Before leaving for Tokyo, we scheduled a Tokyo Day Tour: Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise. Searching for breakfast at Shinjuku-Obuku Station, we follow the scent of sweet, freshly baked breads to a bakery. Unable to read the Japanese labels, we choose two mystery pastries, and continue to the Hyatt Regency Hotel to be picked up by our transfer bus. From there, we ride to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal, meet our guide, Meena, and board our Hato tour bus. On our way to Meiji Shrine, we pass the red and white replica of the Eiffel Tower and Asahi Beer Headquarters while Meena teaches us the three P’s of Japanese lifestyle: patient, polite, and punctual.
We enter the shrine through two large, wooden torii gates, separating everyday life from sacred life to the purification area. Following Meena’s instructions, I pick up the wooden ladle and fill it with water. First, I pour water over my left hand and then my right. Next, to cleanse my mouth I form a cup with my left hand holding enough water from the ladle to take a sip. I swish it around in my mouth, and spit. 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. Meena explains, visitors can purchase a fortune for a small fee, but only about forty percent are good. The papers we see are bad fortunes left at the shrine while the good fortunes are kept by the recipient. Not feeling overly lucky, after a fifty percent success with this morning’s choice in breakfast pastries we don’t purchase a fortune.
Imperial Palace Garden East
After touring Meji Shrine, we board the Hato bus and make our way to the Imperial Palace Garden East. Passing the National Diet Building, Meena explains this is not a meeting place of healthy dishes, but an important government building in Tokyo.
She jokingly points out various buildings and landmarks successfully rebuilt since the Godzilla attack. 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. Then, just as suddenly as we emerged into this enchanted garden, we exit back in 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.
Meena explains visitors purify themselves by waving the smoke over their bodies. Some believe putting the smoke into their pockets will bring them wealth. After purifying ourselves, we put some smoke into our pockets. Walking by the cauldron, we arrive at Nakamise shopping street.
Outside the temple, we approach a busy street of vendors, shops, and local food. Our inner tourists are released as we browse through figurines, Japanese lanterns, tea, pottery, kimonos, shoes, t-shirts, chop sticks, trinkets, and green tea inspired foods. We hope the smoke in our pockets is transforming to Yen as we shop.
We rejoin our tour group at the bus with our souvenir stuffed bags, munching on a warm, green tea donut as Meena announces it is time for lunch. 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 follow Meena 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 table settings fit for a king. As Meena shows us the restrooms, bar, gift shop, and lower level viewing areas as we continue to the upper level.
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. Throughout the cruise, Meena makes sure we all know how to get back to our hotel from our final activity in Ginza. Not returning to our rabbit hole until later this evening, we ask for directions to Roppongi.
As most of our tour group makes their way to the other end of the ship for the returning views, we descend below deck to the bar. We can’t waste our coupons for a free snack with the purchase of a beer. Finding a table by the window, we enjoy our Asahi and crunchy rice snacks. As our cruise comes to an end, we file off the ship. While walking to our group meeting point, we notice a rack of captain jackets and hats by one of the cruise ships. 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 to explore 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. As the performance ends, we thank Meena, quickly sample some green tea, and walk excitedly to Ginza Station. Our next destination is Harry Hedgehog Café.
Harry Hedgehog Café
Stepping out of Roppongi Station, there are no businesses in sight. At night, sparsely placed lamp posts would be the only source of light. Walking only a couple blocks, the streets become alive with businessmen darting between shops and restaurants. Every man in sight wears black pants and a white button down dress shirt. Meena had explained earlier all business men dress this way 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. This is where hedgehog dreams come true.
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.
Our luck with hedgehogs and breakfast pastries remains at fifty percent. Mitch’s hedgehog is not cooperative. After gently scooping it up, his hedgehog is determined to escape the safe basket of his hands. Placing one hand in front of the other, the hedgehog scampers along until it’s safety back in the tank. When our hour is over, we reluctantly say good bye and walk back to Roppongi Station with smiles on our faces. All of our hedgehog dreams have been fulfilled.