Today we explored the Imperial Gardens, visited a man-made island, got to see a Buddhist service, went up Tokyo Tower and walked way too far.
After our busy pace and late nights we had a nice sleep in this morning …. sort of. My phones alarm decided that the reminder that we fly home tomorrow should go off at 6am, so I had to climb out of the top bunk to turn it off. My wakeup alarm then went off a 7:30am, 9, 9:10, 9:15, 9:30, 10am; each time requiring me to climb out of bed and down the ladder to reach it. Not happy.
We had our first breakfast at the hotel, although not included in accommodation price it is only 315¥, and includes all the toast, tea, coffee and soup we want. We had several slices of toast and looked around for the soup but couldn’t find any. After asking the receptionist he came across and made some out the back before bringing it out to the coffee heater. Soup is of the powdered chicken and corn variety, but does contain some milk so we are finally getting some calcium.
After breakfast we walked the few blocks from the Hotel to the Imperial Palace gardens. This is part of the old Edo castle that has been turned into a park. So unlike other castles we visited its primary purpose has changed from a memorial to public space. It still has some of the old buildings and the amazing stone walls, but the rest is paths, gardens and playing fields. It is also attached to the part that is the imperial residence, where the emperor’s family resides, so areas are restricted and there is a higher than usual police presence.
For some reason on entry you are issued a free little plastic ticket that you then return on leaving. I’m not sure if it is to limit numbers, or keep track of everyone leaving.
The grounds are quite nice and the view from the top of the donjon base is amazing. I always find it incredible the juxtaposition between the moat, ancient stone walls and gardens with the skyscrapers and traffic just outside. We walked around the edge of the main field (nice and shady) before entering the garden proper. This area had some nice streams, a large pond, even a small waterfall. There were different areas that focused on different type of plants, such as 14 different type of Bamboo, summer flowers, some rice growing and even symbolic trees from each prefecture controlled by the emperor.
From the gardens we walked to the train station and caught the train to Odaiba, a man-made island. Joel wanted to see the Fuji TV station and travel on the interesting train / monorail / truck. The vehicle has large rubber wheels like a truck and moves on a concrete track above the road similar to monorail with power running along the side. There is no driver so you can see out both ends and it does a 270 loop on an incline to cross the bridge.
At Odaiba we decided to have lunch at a Mexican buffet. We both had a few freshly cooked tortillas, some salad and made our own melon floats (otherwise known as ice cream and melon Fanta). The food was great, but we both had a lot to eat, so we haven’t eaten anything since.
After lunch we walked along outside the building to try to get a good view of the Fuji TV building and discovered a miniature Statue of Liberty, and if you took the photo at the right angle there were twin towers in the background 😉
Back on the move we travelled towards Tokyo Tower. We went to the nearest JR line and on the way to the tower walked through a Buddhist temple. We entered just before the monk moved a barrier across gateway, so we thought we wouldn’t have much time. We wondered up to the main temple just as a big bell rang throughout the grounds. We entered the building and discovered that they were just about to start the 5pm service. We decided to stay and watch.
The monks entered in robes in a continuous line, bowing when they crossed the centre of the temple and going back and forth following the person in front. I tried to take some photos, but I deliberately did not use flash and I did so surreptitiously so as to not disturb anyone, however due to the low light all these turned out blurry (I checked and there was no warning about not taking photos). I managed to get some when everyone was stationary later in the service.
The service mainly consisted of chanting by the monks and some amazing percussion. They had a big inverted bell that when struck made a long continuous tone that seemed to reverberate for several minutes. Overall I found it quite interesting to observe.
After the service was over the monks started to close the doors of the temple so we headed out and on to Tokyo Tower. We bought our ticket and quickly made it up the tower in a lift jammed with many others; it had transparent panels on the sides so we could see out after it left the base building. When we arrived at the top the sun was still setting, so we could still see the city in the light and also observe most of the sunset. We wondered around taking pictures, and I discovered the low light setting on my camera works too well. It lightens all the sunset shots so they nearly look like daylight, even the night time shots often seemed to still have a lit sky. We stayed up the tower for around 90min taking pictures as it got darker, often with motion blur or the lights reflected from inside the tower.
By this stage my feet were getting a bit sore, as I was wearing sandals today, they are great for short distances especially in this hot weather, but do not have the arch support for the long walks we were doing.
We headed back towards the JR line to head back to the hotel. Unfortunately Joel mixed up Ochanomizu with Okachimachi, so when we got off the train we were at the wrong station and then started walking in the wrong direction. After we reached the Yushima subway line Joel double checked the map and realised we would have to walk back to the JR station to get back to the right train. We made it to the correct station then had another long walk to actually make it back to the hotel. I am planning on more strongly suggesting using subways in the future, it may cost us more than using our JR Pass, but it saves us walking much longer distance.
On a side note, one peculiarity with using a GPS in the city is it often gets incorrect data. A GPS calculates your location based on the differences in time between the signals it receives from satellites in different locations. When the signal has bounced off a few buildings before been received it can be a bit out of whack. Today it showed we had travelled 1219 kM, reached a speed of 400 kM while walking on foot and went to altitudes of 65m, -13m and 3093m. I try to clean up some of the crazy points before posting, but I imagine the tracks from today will look a bit weird. This also affects our photos that use these tracks for Geotagging.