Before leaving for Tokyo, we scheduled a Tokyo Day Tour: Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise. We are picked up by our transfer bus at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. We ride to the Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal to board our Hato tour bus. On our way to Meiji Shrine, we pass the red and white replica of the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo Tower, and Asahi Beer Headquarters.
We enter Meji Shrine through two large, wooden torii gates, separating everyday life from sacred life to the purification area. I pick up the wooden ladle and fill it with water. First, I pour water over my left hand and then my right. Next, I form a cup with my left hand holding enough water from the ladle to take a sip. I swish it around and spit it out to cleanse my mouth. Finally, I hold the ladle upright causing the remaining water to run down the handle, purifying it for the next person. The water used during the purification falls onto the ground allowing the water in the fountain to remain pure.
After our cleansing, we walk to a structure resembling a large wooden pallet covered in tiny papers. Visitors can purchase a fortune for a small fee, but only about forty percent are good. Bad fortunes are left behind at the shrine while good fortunes are kept by the recipient.
Imperial Palace Garden East
After touring Meji Shrine, we board the Hato bus to the Imperial Palace Garden East. Passing the National Diet Building, our guide explains this is not a meeting place of healthy dishes, but an important government building in Tokyo.
We arrive at the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace. Inside the garden, I feel miles from the city, but just above the lush vegetation I can still see Tokyo’s skyscrapers.
As we walk along the winding gravel paths, coy fish swim near the surface of the garden ponds, brightly colored butterflies float from flower to flower, perfectly shaped hedges pepper the garden, and visitors throughout the garden silently sketch the view from their bench. Just as suddenly as we emerged into this enchanted garden, we exit back into the city.
Senso-Ji Temple and Nakamise Shopping Street
Next, we visit Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Stepping off of the bus, the architecture transforms from modern skyscrapers to a seventh century village. A giant cauldron of burning incense emits smoke behind a giant red and gold temple.
Visitors purify themselves by waving the smoke over their bodies. Some believe putting the smoke in their pockets will bring them wealth. Walking by the cauldron, we arrive at Nakamise shopping street.
Outside the temple, we approach a busy street of vendors, shops, and local food. We browse through figurines, Japanese lanterns, tea, pottery, kimonos, shoes, t-shirts, chop sticks, trinkets, and green tea inspired foods.
We rejoin our tour group at the bus munching on a warm, green tea donut. Passing through Ginza, we arrive at Tokyo Bay and take a glass elevator to Pastel-Tei Restaurant. The tables and chairs face a wall length window with an incredible view of the bay. Our lunch included with the tour exceeds our expectations. The servers deliver four courses of salad, soup, an entrée, and an icy orange sherbet or vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. After finishing our coffee, we walk to the Symphony Cruise dock.
Expecting a small boat for our sixty minute cruise, we are surprised to see only massive four and five story cruise ships at the dock. Boarding the ship, we peek into the ornate dining rooms with dark wood, deep red carpets, centerpieces, and elaborate table settings.
Passing under the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo’s skyline slowly comes into view. Farther from shore, giant cranes stack red, white, and blue cargo onto a barge at a nearby shipping dock.
Descending below deck to the bar, we find a table by the window to enjoy our Asahi and crunchy rice snacks. As our cruise comes to an end, we notice a rack of captain jackets and hats as we exit the ship. A sign encourages visitors to try on the uniforms and take a photo. Captain Mitch wiggles into a navy jacket, pulls on a hat, and throws up his best peace sign for the camera.
After boarding the bus, we drive over the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, a man-made, futuristic island. Passing the railing comprised of individual pieces each painted subtly different shades from red to violet, the colors blend into a beautiful rainbow. At Odaiba, there are shops and the best view of Japan’s Statue of Liberty. We browse a Japanese dollar store, very similar to those at home, then find the pedestrian walk way for an up close view of Lady Liberty.
Leaving Odaiba, we reach Ginza where we will see a geisha perform a traditional dance. The geisha has a white painted face and hands. She wears bright red lipstick with a light blue and purple kimono. Dancing, she tells a story with her movements. After the performance, we take the metro from Ginza Station to our next destination, Harry Hedgehog Café.
Harry Hedgehog Café
Stepping out of Roppongi Station, there are no businesses in sight and sparsely placed street lights. Walking only a couple blocks, the streets become alive with businessmen wearing black pants and a white button down dress shirt. The men all dress in this uniform every day to promote harmony and feel as a single unit. Continuing down the street, a giant yellow sign with a hedgehog comes into view down a street to our left.
We climb the stairs to the third story and open the door. 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 two hedgehogs.
We sit down as an employee reviews how to properly handle the hedgehogs during our sixty minutes. I gently place my hand under the hedgehog rolling it slightly onto its side, scooping it up and out of the tank.
With two hands I hold the hedgehog as it nuzzles into a comfortable position, burying its nose into the spaces between my fingers to hide from the light. When our hour is over, we reluctantly say good bye and walk back to Roppongi Station with smiles on our faces.