Japan's first zoo was established in Ueno Park, in 1882. Although its age is starting to show, the zoo is still a popular retreat in Tokyo. It's inexpensive, surprisingly large and, of course, there are those irresistible Giant Pandas.
In many other countries, the Nikolai Cathedral would hardly merit a second glance. But in Japan, the Byzantine-style construction is definitely noteworthy. Built in 1891, this Russian Orthodox church set atop a hill in Kanda is one of Tokyo's stranger sights, just because it exists at all.
The great Mecca of otaku culture, Akihabara is home to innumerable shops dedicated to anime, manga, cosplay, trading cards and collectible figurines. The world's first Maid Cafe was established here, and you can also find cheap electronics stores, grand arcades, multi-story hobby malls, and much, much more. It sounds wonderful, so we were surprised when we didn't like Akihabara all that much.
Almost everyone knows a little about origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. But for a deeper understanding, we visited Tokyo's Origami Kaikan (Origami Center) in Bunkyo, where we had the opportunity to learn at the feet of an ancient sensei.
We quietly filed into the stable and after bowing to the sensei, sat cross-legged on the ground. For the next couple hours, we were to remain as still as possible, while the sumo wrestlers of the Kitanoumi Beya Stable conducted their morning training session. Trust me, I wasn't going to move a muscle. I wanted to avoid the attention of these behemoths by any means necessary.
Hidden away on the far side of Shinagawa, off an alley which cuts behind the Laforet Hotel, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art is not the easiest place in the world to find. But tracking it down might be worth the effort, depending on which exhibition is currently showing.
After visiting the Sengaku-ji Temple in Shinagawa, we took a short detour to check out the Happo-en Garden. Since its name can roughly be translated as "beautiful from eight views," we suspected that it wouldn't disappointing.
On a wintry night in 1703, the 47 loyal retainers of Lord Asano fought their way into the home of Lord Kira and struck him down. With the decapitated head of their enemy in tow, they marched slowly back through the streets of Edo, headed for Shinagawa and the Sengaku-ji temple, where they would lay Kira's head at the foot of Lord Asano's grave. Their mission of revenge complete, the ronin would soon take their own lives.
Over the course of two equally fun and frustrating days, Jürgen and I set off into the streets armed with pens, paper and a bilingual list of questions for the people of Tokyo. Not many in Japan speak English, and those who do are often reluctant to reveal the fact, so we knew this might be a difficult task. It was. But it was also entertaining, and gave us a cursory peek into the lives of the people who call Tokyo home.
We spent many entertaining evenings in Shibuya, which has become one of the most exciting areas in Tokyo. There are so many bars, shops and things to do here, that it would be hopeless to attempt listing them all. But here were a few of our personal favorites.