11 Aug 2014 Day 9: Tokyo Tower, Imperial palace & Tokyo station.
Our first sight for the day was Tokyo Tower. We took the Oedo line from Yoyogi station to Akabanebashi station and walked towards the towering orange structure ahead. Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower, built in 1958. Modelled on Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Tokyo’s version stands slightly taller. It is coloured orange and white for air safety regulations. The tower has an observatory at 150 metres and a special observatory at 250 metres. There are other attractions on the ground floors, each with separate entrance fees. Tokyo Tower was over-taken as the tallest in Japan after the Tokyo Skytree was opened in 2012.
We weren’t interested in paying to enter the observatories as we planned on seeing Tokyo from the Government building, which was free to enter. We viewed the tower from the ground, walking around its base and came across the tower’s mascots, which are rather strange looking.
A short walk from Tokyo Tower is Zojoji Temple. This is where you can view traditional Japan together with the modern. From the temple grounds, Tokyo Tower can be seen standing behind the main hall, showing two different architecture styles within the city. Zojoji was founded in 1393 and moved to its current location in 1598. The temple’s main gate dates from 1622, having survived many fires, wars and earthquakes. The other buildings have been more recently rebuilt, with the current main hall constructed in 1974.
After viewing Zojoji, we headed towards a station to get a train to Tokyo Station. Fletcher walked along side us but started getting tired and looked as though he was going to go to sleep when placed in the stroller. We ended up walking 4.5km through the streets so he would get his nap.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
We walked to the Imperial Palace, cutting through Hibya Koen on the way.
The Imperial Palace, home to Tokyo’s Imperial family, is located on the site of the former Edo Castle. The castle was the seat of the Shogunate whom ruled Japan since 1603. In 1868 he was overthrown and Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto, changing the country’s imperial residence and capital. The new Imperial Palace was constructed in 1888 and rebuilt after being destroyed during world war two.
There is a large park area surrounding the palace and from outside of the grounds, large stone walls and moats can be viewed. The bridges leading into the palace inner grounds are popular view points for visitors. The stone bridge is called Maganebashi, which means ‘Eyeglass bridge’, due to its appearance. The bridge located behind it is called Nijubashi, which means ‘double bridge’. It is called this as it used to be a wooden bridge with two levels.
There are guided tours of the palace grounds available, they must be booked in advance through the Imperial Household Agency. The Imperial Palace East grounds can be entered by the public throughout the year. As it was a Tuesday ( Gardens are closed Mondays & Fridays ) we decided to have a wander through. Upon entering we had to go to a counter and collect a token for each person that had to be returned upon exiting.
Fletcher had woken up and I changed his nappy on a fold out bench in the ladies bathroom. It was lunch time and we decided we had better go and find something to eat. Unfortunately what we had seen of the gardens didn’t fascinate us, although had I have known then that were lovely gardens and the foundation of the former Edo Castle, I might have been more inclined to stay. We handed our tokens in and left the grounds. Outside of the entrance, Fletcher loved watching the water birds flying around and landing in the moat.
Tokyo Station is only a short walk from the Imperial Palace. The west side of the station was recently renovated and restored to it’s original striking red-brick appearance, dating back to 1914, when it opened with four platforms. Today the station sees more than 3,000 trains per day, including the high speed shinkansen.
Fletcher had a meltdown once we reached Tokyo station so we made him have a rest and got some lunch before entering. Once inside he was happy as there were plenty of interesting things in the ‘character street’. He had a great time playing with the toy train set up in the Tomica store and we ended up having to coax him out. While he was busy playing, Tim purchased a toy bullet train set for him that would be a Christmas present and a small souvenir for our nephew.
We came to a store selling Studio Ghibli merchandise. For myself, I chose some thick Totoro socks and a small Totoro plushie . I then wanted to find something that Fletcher could play with without having to worry about him wrecking it. I found the perfect little bag containing small plastic figurines. Inside were characters from the movie My Neighbour Totoro, including the Main Totoro and the two smaller ones, the catbus and Mei. It turned out to be a great purchase, he played with them at the apartment, on the plane home and still enjoys playing with them now.
We wandered around, browsing at all the different stores. I had mentioned before coming to Japan that I might buy a Tamagotchi, as they were a huge trend when I was a kid. Tamagotchi comes from the Japanese word ‘Tamago’ (egg) and the English word ‘watch’. They are a small egg-shaped keychains containing a virtual pet. I had read online how the company had re-branded the Tamagotchi to now include interlinking between devices and friends can even send text messages to each other. When entering the store and making my way past the various merchandise items, I came to the display of Tamagotchis and was shocked at the price tags which were over $70 (aud). I wasn’t that keen on taking one home. We let Fletcher choose a toy from the many gachapon machines lined up. He chose a fish toy and this kept him occupied on our train ride.
We then took the Yamanote line for almost half an hour back to Yoyogi station. It was my turn to head out on my own and I chose to explore Harajuku. Tim stayed at the apartment with Fletcher, who spent the time playing with his new Totoro toys and showing them to his grandparents on Skype.
My time in Harajuku
I took an extremely crowded train from Yoyogi station to Harajuku station. Luckily it was only one stop. After pushing my way out of the train doors and following the crowd, I found myself outside of Harajuku station. Needing to get cash out, I thought I would find a 7-11. I had brought along the WiFi device supplied by our airbnb host, however despite only connecting to it minutes ago , my phone had forgotten the password and I didn’t have it with me. I knew from previous time in Harajuku that I could walk down Omotesando, along Meiji Dori, then up Takeshita Dori to return to the station. If I had chosen to first walk down Takeshita Dori, I would have come across a 7-11 and been able to get cash out. I, however wasted my time looking for one before eventually finding a Citibank ATM along Meiji Dori.
Now I had cash, I could shop. I first had a quick look in the store Oriental Bazaar. Next I looked around each level of Kiddyland. I then made my way up Takeshita Dori, stopping to browse in some stores, including the large Daiso. My only purchase in Harajuku came from a small clothing store. I bought a winter style dress with a print of cute rabbits in different outfits.
Although I wasted a lot of time finding an ATM to withdraw cash and then hardly spending any, I still really enjoyed my time in Harajuku. It was great to have some alone time to just wander and look in stores.