Japan. Sushi, nightlife, technology, sake, traditional culture mixed with modernizing lifestyles. All things that you can easily see in just one day or night during a layover in Tokyo.
That’s what comes to my mind when I think about Japan.
What also comes to mind is how expensive it is to get there (a 3-hour flight from where I was in Dalian, China was still $600 per person, round trip), and it doesn’t get cheaper upon landing.
However, I was determined to make it to Japan while I was living in Asia. There was no way I would be just a measly, 3-hour flight away and not see the famous Tokyo.
I was going to swim to the best sushi on the planet if that’s what it came down to.
But then my then-fiance, now-husband Luke, and I had the best idea ever. The ultimate compromise between smartly utilizing our limited financial resources and adding a new country to our adventure list.
A layover in Tokyo.
The game plan: we book a red-eye layover that will land in Tokyo in the evening time with our next flight scheduling for the afternoon the following day. We don’t waste a minute on a wink of sleep or a penny on a hotel stay and explore for all of the 15 hours we have. We pick one iconic Japanese experience to fully max out our time doing.
We get a taste of the best of Tokyo, and then we get on the plane to complete the long journey home to the USA.
If you only have a little bit of time during your layover in Tokyo, this is the timeless hub of culture and food you need to experience.
The Tsukiji Market
The Tsukiji Market is a historical Japanese landmark, as it dates back to the 16th century. It began as a trade deal for fishermen to be able to supply to the Edo Castle. It later developed into the market it is today to meet the growing fish demand.
You won’t want to waste your time with sleep when trying to experience this renown fish market – the best time to be there is in the middle of the night (or morning if you’d prefer to call it that!), beginning at around 4am. If you have not traveled around Asia, you’ll quickly learn that this is also around when the sun rises!
You may be surprised walking up to the market right before this hour, as you’ll find yourself meandering through empty stand areas and dining areas that aren’t quite opening up.
But then, the magic begins. Carts start rolling out of boisterous trucks with loads of seafood, boxes stacked to the sky. Busy hands begin dousing ice onto stands to display galleries of humongous crabs and perfectly fresh fish. You’re a fly on the wall as Tokyo regulars file in to sit at the high tops of sushi bars for breakfast before making their way to work on a Saturday morning.
I was surprised to hear that local people sought this sushi for breakfast. Especially after being awake for at least 48 hours at this point, sushi did not exactly sound appealing, but Luke was determined.
We arrived with no plans during our layover in Tokyo, no recommended restaurants. Asking the locals to point us in the right direction would inevitably guide us to the sushi of our dreams.
Around 5:00am we walked up to a small sushi bar that was bustling, and decided that’d be the one we went for. We got to watch the sushi chef prepare our order, which naturally was a sampler. Cuddle fish, salmon, tuna, eel, and things I have never even heard of before!
It melted in our mouths. It was worth being sleep deprived for days and making the overnight stop to Tokyo rather than doing a straight shot to the US.
Want more Asian adventures?
- 6 Things to See in Beijing
- Food in China as an Expat
- 7 Things You Need to Know about Traveling to Thailand