January 23, 2011

東京: Day 2, Tokyo Tour

I had no problems sleeping the night of my arrival. In fact, I had such a profound night's rest that I woke up entirely energized. After a quick breakfast I quickly made my way to the epic station of Shinjuku. In the morning the streets tend to be very quiet and empty with the exception of delivery trucks and cars (there's west Shinjuku and east Shinjuku; my hotel was on the eastern side).

It was pretty stupid for me to think that the station would of been empty just as outside.

Just as packed as how I found it, if not more crowded than before. With only thirty minutes to reach Hamamatsucho station on the Yamanote I made no single hesitation to get on train (well, I waited for the second or third train to pull in because I had to step back and take in the plethora of people squirming through the platforms, running out of the train as well as other forms of unmentionable chaos). I reached with five minutes to go. Somehow I managed to go out the wrong exit but end up right were I needed to be except on the other side of the glass. With a couple of bangs and shouts I got on the bus on time.

Our first stop was at Tokyo Tower.

It resembles the Eiffel Tower with its shape and lattice work
Inside the observation decks you get a good idea just how vast central Tokyo is. Buildings, everywhere. If the day were clearer I would of been able to see Fujisan off in the distance.

Northern and eastern Tokyo (Central Tokyo, Roppongi, Ueno (behind the Mori building), Shiodome and Tsukiji areas)
I was pretty excited to see the Odaiba area too
And the Daikanransha ferris wheel, just barely visible in the distance
Afterwards the tour traveled to the Happo-en gardens for a demonstration of a tea ceremony. Japanese people do love their teas, almost religiously. The lady on the right was the one who conducted the entire demonstration (the girl on the left is a pretty Korean Australian who was also on tour). Every move she made was delicate and organize, controlling and un-like-human (in a good way). And best of all the green tea was the bitterest. Yum!

There was also a lot of activity happening outside of the teahouse. People were getting married by the dozens (which also means there were more photographers per square foot than normal).

A handsome fellow striking a pose!
Is it me or does the bride look forty times stronger than her husband?
There was a row of bonsai trees. Can't remember why I only took a photo of this one though.
The tour also stopped at the famous Chinzan-so restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful teppanyaki lunch. Absolutely delicious - never realized how delicious foods taste with the perfect amount of soy sauce. I was way too busy stuffing my face with food to stop and snap a photo.

Then the bus went made its way from Bunkyo-ku to the Imperial Palace Gardens in Chiyoda-ku. Shame the gates are rarely open.

The famous Kusunoki Masashige statue
The Nijubashi Bridge and iconic Fushimi Yagura Tower
The guards of the main gate (serious faces)
After that came the Sumida River cruise. I've heard from somewhere that the Sumida isn't very beautiful but its prominent to the rise to Japanese commerce. They were right, it really is ugly but there were about twenty or so bridges (I lost count after eleven), each with its own personality.

Tokyo gets packed but this was unbelievable!

Nakamise-dori was filled with people. People were shopping. People were eating. People were screaming "irrashaimase." People were screaming for the hell of it. Now that I think of it, it wasn't so bad - I've experienced more packed places during my stay.

The entrance to the main hall of Senso-ji (also referred to as Kannon)
Inside people were throwing coins around, walking around and looking around
This is the pagoda adjacent to the main hall. I like to think of it as the ancient version of modern-day skyscrapers.
The tour was quite exhausting but well worth the time. With so much to see and so many places to visit it hardly covered the surface of Tokyo but was a nice introduction to what the city has to offer. At Nakamise-dori I purchased a ton of ehagaki (art postcards), a fancy pair of chopsticks and a beautiful bookmark with Fujisan on it. I also met an awesome group of flight attendants (all of whom speak German) as well as two beautiful Australian women (not the one pictured above). It's funny how just a few hours with them was enough to open my eyes and ears to the world. Hopefully I run into them in the future!