Old Nov 4, 10, 7:47 am
  #10  
Flying Buccaneer
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: TPA
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Thursday, November 4: A full day of exploration

Wednesdayís exploration of Tokyo was a very short one. If your first experience walking around Tokyo is in a jet-lagged haze, chances are youíre going to get confused. That was me. I was able to find Hamarikyu Gardens and the general area of Tsujiki Fish Market. That was about it before I decided that I wanted to go back to the hotel. After a brief detour to explore the restaurants in the Caretta Building, I went back to my room. Then I realized that the evening service was taking place in the hotelís executive lounge.

As soon as I entered the lounge, an attendant showed me to a table. There were no seats by the window, so I took another seat. Someone else came to take my order for an Asahi, and then someone else brought a plate of samples from the restaurant downstairs. In addition, there were finger foods like crackers with Boursin cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. There was enough food to make going out to dinner or ordering room service unnecessary.

Iíd like to make everyone think that I sampled Tokyo after dark, but I was just too tired. I was asleep by 8:30 p.m. The bed in my room was very inviting, and the fluffy pillows gave me the perfect setting for a good nightís sleep.

Then jet-lag reminded me that I was still in its grips. I woke up. I think the watch said 2:00. I went back to sleep. Awake again at 3:00. I finally gave up at 3:30 a.m. and got out of bed. I had planned to visit Tsujiki, and I was certainly up early enough for it. However, I didnít leave the hotel until 5:00 a.m. That was a little too late to see the tuna auction. Lesson learned. Friday will bring another chance to do that.

I returned to the hotel around the time the lounge opened and enjoyed a couple of cups of tea before breakfast started. I had an omelet and a lot of other tasty breakfast items. The lounge is certainly making my food budget go a lot farther.

But this report is not just about the lounge. After a shower, I was off to explore Hamarikyu Gardens. I set out for the gardens a little before 9:00 a.m., and it only took a few minutes for me to get there. I paid my entrance fee with my Suica Card, something I got with my Narita Express ticket on Wednesday. A regular ticket on the Express is 2940Yen. I was able to get the ticket with a Suica card loaded with 1500Yen credit (and the 500Yen deposit) for 3500Yen. Thatís a no brainer. The Suica card is good for transport on subways, rail, and buses, plus a few other things like entry to Hamarikyu. So I used 300Yen of the credit, and then I was walking through the gardens.

The first thing that caught my eye was the 300-Year Old Pine.



In case you canít see it, the trunk of the tree is on the right side of the picture, and the tree itself is sprawling away from it. I spent the next hour strolling through the Gardens, which is an urban oasis between the clamor of Tokyo and the Sumida River. Perhaps the most interesting feature is Shioire-no-ike, a lake with salt water that is taken in from the bay during high tide. The lake has a few islands, one of which has a tea house.



After about an hour of exploring the gardens, I made my way to the pier where I would be able to take a boat up the Sumida River. I bought my ticket and waited 20 minutes for the boat. About 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time, the young lady from the ticket office made an announcement. I thought she said that the next boat was going to Asakusa, my desired destination. However, I think she meant the next boat after this next boat. I was not the only one confused. Our boat pulled up a few minutes later, and then nine of us boarding joined what appeared to be a large group. Thankfully, the group disembarked at Takeshiba, leaving the nine of us to choose the prime seats. The boat took on a few more passengers, but not nearly as many as it lost!

The cruise up the Sumida to Asakusa was pleasant. Recorded commentary pointed out the major sights, including all of the bridges en route. However, I was unable to understand what the recording was saying. No matter, because it was a fascinating cruise. It took about 30 minutes to get to Asakusa, and we were able to see the gold-clad Asahi Beer Tower from across the river.



My first stop in Asakusa was at the visitorís center. Itís pretty awkward to use a map from a guidebook when a piece of paper is much easier to shove into your pocket and read when youíre looking for something. Speaking of guidebooks, my itinerary for the day closely matched the ďTokyo in 1 DayĒ entry in Frommerís Tokyo. No apologies for that!

I had lunch on the run (some tempura), and I headed through Kaminarimon Gate onto busy Nakamise Dori. There were people everywhere, some looking, some just standing, and others in a hurry to get somewhere. Thatís a pretty unsettling combination. I didnít take a picture until I got closer to the gate at the other end.



Nakamise Dori has all sorts of souvenir and food shops, but I came to this area to see Sensoji Temple. One of the first things that struck me was the smoke. Moving closer, I smelled incense and realized that people were ďbathingĒ in its smoke.



I walked upstairs to the temple. Some were worshiping, and others (like me) were looking at the throng of people and the beautiful building. I noticed a monk behind the screen and was amazed that the noise did not appear to distract him.



I spent a bit more time in the area, taking pictures of the temple from its less busy side:



as well as the nearby Five-storied Pagoda:



before heading to Asakusa Station to catch the Ginza Line to Ueno Station. Not only was this another excuse to use my Suica Card, it was my first experience with public transport in Tokyo. It went very smoothly. When I was ready to leave the station at Ueno, I did hesitate before trying an exit. Luckily, I chose one that took my to Ueno Park. Maybe I could have chosen a better one, because I had to climb two sets of stairs to get to the park.

The park has lots of attractions, and one of the first visitors see is the statue of Takamori Saigo.



Thereís also a zoo, but probably the best reason to take a stroll through this park is to get to the Tokyo National Museum. The museum is actually a collection of buildings. When I reached the museum grounds, I purchased the 1500Yen ticket from a vending machine. (Nope, no Suica here!). I walked through the gate and headed for Honokan, which houses the Japanese Gallery.



I spent nearly an hour at this gallery, and I was fascinated by a lot of the earlier items on display, some going back as far as the 3rd and 4th century. If thereís anything you could identify with life in Japan before 1900, youíd probably find it on display here.

A meandering breezeway took me from Honkan to Heisekan, which houses Japanese Archaeology as well as well as the current exhibition on the Todaiji Temple. All of the videos were in Japanese only, and I think this temple and its Great Buddha hold special significance among the Japanese people. I am ashamed of my ignorance on the topic, but there were many old and beautiful pieces and remnants of the temple.

The next gallery was in the Hyokeikan Building. This had displays from all over Asia, including Egypt, which isnít really part of Asia at all. Whatever, seeing items as old as 4000 BC more than made up for any geographical confusion.

My last stop was the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. The displays here were very similar, at least to my untrained eye, to those in Honkan, so I picked up the pace as I walked through.

Having satisfied my cultural obligations for the day (perhaps the year?), I headed back to Ueno Station to catch a ride home. I had planned to take the Ginza Subway Line to Shimbashi Station, but I realized that taking the Yamanote Rail Line would be a lot more direct. The ride took a little over 10 minutes, and I left the train looking for the Shiodome exit. I never found it. Well, actually, I did. I found an exit that led to Shiodome, but no matter. I made it back to the hotel, but having a basic understanding of what buildings were close by made that possible!

My legs were ordering me to take it easy, after over 7 hours of sightseeing with few stops to sit. Friday will bring another opportunity to tire them out!
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