 22 hours, meaning it closes at 9 am – and, their last entry for the day is 7 am making it the perfect place to spend the early morning in Tokyo.
Admittedly, the first time I went to an onsen, I was terrified – for starters, there’s etiquette involved. You need to make sure your whole body is cleaned before you enter the baths and I really wasn’t sure what to do when, but possibly the most-scary thing is – you have to go in completely nude. Panic. Panic, Panic.
I ummed and ahhed on my first trip about whether to do it, braved it and rapidly realised the only person in their caring about my naked butt was me! Plus, you’re given a small ‘draping’ towel that you can subtly position over at least some of your lower half.
Going early further reduces some of that embarrassment though as it’s the least busy time of the day – peak hours are around 6-7 pm, between 6 am and 9 am you’ll hardly see a soul.
It costs Y2720 to enter the onsen during the day which includes soaking in all the baths, hire of a yukata robe to wear – but there is a discount for late night entry.
3. Visit Shimokitazawa
Famous for its cool vibes, vintage shops, dive bars and coffee places, you might wonder why I’m telling you to go to uber-hipster Shimokitazawa first thing in the morning when all of these things are closed. The answer is – shutter art.
Tokyo doesn’t have a lot of street art in the same way other cities do – you won’t find many huge murals dominating walls in the city, but what it does have are paintings on the shutters of shops that you can only truly see when the shops are closed. Some of the best examples of this are in Shimokitazawa – now do you see my logic?
Some of the art reflects what the shop sells, others are just random murals, but you can only really appreciate it all early in the morning.
Oh and don’t believe everything you read about Shimo not opening until after lunch – I got there a little after 10.00am and some shops were opening up. For the best timing, I’d say get there about 9.30am, wander around the shops checking out the shutters for an hour or two, and then, explore again once they open.
4. Get Some Ramen
I appreciate that you can do this at any time of day in Tokyo, but bear with me.
For starters, queuing for food is not abnormal in Tokyo, people will happily line up for 3-4 hours to go to a restaurant they think is worthy of the wait. I don’t know about you, but when you’ve only got a few days in a city, spending that long standing in one place does not sound appealing – however, when it comes to one of Tokyo’s most popular ramen joints, you can beat the system by eating it early.
It’s a chain called Ichiran Ramen – Forbes magazine even went as far as to call it ‘the best ramen in the world?’ because of how they allow you to customise the bowl to your exact needs and queues here can be loooooong (check out this pic in the Forbes piece) – but some branches, including the two in Shibuya and the branch in Ueno are open 24 hours and when I rocked up 9 am one Sunday morning there was no line at all – see below.
If you’ve never had soup for breakfast, give it a try – it fuels you brilliantly for a long day of sightseeing and from personal experience I can tell you it’s better than a fry up for making you feel human again if you’ve overdone it a bit the night before!
Click here for a full list of branches and their opening times – if it says 10-6 – that means 6 am the next morning, not 6 pm that night.
If you prefer your ramen more exclusive, being an early bird also pays off.
Tsuta was the first ramen joint in Tokyo to receive a Michelin Star and as such it’s super busy – far busier than it’s nine seats will allow, so they have started a ticketing system.
One member of your party needs to go to their restaurant, just around the corner from Sugamo JR station first thing in the morning. They start giving these out at 7 am and while you used to have to get there dead on to get one, I’ve recently heard of some people getting one as late as 9 am – check out Helena’s post here.
At this point, you will hand over a 1000 yen deposit per person and be given a ticket telling you what time, between 11am-4pm for lunch, to return for your award-winning bowl of soup and noodles. Don’t expect to eat exactly at this point, this just tells you what time to get back and join the queue (again) and as soon as a slot becomes free, you’re in the door.
Tsuta is at 1 Chome-14-1 Sugamo, Toshima-ku, Tōkyō-to 170-0002, Japan.
5. Watch Sumo Practise
While you can pay for tours that get you inside a sumo stable to watch the practice, you can also go it alone and watch from just outside for free.
Arashio-Beya sumo stable in Nihonbashi lets people watch their practice from the street through their giant window. They practise from 7.30am to 10 am most days – but do call the night before to check they are going to be working that morning. I didn’t call thinking they were bound to be open on a Tuesday – and missed out!
The stable only speak Japanese but don’t worry as they give you a handy outline of what you need to say here or, ask your hotel to give them a call for you.
6. Visit The Fire Temple
I actually didn’t mind missing out on the Sumo too much as it meant I clawed back an hour that allowed me to head to Fukagawa Fudo-do temple about half an hour walk from Nihonbashi and watch the most amazing ritual there.
The Goma Ritual uses a mix of chanting, drumming, prayers – and fire – to strengthen the energy of the god Fudomyo-o. It takes place 5-6 times daily with the first rite taking place at 9 am, although the temple itself opens at 8 am.
The rite lasts around 30 minutes and while I didn’t really have a clue what was going on, it was amazing to watch. There are priests blowing into conch shells, others are drumming, the priests and the congregation are chanting and, in the middle of it all, there’s a man sitting by a huge flame and much burning of blessings and wooden sticks for people who have asked for help.
At the end of the rite, people went up to get their handbags blessed by the flames. While I understand the concept, I can’t find out why, specifically, handbags are held over the fire, so if you know, please tell me in the comments.
The temple also has a few other interesting touches including nearly 10,000 crystal statues, a bridge inside that people cross for luck and a second floor that allows you to do one of Japan’s most holy pilgrimages without even leaving Tokyo. It’s also where you go to get your car blessed for road safety – so expect to see a few vehicles lined up alongside.
7. Go to Tsukiji Outer Market
You knew it was coming didn’t you – every piece on Tokyo tells you to go here in the early morning (probably because it’s the only really touristy thing open really early).
Tsukiji is best known for its enormous wholesale fish market, known as the inner market. However, tourists now can’t visit that until after 10 am (increasing to 11 am from June 15th) so it doesn’t actually work as a suggestion for things to do in Tokyo before breakfast. And, to be honest, I actually didn’t actually enjoy my trip to that part of the market anyway.
You have to rush through it so you don’t disturb business (which is fair enough), there are forklifts flying around and there actually isn’t that much fish left by the time you enter anyway. The Outer Market though, I could visit time and time again (in fact, this was my third trip!).
The traders here are happy to see you, will try to explain things to you if you look confused enough about what something is. Importantly for the foodies among us, they can also actually sell you things and between that and the free samples that many stalls offer, you can happily munch your way around it for a good two hours.
The outer market starts to open at 5 am, although exact opening times vary from stall to stall and most stalls stay open until 2 pm.
If you want to see all the raw fish, make sure you don’t miss the newer buildings opened at the end of the market closest to the Namiyoke Inari Shrine. You can buy super fresh sashimi samples here and eat them on the 3rd floor.
If you’re seriously jetlagged you can also take your chances at being one of the 120 people a day who seeing the Tsukiji Tuna Auction which starts around 5.30 am. Because the market is moving (see below) this is incredibly busy right now and you’ll need to start queuing early – latest around 3 am although if you book a tour here you’ll meet at 1 am to ensure a spot – to be in with a chance of getting in.
Much of the information about the inner market and tuna auction will change when the wholesale market moves from Tsukiji soon. The date of the move is currently set for October 2018 but has been pushed back so many times it could well change again. Whether the new market will still allow tourists to visit the tuna auction or the working market is yet to be decided. The outer market is staying put though and absolutely should be on your list to visit, it’s one of my favourite things to do in Tokyo.
8. Queue up for sushi
Yes, you know I said about people queuing for 3-4 hours for a restaurant – Sushi Dai and Sushi Daiwa in Tsujiki fish market are two examples.
Said to be among the best sushi in Tokyo, both restaurants open when the markets do at 5 am but with just a handful of seats in each restaurant, queues start forming well before then.
No matter how dedicated I am to this blog, I was NOT getting up at 3.30am to stand in line for two hours for food, no matter how good it’s meant to be. Thankfully other people have done this, so, if you want to try it I point you toward their blogs to give you all the info you need.
And if you need some help deciding which is going to get your hours and hours of standing time, here’s a comparison of the two by Rubbish Eat, Rubbish Grow
The bowl of sashimi and rice you see before is not from Sushi Dai or Sushi Daiwa, it’s from the place at Tsukiji I went the second time I was in Tokyo, but it pretty much proves what other people say – that all the raw fish around Tsukiji is good raw fish. Even if you don’t fancy standing in a queue, you’ll find something super fresh and amazing.
9. Go up Tokyo Skytree
You can see if from all over Tokyo – and as such, you can see all of Tokyo from it. And, on a clear day you might even see Mount Fuji. Clear days in Tokyo are few and far between but what I did find on my trip is that early morning usually offered the clearest skies – making the 8 am opening of Tokyo Skytree very handy.
The tower is 634m high and there are two viewing decks – the first at 350m has 360-degree glass windows. The second, 100m higher up, sends you up in a completely terrifying sounding glass tube that apparently sees you ‘walking in the sky’.
You may be able to tell I didn’t do this particular attraction – I was a skinflint and went up the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, but, to be honest, that wasn’t brilliant as windows are few and far between, so, if you like views, this is probably the better option.
Tickets cost from 2060 yen for adults with an extra 1030 yen fee to do the terrifying glass tube thing. There are a maximum of 10,000 same-day tickets available daily and you may be given a slot later in the day to return.
Note: Skip the line entry is available for international visitors if you show your passport, but this doesn’t start until 10 am.
If your visit finishes super early and you’re still looking for some things to do in this area of Tokyo before breakfast, take a walk along Dempoin-dori – like Shimotakawaza this shopping street won’t be open much before 10 am but it also contains some cool shutter art – including pictures representing life in the Edo period.
You can also take a stroll down Tanuki Dori where you’ll find 12 super cutesy statues or Senso-ji, one of Tokyo’s most impressive temples also opens at 6.00am (6.30 in winter).
10. Visit a Garden
A short walk from the heaving madness of Shinjuku is the elegant and peaceful Shinjuku Gyoen Garden which opens at 9 am.
It offers three different types of garden to visit – an English flower garden, a more formal French-style garden and, of course, a traditional Japanese garden. And yes, if you’re here in cherry blossom season it has those too. Note: it’s closed on Mondays.
But it is Monday, you cry…. don’t worry, Hama-rikyu Gardens near Shinbashi is absolutely stunning, open seven days a week and also opens its gates at 9 am (it’s also easily combined with a trip to Tsukiji), or try the smaller but still super cute Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden, which has great plum blossoms during their season.
11. Go on a Hachiko Tour
Most people who end up in Tokyo hear about the faithful dog Hachiko. If you’re not yet familiar with the story, here’s how it goes.
Every day, Hachiko used to follow his owner, Professor Ueno to their local station, Shibuya, where he caught the train to work. At night Hachiko would be waiting at the station for Professor Ueno to come off the train – until, one day, he didn’t. Professor Ueno had had a fatal brain haemorrhage at work.
Hachiko, however, didn’t give up, he kept going to the station every day – for the next ten years (feel free to sob right now).
There’s now a statue of the faithful dog at the point he used to wait outside Shibuya station and, if you want a photo of it without 200 other people in it, early morning is your best time to get one. However, the main Shibuya statue isn’t the only tribute to the most famous dog in town.
For starters, look down as you approach the statue and you’ll notice the manhole covers have Hachiko on them. Across the square is a wall full of Hachiko artwork. There are also tiny pawprints leading to the exit in the station.
Now take a walk up to the Shibuya branch of Tower Records and outside you’ll find a statue of crooked Hachiko that’s meant to reflect the slant in the Tower Records logo.
Retrace your steps and head to the Shibuya Disney store and, if it’s still there (as I’m not sure if it was a purely temporary addition), you’ll also find a statue of Hachiko nestled in one of the tiny gardens in plant pots that line the side of the road.
However, your Hachiko tour doesn’t end here. It’s now time to jump onto the metro and make your way to Todaimae station. Come out of Exit 1 and turn left to reach the gate of the University of Tokyo. This was the University in which Professor Ueno worked and in the grounds you’ll find a statue of a reunited Hachiko and Professor Ueno. That’s it above – look at his happy, little doggo face – I admit I might have a had a cry at this point too.
The small part of the No-seimon Gate which is closest to the statue opens from 6 am, the main gate opens from 7 am and you can view the statue up until just after midnight,
12. Wander Round Yanaka Cemetery
This is one of the biggest cemeteries in inner Tokyo and you can wander looking at the ornate graves for ages. It’s the final resting place to many important Japanese folks including the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
The cemetery is also famous for the many stray cats that had made their home among the gravestones, but on my last visit, I didn’t see any so not sure if they’ve moved or if they were just hiding from me.
The official website says the office is open at 8.30 am, but I am pretty sure the entrance I went through didn’t have an actual gate, so it may be that you can wander before then.
The cemetery is also a short walk from the Nezu shrine with its stunning walkway of mini-Tori gates which is open 24/7.
When the rest of the neighbourhood wakes up, take a trip to Yanaka Ginza, an old shopping street with a quirky cat theme.
13. Check out some of Tokyo’s oddest buildings
A building doesn’t need to be open for you to appreciate its outside – and Tokyo has some fantastically quirky ones to choose from making a quirky architecture tour a great way to spend an early morning in Tokyo. Some of my favourites include….
The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza
The Aoyama Technical College Building close to Shibuya which looks like a robot
The Shibuya Spaceship – home to the Disney store in Shibuya this black menacing structure looks like it’s going to take off any minute.
And, the Reversible Destiny Lofts which are actually a short trek out of central Tokyo and therefore a good choice to hit up first thing as the travel time won’t eat into the rest of your day. But, you could also just head over to the skyscraper district of Shinjuku or the Ginza and look up
I’ve got a whole post on Tokyo’s most interesting buildings coming soon, so, if you don’t want to miss it, sign up with your email address below!
Where to Stay in Tokyo
Oh – and if you’d actually prefer to stay in bed one morning, I’ve got the answer to that too. Most hotel rooms in Tokyo are on the small side – but the Citadines Shinjuku breaks the mold. It’s an apartment hotel and each room has a good sized double bed, a sitting area, a kitchenette and a full bathroom with bath (which you’ll need after all the walking you’re likely to do). I’ve stayed here three times now and definitely recommend it.
So there you have it, the (lucky) 13 things you can do in Tokyo before 10 am. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments if I did – there’s no way this is my last trip to this fantastic city so I’ll be looking for ideas of things to do in the early morning in Tokyo too!
Reposted with permission from Helen Foster at Destination>Differentville, a travel blog covering the quirkier sights around the world. Helen has visited Japan four times – and is nowhere near finished exploring yet.
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