This was our full day around Tokyo. Majella had wondered a few weeks ago about getting a guide or some form of tour. I did some searching and discovered Tokyo Free Guide. There is an application form to fill with some ideas about what might interest you. If a guide is available the deal is that they do it for free as a volunteer but we would be responsible for their travel costs, admissions to any attractions, and meals while with us. I filled in the form and waited.
Last Friday, as we were were traveling back from Hiroshima on the Shinkansen, I had an email from Akemi Ohtaki offering to be our guide for today. She introduced herself as a recently retired teacher of junior high school English and asked about what we might like to see, do and eat. Majella had a few ideas and after a few more exchanges of email messages we met Akemi in our hotel lobby at 10:00 am today.
She had a full day planned for us and we set off toward Ueno station. For what Akemi had planned we were better on the Metro (subway) than the JR trains so we bought four 24 hour passes and set off for Asakusa, just three stops away. We exited the station on a corner with a view of the Sky Tree Tower and walked down a street to the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, a new building with timber decorated exterior. We went up to the 8th floor viewing platform for an overview of the nearby Senso-Ji Temple area before heading back down toward the temple. As we entered that area, Akemi took us to a store selling origami paper. I had told her that we had a friend for whom I wanted to buy some paper. Majella selected a large piece of paper printed with a geometrical pattern and we bought that with a tube in which to bring it home.
The path from the front gate to the temple is lined with market stalls and we investigated several of those on the way to the temple. Majella bought a yukata for use as a dressing gown.
Akemi explained some of the history of the Buddhist temple and significance of various features. We also visited the Shinto shrine next door. Majella asked about which Akemi might visit and was surprised to hear that she preferred Buddhist for more solemn events (funerals) and Shinto for the more joyful (weddings).
We made our way back to the subway and then to Ginza district. There Akemi led us into a building with Nissan concept cars on two floors but we bypassed those to go up to a floor where Sony had robotic dogs on display. We played with them for a bit but did not have much success with voice commands. Evidently our Japanese pronunciation needs improvement.
We wandered down some streets in the Ginza district admiring the modern architectural features. Majella’s eye was caught by a Hello Kitty store and we spent a few minutes there looking at the goods for sale. Around the corner, Akemi took us to a tourist information centre where Majella and Sophie were able to dress in kimonos. For a short, 15 minute experience, that is a free service.
By then it was lunch time so we headed down to the subway and away to the Shibuya district. After some email discussion of what we had tried and liked, Akemi had selected a restaurant that serves shabu-shabu food, so called for the noise that is made when stirring your food in the pot of boiling water. We each had the beef and pork combination with thinly sliced meat and a large bowl of vegetables – Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, sprouts, seaweed, tofu and more – that we cooked in a pot of boiling water (with a little stock of some sort) in front of us. The food was then dropped in soy or sesame sauce. We each had a bowl of rice and some pickles to add interest. We followed the main meal with strawberry sorbet.
After lunch we walked about the local area for a while. It attracts young people because of its lively vibe. There were several stores selling elaborate crepe combinations but none of us could face one of those after lunch. Sophie did try the candy floss.
We walked on to the Meiji Jingu, a major shrine that commemorates an emperor. It is set in the midst of a forest that Akemi told us was planted when the shrine was built. There is some renovation work going on for the 100 year commemoration of its establishment. It is an impressive set of buildings with a series of Tori’s gates on the path from the park entrance to the actual shrine.
Our final destination on Akemi’s itinerary was Shinjuku Gyoen, another large expanse of park and garden. Majella had indicated an interest in seeing cherry blossom so Akemi took us to the garden that has 65 of the more than 100 varieties of cherry tree that bloom at different times from March to May. There were blossoms on trees and petals like pink snow on the ground with occasional flurries when a gust of wind blew. The garden also had many azaleas in vibrant colours. That more than met Majella’s wish for blossom.
Akemi accompanied us back to a nearby subway station and on to another station where we changed to the Ginza line that would get us back to Ueno. She farewelled us there to take a different direction home. We much appreciated her effort to construct an itinerary matched to our interests and her informative commentary along the way.
We decided that another visit to Asakusa was in order to see what else those market stalls might have so we rode three stations past Ueno and found the market area. I took the opportunity to pick up a couple more sheets of more interesting and challenging origami paper. Majella and Sophie managed to buy some gifts to take home from the stalls.
From there we headed back to Ueno. Majella was stilll full from lunch and did not want dinner. Sophie opted for some fried chicken and I picked up a cup of noodles and a can of beer when we stopped to stock up for breakfast at a convenience store. Fortunately we have no need to rush tomorrow.