Before leaving for Tokyo, we scheduled a Tokyo Day Tour: Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise by Hato Bus Tours.
SHIBUYA: Meji Shrine
Meji Shrine, Meji Jingu, is a Shinto shrine entered through 2 large, wooden torii gates, separating everyday life from sacred life. Shinto shrines are visited by Japanese to welcome the new year. Visitors pass through a purification station before entering the shrine.
- To purify, a wooden ladle is filled with water. First, water is poured over the left hand and then the right. Next, water is poured into the left hand, a sip is taken, and spit out to cleanse the mouth. Finally, the ladle is held upright causing the remaining water to run down the handle, purifying it for the next visitor. The water used during the purification falls onto the ground allowing the water in the fountain to remain pure.
- Outside of the gates is a structure resembling a large wooden pallet covered in bad fortunes. Visitors can purchase a fortune for a small fee, but only about 40% are considered good. Bad fortunes are left behind at the shrine while good fortunes are kept by the recipient.
CHIYODA: Imperial Palace Garden East
- The emperor of Japan and imperial family reside at the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda. A moat separates the palace, surrounding gardens, archives, administrative buildings, and museum from the rest of the city. Inside the Imperial Garden East, visitors feel miles from the city, but just above the lush vegetation Tokyo’s skyscrapers are still visible.
Walking along the winding gravel paths, coy fish swim near the surface of the garden ponds, butterflies float from flower to flower, perfectly shaped hedges pepper the garden, and visitors silently sketch from a bench.
ASAKUSA: Senso-Ji Temple/Nakamise Shopping Street
- Entering Asakusa, the architecture transforms from modern skyscrapers to a 7th century village. The oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-Ji, is a Buddhist temple.
- A giant cauldron of burning incense emits smoke used for purification. Visitors wave the smoke over their bodies and some believe putting the smoke in their pockets will bring wealth.
- Located behind Senso-Ji Temple is Nakamise Shopping Street, a busy street of vendors, shops, and local food. An abundance of figurines, Japanese lanterns, tea, pottery, kimonos, shoes, t-shirts, chop sticks, trinkets, and green tea inspired foods are for sale. We highly recommend trying a green tea donut.
- For a view of the Tokyo skyline from the water, we recommend Symphony Cruise offering lunch, afternoon, dinner, and sunset cruises ranging from 50 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes. There is a bar on board to enjoy a glass of Asahi and crunchy rice snacks.
- During our 50 minute Afternoon cruise we sailed beneath the Rainbow Bridge and by Odaiba and Oi Futo.
- Odaiba is a futuristic, man-made island reached by the Rainbow Bridge. The solar powered lights are not always a rainbow of colors known as Millennium Illumination. The colors are adjusted to reflect holidays, cancer awareness, and more.
- Originally Odaiba was a group of many small man-made islands intended to protect against attacks from the sea. Later, the islands were developed into one large mass and home to the Fuji TV headquarters, Aquacity shopping center, Telecom Center with an observation deck offering views of Mt. Fuji on clear days, Panasonic Center displaying the latest technologies and products, and more.
Ginza, is one of Tokyo’s most famous shopping districts. The Kabuki-za theater frequently holds traditional Japanese dances and performances.
ROPPONGI: Harry Hedgehog Café
Located on the 3rd story is Harry Hedgehog Cafe. Light wooden tables and chairs line the small room decorated with coffee cups, succulents, and vines. Each table holds a recessed glass tank with at least 2 hedgehogs.
- Employees review how to properly handle the hedgehogs during each visitor’s 60 minute time slot. To pick a hedgehog up without harming it, place a hand under the hedgehog causing it to roll slightly onto its side and scoop it up. The hedgehog will nuzzle into a comfortable position, burying its nose to hide from the light.
SHINJUKU: Golden Gai
The Golden Gai is an area of winding, narrow, bar filled alleys popular among locals. Visitors are not always welcome and may be turned away even if seats are available. Some of the bars are so small only 6 people can be inside at once. A metal archway announces the entrance to the Golden Gai, a grid of deserted, narrow alleys connected by even smaller footpaths and staircases. Some passages are so narrow we can touch the buildings on each side as we walk through.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Golden Gai operating hours are 12:00am – 7:00am.
TSUKIJI: Tsukiji Honganji Temple
Outside of the Tsukiji Fish Market is Buddhist Tsukiji Honganji Temple. Destroyed first by fire and then by an earthquake, this Indian style temple has undergone several restorations. A memorial to the Japanese rock legend, Hide, and be found inside the temple. Also while in Tsukiji, stop by the fish market. Check out our post What you May Not Know About the Tsukiji Fish Market.
- Visitors of the temple pray by tossing a coin offering between the wooden slats. Then, bowing twice, clapping twice, bowing, and saying a prayer.
Nishishinjuku: New York Grill Park Hyatt
For our last evening in Tokyo we have 5:30pm reservations at the New York Grill Park Hyatt. Entering the Park Hyatt hotel lobby, we are directed to 3 elevators before reaching the 52nd floor. Arriving early, we have a seat at the New Yok Bar and admire the view.
- We recommend the vegetarian option: tomato curry, seasonal vegetables, yogurt, and garlic rice, and a Japanese steak, Hokkaido Akaushi Sirloin with a side of broccoli, accompanied by a bottle of sake.
- Not being seated at west facing window we are unable to watch the sunset, but the view of city lights coming to life is magical. As the sky fades from a powder blue to midnight, the building lights flicker on one by one.