Day 15 – Tokyo, the Big Smoke

It’s been really tricky finding souvenirs here. When people travel inside Japan, the usual expectation for souvenirs is typically a box of the local food speciality. Quite often these will be some sort of dango (dumpling), mochi (rice cake) or manju (little cakes with bean filling). Regardless of what it is, they come in boxes of sixteen or twenty, all wrapped up in nice wrapping paper. The idea is to bring some home for your family, or to bring some from home when you go away, to give to people you’ll be staying with, or meeting with, if it’s a business-related trip. We’ve seen whole shops dedicated to selling these wrapped boxes – we’ve occasionally mistaken them for bento shops at first glance. Trouble is, I can’t take food home. And generally once you leave them out, you’re left with either gaudy trinkets or incredibly expensive treasures. There seems to be no middle ground. I’ve been finding it quite frustrating.

Today, we travelled around Tokyo. We decided to sleep in this morning and have a late breakfast, because we didn’t really have any definite plans for things to see, and we thought we needed the sleep. Also, breakfast runs until 11. It’s toast with margarine and jam, and soup, but as much of them as you wanted. Tea and coffee too. We got down there at ten. We made some plans over breakfast – we’d go visit the Imperial Palace first, because it’s within walking distance of the hotel, then go visit Odaiba, then be at Tokyo Tower for sunset. It was noon by the time we left the hotel – talk about a late start.

It was quite warm walking through the streets in the morning. We passed a few schools, and a whole network of elevated expressways, before arriving at the Imperial Palace. Since the Palace itself is actually in use at the moment, we can’t actually access it – it’s the residence of the Emperor and his family, after all – but the Eastern gardens are free to enter pretty much the entire year. They’ve got some of the fortifications of the original Edo Castle (on which the Imperial Palace was built) and a few of the original buildings still standing. Plus they’ve got an actual garden – James thought it was somewhat reminiscent of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

With that done, we walked over to Tokyo Station (hah, you see what we did? We walked from our hotel to Tokyo Station, whicch took us two trains last night) to catch the train to Odaiba. Odaiba is an artificial island located in Tokyo Bay. There were some thing worth seeing over there, including the Fuji TV Station, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The way to get there is the Yurikamome line, a sort of automated rail-guided bus… not really sure how to describe it. It’s sort of like a monorail, but it’s not a monorail because it runs on wheels; the rail just does the steering. The track does this huge two-seventy degree loop to gain altitude, then runs along under the Rainbow Bridge (a pretty well-known landmark) to Odaiba.

Once there, it became rapidly clear to me that just as Tempozan was Osaka’s equivalent of Darling Harbour, Odaiba is Tokyo’s. It even used to be a big shipping port. Getting off the bus-train-monorail thing, we encountered a big sort of shopping arcade thing, and a big sign promoting an indoor fun park called Joypolis, owned by Sega… rather like the old Sega thing at Darling Harbour. We wandered around there for a bit looking for lunch, and wound up at a sort of all-you-can eat tortilla-and-salad bar thing… with Japanese bits too. It was quite tasty, and not too shabby for just a thousand yen.

We wandered down the foreshore and grabbed a few photos, then hopped back on the train-thing to get to Tokyo Tower. The route from the nearest JR station passed Zojoji Temple, so we decided to visit there on the way – a sort of trip from old to new. We managed to squeeze in right before the gates shut, and entered the main temple just in time to see a ceremony start. It was about half an hour of chanting assisted by assorted musical instruments, including this big cup-shaped gong thing that just resonated. It was quite something to watch, and their pitch was impeccable.

After that, we headed on to Tokyo Tower. we entered at about 5:40 – our plan was to enter before sunset (which we managed, just) and stay there until it got dark, so we could see both the city in daylight and in full glow under its own power. It was a pretty impressive view – we only went to the first observation deck, at 150 metres above sea level and a cost of 820 yen (the second observation deck, at 250 metres, cost another 600 yen and involved a 45-minute wait). Trouble is, it was quite full, and contained large numbers of small and noisy children. There were windows in the floor of the lower level you could see right down the tower, but it was always covered with children either crawling all over it, or attempting to smash it by jumping on it.

Anyway, we hung around there until about 7:30, then decided to head home, once it got too dark for us to get any good photos of city lights without the aid of a tripod. Also, we were getting tired of standing. Rather than get pay for a private line train back to Jinbocho, we decided to walk home from Ochanomizu, the nearest JR station to the hotel. It’d let us have a bit of a look around, too – just as Jinbocho and Kanda is a big booksellers area, Ochanomizu is a big place for musical instruments. So we headed back to the station we’d gotten off at earlier. We passed through the nearby Shiba park, which is quite thickly wooded, and quite well-lit at light – and also quite thick with cicadas. On the way, a Japanese tourist asked us in English how to find Tokyo Tower.

We headed off to the loop line platform, which we’d been using all day, and checked the route map. Yep, it went to Okachimachi Station, curiously after passing through Akihabara Station – this confused me a shade, as I didn’t think our route took us there. The astute amongst you will notice that I just said a different station’s name. I didn’t notice this. Not for some time, no. We got off at the Okachimachi station, and turned left to go south. I was a bit confused, because I didn’t see any musical instrument shops, and had been told this was an instrument mecca. When I started seeing road signs pointing to unfamiliar destinations, I was getting a little more concerned, but it wasn’t until we hit the Yushima subway station that I started to get a bit worried, as it’s meant to be to the north of the station I thought we’d gotten off at, and I was certain we were heading south. I decided to head back to the station and start over. It wasn’t until I saw a sign pointing to Ueno JR station – 930 metres that-a-way – that things finally twigged. I’d taken us to the wrong stop – the stop we wanted is one stop back south and one stop west.

Getting off at Ochanomizu the second time around, I was much relieved to be surrounded by musical instrument shops, which gradually turned into bookshops as we neared the hotel. We didn’t really need dinner, as we’d had so much lunch.

Still, only one navigation error in two whole weeks ain’t too bad. The confusion on our first night wasn’t my fault, honest.

Tomorrow’s our last day, aww. Tonight we’re going to pack for the plane – making sure our Swiss Army knives and things are in the right back. Tomorrow we’re going to stick our luggage in a locker in Tokyo Station, then visit places around the loop line. Then it’s back to Tokyo Station in the late afternoon to grab our luggage and hop onto the Narita Express for the airport.

Today’s photo count: Two hundred and eighty-three.

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