Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Tokyo to New: Asakusa to Daiba

We started our first full day in Tokyo where we intended to start originally - by visiting the Imperial Palace and gardens.  We hopped on the train and before long we we walking up the path to the gate of the palace grounds.  The Imperial Palace in Tokyo lies on the former site of Edo castle and therefore there is a moat and thick stone walls all around.  The palace grounds also contains a number of gardens and other buildings. As you enter there is a small museum containing selected treasures from the imperial collection.  There were only a few items were on display, but all of them were very interesting and many of them were beautiful as well.  We also noticed that there were seismographs in the display cases along with the items.  We presume it was to lock down the treasures if an earthquake hit.

We continued to the grounds and passed a few guard houses and passed though a few gates that were now just openings in the thick stone walls.  Then we followed some paths until we reached a tea house and Japanese garden.  The tea house was interesting, but kind of plain, but the garden was really impressive.  There was a terrace on one end and a waterfall and stone lantern on the other.  Through the middle was a picturesque bridge - the whole scene was very beautiful and relaxing.  As we exited the tea garden grounds we passed a group of Japanese school children.  They started to say konichiwa to us in unison, which took us by surprise.  Next we climbed a hill which is a popular cherry blossom spot and at the top is the foundation for the former keep of Edo castle.  The foundation overlooks a large expansive park now and it was very pretty. After leaving the keep area we continued along a path through the park and came across a few minor buildings, including a cellar and armory type building.  After that we had seen just about all there was about to see so we moved on to the Asakusa district.

And here is a sign we saw all over:
No Schnauzers! :(

We arrived in Asakusa, which is home to Senso-ji temple, one of the more visited temples in Tokyo.  One of the main features is a massive paper lantern at the entrance gate.  There is also the main temple and a large pagoda.  We took our pictures with the large lantern and went shopping in the market leading up to the main temple.  Before seeing the main temple we decided to get some shaved ice, the most common way that the Japanese cool off in the hot, muggy summer months.  This time I ordered a melon flavored ice with sweetened condensed milk on it.  As we sat down to eat it, an old man came up to me and asked where we were from.  From there, he launched into many different topics of conversation including: where we had been, what we thought of Japan, how people can get around much of the city without going above ground, Fukudome, and the festival celebration that was starting in a couple of days.  He was nice, but after about 15 to 20 minutes I didn't really feel like listening to him anymore and wanted to get on with our sightseeing.  He finally let us go and we continued on our way.  After viewing the temple and pagoda we headed towards Sumida River park, where we were going to take a river cruise back to the Shiodome area, which is where the Conrad is located.

We got to the park and found where the water bus stand was.  We bought our tickets, but our boat didn't leave for almost an hour so we decided to grab a bite to eat and maybe some snacks from a convenience store.  The closest thing was McDonalds and we were curious to see how it was different, so we headed there.  There was nothing too spectacular about the menu; apparently McDonalds was featuring sandwiches from around the world.  We got a sandwich that essentially ended up being a Big Mac and it tasted exactly the same as back home.  The bathroom was a little weird, there was only 1 for men and women and the toilet had a sink above the reservoir tank - which ran when the toilet was flushed.  Maybe it was to save water?  All I know was it was weird.  After McDonalds we stopped at a convenience store and bought a couple of snacks and salty watermelon Pepsi.  It sounds weird, but it was actually pretty good!  By now it was almost time to board so we headed to the dock.

A few boats came by before it was our time to board.  The passengers consisted of us, a mom and 2 kids, and a group of about 15 Japanese women.  Before long we were underway down the river.  As we approached the first bridge the Japanese women started shrieking.  We were on the roof of the boat and they thought that we were going to hit the bridge!  It was quite funny.  We continued down the river and recorded messages on the boat told us about the bridges as we passed them.  One of the bridges was modeled after the bridges of Chicago!  After about 20 minutes we ended up at a park called Hama Rikyu, which is located right in front of the Conrad.  The park was very beautiful and features a flower garden and a pond with a tea house that appears to float on top of the pond.  There were some quirky parts to the park as well too.  The pond used to be used by noblemen for duck hunting and had 2 duck hunting ponds.  It is no longer used for duck hunting and there is now a monument “to all of the ducks that lost their lives here” that is blessed by some priest.  In addition, many of the hills around the main pond with the tea house are named Mt. Something.  It was kind of bizarre, but the park was really nice.

After visiting the park we went to the Conrad and relaxed in the lounge a little bit.  We were trying to decide whether it was worth it to go to Daiba that night since many things would be closed by the time we got there, but we decided to go anyways.  Part of the appeal of going to Daiba, especially from our hotel, was that we would get to walk over the Rainbow Bridge, which is a large white bridge spanning Tokyo Bay.  We set off and took the monorail to the station before it crossed the bridge.  From there it was about a 10 minute walk until we reached the area where the pedestrian crossing began.  We headed up to the bridge and began to walk across.  Being on the bridge at night was spectacular.  The views we had of the city were the best we had the whole trip.  From the bridge we could see Tokyo Tower, the new Sky Tree tower, our hotel, and pretty much every other major landmark of Tokyo.  We took a bunch of pictures at the beginning of the bridge, but unfortunately there was metal grating in the way of the photos, which was disappointing because the pictures weren’t as good.  Fortunately, as you get to the Daiba side of the bridge there isn’t any more metal grating, just a railing that is about waist high.  In addition you get a view back towards the bridge, which makes this the perfect spot to get pictures of the city.

After our pictures we finished crossing the bridge to Daiba, which is Japan’s futuristic district.  Originally the land was built up in the bay to place fortifications for Tokyo when contact was made with the Europeans.  Eventually, in the 90’s a plan was made to fill in the water so that all of the smaller islands would be joined together.  When Japan’s bubble burst the project was slowed down, but eventually a few hotels and malls were built, along with apartment buildings and offices.  As we arrived many of the shops were closed or closing, but the restaurants and entertainment centers were still open.  I had heard of a ramen noodle shop featuring different ramen types from all over Japan, kind of like an edible ramen museum.  At first we couldn’t find it, but after going to the other side of the complex we finally found what we were looking for.  I had a ramen with a small piece of pork, a raw egg, and some sort of a fish based sauce.  M got a ramen with sesame glazed chicken.  Mine was okay, hers was much better.  After finishing dinner we walked around the boardwalk area to see some of the more unique sights of Daiba, including a replica Statue of Liberty and the Fuji TV building.  Around 10 we headed home because everything was closing up shop and we didn’t want to miss the last train home.  I wish there were more things open when we were in Daiba, but it was still fun to go.

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