We allotted two whole days for a historical D-I-Y tour that included trips to religious entities, the famed Shibuya station, experience shopping at Donqui (tax free shopping center) and get a chance to view the nightscape of Tokyo from the Sunshine City.
The Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa
The oldest and most significant temple in Tokyo is located in Asakusa and is known to everyone as the Senso-ji (Buddhist) Temple. It was great to finally feel immersed in the culture and religiosity of the place we visited. Different nationalities flocked the destination, all in the quest to pray and probably take a selfie 🙂
From the Thunder Gate, it takes a 250-meter walk along a street (called Nakamise-dori) full of Japanese stores that sell souvenir items and food before one can get to the temple itself. I had ice cream and some rice delicacy, but we were not allowed to take pictures of the food or stall so here goes.
The temple is visited by 30 million tourists and locals alike every year, but more are expected to come during the Sanja Matsuri festival during late spring.
The Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) displays the statues of Shinto gods and the chochin, or the red lantern hanging under the gates.
The walk alone took us 30 minutes to an hour because we had to stop at the souvenir shops selling key chains, ref magnets (both at JPY 370 or PhP 138), hand-made fan, Japanese costumes, etc.
Some visitors also walk around wearing the Japanese traditional garment, Kimono, complete with the geta (wooden sandals worn by both men and women) and their handbags. These ladies, we later learned, were actually Chinese visitors.
The walk will also give one an opportunity to have a glimpse of the Tokyo SkyTree – the tallest tower and 2nd tallest structure (next to Burj Khalifa) in the world. It is a broadcasting tower, restaurant and observation deck in one, at 2080 feet tall.
Its observation deck is open from 8am to 830pm, and admission for adults at the 350m deck is JPY 2060 or PhP 770 no time assignment and JPY 1030 or PhP 385 at the 450m deck -purchased on the day of the visit. For more information, please visit the website here.
The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in Kamakura
Another top tourist destination near Tokyo can be found in the city of Kamakura in the Kanagawa prefecture. In fact, it is full of Shinto and Buddhist temples so we decided to visit one of them, the Kotoku-in Temple. It takes pride in the bronze statue of the great buddha or daibutsu, which stands at 13.35 meters high.
Before exiting the temple grounds, I noticed the gigantic slippers called the wazarozi (traditional Japanese straw sandals) hanging on the wall of the corridor. The website says, and I quote: The warazori were first woven and donated by the children in 1951, at a time when Japan was still recovering from the ravages of World War II, with the wish that “the Great Buddha would don them to walk around Japan, bringing happiness to the people.”
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine Complex in Kamakura
A short walk away from the Daibutsu is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura and originally built in 1063. The shrine complex itself had Feng Shui in mind and is also a Tendai Buddhist Temple.
I wasn’t sure if these were plum or cherry blossoms, but they were beautiful anyway. A Carmina Villaroel moment.
It boasts of Shinto gates or Torri, ponds, an arched bridge, ginko trees (the century old ginko tree got uprooted in 2010), a garden of plum and cherry trees.
We had lunch at a steak house somewhere and passed by (not part of the itinerary) this – watch out for the next blog (food, shopping and tips when in Tokyo):
Shibuya Station and Hachiko
The 4th busiest commuter rail station in Japan, the Shibuya station has a sea of passengers rushing to and from the suburbs and has transported 3 million passengers in 2014 alone.
Why we had to go there was because of Hachiko – the Akita dog remembered for his loyalty and immortalized in the Richard Gere movie of the same title.
One of the five station exits was so named after him, and leads to where his statue outside sits. That movie, and Hachiko himself, moved a lot of us to tears that Jons and I made sure Tita brought us there.
The bronze statue was erected in 1934 (he was present when the statue was unveiled) after he became a national symbol of loyalty, outside of the Shibuya station but his stuffed and mountain remains are kept at the National Science Museum of Japan in Euno.
Sunshine City in Ikebukuro
So on our first night we wanted to see what the Tokyo nightscape has to offer. And since we were only 1 station away from Ikebukuro, we went to the Sunshine City, a building complex east of Tokyo. We went there after dinner and didn’t know they close early.
The observatory (entrance fee JPY 620, PhP 230), which is on the Sunshine 60 building, is obviously on the 60th floor – some 200 meters above sea level. Its elevator – which spanned the ground to the 60th floor in a few seconds (600 meters per minute – one of the fastest elevators in the world), had light displays of the planetarium on its walls and ceiling. It actually awakened the geeky kid in me.
Tokyo has so much to offer, only we were pressed for time (and, errrr – budget). There are many other things to do and places to visit. Who knows, the next time around we can cross it off our list?
On the next blog: Tokyo Disney Resort, shopping the Donqui Way, Food and Tips.
Sources: wikipedia.org; www.senso-ji.jp; http://www.kotoku-in.jp/en/top.html; http://www.tsurugaoka-hachimangu.jp/; http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/reservation/