Tokyo Day 5 (last day): Ueno Park & Views of Mount Fuji

Before leaving Tokyo, I wanted to check out Ueno Park, which had been recommended to me by a friend and I’d seen as a top destination on several websites (I use TripAdvisor a lot, by the way, for reviews and ideas).

Our flight wasn’t until later in the afternoon, either, so we took the train to Ueno Station, grabbed a quick bite, rented a locker and stowed our two suitcases so we didn’t have to roll them around the park. How convenient! It was a nice, sunny day, and it’s a pretty big park. You could spend hours there.

At the park you’ll find several temples, a shrine, a large pond with a fleet of paddle boats and swan boats for rent, a zoo (Ueno Zoo: Japan’s oldest zoo, known for its giant pandas), a small children’s amusement park, multiple museums, and more. Apparently, the park grounds were originally part of the Kaneiji Temple, one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples during the Edo Period. The grounds were later converted into a Western-style park and designated in 1873 as the first park in Japan. Continue reading Tokyo Day 5 (last day): Ueno Park & Views of Mount Fuji

Tokyo Day 4: Kagurazaka, Akihabara, Kanda Myojin Shrine & sukiyaki

Luckily, we were able to meet up with an old college friend of mine during our time in Japan, as well. We met Masayuki at the Kagurazaka Station, which is located in a charming, European feeling neighborhood. Kagurazaka is an area known for its French population and its sloping street lined with many cafes, shops and French eateries. Masayuki, a Tokyo native, took us to a lovely cafe for some tea. It was a very windy day again, but the cafe staff were nice enough to bring out blankets for everyone waiting outside in the chilly conditions. (Service — one thing I noticed the Japanese are very good at.)

From there, we headed over to Akihabara, popular for its diehard anime and manga fan culture, as well as its many electronic shops. We didn’t linger long, mainly just walked around a bit and explored an arcade full of video games and near-R-rated anime figurines and prizes.

Not far from the busy entertainment area, we came across the  Kanda Myojin Shrine, a Shinto shrine with almost 1,300 years of history. Continue reading Tokyo Day 4: Kagurazaka, Akihabara, Kanda Myojin Shrine & sukiyaki

Tokyo Day 3: Shibuya/Shinjuku, okonomiyaki, Meiji Shrine & purikura photo booths

It’s fun to have friends in other countries. On our third day in Tokyo, Will’s friend Scott took the train up from Osaka to spend the day with us. Valentine’s Day, actually. 🙂 Aww.

First order of business? Find some okonomiyaki for lunch. We got off at Shibuya Station, and actually, first first, I had to pay tribute to Hachiko. You know, Hachiko, the Akita dog that would greet his owner daily at Shibuya Station when he returned from work, and continued to loyally wait there every day for nine years after his owner had died? (Sigh, so sad. Don’t watch the movie or you’ll cry your eyes out.) They have a statue of him there as soon as you exit the station via… the Hachiko exit. Then, we crossed the street — that is, the famous Shibuya crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world! Many of you have seen it in movies, but here was our view of it:

Continue reading Tokyo Day 3: Shibuya/Shinjuku, okonomiyaki, Meiji Shrine & purikura photo booths

Tokyo Day 2: Sensoji Temple, Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Odaiba

On our second day in Tokyo, we took the train to Asakusa to visit the Sensoji Temple (Buddhist) and the Asakusa Shrine (Shinto). It was a beautiful, clear day, which made it nice to walk around. We pretty easily found our way to the Nakamise Shopping Street, a strip of shops/stands selling souvenirs, food, shoes, and more. It was pretty crowded! I saw a lot of trinkets and items that were cute and that I wanted to buy … but Will reasoned that we’ll find nicer stuff in Osaka (we’re planning a trip there later this Spring), so I resisted the urge. We also spotted various ladies just out and about in their kimonos, which I didn’t expect.

The Nakamise Shopping Street runs from the Kaminarimon Gate to the Hozomon Gate, the entrance to the Asakusa Shrine. Both gates had those large lanterns and the guardian deities on either side, as well as tons of people trying to take their photo in the same spot (naturally).

After visiting multiple temples on this trip, I observed there are similar rituals performed at each one. Continue reading Tokyo Day 2: Sensoji Temple, Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Odaiba

Tokyo Day 1: Imperial Palace, Ginza, Capsule Hotel

You always hear about how amazing Japan is. They have robots, Anime, smart toilets, cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji, and on and on. I’ve been hearing some of this for years from Will who, as some of you know, lived in Japan years ago. So, it was only a matter of time that I’d end up visiting someday. And, conveniently enough, it’s only a couple hours (plane ride) from South Korea.

We traveled to Tokyo for just five days, but, surprisingly enough, we were able to see most of the top attractions and do most of what we wanted, including eating delicious food. That said, I’ll try my best to share with you some of the highlights of our trip in the next few posts.

Day 1

The flight over on Japan Airlines was short and sweet, and we were fed a meal (yay for free meals). Once we landed in Haneda Airport, Will used the Tokyo Subway mobile app to get us to our hotel, which seemed fairly easy. Already my first impression was, “wow, everything is so clean!” Seriously, everything. The floors, the public bathrooms, the trains. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our bags and headed back out since it was still early in the day.

We had some tasty ramen at the Marunouchi Building (in what felt like a business district, right by Tokyo Station), and walked over to the Imperial Palace. Continue reading Tokyo Day 1: Imperial Palace, Ginza, Capsule Hotel

My Private Tour of the National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea in Yongsan offers plenty of guided tours, but I partly kid when I say my tour was “private.” The only reason I ended up getting a private, one-on-one tour of this grand museum is because no one else showed up for the 10:30am English tour! It was just me and my guide, a nice Korean man who spent several years living in San Francisco, so his English was pretty good.

According to my tour book, the National Museum of Korea is the largest museum in Asia. According to the Korea tourism website, it’s the largest museum in Korea. Either way, it’s massive. While the museum has a collection of more than 150,000 pieces, it actually only displays roughly 15,000 of these at any given time.

Admission is free for the permanent exhibition, but varies for their special exhibitions (more on these later). The permanent exhibition is spread across three floors and is divided into the following sections: Prehistory & Ancient History, Medieval & Early Modern History, Calligraphy & Painting, Donated Works, Sculpture & Crafts, and Asian Art. I had no idea — until my guide pointed it out, of course — that the museum contains numerous Korean national treasures. These include including the Pensive Bodhisattva, Goryeo Celadon Openwork Burner, Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa  Site, and Gold Crown from Silla. Continue reading My Private Tour of the National Museum of Korea