Tokyo – Highlights

As I mentioned in my last post (well, the one before the post where I got distracted by the sushi), on our first day in Tokyo we did a full day tour to hit some of the main attractions (and to stop me from screaming into my guidebook. Tokyo is pretty overwhelming at first!) Our guide was chock full of fun facts and we packed a lot into the day, so it was an excellent introduction to the city (and I really like to know what I’m looking at, which doesn’t always happen with general wandering).

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The Meiji Shrine (entrance above) is one of the big players on the Tokyo shrine scene. The Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, used to visit the area a lot; after the death of the Emperor in 1912, the Shinto shrine was built to commemorate the changes made under the Meiji Restoration (which played a big part in the modernisation of Japan). Fun fact: Hillary Clinton visited the shrine on her first official visit as Secretary of State. Wonder if she drank all the sake (barrels above – but they’re said to be ’empty’!)

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Imperial Palace East Garden

Ah, the Imperial Palace. This is allegedly where the current Emperor and his wife live, but like Mount Fuji, I wasn’t able to see it for myself, so I can’t verify its existence (kidding, kidding – it’s only open two days a year). We were allowed into the East Garden, which was glorious and boasted all the staples of a Japanese garden: ponds, tea house, footbridges, bonsai trees. It has a sort of regal peacefulness about it, and you forget you’re in a major city – though skyscrapers are clearly visible from most areas. Classic meeting of old and new.

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The Asakusa neighborhood is right off the Sumida River and has a fun, colorful vibe – it has a great market area where you can get touristy souvenirs and delicious treats. Mike is a huge red bean fan so we found some daifuku (rice cakes with sweet fillings). The main attraction is the Sensoji (or Asakusa Kannon) Temple, Tokyo’s oldest, and Buddhist this time. Most Japanese identify with both Buddhism and Shintoism, deriving different elements from either religion to make up a greater whole.

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My guidebook described Akihabara as ‘an attack on the senses’ – this is where anime and otaku reign supreme. You’ll find bright neon lights and rows and rows of electronic goods (and, of course, your choice of maid cafes). We happened to be there during the day but I’m told night-time is when all the action happens (and when all the manga-loving teenagers come out to play!)

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Harajuku – Gwen Stefani says it best. Fashion, shopping, pigtails, it’s all here, especially when school’s out and the Japanese girls are out in force. A mixin’ and a matchin’, you can find all sorts of dainty, feminine numbers (and yes, Hello Kitty is around, but when is she ever not in Tokyo?)

I know what you’re thinking – there’s not a lot of sushi on this page! Until tomorrow…

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