If I had known just how enormous Tokyo was, I would have had to spend at least a week taking in the sights and sounds of each neighborhood. From the trend-setting Harajuku district to the traditional Asakusa, there was so much to see that a mere two days in the Japanese capital was not at all enough time to do so (we tried, though!).
We had a busy day ahead of us after arriving into Tokyo the previous afternoon. Along the other tourists in our group, my family and I headed over to the Imperial Palace first thing in the morning. Formerly known as “Edo Castle,” the palace houses the Imperial family, and its inside is not open to the public —however, there are two exceptional moments during which visitors can see the palace’s interior: New Year’s and the Emperor’s birthday. Considering that we were visiting on neither dates, we couldn’t enter. Instead, we took a tour around the East Gardens, which were lovely and tranquil, albeit a bit unassuming.
Our next stop was in the Asakusa district, which is known for having been a huge hub for entertainment back in the Edo period—some forms of entertainment included theaters, cinemas, and even geisha houses. It’s also famous for the Senso-ji, a grand Buddhist temple and the oldest in Tokyo. We were given a small tour through the neighborhood before getting free time for lunch and exploring on our own. My family and I weaved through the outdoor stalls that sold a variety of items– clothes, snacks, jewelry–before heading to a restaurant our tour guide had recommended us for lunch. The place was small, and it specialized in kamameshi (“kettle rice”), which was hearty in its mixture of rice, meat, vegetables, and just about anything else. If anything, I found the concept similar to the Korean bibimbap, although it’s not served in a clay pot, but rather a metallic one.
Although our bellies were rather full from lunch, that didn’t stop us from tasting the treats at the countless snack stands near the Senso-ji. From the cute, sweet-tasting taiyaki (red bean-cream pastry in fish shape) to the incredibly-earthy matcha ice cream (probably one of the best matcha-flavored desserts I’ve ever had), our afternoon was the ultimate food-fest, eating and buying more things to eat later. Despite being stuffed, I could count on that “extra stomach” for dessert!
Our time in Asakusa wasn’t just for the food crawl, though: of course, we went to visit the Senso-ji, which I later learned attracts a whopping 30 million visitors each year. For an impressive-looking building, the number of people who come is just as impressive! Since it was summer when we visited, you can bet that it was peak tourist season, so it was an effort to get in and enjoy our time inside before being pressured to leave for others to come in. There were paper scrolls inside of the temple, and you could take them out to find your fortune, based on your birth date—although I don’t really believe in these kinds of predictions, it was still fun to read about our fortunes (even love life)!
Leaving Asakusa behind, we boarded a small tour boat for a 10-minute cruise along the river, from which we could see the needle-thin Skytree, a broadcast-observation tower which is the second-tallest in the world (following only that of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). The Skytree measures 634 meters (2000-plus feet), and we would be paying it a visit for some pleasant views of the city from above.
The line for the elevator was ridiculous when we entered the ground floor—our tour guide told us that the Skytree is notorious for its crazy queues, some of which can last up to six hours! Heck, I don’t even remember waiting that long to ascend the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Thankfully, we were on a tour, so we cut through the line within an hour to take the one-minute elevator ride up; we were rewarded with pleasant views of Tokyo once we got off at the top. With the buildings and cars so small that they resembled those of Lego blocks, the views were both lovely and cute, to say the least! Really, the city seemed to stretch for miles and miles—it didn’t seem to end.
After admiring Tokyo from the top, we descended and exited the Skytree for our final destination for the day in Ginza. Rivaling that of Shinjuku and Shibuya, this particular district is considered one of the most upscale shopping neighborhoods in Tokyo. We also happened to be there on Sunday afternoon, a time when the streets are blocked off for pedestrians to roam freely all over, without any pressure or stress to watch out for cars. Our tour guide gave us some time to wander around and do some shopping, if need be. Just like the previous day in Shinjuku, my family and I went to UNIQLO. I bought a light, mesh jacket which, for about 1600 yen ($15 USD), it was a pretty good deal!
Our tour group reconvened in the early evening—together, we headed to a shabu-shabu restaurant for dinner. Although I was still quite full from an entire afternoon of eating in Asakusa, I had the stomach to go through at least five plates of meat (with my family, of course…)! Plus, everything was boiled, so it felt more of a supper than a full-on meal.
By the time we finished dinner, we were spent for the day. Boarding our tour bus, we headed back to our hotel at 20h00 and arriving back, we immediately got ready for bed. It was our final day in Tokyo, and we would be leaving for our next destination early the following morning. While I would’ve loved to stay in the city some more, I also wanted to see what else the island of Honshu had to offer.
More to come soon. Next up: Kyoto, Japan!