Hi everyone! I’m back with the last few posts for my April 2015 Japan Travel Diaries, and these are going to be all about the places we visited in Tokyo. Honestly there isn’t a lot of them. We spent only two days here as something like a stopover because our plane leaves from Narita. But instead of being all mopey about it, I’ve made up my mind not to feel anything other than determined. I’ve settled myself with the notion that I’ll be coming back here in the next few years to explore some more, and we’ll see how that idea comes into fruition! Japan has always been one of my “dream countries” to travel to because I genuinely love its culture and even its language, and the fact that it’s becoming a mainstream tourist destination won’t stop me.
As Japan’s largest city, capital, main economic zone, and seat of government, Tokyo’s credentials are already pretty impressive on paper. It’s got the distinction of being the world’s most populated metropolis too; and thanks to the 50+ Fortune 500 companies that have made their home in the prefecture, the place is simply thriving with activity. Everywhere you turn someone’s hurrying off somewhere with a sense of purpose.
But you have to come here to understand just exactly what makes Tokyo such an unforgettable city to most people who have had the chance to thoroughly experience it. I know that most would say the most colourful aspect to Tokyo isn’t just its impressive infrastructures but the people, and even though I know in my heart that’s probably true I wish I had interesting stories to share about that.
To be honest, I didn’t get to interact too much with the people except I guess when I went shopping for a few hours in Odaiba, but one thing’s for sure: Here in Tokyo, there are SO MANY PEOPLE. The sidewalks are absolutely crawling with people all day long, and my favourite sort are the kindergarteners. They’re super adorable and some of the kids even pose for the camera! (Got one cheeky little boy in a video I’ll be sharing soon!)
You might’ve wondered: Who are those men dressed in short-shorts? They really know how to catch the eye don’t they? These guys offer their expensive services to tour you around some parts of Tokyo in a jinrikisha (literally, a hand-pulled rickshaw).
A big group of them is gathered right outside Asakusa Shrine waiting for any tourists who might be interested in the experience. They also very willingly take pictures with tourists. 😉
Anyway, we drove into Tokyo late in the morning so first thing we did was go to lunch. It’s this little place a few feet away from Asasuka Shrine’s gates, and I can’t remember the name of it but I sure as heck can point it out to you when I’m there haha! The meal is nowhere near as good as the kaiseki meals we had while in the more provincial prefectures of Japan, but it’s still got the same filling portions. After the meal it was time to head over to the highlight attraction of the day: TOKYO SKYTREE.
The modern Tokyo Skytree doesn’t have as much nostalgic effect as the original Tokyo Tower, but it’s quite a modern sight viewed from afar. It’s located quite close to Asakusa Shrine at the Sumida City Ward and is very difficult to miss. I imagine if you ever find yourself lost in Tokyo, just make your way to the Tokyo Skytree and you can find your way back from there. (Pretend for a second you don’t have a map app haha!)
Interesting bit about Tokyo Skytree is its height of 634 meters, which in Nihongo is read as ‘musashi’, also known as the historic name of Tokyo. (Pretty sure that was done on purpose.) This television broadcasting tower was opened in 2012 and at that time it was the tallest tower until Burj Khalifa came along. At the base of the Skytree is a large shopping complex and an aquarium but that’s not what we’re here for is it?
We enter the tower itself and stand in line for entry passes on what I find to be a fairly moderate day. There were tourists but there were twice as many students out on a field trip. Thankfully (maybe because it was off-season) the overall wait time was not nearly as long as the time we went up the Burj Khalifa. (That time my mood had soured nearly to the point of no return, but luckily the view up top of Dubai at night was nice.)
On a weekend or holiday though the story of the waiting game at the Tokyo Skytree could be a bit different. The Japanese have developed crowd control systems for their tourist spots by releasing a specific number of tickets for a specific timeframe, so if you happen to visit on a peak day and say you buy your ticket at 11:00, your pass could allow entry at 16:00 or later. You can leave and just come back at the indicated time instead of waiting for hours on end.
And then once your pass allows you inside, you can buy your actual tickets for the two observation decks of the Skytree. I think we waited for 30 minutes? I read somewhere that it usually takes 45 to 90 minutes so it means we came on a really good day.
I’m sharing all this information so you guys can plan according to what time you want to be here. If you mean to catch the sunset, then grab your tickets before noon to be on the safe side so you can climb up the tower by late afternoon. And if you arrive early, no worries since there is no time limit once you’re up on the observation decks.
The observation decks of Tokyo Skytree are some of the highest in the world, with the Tembo Deck at 350 meters high and spanning three levels. The top floor is the main observation area, with tall glass windows offering a 360-degree panoramic view of the Tokyo skyline. It is up here you really begin to grasp just how densely populated Tokyo really is. This is what something close to 38 million people in one place look like!
We came up here during the time of day that was neither here nor there, with the sky sighing out a rather gray formation of clouds. The whole of Tokyo seemed like it was bracing for a rainy spring day. Still I managed to take a bunch of shots I like as I went around the tower. 🙂
I wish there was bit more sunlight to play with, but I did manage to capture an angle of the city that was worthy of being my iPhone wallpaper. I suffered from Japan withdrawals for quite some time so this was the wallpaper on my lockscreen for months:
Tokyo from up the Skytree is nice, but I’ve been up enough towers to know that I prefer viewing cityscapes anytime from the late afternoon golden hour up until the evening when the lights from the buildings are lit.
The middle level of the observation deck has a restaurant and souvenir shop, which I passed through quickly. The lowest level has a café and sections with glass-paneled floors where, if you’re not afraid of heights, you can step on the panels and look down at the speeding cars on the roads of Tokyo.
If you’re willing to shell out more money, you can go all the way up to the Tembo Gallery, or “the world’s highest skywalk” that consists of a sloping spiral ramp that goes up and up as it circles the tower. We decided not to ascend to the Tembo Gallery though, and maybe if I ever do decide to come up here again I’ll make it a point to arrive during golden hour and make it all the way up. Also, spiral ramps are cool even if they are dizzying!
My next agenda when I return to Tokyo as far as the Skytree is concerned is to look for a place where I can take a photo of the tower jutting out like a needle point against the rest of Tokyo. Seeing it dance with light in the evening is one thing, but seeing it in its entirety against the backdrop of sky and small buildings is another.
If any of you have tips for me for traveling in Tokyo (which I just might be doing very soon again), or where I can take the said shot of the Skytree, please do me a favour and sound off below. I would really love to be here and really be here. Honestly I have to stop going on packaged tours, but that’s really what happens when you go with a big group consisting of your family plus family friends and their family times four. Still, there are some good points of fun to that, apart from the fact that I’m just really happy to get to travel with my family. 🙂