I tried my best to see Tokyo on my own, but just to make sure I saw all I could I met up with a friend who lives in the area. He had made a plan of all the things everyone should see in Tokyo.
First we went to Akhihabara, the so called “electric town”. This was the hub for all things anime and video game related. Even as someone who has never really been interested in either of those things, I have to say it was really cool to see! They have these massive multi-floor arcades that people can come to play all sorts of games. This building was an explosion of color and light. If I wanted to play a game, I wouldn’t know where to start!
On the upstairs floor, we saw some people playing a digital version of darts. It seemed very similar to a real game of darts except the computerized dartboard would automatically tally the points. It was really cool that people who wanted to play games could come here and play them with friends rather than staying at home and playing them alone.
We walked around the neighborhood for a little while and then eventually came to a store that sold a lot of traditional Japanese products and they had a huge selection of green teas. It turns out that they also had a vegan restaurant inside the store! We had to stick around for lunch. I had a delicious miso soup, different types of tofu and a few pickled vegetables. My friend called it "Monk Food" and I kinda liked that!
After lunch, we headed to the nearest train station to catch a ride to Tokyo Station. This is the main station of Tokyo and In my opinion is one of the most well-planned part of the city. Here you see small parks with trees interspersed between massive high rises. It is just beautiful here, and really makes you feel like you are in a big city, which you are. Much of Tokyo, with the exception of the pockets right outside the larger stations, feels like a smaller city. For the most part, people live as if it is a small city as well. You won’t find the fast-paced, work-centric environment that you do in New York. The streets of Tokyo are full of students, cyclists and regular townspeople running errands during the day.
This part of Tokyo was the one place that felt like an American city. We ventured through a small kids park to the place we had come all this way to see. Edo Castle is where the Tokugawa Shogun used to live back before Tokyo was Tokyo. This castle is not only full of history, but beautiful as well. Many people were lined up to sketch watercolors of this magnificent architecture. I made sure to take plenty of photos of my own before we left.
So far, Edo castle took the title of “best thing I had seen so far” but that title would be repeatedly broken that day. Next we were going to head to Tokyo tower, but first we wanted to check out the various shops beneath the train station. These shops were unlike any I had seen before. Almost all of them were based on some type of Anime studio, whether it was Studio Ghibli or Pokemon, they had a store for it. As fun as it was to see all the hype and entertainment value, I’m not one to be taken in by “souvenirs” and things of that nature. We soon headed to our next destination, the Tokyo tower.
The Tokyo tower was one of the many structures built in the mid-1900s that was meant to secure Japan a spot on the world’s stage. This was built as if to say “we too can build an Eiffel tower”. And they made sure to build it 13 meters taller than their French counterpart and with far less weight. While the purpose of this building may be a bit vain, it is really beautiful. The white and red contrast beautifully against the sky. There is also a temple nearby, so you can see a contrast between the old Japan and the modern Japan. These types of views are everywhere around Tokyo, and I was sure to take a picture every time I noticed a stark contrast.
After getting a few nice pictures of the tower, we headed to Asakusa Shrine and Senso-ji, my all time favorite place in Tokyo. Senso-ji had by far the most tourists I had seen thus far, but it was so worth it. Every once and awhile you have to do the touristy things no matter how crowded they may be. Asakusa shrine is a Shinto shrine and Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple so here you can really notice many of the differences between the two religions, as well as the differences in their architectural styles. Of course the easiest difference to point out is the Shinto religion’s use of the bright red “Torii Gate”. This is arguably one of the most prominent symbols of Japan and you will see them everywhere.
When we got to the temple complex, I got to see what I had been wanting to see the entire trip. The beautiful pagoda tower. The Senso-ji pagoda is a beautiful 5-story pagoda that looks more and more beautiful as you walk away from it. On top, there is a beautiful gold spire that looks like it could be a famous structure in its own right. Having only been in Japan for 3 days, I was blown away by this. I would soon learn that this type of architectural beauty is commonplace in this country, and this was only the beginning.
As fate would have it, Ito-en, one of Japan’s largest tea manufacturers had a booth set up outside the temple. Here they gave away free cups of green tea and offered different types of matcha desserts and the like. I have nothing against matcha desserts, I am glad people enjoy them. I just have too much of an appreciation for the straight ceremonial grade powder to add sugar to it. It was tempting however to give into to one of the many matcha-themed kiosks here, but knowing I was just a day away from enjoying some of the best matcha in the world, I was able to stay strong.
Next we would be heading to the Tokyo Skytree, one of the newest buildings in Tokyo and the second tallest building in the world. My friend really wanted to go to the observation deck up top and I was not opposed to it. What I didn’t forsee at the time is that the base of the tower was decked out with Christmas decorations. Here was one of the best Christmas markets I had seen outside of Germany. I sat down with some food and marveled at the architectural wonder in front of me. We learned that there would be over an hour wait to get to the top and decided it was not worth it. Luckily, the view from down below was free. Maybe some day I would make it to the top of the Skytree, but for now I was content. I saw more of Tokyo in one day than I ever thought was possible on my whole trip. I caught a train back to Minami Senju and turned in for the night. The next morning I would have to wake up early to visit the tea fields in Shizuoka.