Day 2 of our jaunt to Tokyo, or possibly Day 3 if you count the day we travelled over (which I don’t).
On the plan today we’d got a bit of tourism. We wanted to go see a few things while we were here but obviously Kas wasn’t over-keen on masses of walking, given that she’d be having to run 26.2 miles the following day.
We started off our day by grabbing some breakfast in a nearby Starbucks while we agreed some sort of a plan.
Our first choice location was the rather large Tokyo Skytree, which is apparently the second tallest inhabited structure on the planet. You can’t quite get all the way up it, but you can get to a rather dizzying 450m above street level.
Anyway, to get there from our hotel we took the subway tunnels to join the Toei Ōed Line underneath the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and caught a train to Kuramae Station. From here we needed to change for the
Toei Asakusa Line, which looks very easy on the tube map but in practice is a little more difficult. There are, in fact, two completely separate stations with a 350m walk down the street in between them. It must have been the first place in Tokyo we’d been to where there wasn’t a network of underground tunnels. Anyway, we found it eventually and caught another train to Oshiage Station, which according to wikipedia is “adjacent to the Tokyo Skytree Complex”. That’s a euphemistic way of saying that the station is at the bottom level of a seemingly 50-floor shopping centre that you have to walk through to get to the Skytree at the top. I exaggerate somewhat, but it did take a while. No doubt if you’re well versed in such things you can find a way of walking round the outside and straight into the tower.
The first rather excellent thing we noticed about the Skytree was that they have a separate entrance for foreigners. It probably costs more than being a local, but it means you get to jump the big queue and just queue up behind however many other non-Japanese were trying to get in. In our case that was about 15 people only, whereas the locals entrance was stacked up miles out of the door and around the corner. I’m all in favour of a bit of Tommy-Tourist bonus when you’re on a tight timescale, even if it does cost a bit extra. We were in the lifts inside 10 minutes of entering the building.
The lifts didn’t seem like lifts at all. There was a vague sensation of travelling upwards but nothing like what you expect for a lift that takes you up 350 metres in a minute. First stop on the lift is the platform at 350m, which is one that everyone has to go to, It was kind of busy when we got there so we proceeded pretty much straight away up to the second lift and the 450m platform, which was a little quieter and also quite a lot lighter. The floor on this level is a lighter colour. There’s a gently sloping walkway around on this platform which brings you out at a point a couple of floors above where you exit the lift. Most confusing if you’re not expecting it. In between those floors, and walking around the platform, you get some impressive views in all directions around the city, and also a quick gallery of various bits of Anime artwork.
We should also have been able to see Mount Fuji from this height, but as with the whole of the weekend, the atmospheric conditions meant there was too much haziness to see even across the city of Tokyo, never mind as far as Fuji.
After we’d had our fill of high altitude we sat at the bottom (outside) and had a drink whilst watching people muck about on an outdoor ice rink. It was still quite cold, despite (or because of) the sunshine. While we were sitting down we discussed some route planning for our afternoon. We wanted to go over to the Sensō-ji, which appeared to be about a mile away on foot. Having come up on the train and been standing more or less still all morning we agreed that it would be good to stretch our legs for a while rather than getting on trains. Anyway, the nearest station to Sensō-ji seemed to be half a mile away, so we were going to have to do some walking anyway.
On our way over there we grabbed a handful of geocaches and took a few arty photos of things we were passing. We stumbled across a little oasis of calm at the Ushijima Shrine and then crossed the river to a fairly busy riverside walkway where Kas sat for a few minutes while I was rummaging in the undergrowth looking for tupperware.
Sensō-ji wasn’t far from here. We entered the site from the (less preferred) north side and meandered our way into a bit of a crowd. Well, I suppose it was mid-afternoon on a sunny Saturday, but it was really very busy with lots of people doing various kinds of temple activity, much of which seemed to involve buying small offerings and then giving them away or setting fire to them.
There was an interesting mix of styles of dress too, with quite a few people choosing to adopt some very traditional Japanese dress when making their visit here. I’m not sure if this was genuine or just something for the tourists, of which there were plenty of others as well as ourselves.
The basic form here is that there are several traditional shrine / temple buildings all immaculately painted in red with gold decoration. We didn’t go inside because neither of us is religious nor do we understand the particular habits of this religion, so it would seem a bit of an insult. However, there was lots of activity going on outside which meant that a trip inside didn’t seem necessary.
From the temple there’s a long walkway heading south which is flanked by rows of tat stalls selling souvenirs of varying degrees of rubbishness, at the end of which is a formal gate which was also home to a geocache. That one took a little while to find, especially given that it was really busy.
Once past that gate, one was essentially back out into the open again, and all that remained was for us to find a metro station to get home. This was harder than it seemed, but eventually we found the right entrance for Asakusa Station. Before climbing aboard, we took the opportunity to stop for half an hour to grab a sandwich and a drink. It was only mid-afternoon and we were ready for a bit of a rest, plus Kas had expressed a desire from here for not doing much more walking, and going back to the hotel.
The sandwiches were nice and then we picked our way back home by more or less retracing our morning journey back to Tochōmae Station.
I left Kas here so that she could walk through the underpasses back to the hotel while I went for a bit of a walk to find a few of the geocaches in Shinjuku, with varying degrees of success.
By the time I got back to the hotel it had gone dark, so we made a quick turnaround and then headed out for some dinner. We got about half a block along the road towards Shinjuku Station before spotting a pizza/pasta restaurant at street level. We ordered a simple pasta dish each and then had our first experience of being told we absolutely couldn’t leave a tip, and after that it was time for an early night, because Kas had got some running jaunt to be getting on with in the morning.