Day 1 – Tokyo
We reached Tokyo late at night and took the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station, form where it was a taxi ride to our friend’s home in Shinonome. There was a hurricane anticipated to land the next morning in Tokyo, so it was raining when we reached home. After a sumptuous dinner prepared by my host, we called it a night to wake up early in the morning.
Before I go into the sights we saw in our one-and-a-half days in Tokyo, I must that experience this huge and magnificent city requires at least 5 days. But with lack of time, we tried to squeeze in as much as we can. And the hurricane season wasn’t helping in terms of mobility and everything we would want to cover.
Feeling jet lagged, we woke up at 4:15am, took a quick shower and headed out to Tsukiji Fish market for the 5am auction.
Supervised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, Tsukiji Fish Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind.
The market is located in Tsukiji in central Tokyo, between the Sumida River and the upmarket Ginza shopping district. While the inner wholesale market has restricted access to visitors, the outer retail market, restaurants and associated restaurant supply stores remain a major tourist attraction for both domestic and overseas visitors.
The market opens most mornings (except Sundays, holidays and some Wednesdays) at 3:00 a.m. with the arrival of the products by ship, truck and plane from all over the world. Particularly impressive is the unloading of tons of frozen tuna. The auction houses then estimate the value and prepare the incoming products for the auctions. The buyers (licensed to participate in the auctions) also inspect the fish to estimate which fish they would like to bid for and at which price.
The auctions start around 5:20 a.m. Bidding can only be done by licensed participants. These bidders include intermediate wholesalers (nakaoroshi gyōsha) who operate stalls in the marketplace and other licensed buyers who are agents for restaurants, food processing companies, and large retailers.
Visitors and tourists are allowed at the auction and the tickets go on sale at 5am. To be able to get a ticket for the auction you must be at the gates at 3am, and if you’re lucky you will be one of the first ones in line and get the ticket. Auction is limited to 120 visitors per day on a first-come, first-serve basis. The auctions usually end around 7:00 a.m.
having reached there at 4:45am, we missed the opportunity of getting a ticket and decided to walk around the market for a restaurant that would sell fresh sushi. Luckily, Sushizanmai was open at 5:30 a.m. with a lot of customers. We ordered 2 pieces of everything on the menu and it was delicious!
After strolling a while in the fish market, we walked to the next block and visited the Tsukiji Hongwanji temple. The original Tsukiji Honganji Temple, with an Indian-style exterior, was built in 1617 near Asakusa, but was burnt down in a huge fire that swept through Edo (Tokyo) in 1657. The Temple was then rebuilt on the present site, but destroyed again by the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923. The current main building was built in 1934. The main building possesses a distinctive ambiance not found in other Japanese temples, due to its variety of architectural styles. The design of the stone exterior was based on an ancient Indian style and combines Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic architectural styles in a complex manner. The columns and wide stairs of the Temple moreover are reminiscent of Greek and Roman architectural styles. Inside, Buddhist statues are placed on the altar in the same way as a Japanese temple, creating a solemn air. And at the back of the main building is a pipe organ made in the former West Germany. The main building, which fuses a myriad of cultures, is a building of great artistic value.
Transportation: JR Tokyo Stn./Eidan Subway Marunouchi Line/3-min. ride/Ginza Stn./Eidan Subway Hibiya Line/3-min. ride/Tsukiji Stn./1-min. walk
We sat there and attended the hour-long morning prayer, before heading out.
We walked to the Tsukiji station and took the Hibya line to Hibya station after purchasing the one-day combination ticket for ¥1,500 (allowing us to use that on all Tokyo Metro lines for the day), from where it’s a 5 minute walk to Tokyo International Forum, where we were meeting some other friends, before heading to the Imperial Palace.
The residence of Japan’s Imperial Family, known as the Imperial Palace, is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo.
From Kokyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived.
The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.
Guided tours of the palace grounds are offered during the rest of the year, although no buildings are entered. The tours are held in Japanese, and an English pamphlet and audio guide are provided. The tours must be reserved in advance through the Imperial Household Agency.
From the Imperial Palace, we walked to the Hibya station and took the train to Asakusa. Walking for about five minutes from the station brought us to Senso-ji Temple.
Famous among tourists and locals, this place was worse than a fish market! A shopping street of over 200 meters, called Nakamise, leads from the outer gate to the temple’s second gate, the Hozomon. Alongside typical Japanese souvenirs such as yukata and folding fans, various traditional local snacks from the Asakusa area are sold along the Nakamise. The shopping street has a history of several centuries.
Completed in 645, this is Tokyo’s oldest temple. You approach the temple through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of Senso-ji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo.
After our prayers, we went to the side of the temple where you have to shake a box and remove a stick indicating a number you get. Then grab a paper from the boxes numbered and see your fortune. ¥100 donation is expected, but not mandatory (see pictures below).
Transportation: Few steps from Asakusa Station, served by the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line and Tobu Railways. From Tokyo Station: take the JR Yamanote Line to Kanda Station (2 minutes, ¥140) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, ¥170). From Shinjuku Station: take the orange JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station (10 minutes, ¥170) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, ¥170).
[Hold this box in hand, shake it well and remove one stick that has your number. Then open one of the boxes behind with the number and take a paper]
[Your fortune paper!]
We headed back to the street for some souvenirs and looked around for a good restaurant and to our surprise, it happened to be a tatami-style seating.
And after a great lunch, we had to change some trains to reach Harajuku station for the Meiji Shrine.
Located in Shibuya, this is the Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. The main complex of shrine buildings is located a ten minute walk from the southern entrance near Harajuku Station. Entry into the shrine grounds is marked by a massive torii gate, after which the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest. The approximately 100,000 trees that make up Meiji Jingu’s forest were planted during the shrine’s construction and were donated from regions across the entire country.
At the northern end of the shrine grounds, you will come across the Meiji Jingu Treasure House, which was constructed one year after the shrine was opened. The Treasure House displays many interesting personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage which the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. There is also a Museum Annex Building just to the east of the main shrine buildings that displays temporary exhibitions.
A large area of the southern section of the shrine grounds is taken up by the Inner Garden, which requires an entrance fee of ¥500 to enter. A small well located within the garden, Kiyomasa’s Well, is named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well was visited by the Emperor and Empress while they were alive and has become a popular spiritual “power spot”.
Unlike Senso-ji Temple, this place was very serene and quiet. We had an opportunity to witness a Japanese wedding – the bride in white, silk kimono and the groom in black. Walked around for a while and came across this board of hand-written prayers and wishes from people all over the world.
It was late in the evening by the time we got out of Meiji Shrine, so we decided to head back home, since we were up since 4am. But a trip to Japan is not complete without visiting the Hello Kitty store, and our friend knew one in a mall near Shizuoka.
A few meters walk from the mall was the largest robot we had ever seen – Giant Gundam Transformer Robot.
This life-size, plastic replica of a robot stands 20 meters, overlooking the harbor of the world’s manga metropolis. It is outside of a new theme park and museum of all things Gundam, called Gundam Front Tokyo in the Diver City shopping center. The Gundam robot is large enough to be visible on the drive from Narita airport to downtown, as cars cross the Tokyo Bay-spanning Rainbow Bridge.
Calling it an early night, we headed home and got much-required sleep, all set for the hurricane to hit Tokyo the next day; and looking forward to our half-day tour to Mt. Fuji.
Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = JPY 100. Each cost is for one adult.
|Narita Express||$12.80||¥1,280. NRT airport to Tokyo Station. One way.|
|Taxi from Tokyo Station to Shinonome||$30.00||¥3,000|
|Sushi at Tsukiji Market||$9.35||¥1,870 for two persons.|
|Taxi from Shinonome to Tsukiji Market||$19.70||¥1,970|
|Metro train ticket||$15||¥1,500. One-day combination ticket usable on all Metro lines|
|Meiji Shrine||$5||¥500 per person|
|Souvenirs||$16.70||¥1,670: fridge magnets, flag, etc.|
|Water & snacks||$14.80||¥1,480. Coffee, biscuits, water|
|Total Costs||$123.35||Per person|
|Overall Costs||$1,053.05||Per person|