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. The pouring of water on your hands, the drawing of your fortune (if you get a bad fortune, you tie it up and leave it on a rack there so it doesn’t go home with you), incense burning, and of course saying your prayer (sometimes you clap, sometimes you don’t, but you always offer a coin/money). There was a long line of people waiting to say their prayer at the Sensoji Temple. We thought it might be busier than usual because of the Lunar New Year, but a friend told us it’s always that busy. Interesting. The temple grounds and gardens were beautiful and pleasant to walk through. A little ways away was the Asakusa Shrine, just a small shrine.
This day with clear skies was also the perfect opportunity to visit the Tokyo Skytree and the Tokyo Tower. If you ever visit Tokyo, it’s near impossible to not notice the Skytree in the skyline. It’s huge! It officially opened in 2012, so it’s fairly new, and stands at 634 meters — in fact, in 2011 it was declared the tallest tower in the world by Guiness World Records. Technically it’s a broadcasting tower, but visitors can buy tickets to check out the views from two different observation decks — at 350 meters and 450 meters. It’s amazing. Simply ridiculous to see soooo many buildings stretching for soooo many miles! If it’s a clear day (like it was for us), you can also see Mt. Fuji in the distance. Just stunning. We visited both observations decks and it was well worth it. The elevator rides are fast and fun, too (yes, your ears definitely pop).
As if we hadn’t had enough panoramic views for one day, we decided to go see the Tokyo Tower as well. Well, that is, after having some my first takoyaki for lunch (wheat flour-based batter balls filled with diced octopus and other stuff and topped with tuna flakes and Japanese mayo). I liked them! Nice fried goodness. Ok so anyway, Tokyo Tower opened in 1958, so it’s been around much longer and I assume is more iconic than the Skytree. Even though it “only” stands at 333 meters, I liked that you could actually discern specific buildings and structures when looking out at the view, versus seeing everything practically microscopic. There’s a small cafe and even a small Shinto shrine up in the observation deck. The tower resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and looks great lit up at night.
With night setting in, we hopped on the train and headed to Odaiba, an entertainment area by Tokyo Bay with shopping malls, restaurants, waterfront parks, arcades, and the Giant Sky Wheel. We walked around Palette Town and discovered the Venus Fort mall, which is designed to look like a medieval European village. I kid not! It was just surprising, because on the outside it looks just like any other mall. But when you step inside, it’s like being at The Venetian in Las Vegas, with the fake facades and the fake sky-ceiling. It also randomly houses a small auto museum, which Will enjoyed.
Our day wouldn’t have been complete without taking in some additional panoramic views — from atop the Giant Sky Wheel, a 115-meter ferris wheel, one of the world’s largest. The views were great and all, but it was a really, really windy night! Even Will was a bit nervous during our slooow and shaky ride, but luckily there was a lady narrating the whole time over the speakers with a very soothing voice and some relaxing music. Haha. I don’t know why I do these things, being afraid of heights and all. But it was fun. 🙂
Up next: Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, Hachiko, purikura photo booths, Harajuku & okonomiyaki