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How Much Time Do You Need to Do a City Justice?

I’ve got a tough decision to make. Flying back from Singapore to San Francisco in late December, I have a choice of two flights. The first has a layover in Tokyo, but only for 45 minutes. The second has a layover in Tokyo as well—but this time it’s for 10 hours.

Now do I take Option A because it’s easy and quick and I’ll get home sooner? Or do I take Option B because wow, would you look at that, it’s like a free trip to Tokyo built right into a flight I’m already paying for?

If I decide on the latter, you see, I could leave the airport, head into the center of town, and spend the entire day discovering a city and a country I’ve only ever seen from…well, from inside the airport, ironically. Sure, such a fleeting visit would mean I’d pretty much only be exploring the tip of the iceberg—we could call my trip Japan 101, perhaps, or Tokyo For Beginners—but at least I’d be exploring.

What do you think? Is it worth it to take these new travel experiences where we can, even if we have to squeeze them into ten-hour windows? Or are we shortchanging ourselves by having to stick to such a strict itinerary? Should we “save” the cities we want to see for when we can actually do them justice, or should we stick to our guns, follow our wanderlust, and take whatever we can get, wherever we can get it?

Ten hours in Tokyo: worth it or not?

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Sharbaugh



Camels & Chocolate

I would go for the layover, but then that’s just me! =)


take the layover! even if you only see a bit of the city you can decide if you want to mak ea trip back one day.


I agree. Even if you decide to return to Tokyo for a more in depth tour, what does a few hours exploration time hurt? Make your commute more exciting and take the extended layover.

Anne & May

Oooh! I’d choose one restaurant you want to eat at and just a few easy things to do.

This will be so fun, but it won’t be very cool if you’re on a mad schedule.


Having just moved back to the States from Japan, I think it’s doable but you’d have to move fast b/c one hour will be eaten up getting to Tokyo proper, one hour for return in addition to the 1.5 hours you should allow for security and boarding. I think Harajuku is a great idea, just make sure you know where the main drag for the Harajuku of Gwen Stefani songs is located (sounds stupid, but it took me two trips). One walk that I love is from Ometasando to Harajuku with stops in Ometasando Hills for the automatic wine dispenser bar, Bitsy’s. (I can send you a powerpoint of the route a dorky friend of mine made). Roppongi has an awesome complex off of one of the station exits called Roppongi Hills that has the Mori Arts Center, which is a art museum/Tokyo City View 53 stories above the city for Y1500. Finally, Asakusa is near-ish to Tokyo station (by subway) and is known as an old Edo type of place with a great temple.


totally NOT worth the extra time for the layover – Narita is a LONG way from Tokyo – so unless you are able to find something close by in the countryside near the airport, I’d blast out of there to SF, and then go back to Japan when you can do it justice

kitty joe

do the 10 hours. i did it once on my way back from thailand and it was totallly worth it. i’m not fooling myself into thinking i conquered tokyo, but i was amazed that i actually felt like i was there. in japan. and that was pretty cool.


How much luggage are you taking? Can you leave it at the airport while you go exploring? If not, you’re going to have pretty sore arms by the end of the day. That would factor into my decision. Sorry to rain on the parade here practical is my middle name and as such I’d be taking the shorter flight.


I second the “plan your day well” if you pick the long layover. The train is the ideal way to get to the City – the bus can take more than 90 minutes, but it is significantly cheaper. Figuring in travel time, buffer time, and the time you’ll need to get through security and customs, you’d have at least 6 hours or so to run around. Personally, I think I’d rather plan a separate “long weekend” trip to have a few days there instead. I’ve gone for 3-4 days in the past and it’s worked out well.


Eek, I understand the temptation, but I think the stress of hoping public transportation is on your side and there aren’t any delays to throw off your tight schedule might ruin in potential for a great experience. Or maybe you aren’t as neurotic as I am. In which case, go for it.


If I were you, I’d go for the layover … and then totally regret it. The language barrier can make navigating Tokyo stressful even without those time constraints. And (as others have said) it will take you quite a while to even get there, and then you have to be back in time to check back in … gah.

But like I said, I’d do it anyway. Just, you know. Be prepared for some stress and tell yourself that it’s worth it to have a little Tokyo cred. :) It will be, in retrospect! I always do layovers in Newark and I always know that I’m going to sort of want to die by the end, after taking the train into Manhattan and back in the space of like seven hours.

I loved Asakusa’s temple and market, and the other recommendations are good as well. I found Asakusa most interesting visually to walk around in, as it’s sort of “new meets old,” with temples and wee old streets with wee yards and wee cars all under wee streetlamps, and then giant lighted billboards and fancy hotels and shopping.


I’d do the longer layover and try to checkout Tokyo. We did the same thing (kindof) on the way back from our honeymoon. We had a 5 hour stopover in Philly (not as exotic as Tokyo) and to this day are so glad we did it.
We checked our bags and to save time we jumped into a cab to the city. A nice local we’d met on the plane recommended a few restaurants and we decided to try Morimoto’s restaurant. (He is one of my Chef idols.) Lucky for us the cabbie on the way back to the airport was very friendly and so proud of his city, he gave us a mini tour of the city pointing out all the famous buildings and historical places. It was a wonderful way to see the city, kind of like our own private tour guide.

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