Hato Bus Tour, Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, Senso-ji Temple, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Shinjuku
03.08.2012 - 03.08.2012 94 °F
Well, another fantastic day is in the books! It was HOT today, and we're still battling a bit of jet lag, but we crammed a lot into today and learned a lot more about Tokyo.
The day started when my wonderful husband woke up at 5am (ah!). Fortunately, he was nice enough to get us both coffee in return, and realized that Tokyo is DEAD at that early hour. Krispy Kreme and Starbucks didn't even open until 8am (but McDonald's pulled through for coffee). Around 7:15, we left our hotel to walk to the pick up for the Hato Bus Tour. I panicked a little bit when we couldn't find the bus at the designated location (since I had struggled a bit with the Japanese reservation system), but it was just a block away! We drove for about an hour through the city picking others up, and then headed to the Tokyo Tower. The Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 for TV, but is now used only as a backup after Tokyo changed to digital last year with the building of the taller Skytree Tower. The Tokyo Tower (333m) is taller than the Eiffel Tower (320m), but we "only" went to the 150m Observation Deck. The views were incredible, and give you some sense for how HUGE the city of Tokyo is - it spreads out as far as the eye can see in every direction!
On the drive to the Imperial Palace, our Hato Bus Tour Guide, Mori-san ("Mr. Mori"), told us a lot about the history of Tokyo. Tokyo was formerly named Edo, and was the headquarters of the Shogun in the 17th-19th centuries. A Shogun is the "boss" of the Samurai warrior class (there were four classes at the time, Nobles, Samurais, and two lower classes made of mostly farmers), and the Shogun was responsible for military and political matters. In 1868, the Shogun system was abolished after 250 years, and a big revolution brought about a new government, which made Edo the capital (instead of Kyoto) and renamed it Tokyo (which means "the east capital").
The grounds of the Imperial Palace (which is the home of the Emperor and Empress) were huge - it is 250 acres! However, the Palace itself is closed to visitors (except January 2nd for the New Year and December 23rd for the Emperor's Birthday). You can see the guards manning the Palace gates, as well as the famous Nijubashi Bridge ("Double Bridge"), which holds the gate to the Imperial Palace. When we got back on the bus, Mori-san showed us a picture of the Palace, which you see in the photo below. We also learned that the Emperor is mainly ceremonial and diplomatic; the Prime Minister actually serves as the political leader.
On the way to our next stop, we learned a bit more about Japan today. Japan, which the Japanese call "Nippon," meaning "the land of the rising sun," is made up of 7,000 islands, and in total is the size of either Montana, California, or Sweden. It spans about 3,000km from north to south. The population of Tokyo itself is over 12 million, and the greater metropolitan area holds over 32 million! Right now, the Japanese are celebrating "Obon," when many Japanese visit their relatives' graves and their home towns for the summer holidays.
Our next stop on the bus tour was the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. This temple was originally built in the 600s, after two brothers went fishing and pulled out a statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon, a Buddhist river goddess. The village headman converted to Buddhism and built the temple in honor. Buddhism was actually brought to Japan from India in the 6th century, and is not exclusive with Shinto, the native Japanese religion. The Senso-ji Temple was actually a series of buildings and statues, and looked exactly how I would picture a traditional Japanese temple. It was really beautiful and welcoming! There were tons of people there, and a lot to look at. One of my favorite attractions was getting to shake a big silver container until a stick came out (similar to a chopstick). You had to match the Japanese symbol on the stick that came out to a small drawer with the same symbol, and then pull your fortune out of the drawer! A few highlights from mine: "Encourage yourself and you will be fortunate" ... "Building a house ... will not cause you any trouble" (I interpret this as buying a house!) ... "It is good to make a trip" ... "Both marriage and employment are good."
In the midst of our exploring, we stopped to mimic some statues, and have a Green Tea bun. I had read about how a traditional Japanese breakfast may be a sweet bun stuffed with bean curd, and I wanted to try one, so we did! It was actually great, and even Kevin liked it! We may have to get some tomorrow!
Our tour finally drove through the Ginza shopping area, the Akihabara electronics area, and wound up at the Tokyo Station. We wanted to grab lunch along a small strip of 10 or so restaurants in the middle of several office buildings. The menus didn't have words, but they all had pictures, so we figured we'd be fine ...
...until we got inside and realized we were supposed to order at this machine with only Japanese characters! Luckily, a very nice waitress helped us out. Kevin got a chicken, egg, and rice dish, and I got a side salad, miso soup, and a side order of salmon.
We got into Tokyo station to head to the Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, and managed to navigate the somewhat-confusing Metro fairly well! The Garden itself was beautiful, and VERY empty - we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! We walked around and explored various parts of the garden, which we really enjoyed.
At this point, it was HOT, and we had been walking around all day, so after our 20 minute walk back "home," we wanted to just quickly grab some workout shorts for me and get back to the hotel to cool down. Well ... easier said than done! Uniqlo's only women's work out wear was LONG terry cloth pants, which would not work for running in 90+ degree temperatures. We headed to a department store, where the only women's running shorts cost more than $120!! Working out is very important to me, and I don't want to stress too much over money on vacation, but that was just ridiculous. Kevin and I were both hot, tired, and not in the best moods, so my frustration over leaving my shorts at home wasn't helping! Finally I bought some $13 men's shorts to tide me over until we could find more ... ladies, I know you're jealous, I'll auction them off to highest bidder upon returning stateside .
Once we got back, we both worked out (and let me tell you, long shorts make you even hotter! I don't know how guys stand it!) at the hotel's small gym. We headed back out to a sports store which claimed to have 5 stories of sporting goods ... but you guessed it, no shorts. Well, they did have running shorts, but they were $60+, and I couldn't stand to buy the several pairs I'll need for this 27 day trip. I settled for some men's bike shorts (in the baseball section), and we'll keep looking. I'll try to stop boring you with the details, though!
At night, we walked around another part of Shinjuku. It was packed with people, and we think the crowd tonight was much younger and having more fun. Part of that, of course, is that it's Friday night, but it also may be the location. We had a great time people watching, walking around, and settled on another conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Again, this one was great, and such a fun experience. The fish is so great here! (Although, I did comment to Kevin that aside from the apple I had for breakfast that I brought from the US, and the romaine lettuce I had for lunch and dinner tonight, I haven't had a fruit or vegetable since we've been here, which is hard to believe for me! The Japanese are SO healthy, and there are very few overweight people in Tokyo, but I'm not sure how they get by without the tons of produce that I'm used to!). After a bit more walking around, we headed back to the hotel. Kevin's been sleeping for a while, so I'm rushing to hit the hay as well, but thanks for reading! We have another exciting day planned for tomorrow, so stay tuned!
-Megan and Kevin