We decided to not do too much on our first full day in Tokyo, so we started at the Hamarikyu Gardens, took a ferry up to Asakusa, wandered around the Sensoji temple area, then walked around Asakusa. The evening's excursion was to Tokyo Tower.
We figured we'd have a pretty rough night of sleep, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. We were each awake for a bit and both wok about an hour or so before we wanted to, so we figured that wasn't too bad.
Leftover rice from the previous night's bento boxes was good enough for us for breakfast. Ready with maps and a working wifi hot spot, and a suggested walking tour, we set out to play tourist.
In Seattle, cell phone coverage is just starting to roll out in light rail, one carrier at a time. On the Tokyo subways, it's not unusual to see well over 80% of the people doing stuff on the phone. The wifi hot spot I rented uses SoftBank, and coverage was great. Another thing I saw were ads attached to most of the train's handholds.
We exited the subway right in front of the Tsukiji fish market, and had planned to go there to both check it out and to get a little more for breakfast, but forgot that it was Wednesday and the market was closed. We'll need to try to go back another day.
A couple blocks later we found the entrance to the Hama-rikyu Garden which was laid out during the Edo period. I found it interesting to see a different kind of Japanese garden, much more spread out than the typical Japanese garden you see in the states. In addition, the contrast with the high-rise buildings gave it a very East Meets West feeling.
Some of the highlights on the map which we went by were a 300-year pine (with several supports holding its limbs), a wisteria trellis, and duck hunting blinds. We even got a peek at Tokyo Tower.
Boat ride on the Sumida River
We knew we wanted to take a boat up the Sumida River, but the kiosk wasn't open yet. There were several people hanging out around there, but we decided to wander around some more. Getting back, there were more people waiting, and the kiosk opened right on time. The woman slid the cover away from the machine, and people started buying tickets. Soon after, the boat came to the dock, and after people got off, we boarded.
There were not very many people on the boat, so we had our choice of seats, and were able to move around if we wanted to. The boat first went a few minutes south to Hinode Pier, where a lot of people boarded, so that prevented us from moving around; fortunately, we had pretty good seats to get good views. The announcements (in Japanese and English) were very hard to hear, so we picked up some of the words, but for the most part they were background noise.
We went under more than a dozen bridges, each one different. Purely by coincidence, I happened to be wearing a shirt which had drawings of all the bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland.
The last bridge we went under was the Asumabashi Bridge, with its distinctive bright red color. The color is so intense, some people think it's too red.
As we pulled into the Asakusa dock, there were a lot of people waiting in line to board. As we were going ashore, we noticed that there was another section on the top of the boat which was closed off; that would have been an even better view, and I wouldn't have had to hold my camera out the window for several shots.
After getting off, several people spotted the Asahi building with a golden flame on its roof and took photos. Yeah, I took some too.
Going into Asakusa, we stopped by the Asakusa Information Center which has a large map of Tokyo with the buildings represented by blocks of wood. Across the street was the Kaminarimon Gate, one of two we would encounter during the day. This one is very popular for photos with both tourists and locals. The street signals in front of the gate are set so pedestrians have an all-way walk for one cycle; as soon as it started, a bunch of people rushed to the middle of the street (some in kimonos) so they could have their picture taken with the gate.
Just past the gate is Nakamise Dori, a pedestrian street lined with stalls of vendors selling all kinds of wares. We sampled some senbei, and I did buy a few taiyaki, although the ones I got were not the classic fish shape. You could see a guy making them, pouring and placing ingredients into the iron, then cooking the confections.
There were a lot of people walking around, but I wouldn't say it was all that crowded, since we were able to move around without much trouble. During the height of tourist season, seems one would have to be pretty dedicated to make it through the whole street.
Before tackling the temple at the end of the street, we decided to get some lunch. After a bit of online searching, we settled on Asakusaseimenjo, a ramen and tsukemen shop a few blocks away. We found it with little trouble, and waited for a place to eat. A group of people left the counter, so we were seated there. We did take a glance at the menu on the outside, but once inside, we stared at the menu and tried to pick out enough hiragana to figure out what was what. No luck. Fortunately, one of the employees fetched an English menu, and we were on our way.
We decided to try a couple different things, so Melody ordered a bowl of ramen and I got an order of tsukemen (noodles that you dip into a sauce). Upon being served, the server made sure we knew where the ohashi were, and pantomimed to me to make sure I knew to dip the noodles. We dug in.
Both meals were good, but the ramen was really good. The noodles were extremely thin with just the right amount of tooth, the other ingredients were really good, and the broth was great. It was one of the two best bowls of ramen I've ever had. The other was at a restaurant in Honolulu which had a very thick broth; I believe the restaurant is no longer in business.
We returned to Nakamise Dori and checked out a small shrine and garden along the street. Past the vendors, we went through the Hozomon Gate, which is just as big, red, and ornate as the Kaminarimon Gate. Past that was a huge incense burner with big crowds around it; there was a much smaller one at a small temple off to the side, but no one was at that one. We then went to one of the stations where you could get a fortune. ¥100 goes into a slot, you shake a big steel container until a wooden stick falls out, open a drawer that matches the number on the stick (someone near us helped us with that part), then pull out your fortune. If it's a good one, you keep it. If it's a bad fortune (or if you don't like it), you can negate it by tying it to one of the wires nearby. Melody got a fortune which was a good one.
The Sensoji Temple is huge, and we went up the many steps to take a look inside. The ceilings were large enough to have paintings on them, like a Japanese version of the Sistine Chapel.
After stepping out of Sensoji Temple, we took a look at other shrines in the area and a small koi pond.
On the way back to the hotel, we walked through Kappabashi Dori, which is a wholesale district for restaurant items. We saw dishes, furniture, clothing, and even a store which sold the plastic food displays.
As we got closer to our room, we stopped into a small store named Lemon Pie, where we split a slice of (what else?) lemon meringue pie.
We were ready to relax for a while
We hopped back onto the subway towards Tokyo Tower and went to the food court to find some dinner. We decided on a curry house where we were faced with our first food order vending machine. This one was pretty simple; put in your money, push the button next to what you want, then give the slip to the person at the counter. We got chicken donburi and a chicken curry with egg. It didn't take us long to go through our meals.
After procuring tickets to go up the tower, we went to the elevator for our ride to the 150m viewing platform (the 250m level was closed for renovations). We were able to pick out a few places in the Tokyo night skyline, but not knowing the city very well, it was hard to get a good feel since most of what we could see were lit buildings.
One thing that I readily picked out was the intersection came across just outside of Akabanebashi Station. I've seen crazier intersections, but what made this one interesting was a huge sign which indicated which roads were green and which were red.
Leaving Tokyo Tower, we retraced our steps back to the hotel and settled in for the evening.