On an recent January trip to Tokyo, Japan, we spent the day exploring the city’s temples, Tokyo’s old and new fish markets, and hidden neighborhoods. We learned about Japan’s famous beckoning cat, studied the art of sushi-making, saw the busiest intersection in the world, and explored streets jam-packed with tiny bars. Here are some of the best images from that trip to inspire the perfect day in Japan’s capital.

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Like small windows into the past, preserved temples are speckled throughout Tokyo. We choose one that is close to our accommodation and end up venturing to the famous Gōtokuji Temple.

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As legend has it, Gōtokuji Temple is the birthplace of the beloved maneki-neko, or the lucky beckoning cat. Beckoning a feudal lord in from an approaching thunderstorm, the cat became a sign of good luck, and hundreds of beckoning cats are found throughout the temple.

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Wanting to learn more about culture as well as local food, we find a sushi-making class that integrates culture and sightseeing. Sushi Mafia has a backstage pass into the new fish market -- the Toyosu Market that opened in 2018 -- and we were able to tour the market’s wholesale area. Here, we watch a knife craftsman refurbish a rusting knife.

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The tour takes us to the Tsukiji Market, the old fish market. We learn about the evolution of the market as well as the variety of shops that make up the network of outdoor corridors. Sushi Mafia takes us into a shop where we watch as a live fish that is going to be used for our sushi-making class is taken from a barrel and learn how the fisherman severs its nerves and kills the fish.

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We head back to the traditional Japanese-style house that Sushi Mafia calls its lab, and a master sushi chef teaches us how to fillet a fish. We then learn how to properly form sashimi. As we try to imitate his flawless technique at our own sushi-making stations, he demonstrates his perfection of the craft by taking a blowtorch to the dish he’s preparing.

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After filling up on food while indulging ourselves in a lesson on Japanese culture, we make our way to the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. Located along the streets of a bustling shopping district, the stairs take us up to a mirror enclosed landing, which reflects the pedestrians below at every angle.

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Wanting to explore the city by foot a bit more, we decide to head for what is often said to be the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing. Classic cars cruise the streets before all ways of traffic are brought to a complete standstill. Tourists, businessmen, and families alike flood the intersection from every direction.

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The grounds of the Imperial Palace are another calm oasis tucked into the busy streets of Tokyo. The juxtaposition of city life next to grounds with ducks slowly floating across a still pond provides the perfect spot to sit and rest while exploring the city.

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After taking a rest at the Imperial Palace, next on our agenda is an Izakaya food tour. On our way there, we spot glowing lanterns and with them another hidden gem. With an entrance situated between two towering office buildings, the Hanazono Shrine is an ancient Shintō shrine.

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We decide on an Izakaya tour with Ninja Food Tours and are shown an entire piece of the city we would never have found on our own. The street here, which is nestled in bustling Shinjuku, is in an area called Golden Gai. It is one of those rare areas of Tokyo that takes you back in time and hasn’t been redeveloped. Each bar only sits around five to six people, and there can be anywhere from 80 to 100+ bars in this strip alone.

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Ninja Food Tours takes us away from the touristy spots, and we dive into some local izakayas, which are informal Japanese pubs, often used for after-work drinking. Plates of fresh fish and local fare are brought in smaller servings so that we are all able to sample a variety of dishes.

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The tour takes us through the winding streets of Tokyo, and our guide explains many pieces of the intricate culture that surrounds us. The street above is home to “hostess” bars as well as family-friendly restaurants featuring robots, all contributing to the unique atmosphere at many of these thoroughfares.

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