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The Imperial Palace Tour

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Tokyo has been at the center of Japanese politics since the early 1600s, when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu upset the balance of power by moving his court here, far away from the traditional capital of Kyoto. Ieyasu’s original castle is now gone, replaced by the more modern Imperial Palace. We joined a brief tour to get a peek behind the gates.

Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo

It seems almost unfair that, in the dead center of a city so swamped with skyscrapers and cement, the royal family enjoys life in a lush, spacious garden. The Imperial Palace occupies a verdant park with none of the congestion suffered by the city itself, and entrance is strictly regulated. The moats and gates which still protect the palace may not be entirely effective against modern militaries, but they do a fair job of impeding gawking visitors like us.

In order to visit the Imperial Palace, you have to register for a free tour. Do this well in advance, as spots fill up quickly. When our date came around, we joined about a hundred other tourists, most of them Japanese, in front of the Kikyo-Mon Gate. It was immediately apparent that we weren’t about to enjoy an intimate tour into the inner workings of the palace. There would be no private tea session with the Empress. No, this was about as cattle-herd as tours get. After picking up audio-guides, visitors are led without pause along a rigid path, past the palace and a few other historic buildings. Stragglers are chastened by attentive guards.

We were fine with the strict rules. This is the Imperial Palace, after all. We marched dutifully along, listening to descriptions of buildings like the Fujimi-yagura, a three-floor keep from which the Shogun could view Mount Fuji. This and a few others structures date from the days of Edo Castle, which burnt to the ground in 1873.

Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo

The current palace was built in 1888, and isn’t at all how I’d have expected the home of the Japanese Emperor to look. It’s not inelegant, but the building is long and flat, most resembling an extended hall. We were only able to see one side of it, from the Kyuden Totei Plaza, where our tour paused. This plaza is opened to the general public twice a year, on New Year’s and the Emperor’s birthday, when Akihito himself appears on the balcony alongside his family to greet well-wishers.

After viewing the palace, our tour crossed the Nijubashi Bridge, which we had admired while in the Outer Garden. From here, we had a view of the Fushimi-yagura keep, which was moved intact to Tokyo from its original location at Kyoto Castle, and is considered one of Japan’s architectural treasures.

Our visit was done in about an hour and although we’d had just a cursory glimpse of the palace and its grounds, it was still a worthwhile excursion. This is one of the most historic places in Japan, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to visit, however briefly.

Location on our Map

Great Youth Hostels In Tokyo

Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo
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April 24, 2014 at 9:05 am Comments (2)

A Perfectly Normal Day in Yoyogi Park

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It’s hard to say exactly when Tokyo started to frighten me, but it was probably during our visit to Yoyogi Park. While watching Japanese rockabillies bounce-step to Joan Jett, I moved out of the way for a couple dressed in… let’s call it “Victorian Gothic Steampunk, Pastels Version.” And that’s when it hit home: something’s not quite right in this city.

Yoyogi Park Tokyo

I’m from the American Midwest, where brightly-colored shoelaces are a rebellious act of fashion outrage. While I can respect the eccentric style of others, I’ve never had the slightest desire to dress myself in weird clothes. But in Yoyogi Park, for the first time ever, I felt a spark of jealousy for the world’s fashion misfits. Is it “ridiculous” to walk around in public dressed like a cutesy-pie french maid? Or is it ridiculously awesome?

And then I imagined what I’d look like waltzing around as a french maid. No, some things are better left to the Japanese.

We had a blast in Yoyogi Park, which seems to be where the city’s fashion freaks congregate for the weekend. There was so much going on here, so many odd sights, such as groups of pop-idol wannabes practicing, dogs dressed up as crocodiles, badminton battles, picnics with pyramids of empty beer cans, cool guys with dreadlocks tapping bongos, and an honest-to-god, rough-and-tumble group of head-banging Japanese rockabillies.

Yoyogi, one of Tokyo’s biggest parks, was originally used as training grounds for the army. After WWII, it provided accommodation space for the US military and was given the nickname “Washington Heights.” In 1964, the park served as the site of the Olympic Village. Adjacent is the Yoyogi National Stadium, built for the Olympics, with its distinctive suspended roof. When we walked by, youngsters were streaming into the stadium to attend a concert for Androp, a popular (and pretty awesome) Japanese alternative rock band.

Go on the weekend, pack a blanket and a bento box, make sure your camera is charged, and prepare yourself for some insanity. Yoyogi is one of the strangest parks you’ll likely ever see.

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Our Apartment In Tokyo

Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
Yoyogi Park Tokyo
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April 23, 2014 at 9:39 am Comments (4)

The Meiji Shrine

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Directly across from one of Tokyo’s craziest areas (Harajuku) is one of its most serene. Built to guard the spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Consort Shōken, the Meiji Shrine is tucked away in a large evergreen forest, which neither the city’s noise nor stress can reach.

The Meiji Shrine

Emperor Meiji was largely responsible for bringing Japan into the modern age. After wresting power from the Tokugawa Shogunate and re-establishing the empire in 1868, he instituted a series of political, economic and cultural reforms meant to make Japan competitive with the West. Meiji died in 1912, followed shortly thereafter by the Dowager Empress Shōken, and plans were immediately drawn to honor them with a Shinto shrine.

The forest north of Yoyogi Park was a favorite escape for the couple, who would rest from their imperial duties by taking long walks through fields of irises. Back then, the forest was quite far from the city. But Tokyo has grown a lot, and today, Meiji Park is right in the middle, within easy walking distance of Shibuya.

Entrance to the park is gained by passing under an enormous torii, the traditional gate which is typical of Shinto shrines. The torii seems to signal passage into another world. Having just left the city and the cosplay-attired girls of Harajuku behind, it was surreal to see the broad trail leading slightly downhill into a woods thickly populated with towering old-growth forest.

The Meiji Shrine

The path to the shrine is long and full of distractions. For example, we encountered an enormous wall of barrels filled with French wine and sake, left as a tribute to the Emperor. There was also a pictorial commemoration of the Empress Consort Shōken, who dedicated her privileged life to helping those less fortunate. We were also delayed by the presence of a large Japanese garden hidden within the forest. Toward the north of the park, we spent time watching students practicing judo inside a classic dojo, and then paid entrance to a small museum which holds some of the Emperor’s treasures.

So by the time we actually made it to the center of the park, the shrine felt almost like an afterthought. “Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here!” Dependably surrounded by bowing worshipers, photo-snapping tourists, solemn monks, and wedding parties, this shrine was completed in 1920 but had to be totally reconstructed after WWII. It was crowded during our visit, but the atmosphere was festive and enjoyable, and I couldn’t help but think that the spirits of Meiji and Shōken would be pleased by its popularity.

Location on our Map

Beauty Gadgets From Japan

The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
The Meiji Shrine
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April 22, 2014 at 6:53 am Comments (3)

The Plastic Foods of Kappabashi

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Perched atop the Niimi Building, the giant head of an Italian chef welcomes visitors to Kappabashi-dōri, where Tokyo’s restaurants come to buy the things they need to run their business: chopsticks, cups, bowls, knives, takeaway containers, and naturally, an infinite variety of plastic foods.

Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo

We’ve come to truly appreciate plastic food and, when deciding between restaurants, will always choose the one with the most plastic food in its windows. No, it’s not some disturbing new diet. It’s just that, in Japan, menus tend to be written in Japanese and only Japanese. (The nerve!) Not only are these plastic foods the only way for us to know what’s being offered, they’re also a convenient way to order. Rather than looking up the translation for “Curry Noodles,” we can drag the waitress over to the window and point.

On Kappabashi-dōri, we discovered the stores from which Tokyo’s restaurants buy their plastic foods. More than mere marketing tools, these fake plates of spaghetti, tonkatsu, sushi and cakes are vibrant works of art worthy of admiration. Ice cream, sashimi, hamburgers, overflowing mugs of beer… it all looked so good, I had to constantly remind myself that “This is plastic, plastic, plastic,” lest I succumb to a futile feeding frenzy.

It’s not all plastic foods on Kappabashi-dōri. There are other stores selling every kind of kitchenware you could want, from ceramic plates to tea sets, all at bargain-basement prices. This is an area meant for restaurants to buy in bulk, but unlike at Tsukiji’s wholesale fish market, visitors are more than welcome to browse and make their own purchases.

Location on our Map

Buy Fake Sushi Here

Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Attack on Titan!
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
Kappabashi Fake Food Tokyo
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April 18, 2014 at 3:06 am Comments (4)

Sakura, Sakura: The Cherry Blossoms of Tokyo

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For a short period at the beginning of April, the word “sakura” becomes a prominent noun in approximately 75% of the sentences spoken in Tokyo. Because when the city’s cherry trees bloom, there’s no talking about anything else. You’re either chatting about the blossoms, planning your picnic in the park, sitting in a rowboat under the trees, or strolling along a path while the petals flutter to the ground like the sweetest, most fragrant snowfall imaginable.

We celebrated the season by visiting a variety of Tokyo’s most popular viewing spots. Parks, paths, cemeteries… anywhere a cherry tree grew, we found people assembled around it. During these few, fleeting days, Tokyo becomes a more magical place.

Meguro River Sakura
The Meguro River

Our first sakura excursion was to the southwestern neighborhood of Meguro, where a foul-smelling river winds its way toward Tokyo Bay. Cherry trees line the banks of the Meguro, and a couple well-placed bridges provide perfect views of the blossoms. Here, we got our first taste of the massive crowds which turn out for the sakuras. We were shocked, and a little annoyed by the hundreds of photographers jostling along the bridges for a prime position. Little did we know that Meguro would be by far the least congested spot on our itinerary. [26 More Photos | Location]

Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery

One of the biggest cemeteries in Tokyo, Aoyama is famous for its cherry blossoms. Sakuras are a harbinger of winter’s end and a return to life, and their blossoming above a field of graves lends their celebrated beauty a certain symbolic weight. [34 More Photos | Location]

Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park

After Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi is the most popular spot in Tokyo for viewing the cherry blossoms. This winding channel was part of the moat which once protected the Imperial Palace, and today sports an impenetrable wall of cherry trees. A walk along the waterside and over the pedestrian bridge into Kitanomaru Park has become an essential Tokyo experience. The crowds are wearying, but should you make it to Kitanomaru, you can reward yourself with an extended nap under the blossoms. At least, that’s what we did. [57 More Photos | Location]

Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijōji

We had thought that Kichijōji’s Inokashira Park, fifteen kilometers to the west of the city center, would have less daunting crowds. Hah! We visited the park on Saturday, when the hamami (flower viewing parties) were truly getting underway, and every inch of ground was occupied by people enjoying elaborate, sake-soaked picnics.

We hadn’t been invited to a party, and I was jealous of the intoxicated fun everyone was having, but we joined in as well as possible by grabbing beer and bento-boxes from a nearby restaurant, and renting a row-boat. Traffic on the pond was crazy, and smashing into other boats was both unavoidable and hilarious, but we eventually steered ourselves to a prime location underneath a gorgeous cherry tree, where we enjoyed our meals with a view of the pond through a veil of falling petals. [32 More Photos | Location]

Sakura Sumida River Park
Sumida River Park

After spending the day in Inokashira, we returned to the city and went to the Sumida River Park near Asakusa for the evening. The trees along the bank were illuminated and the river itself was glowing with the traffic of colorful pleasure boats. There was a younger crowd here, playing music on guitars and getting progressively rowdier as the evening wore on. It looked like most of the revelers planned on sleeping outside; in fact, but by the time we left, many were already passed out. [11 More Photos | Location]

Sakura Ueno Park
Ueno Park

The atmosphere on Saturday had been one of drunken revelry, so we weren’t surprised to find that Sunday in Ueno Park was decidedly hungover. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, but this didn’t stop people from congregating in the thousands. The cherry blossoms which had arrived a mere week ago were starting to collect on the ground, and the party was winding down.

That was fine by us; we were suffering from sakura-overdose, and had visited Ueno more out of a sense of duty than pleasure. Despite our flagging energy, we didn’t want to miss the city’s most famous cherry blossom spot, and say farewell to a cultural phenomenon, the likes of which we wouldn’t soon be forgetting. [28 More Photos | Location]

Book Your Tokyo Hotel Now For The Next Sakura Season

More Photos from the Meguro River
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura
Meguro River Sakura

More Photos from Aoyama Cemetery
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo
Aoyama Cemetery Sakura Tokyo

More Photos from Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park
Sakura Chidorigafuchi and Kitanomaru Park

More Photos from Inokashira Park in Kichij?ji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichijoji
Inokashira Park in Kichij?jo

More Photos from the Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park
Sakura Sumida River Park

More Photos from Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
Sakura Ueno Park
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April 9, 2014 at 10:58 am Comments (12)

The Arakawa Tram and the Paper Museum

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The streetcars which once crisscrossed Tokyo have almost completely disappeared, made obsolete by the faster underground metro. But in the northern neighborhood of Minoya, we found a lonely tram which has survived into the present day. The Arakawa Line runs to Waseda via Asukayama Park, where we disembarked to visit a museum dedicated to paper.

Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum

Minowa, where the tram begins, borders the former red-light district of Yoshiwara. From the days of Edo right up until prostitution was finally banned in the 1950s, Yoshiwara was Tokyo’s most infamous neighborhood, where both female and male prostitutes walked the streets. But those merry days are long gone; during our short time in Yoshiwara, we couldn’t detect even the slightest whiff of the illicit. In fact, this was the sleepiest and most nondescript area of Tokyo we’d seen yet.

Tokyo’s Toden tram system made its debut in 1903, but Japan was modernizing at a lightning pace and the streetcars had vanished within a few short decades. By 1974, only the Arakawa Line was left and there were plans to close it, as well. But the citizens of Minowa fought bitterly for their beloved tram, managing to keep it in operation.

Judging by the number of people crammed inside the car with us, it appears that citizens were wise to fight for the Arakawa Line. Forty years later, it’s apparently still useful. We had shown up expecting a “nostalgic” ride, such as that offered by the antiquated cars of Istanbul, but no: this tram is used by regular locals for entirely practical purposes.

Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum

We got out at Asukayama Park, a favorite spot for cherry blossom viewing, in order to visit the Paper Museum of Tokyo, which introduces the history of the industry in Japan. This was about as interesting as it sounds, essential only for paper-enthusiasts. But we lucked out during our visit and had the chance to meet Takashi Ueda, a master of kinkarakami, or gold-embossed wallpapers. The museum was hosting a retrospective in honor of his eightieth birthday, and he was there to shake hands and answer questions.

In the basement of the museum, we had the chance to practice our paper-making skills in a workshop. It was an activity meant for small children, but we were encouraged to participate. The instructions were all in Japanese, so we had difficulty following along, much to the exasperation of eye-rolling toddlers, who weren’t shy about correcting our many mistakes. We did manage to craft a couple flimsy, uneven postcards, but I think we’ll be leaving paper-making to the masters.

Locations on our Map: Arakawa Minoya Terminal | Paper Museum

Japanese Origami

Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
Arakawa Tram And Paper Museum
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April 7, 2014 at 12:45 am Comments (0)

Pooped Out In Tokyo

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Tokyo Street Photography

Asahi Breweries is headquartered inside one of Tokyo’s stranger works of architecture. The building is meant to resemble an overflowing mug, with an amber drop of beer splashing down its side… but that drop looks an awful lot like something else. Locals have lovingly nicknamed the Asahi Beer Hall, the “Golden Poo.”

The Golden Poo sets an appropriate tone for Asakusa, a neighborhood to which we instantly warmed. There’s a sense of fun, here, in addition to the history. We spent an entire afternoon exploring Asakusa’s back streets, photographing its people, shops and architecture, and these are some of our best shots.

List Of Over 500 Hotels In Tokyo

Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography
Tokyo Street Photography

April 6, 2014 at 7:12 am Comments (2)

Asakusa Amusements

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Its reputation as the pleasure center of Tokyo has long since faded, the Kabuki theaters have relocated and geishas mostly vanished, but the northeastern neighborhood of Asakusa still boasts a few worthwhile attractions apart from the temple of Sensō-ji.

Asakusa Tokyo

From the late nineteenth century until the 1945 firebombing of WWII, Asakusa was where Tokyo came to relax. All manner of fun could be had here, from naughty red-light pleasures, to family-friendly entertainment like dancing and recitals. In 1890, the Ryounkaku (Cloud-Surpassing Tower) was built here. With twelve floors and the city’s first elevator, it was by far the tallest building in Tokyo and instantly became a favorite tourist attraction.

Asakusa was hit hard by Tokyo’s twin twentieth-century disasters. During the Kantō Earthquake of 1923, the Ryonkaku was just the most prominent of the many buildings destroyed. And after the firebombing of the Second World War, it never managed to recover its sense of glamour. Today, Tokyo’s youth shun Asakusa, preferring instead to congregate in newer neighborhoods to the west such as Shibuya and Shinjuku.

Asakusa Tokyo

But there’s still plenty to do here. After visiting the Sensō-ji temple, we couldn’t resist checking out the nearby Amuse Museum. It was a promising name, so we bought tickets without bothering to check what might be inside. Turns out the Amuse Museum focuses on the most unamusing topic imaginable: fabric. Which is actually pretty amusing.

The main exhibit in the Amuse Museum was about enormously heavy Japanese coats called boro. In the lean years following the war, and especially in remote areas like Aomori, women would craft boros by stitching together whatever scrap of fabric they could get their hands on. They could be worn during the day, and at night entire families would disrobe and crawl together into one, to conserve body heat. This was just one of the museum’s fascinating exhibits, and from the rooftop deck, we discovered a great view of the Sensō-ji. To our surprise, the Amuse Museum had lived up to its name, after all.

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On the western side of Tokyo’s oldest temple, we found its oldest amusement park. Hanayashiki was built in 1853, and is still in operation… though the rides have thankfully been replaced since then. Hanayashiki is the quintessential Tokyo amusement park: bizarrely compact, squishing a bunch of attractions into a tiny space, and expensive. Entrance is 900¥ and, on top of that, each ride costs extra.

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We ambled farther west, along the Shin-Nakamise covered market street, sampling both Meron Pan (poofy, melon-shaped sweetbread) and a sweet, warm rice drink called Amazake. In these areas, Asakusa feels older than many of Tokyo’s other districts. I don’t mean “very” old; the buildings and houses here date mostly from the 1960s and 70s. But in ultra-modern Tokyo, that qualifies as ancient.

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Our final stop in Asakusa was at the Taikokan Drum Museum on Kokusai-dōri. We were all alone inside and, after glancing over our shoulders to make sure nobody had followed us, we grabbed sticks and started playing on the antique drums which had been collected from around the world. Soon, a horrified-looking employee entered and snatched the drumsticks away from us. “No, no, no” she admonished. “This is how!” And then she unleashed a brutally awesome barrage on the taiko which we had been gently tapping. She gave us the sticks back, and had us try again. This was great fun; it’s the only drum museum I’ve ever been to where you’re encouraged to play on the exhibits. Actually, it’s the only drum museum I’ve ever been to, period.

Locations on our Map: Amuse Museum | Hanayashiki Amusement Park | Taikokan Drum Museum

Weird Gadgets From Japan

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April 3, 2014 at 8:50 am Comment (1)

Sensō-ji Temple

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Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.

A visit to Sensō-ji begins through the Kaminari-mon, a large gate protected on either side by wooden representations of the gods of thunder and wind. Past these formidable guardians is the Nakamise-dōri Shopping Street. The vendors of this teeming market sell every kind of souvenir imaginable, from key chains to ninja costumes, as well as a wide variety of traditional sweets, treats, teas and ice cream.

It may seem strange for the path leading to an important temple to be so secular and commercial, but that’s because the rulers of Tokyo haven’t always looked upon Sensō;-ji with deference. During the Meiji Restoration, officials made a concentrated effort to reduce the influence of Buddhism, and encouraged the city’s seedier elements to set up shop in Asakusa, and particularly along Nakamise-dōri. The street became a home to prostitution and gambling, which wasn’t entirely troubling to the temple’s monks, many of whom reportedly enjoyed exactly such vices.

Nakamise-dōri has cleaned up its act considerably. Today, the most sinful thing being sold here are taiyaki, delicious fish-shaped cookies filled with chocolate. It’s not a bad idea to eat a few, because you’ll need the energy while visiting Sensō-ji. The temple is huge, with grounds that include multiple shrines, the Hondo (main hall), a five-story pagoda, statues, gates, a museum and even a Japanese garden.

Let’s have a word about that garden. After an hour spent walking around the Sensō-ji, we’d had enough of incense and crowds and were preparing to leave. But then we saw a sign advertising the “Temple Museum with Attached Japanese Garden,” in a building near the western exit. Having just completed a comprehensive exploration of the temple, we agreed there was simply no space for a garden. “It’s going to be a few plants in the corner… max.”

The museum was magnificent, much better than expected, with wood carvings and scrolls, along with paintings of samurai and strange demon gods. And then we emerged into the garden. I still don’t understand it. The place was huge… a real park! A long circular path led past a pond, a tea garden complete with monk serving tea, into a forest (a forest?!), and over hills. By the laws of reality, this park should not have been possible. It’s like we stepped out of the museum, into some sort of pocket universe.

Lending credence to my outlandish theory was the fact that, although the crowd in the temple had been borderline outrageous, and despite this being the Sensō-ji’s most beautiful corner, the garden was nearly empty. It can’t have been the museum’s extremely reasonable entry fee scaring people off. No, the likeliest answer remains a disruption in the space-time continuum. Good luck finding the garden yourself, because it might not really exist.

Location of Sens?-ji on our Map

Weird Kit Kat Flavors From Japan

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April 3, 2014 at 3:04 am Comments (3)
The Imperial Palace Tour Tokyo has been at the center of Japanese politics since the early 1600s, when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu upset the balance of power by moving his court here, far away from the traditional capital of Kyoto. Ieyasu's original castle is now gone, replaced by the more modern Imperial Palace. We joined a brief tour to get a peek behind the gates.
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