The best things to do on a Tokyo Haneda layover, from sushi and shopping to the Shibuya crossing
Whether you have three-hour layover or even a full day, check out what the airport and the nearby bustling metropolis has to offer
Sitting on a tatami mat and sipping matcha in a serene tea house in the middle of a garden lake, I almost forget I am in Tokyo, the world’s biggest metropolis.
But this peaceful setting in Hamarikyu Gardens is within easy reach of travellers with a few hours to spare between flights at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
The short monorail ride from Haneda (www.haneda-airport.jp) opens up a wide range of options for travellers wishing to venture outside the terminal before their next flight.
3 hours: Airport adventures
If you have only three hours between your arrival and departure, it’s probably safest to stay within the confines of Haneda airport (www.haneda-airport.jp). Plane enthusiasts can head up to the vast flight observation deck on level 5 of the international terminal, but don’t linger long enough to see your connecting flight leave without you. Just inside, along the Tiat Sky Road on level 5, aspiring pilots will find flight simulators that offer the prospect of a virtual escape from the airport. The Tokyo sightseeing loop costs just ¥200 (US$1.80). Nearby, the young and young at heart can vie for supremacy in slot car races.
For a more relaxing layover, Raffine Relaxation Space on levels 4 and 5 of the international terminal, offers a variety of massages and treatments. The shortest option is a 15-minute face and head therapy treatment (¥1,620), while the pinnacle offering is a 100-minute foot, hand and body session (¥9,720).
Travellers can freshen up in showers at the arrival lobby on the second floor, although a 30-minute stint costs ¥1,030. With the airport also hosting a large variety of shops and restaurants plus showers and free Wi-fi, the wait should be over in next to no time.
6 hours: Garden views
The easiest way to head towards central Tokyo is to catch the monorail (www.tokyo-monorail.co.jp) from Haneda airport to Hamamatsucho station, the final destination. The monorail operates between about 5am and midnight in both directions and its frequent services will get you to your destination in about 15 to 20 minutes, with a one-way ticket costing ¥490.
To get your bearings of the sprawling city, head up to the observatory on the 40th floor of the World Trade Center Building next to the station. This is easily accessible from the Hamamatsucho monorail station, just leave the station via the central fare gate, then go out the north exit, and you will find the World Trade Center on the left. The Seaside Top, as it is known, boasts 360-degree views of the city and bay area including landmarks like the Tokyo Tower. The observatory is open daily between 10am and 8:30pm and adult tickets are ¥620.
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After absorbing the scale of the city, next, enjoy a moment of reflection in the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden. The entrance is only a three-minute walk to the east of the World Trade Center. The pond-centred grounds are one of the oldest remaining gardens of the feudal lords from the Edo Period. The garden is well maintained so there is a small admission fee of ¥150. You can meander along the stepping stones and up and down the slopes at your own pace, but ideally you should allow for up to an hour for the visit. Happily you can zip back to Haneda airport via the monorail just a stone’s throw away.
9 hours: Tea, sushi and shopping
With a longer layover, you have a wider range of options at your disposal. If drinking matcha while looking out over a beautiful lake sounds like your cup of tea, just adjust the above six-hour itinerary. Catch the monorail to Hamamatsucho and pop in to the World Trade Center as suggested, but instead of exploring the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden, why not walk an extra 10-minutes to enter the much larger Hamarikyu Gardens? The park entry fee is ¥300. There’s a lot to explore but when it’s time to recuperate, stop by for some green tea and confectionery at Nakajima no Ochaya (literally: pond island tea house).
Since it’s just a 15-minute walk from Hamarikyu Gardens, sushi lovers might want to make a dash to the renowned Tsukiji fish market (tsukiji.or.jp). While the wholesale fish market is the scene of early-morning tuna auctions – that tourists queue up before dawn to witness – only 120 visitors are allowed in each day to see the spectacle. On a short stay you are much better off strolling around the “outer market” area where you’ll find eager restaurateurs trying to lure you in to sample their sushi courses, along with an array of other seafood outlets, souvenir shops and kitchenware vendors.
The Ginza shopping district isn’t far away, either, for anyone with cravings for retail therapy that can’t be satisfied by the airport duty-free range.
12 hours: Crossing over
A glorious way to absorb the delights of Tokyo Bay is to hop on a boat across to Odaiba, the large artificial island that is a hub of restaurants, outlet malls and an assortment of other attractions. Many services are operated by Tokyo Cruise Ship Co (suijobus.co.jp).
Assuming that you have already checked out some of the above suggestions and find yourself in the Hamarikyu Gardens, head to the pier at the eastern corner of the park to buy a ticket to Odaiba. It costs ¥690 for the 20-minute journey across the bay. Note: the final boat leaves Hamarikyu just after 4pm.
Drawcards at Odaiba include a small replica of the Statue of Liberty; the Joypolis amusement park; and the futuristic-looking Fuji TV building. To get back to the airport, catch a Rinkai line train from the Tokyo Teleport Station to Tennozu Isle Station, where you can board the monorail.
As an alternative to the Odaiba boat cruise, you may wish to make your way to the famous Shibuya crossing (catch a Ginza line train from Ginza to Shibuya station). Hundreds of people cross the street every time the walk sign flashes green as they rush off to offices, restaurants, bars or shops in this bustling entertainment precinct. Experience the sights and sounds of this precinct as you stroll north towards Yoyogi Park, a place of refuge from the busy city life. At Yoyogi you can follow a tree-lined walkway to the Meiji Shrine. Depending on where you end up, you can catch the Yamanote line train from either Yoyogi, Harajuku or Shibuya station to Shinagawa; transfer to the Keikyu line service to Haneda Airport for what should hopefully be a restful next flight.
How to get there
Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Express, ANA and Japan Airlines fly between Hong Kong and Haneda.