Arriving in Tokyo was just about as wonderful as I could have hoped for. The temperature was a good 20 degrees cooler, humidity was practically non-existent, and everything was immaculate. I may have deliriously giggled to myself when I saw people walking around in sweaters and coats...because they were cold, not to keep their skin from tanning. A nice gentleman helped me find the post office where I picked up the SIM card I'd arranged to have held for me there, and I'd already gotten advice on the best/cheapest way to get to Shinjuku station from the airport (there's a fancy local bus service that takes you to the main train line a few stops away) and a short walk later I walked into the small but really nice Airbnb apartment I'd booked. Heaven! Everyone who's been to Japan before and who I asked for recommendations said that Tokyo was not their favorite, but after 3 months in SE Asia, I was loving every single thing. Even the crowded and traffic-y streets were no match for what I'd already experienced. Busiest intersection in the world? You only win because you feature actual pavement and a Starbucks with a view! It was pretty late at night when I "checked-in", so I just picked up a noodle bowl at the 7eleven around the corner (really good all things considered) and went to bed.
Bright and early the next morning, jetlag be damned, I grabbed breakfast, figured out the train lines and got started exploring this amazing city! This post is fairly long and picture heavy, but stick with me, Tokyo was full of character.
I started with Meiji Shrine near the Shibuya neighborhood. It was a weekday, so
there weren't many teens dressed as Lolita, but the park complex was lush and
serene, and the massive tori gates at the entrance were quite impressive.
People and businesses make yearly offerings to the temple in the form of these
colorful casks of sake or more tame looking casks of wine. I don't know if
anyone drinks them at the end of the year, but that would be one heck of a party.
You can't see it from this moss covered tree, but nature is treated with great respect
throughout and you'll often see cushioned splints and supports for weak or
low branches, and everything is carefully tended to.
The shrine is a popular spot for weddings and wedding photography
and I got to watch two couples to through the meticulous posing process.
Near many temples throughout Japan you'll find water fountains similar to this one.
Worshipers will dip the ladles into the water, pour water from them onto each hand
to clean them, then pour some into the left hand and drink it to ensure that the
prayers that will be uttered will be pure.
You can't go in, but you can walk around and enjoy the clean efficiency
and airiness of architecture in traditional buildings such as this one.
Lucky tokens and prayers can be bought for anywhere from 100 to 1000 yen
and the wooden prayer boards are a popular way for worshipers and tourists
to contribute to the shrine and leave a prayer for the monks to bless.
I found a few of these fortune telling boxes near the other prayer memorabilia
and of course I pulled out the stick with my lucky number 13.
I don't know if this is truly a fortune, but patience has never been my forte.
I took a walk through the lovely Hama Rikyu Garden, with the city skyline in the
background before boarding a small cruise boat and heading up the Sumida river
to Asakusa neighborhood (the TJMaxx of Japan according to my sister)
The building with the golden "protrusion" on top is actually the Asahi beer
tasting hall, but the structure on top is often referred to as the golden turd.
There were many adorable, and mostly useless, objects for sale
in the many shops in and around Asakusa.
Massive gates welcome visitors to the Nakamise Dori lane, full of souvenirs and
street food, which in turn leads up to the steps of Sensoji Temple.
The lanterns at the gates are truly massive and many people stopped for pictures.
My first, but certainly not last, Japanese ice cream (matcha and vanilla).
Every other restaurant sells some variation on the soft serve and it seems
like the locals get one every day. When in Rome :)
The lucky frog jumps forward towards progress and cuteness.
I was a little sad to learn that all the people walking around in traditional garb
were tourists who pay to get made over for the day, but it still was lovely to
watch them shuffling along and window shopping.
Using ancient tools, craftsmen make flawless rice based sweets that sell like hotcakes.
One of the oldest and most significant temples in Tokyo is the Sensoji Temple,
it's a popular tourist attraction and is never empty.
Dressed up ladies hoping for good fortunes at the temple's Omikuji
Some cleansing fountains are quite a bit more elaborate than others.
The walls and doorways in the heart of Asakusa feature many elaborate decorations
that hint at the businesses inside, or residents of years past.
There are many cuter renditions of this useful spirit all over Japan, but this is the
only temple I've come across dedicated to the infamous Chingodo. Most small shops
all over this country will have some version of this cute guy standing guard at
the door, enticing new customers to come in and keeping fire and evil out.
Of course I had to get one for myself.
Even in clean and structured Japan, homeless people roam the streets.
Caricature artists are quite popular and you'll find one or five of them in every
popular tourist part of every town.
Just a random samurai in a box. Because why not?
A vintage camera collector and specialist toils away at his next project in the back.
The next day I took a ride over to Ueno, where I found this unique looking
Daibutsu Giant Buddha temple, with appropriately themed prayer boards for sale.
This ornately decorated Toshogu shrine from the 1600s in the middle of Ueno Park
was closed, but it was lovely to walk around and study the detail. The shogun
Tokugawa Ieyasu made himself a deity after death and dedicated the shrine
to himself, basically buying his way into heaven.
A nearby memorial was lavishly decorated with what must be a thousand
origami paper cranes, all strung up like garlands.
A street performer entertained the audience by juggling fancy pottery
I arrived at the Imperial Palace too late, and so I had to be content with looking
at it from across the moat.
A lovely park and sculpture garden was right across the street from the Palace
and quite a few people were resting on benches or stopping for snacks in the shade.
The next day I took a walk through the shopping neighborhoods and spent the
whole day more or less enjoying the randomness of my findings (and feeling rather
uncool in my yoga pants surrounded by uber stylishly dressed youngsters).
Your guess is as good as mine.
This shop specialized in some incredibly intricate costumes, which were all
neither in my size nor my budget.
A must-see stop on anyone's visit to Tokyo
All things must be cute. It's the law.
Just some fun graffiti
Um...the store itself was actually rather disappointing.
A four story toy store in the middle of the super high end Ginza district has
something for every child (or nerd or geek) to adopt and take home.
Cheburashka, a well loved Soviet cartoon character, was one of the surprise finds
Of course I had to stop and get sushi from a conveyor belt!
Probably the best udon noodles I've ever had in my life, and it was at a small hole
in the wall counter style restaurant beneath a crowded underpass. I paid via
a vending machine, handed over my ticket and was given a plastic apron
so that I wouldn't get my clothes dirty while slurping like an amateur.
Fresh garlic, ginger, and iced brown rice tea were a welcome addition.
You should not eat ice cream while behind the wheel or you'll get ticketed.
Ice cream number two is a blend of sakura (cherry blossom) and green tea.
There's no end to the random wonders that can be found in Akihabara
Electronic stores, manga, anime and pachinko are packed together in this area
These are actually collectibles and are not edible!
They have some rather strange ideas about cannibalistic hot dogs here
A spider statue watches over a beer tasting event at dusk
Star Wars themed exhibit at the Mori Art Museum
On one side you have art and memorabilia, and on the other
a gorgeous skyline view of the city.
Other art is also represented in side galleries within the building
Storm Pooh Per! Puns galore :)
Probably the most fun sewer cover I've ever seen
Sadly the Godzilla statue was rather small and unimpressive. I passed it
twice before I lowered my gaze and found it.
I never could quite wake up early enough to watch the tuna auction at the
Tsukiji Fish Market, but I did stop in to check it out and pick up some amazing sushi.
No tour of Tokyo would be complete without...bagpipes?!? I heard the music several
blocks away and had to find the source. I was a bit disappointed to see the Chivas
tasting event and not a bunch of highlanders and sheep. Maybe next time.