Friday, February 17, 2017

Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo

There are so many things to see and do in Tokyo, but we only had two days and these were what we managed to visit:

Free admission
North Observatory
930AM to 11PM
Closed 2nd and 4th Monday of every month
South Observatory
930AM to 530PM (11PM when North Observatory is closed)
Closed 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month

We visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for its free 202–meter high observatories (north and south). They say that on a clear day Mt Fuji can be seen. It was too hazy to see Mt Fuji that day but it was fascinating to see the city so densely covered in buildings fading into the horizon.

Directions to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: Take the subway Oedo Line to Tochomae Station. The station is on the basement of the building. If you'd like to use your JR Pass, the closest JR station is Shinjuku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a 10-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station's west exit.

Buildings as far as the eye can see

Closed on Mondays / Admission fee 200 JPY
Shinjuku Gyoen Grounds 9AM to 4PM
Greenhouse 930AM to 330PM

Shinjuku Gyoen has meandering tree-lined paths connecting a greenhouse and three gardens: a Japanese traditional garden (think ponds, bridges, teahouses), an English landscape garden (think wide lawns surrounded by trees), and a French formal garden (think rose bushes and sycamore trees).

When we visited at the end of October, most of the trees were still green, too early for koyo (autumn colored foliage). A nice surprise though were the large chrysanthemums of different colors in the Japanese garden. In Japan, the chrysanthemum is representative of autumn, and most importantly a symbol for longevity and rejuvenation. It is the Imperial Family Emblem and can also be seen on a 50 yen coin and on the Japanese passport.

It was lovely to see families and friends picnicking on the lawns and under trees all over Shinjuku Gyoen, elderly Japanese painting sceneries, and people relaxing on benches or walking along the tree–lined paths. Sadly, we missed to check out the greenhouse.

Shinjuku Gyoen is so large that we entered after breakfast and came out there hungry and longing for lunch.

Directions to Shinjuku Gyoen: Shinjuku Gyoen has three gates, Shinjuku Gate (the closest subway stations are Shinjuku-gyoenmae and Shinjuku sanchome), Okido Gate (the closest subway station is Shijuku-gyoenmae), and Sendagaya Gate (the closest subway station is Kokuritsokyogijo and the closest JR station is Sendagaya Station).

Japanese Traditional Garden


French Formal Garden

Avenue of Sycamore Trees

Meiji Jingu
Meiji Jingu Sunrise to Sunset / Free admission
Treasure House 9AM to 4PM (Closed on weekdays except national holidays) / 500 JPY
Inner Garden 9AM to 4PM / 500 JPY

Meiji Jingu is an Imperial shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji (born in 1852 and ascended the throne in 1867) and Empress Shoken. It was built in 1920. The Meiji shrine grounds cover a large area, and in it are the main shrine, the Treasure House (a museum of items used by the Emperor and Empress), and the Inner Garden.

The main shrine is a 10-minute walk along pathways surrounded by trees starting from either north or south entrance. During the walk to the main shrine, I spotted a wall of sake barrels called kazaridaru. These were donated by sake brewers from all over Japan to ask for prosperity. At the shrine we witnessed a Shinto wedding ceremony, people praying, and people writing wishes on a wooden plate called ema. We did not get to visit the Treasure House (it was closed) nor the Inner Garden. 

Directions to Meiji Jingu: Take the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station. If you have the Tokyo Metro Pass, the closest subway station would be Meiji-jingumae Station.

Meiji Jingu's torii with the Imperial Family Emblem (chrysanthemum)

Sacred trees marked by a shimenawa (straw rope with white zigzag paper strips)

"Ema" are wooden plates where people write their wishes

A traditional Shinto wedding ceremony

There were two wedding ceremonies that day



Shibuya has many shopping centers but we did not go there for a shopping spree. We went there for two free things. One: to see Hachiko perpetually waiting outside Shibuya Station. And two: to witness the busiest crosswalk in the world. Though it wasn't rush hour, thus the 5-way crosswalk wasn't that busy, we still did not venture to join the pedestrians, instead we watched the masses from the upper floor of Shibuya Station.

Directions to Shibuya: Take either the subway or the JR to Shibuya Station.

Shibuya 5-way crosswalk

Hachiko waiting outside Shibuya Station

Tokyo Tower
Main Observatory 9AM to 11PM / 900 JPY (1600 JPY for both Main and Special Observatory)
Tokyo One Piece Tower 10AM to 10PM / 3200 JPY

We only satisfied ourselves at admiring the 333–meter tall orange and white tower from street level because we were either too hungry or too cheap (I forget which) to go up the observatory. Admission to the observatory would have cost 1600 JPY for both the main observatory (150m high) and the special observatory (250m high). (900 JPY for the main observatory only.) None of us were One Piece fans so we didn't bother going to the One Piece Tower either (located in Tokyo Tower's Foot Town, the building under the Tower).

Directions to Tokyo Tower: Tokyo Tower can be reached by bus, subway, or rail (JR). There are many options on how to get there, but the closest subway station, a 5–minute walk, would be Akabanebashi Station on the Metropolitan Subway Oedo Line.

Imperial Palace Tour (in Japanese only)
10AM and 130PM (No tours on Sunday, Monday, holidays)
Reservation required for the tour
East Gardens
Closed Mondays and Fridays / Free admission
Winter 9AM to 330PM
Spring and Autumn 9AM to 4PM
Summer 9AM to 430PM

Because we were not able to secure slots for the Imperial Palace Tour, we only saw parts of the Imperial Palace from outside...which were just the Nijubashi Bridge and the Fushimi-yagura Keep. If we had secured slots for the tour, we'd have been able to enter the palace grounds but not the buildings, but we wouldn't have understood a thing because the tour would have been conducted in Japanese.

Directions to the Tokyo Imperial Palace: Refer to the Imperial Household Agency website for the numerous options on how to reach the five gates of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds.

 Nijubashi bridge and Fushimi-yagura Keep


This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo (you're here!)
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

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