Tokyo Traveler Tales – Part 2: Tokyo and thereabouts

This is the second in a series of posts on my recent trip to Japan. Here is the itinerary of our trip to provide some context to the time we spent in Japan.
Saturday (Day 0): Flew out of US.
Sunday (Day 1): Arrived in Tokyo at night. Checked into hotel in Tokyo.
Monday (Day 2): Day #1 in Tokyo covering Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Shinjuku National Garden, Harajuku, and Shibuya Starbucks intersection at night.
Tuesday (Day 3): Day #2 in Tokyo – day trip to Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi (planned tour). Night stay in Shinjuku.
Wednesday (Day 4): Morning train to Narai-juku. Spend day in Narai-juku. Evening train to Kyoto via Nagoya. Night stay in downtown Kyoto.
Thursday (Day 5): Day 1 in Kyoto covering Nijoji castle, Kinkakuji temple and Ginkakuji temple.
Friday (Day 6): Day 2 in Kyoto covering Fushimi-Inari (Vermillion Gates), Nishiki market and generally exploring city by foot. Evening Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo. Night stay in Nihonbashi.
Saturday (Day 7): Day 2 in Tokyo (shopping focused) covering Ginza and Akhihabara.
Sunday (Day 8): Early morning flight back to the US.

 

In the first post, I talked about my motivation to travel to Japan and how we went about planning for the trip. In this post, I will talk about our time in Tokyo.

As you can see our Japan trip was bookended by stays in Tokyo. This was intentional. Since we were checking in and out of hotels on an almost daily basis, we didn’t have the luxury of shopping until the end of the trip. Japan offers so many interesting things to see and buy that we felt it deserved a day on its own and so we had to schedule a day in Tokyo at the end of the trip. This way, we didn’t walk around lugging it for the entire week. Of course, it is a different story altogether that I stole that day entirely for myself by spending it stationery, manga and electronic shops. More on that in a bit.

Day #1 – Asakusa, Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya
We landed in Tokyo late the previous night so this was really our first day in town. My wife had done extensive research on how to get from Iidabashi where we were staying to get to other spots in Tokyo. So we picked up a day pass on the metro and started our sightseeing in right earnest. We started with the Sensoji temple in Asakusa.

 

Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo founded over 1400 years ago. This spot was also a good quick introduction to the crowds in Tokyo. As soon as we saw the road leading up to the temple we were reminded of the hustling streets back in India. Specifically this. And yes, it was pretty crowded. This was also the moment we realized that cherry blossoms had not bloomed in Tokyo yet which was a bummer. We waded through shops peddling umbrellas and ninja toys and sweetmeats and sweets and meats to the temple. The temple itself was beautiful as was the garden next to it. It was also an interesting contrast looking at the temple with the Tokyo high-rises in the background. Old and new.

 

The Sumida river runs close by and we had read about cherry blossom trees lining up the roads next to it. So we walked in the hopes of spotting some blossoms. We did, but it was very few. What we did see was the unique building that can only be described as weird, the Asahi Beer Building with the odd looking flame on top. I swear, to us it looked like a golden radish. It is unmissable and uniquely weird.

 

We took the train to head to our next hanami at the Shinjuku National Garden. We got there and realized we were famished. Worry not as there was a Neapolitan pizzeria nearby where we treated ourselves to a fantastic margherita pizza.Food in, we walked to the garden which was packed for hanami with locals and tourists on what was turning out to be a pretty cloudy and chilly day. We walked through the length of the large park with the occasional blossom here and there. We were feeling bummed on the lack of quality blossoms when we happened upon this wonderful grove of blossoms at their peak. It was gorgeous.

 

We wrapped up and walked a bit and then took a cab to Harajuku. We weren’t sure what to expect to Harajuku but Takeshita street toon dispelled that doubt. What a crowd. Ranganathan street in Japan. Throngs of people, eating and shopping. We dropped into a large Daiso (much bigger than the ones in US) and the little guy picked up a gigantic cotton candy in rainbow colors. Rain started falling and we picked up an umbrella at a nearby store and headed to the train station. We were tired but wanted to finish off Shibuya intersection before heading back. The Shibuya junction was even more packed in a much larger scale compared to Takeshita street. Great sight at night. We took a train back to our hotel and promptly lost our way from the station to the hotel. A nearby Indian restaurant employee was helpful enough to point us the right way. Long way, many new things seen, tired and off to sleep.

 

Day #2 – Day trip to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
The second day was dedicated to a tour to Mt.Fuji. We boarded the tour bus at a nearby hotel and were taken to a bus depot not far away where we had to jump into one of a dozen or more tourist buses headed in different directions. We settled down with twenty odd folks on a trip to Hakone and Mt.Fuji. The bus had to take a circuitous route due to an accident and the guide entertained us with stories of Japan and their culture. We found out that a recent cold front had dumped a ton of snow at Mt.Fuji and we were lucky that the tour was open. We were not going to go as high as we had originally hoped though. We reached Fuji in a couple of hours. The snow capped Fuji was a sight to behold. Would have loved to go farther into the park. We then were taken to a nearby restaurant for a traditional Japanese meal. We had signed up for a vegetarian meal and were given a melange of fruits and veggies in a platter. It was tasty.

 

From there, we drove to the banks of Lake Aashi where we took a ferry to the other side of the lake to then take the ropeway up 1800 feet to a shrine. It was cold and snowed in but what a gorgeous sight up and down. We made our way back to Shinjuku bus depot around 8 at night and then to our hotel. We were famished and tired. A quick google search told us that “restaurant Muthu” was not far and we walked over to get an average and overpriced but definitively vegetarian meal before calling it a night.

 

Day #7 – Ginza, Akhihabara
We got back to Tokyo on Friday night from our trip to Kyoto (more on that on my next post). We had reserved a furnished apartment in Nihonbashi and after a comedy of errors (on my part), we settled down at our place later than desired and pretty tired. We didn’t do much that night.

 

The next day was our last full day in Japan and we had a ton of shopping to do. So without further ado, we stepped out only to notice a nice little stationery shop 25 steps from our apartment. I loaded up on some basic notebooks and inks, went back to the hotel, dropped things off and restarted our day out. We took a train to Ginza where we saw people, massive stores and more people and more massive stores. We walked around soaking it all in on our way to the stationery Mecca of Itoya.

 

So I can spend another 500 lines describing Itoya but I won’t bore you with it. I will keep it simple. Suffice to say, it is an analog tools lovers paradise. It has pens, pens and more pens. And paper- normal, premium, extra premium. Notebooks, inks, craft material and so much more. We spent the next 3.5 hours in Itoya just exploring the 8 floors of stationery awesomeness. Itoya also boasts a 12th floor Cafe called Cafe Stylo which has a healthy vegetarian menu which was a blessing for us. We also hopped across the street to another Itoya where the little guy and I spent time crafting our perfect notebook. We picked our notebook cover, elastic, paper type and quality and metal studs. We also selected some text to go in the front. The kind folks at Itoya asked us to come back later in the evening to pick up our handcrafted notebook. We got out and took the train to the other dream destination in Tokyo, Akhihabara.

 

Akhihabara is a different kind of a beast compared to Itoya. It is the entertainment and electronics hub of Tokyo. It offers the dazzle of anime and manga to its devotees. It also offers some massive electronics stores like Yodobashi Camera. We had to pick up some manga collectibles for some relatives and went hunting at Mandarake– an 8 floor building filled with geeks and their super expensive toys and comics. After 2 hours of walking around manga stores amidst many many girls and women, all in school girl uniform, we went to Yodobashi Camera.

 

Yodobashi Camera is an massive 8-floor store filled to the hilt with electronics of all kind and folks hawking them to great effect. We checked out the hundreds of camera lenses, smart phones, Bluetooth speakers and so much more. We had to leave soon to head to Itoya to pick up our notebooks. We rushed back to Itoya, picked up our notebooks and then upon the advise of the smart wife, went hunting for a rare specimen- a vegan Ramen place T’s Tan Tan. After 30 minutes of hunting and lots of walking, we landed at our ramen place, deep in the bowels of the Tokyo train station. The ramen was spectacular.  It was a great way to finish off our trip. We headed back to our apartment and started packing.

 

The next morning, we took our train to Narita and headed back home. In the last and final post of this series, I will describe our experiences in Kyoto.
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