After living in Japan for nearly five months, it was time to face one of my biggest fears: Tokyo.
I can’t explain exactly why I dreaded going to Tokyo. After all, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. Nevertheless, a city with a population of 13.6 million can be quite intimidating, especially when you consider that New York City’s population is only 8.4 million.
So, throwing all caution to the wind, I headed north…on a coach tour bus. With 70 other Americans. And an English-speaking tour guide.
Although it wasn’t part of the itinerary, our tour guide pointed out the sight of the 2020 Olympics. I was glad to snap a shot as we drove by, even though there will be lots of construction here in the next few years to accommodate such a colossal event.
Our first stop was the Meiji Shrine, located on 170 wooded acres, which was built to honor Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
The royal emblem of Japan, the 16-petal chrysanthemum used by Emperor Meiji and the imperial family, can be seen in gold on the torii gate leading to the shrine complex. The timber used to build this archway is 1,500 years old!
It is also enormous! Perhaps a little perspective is in order…?
Even with all the visitors and deciduous trees, the grounds are impeccably kept by a small army of landscapers.
They remind me of my “California Grandma’s” dedication to picking up after her trees!
There were also impressive rows of “happy sake” barrels. Our tour guide explained that when there is great national happiness, they break open a barrel (usually for the New Year, etc.).
All of these wine barrels were impressive, too, even if they weren’t “happy”.
Upon reaching the entrance to the shrine, we needed to properly rinse our hands with the dippers at the fountain before entering the courtyard.
Fortunately for us, it was a national holiday and there weren’t as many people as there usually are.
The shrine is beautiful, and I loved all the clean lines and rustic simplicity.
We stopped in this cute hut to purchase a special, plastic-covered Goshuin, or seal book.
The book’s pages are blank and are set up in an accordion style with one decorated hardcover page at each end (no spine/binding). When removed from the plastic cover, the whole book can open as one long piece of paper.
Now when we visit a temple or shrine, a friendly monk or priest can hand-paint the name and date of our visit with traditional Japanese calligraphy, and place their specific seal on a page using vermilion red ink. For us, it’s a great way to keep a physical record of our travels, but devout believers are routinely buried with these books that serve as an account of their pilgrimages.
Since the shrine grounds are so vast and peaceful, I almost forgot we were in the middle of the world’s most densely populated metropolitan area.
Almost…but not quite.
We boarded our bus once again as our driver braved the chaos of downtown Tokyo.
And speaking of the City of Tokyo, our tour guide shared some staggering statistics with us in order to pass the time. She was also eager to give me a copy so I could pass them on to you!
In Tokyo there are:
233 deaths (known individuals)
300 unidentified bodies
342,437 registered foreigners
28,523 calls to “911”
2,309 traffic accidents…..EACH DAY! I cannot even begin to wrap my head around those stats!
But on to other mind-blowing information…
One of the places we drove through on our way to our next destination was the luxurious, world-famous Ginza District.
This is one of the most expensive, upscale living/shopping districts in the world. A simple cup of coffee averages $10, and 1 square meter of land is worth over ¥10 million. At that rate, our small apartment would be worth the equivalent of $15.5 million.
I wish I could convey the sheer opulence of this area (like the below photo I found from a quick online search). Every high-end chain has a presence here: Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and many more.
I am reluctant to admit that I was previously unaware of all this Earth-shattering information…including the existence of our next stop: the Tokyo Tower.
This structure looks like a cell tower and the Eiffel Tower had a baby. I affectionately call this my “bus window” filter. Wish I could patent it…
At 1,093 feet tall, it’s the second tallest structure in Japan!
I was almost more taken by the beautiful, wooden floors in the lobby than I was by the tower itself. They reminded me of something my “Ohio Grandma “might like in her own home!
Again, due to the holiday, the lines were short, and we rode an elevator up 492 feet to the main observation deck where we had amazing, panoramic views of the city.
I didn’t even know Mercedes-Benz had it’s own tower!
Can you spot the wedding party?
No? How ’bout now?
For the upper-crust patrons who’d like a unique keepsake from their visit, they can purchase a glittering Swarovski crystal model of the Tokyo Tower. I’ll take two!
All the altitude and extravagance made us hungry, so we headed down to the food court located in the basement.
A margarita pizza was the only vegetarian option we could find, but it was pretty tasty.
We also found a delightful dessert spot called the Pink Dot. We ordered some warm and gooey chocolate banana waffles. Delicious!
The Pink Dot also serve pancakes…but they’re not your average flapjacks!
Our next and final destination was Asakusa, which is known for its traditional, old-town atmosphere.
Japan’s major religions are known for their peaceful, cooperative natures. This was evident here where we saw a stone torii gate marking the entrance to Asakusa’s Shinto shrine…
And directly beside it was a yakkyakumon gate signifying the entrance to Asakusa’s Buddhist temple.
Built in AD 645, the ornate Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
It also seemed like the most crowded place in Tokyo as droves of patrons came to burn incense and pay their respects.
After receiving a couple more inscriptions on the pages of our Goshuin, we passed through another gate to the renown Nakamise, or Asakusa Shopping Street.
These bustling streets are filled with 89 shops that offer a plethora of wares, including dried beans…
Insanely large knives…
Baked goods (this bread smelled like maple and vanilla sugar)…
Fresh fish and seaweed…
And whatever these krill-like things might be…
And what marketplace is complete without a monkey? Apparently, not this one!
Although our feet were sore and we had melted in the heat and humidity, our first Tokyo adventure was so fun and exciting; I had to wonder why I’d waited so long….because I cannot wait until my next visit!