A May 1995 trip
to Tokyo by billmoy
Quote: Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since 1868. Its name means "eastern capital" and reflects a shift in power from Kyoto to the former Edo fishing village area.
If you enjoyed this section, please read my other sections on TOKYO and KYOTO.
Some of the beautiful images of Tokyo are courtesy of my good friend, Chicago architect Marius Ronnett. Our Tokyo travels took place in the fall of 1999, although I have also been in Tokyo in 1995.
While dining in Tokyo can be expensive, there are many authentic Japanese foods that are fairly reasonable to your budget. I enjoyed lots of noodles (ramen, soba, udon, etc.) served in soups or as plates with dipping sauces. You can also enjoy yakitori, inexpensive grilled meats served on skewers, or gyoza, tasty meat-filled dumplings that are comparable to Chinese pot stickers. Vegetables are usually expensive than fruit in Japan. In fact, posh stores are notorious for selling elegantly packaged fruit for mucho amounts of yen. Watermelons have been ingeniously grown into rectangular shapes so they can be marked up to holiday gift-giving prices.
You are supposed to remove your shoes before you enter your room, but each guest is provided is supplied with a pair of house slippers and a yukata, a comfy short robe worn with a sash. The room is Japanese-style with tatami mats and thin screens, and the space is minimally but attractively decorated with a few Japanese artworks (a doll, a framed wall print). The futon beds are laid out on the floor, but they are extremely comfortable. The low table in the sleeping area has a couple of sitting cushions next to it, and it bears a hot water dispenser and phone. There is heat, air conditioning and operable windows in the room but no fridge (if you are nice, the host will let you squeeze in a bottle of your favorite beverage into their own fridge). There is a pay TV in the room. Yes, you need to insert a 100-yen coin into the slot, and you are good for about an hour of Japanese programming. I watched a stream of Japanese baseball highlights while my friend slept like a log after the long flight across the Pacific. The small foyer in the room, one step lower than the sleeping area, has a couple of chairs for relaxing.
Our bathroom included a sink, shower and a huge bathtub. The Japanese like to clean and scrub at the shower, then soak in the tub communal-style to relax after the actual cleansing process. This may be more enjoyable with the shared bath; my friend and I chose only to take showers and ignored the private tub in our bathroom.
Breakfast is not included in the rate; lunch and dinner is not served here. Sit in the seating area on the main floor and choose from either the Japanese or western-style breakfast. The Japanese meal has sardines, rice, pickled vegetables and miso soup, so this may be a bit strange for the early-to-rise Westerner. The less expensive continental breakfast is basically toast and jam (you pop the toast in yourself) with tea or coffee (juice is extra). My friend was happy to consume the free instant coffee, as that saved him from paying the notoriously expensive prices for coffee in Tokyo. There is a TV in the breakfast lounge so you can catch up on your local news.
Ryokan Sawanoya is a great place to experience living in a typical low-key Japanese environment, and the price is reasonable and usually much cheaper than at a hotel.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 20, 2002
The typical Yoshinoya will have an easy-to-read photo menu to order your food selections. There are plenty of standard noodle and soup dishes to choose from, such as the "beef and rice bowl" which every restaurant chain and frozen dinner company has seemingly adopted. Your Japanese-style breakfast can contain miso soup, pickles, salmon, and steamed rice. There are also some set menu meals that are reasonably priced, and that is important in an expensive city like Tokyo. Wash down your food with a tea or even a beer.
I recall ordering one meal with sautéed beef, white rice, a small soda, and a small round container of what looked like flan. Well, I was hoping it would be a dessert. Alas, it turned out to be something like a warm and hearty stew. It contained corn, mushrooms, and chicken swimming in a thick paste-like gravy. This stew is a bit of an acquired taste, but the rest of the meal was tasty.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 23, 2002
Tokyo, Japan 106-0032
+81 (0)3 5772 6253
It is a well-stocked grocery store, so this is a perfect place to load up for your typical self-catering food and drink needs. There are baked goods, fresh produce, dairy products, liquid refreshments, and all sorts of interesting packaged goods. How about some seaweed crackers? Energy drinks with weird names like Pocari Sweat? Chips that are shaped like pea pods?
Akafudado is very close to the Nezu Station on the Chiyoda subway line.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 23, 2002
Akafudado Grocery Store
Se Corner Shinobazu-dori And Kototoi-dori
The interior has the look of a diner. There are regular tables, or you can sit "at the counter". The food selections are similar to what you would find at a typical Cantonese restaurant. The food is nothing fancy, and not as refined as what you will find at the typical Japanese restaurant. But if you enjoy sweet and sour chicken, egg rolls and beef and vegetable dishes as I do, this is a good place for a quick or relaxing meal. The entrees do not come with white rice, as there are no "set menu" meals. The soup has a good chicken broth in it, and you can get a decent fix of vegetables here.
The restaurant serves soda in small bottles, so the staff does not seem to mind if you bring in your own can or bottle. Each table has a small container of toothpicks, and I was enamored with the finely crafted design of these utilitarian items. Each wooden toothpick looked like a fancy miniature table leg! Later on as I dined at other restaurants, it dawned on me that these nice toothpicks are the norm at restaurants and not the exception.
SW corner Shinobazu-dori near Kototoi-dori
The current Imperial Palace occupies the site of the former Edo Castle, which was reportedly the largest in the world at that time. It used to have a whopping 99 gates, 21 watchtowers and 28 armories. Only a fraction of these elements are still in existence, namely three watchtowers. The main approach to the palace is over the Nijubashi, the two-tiered "double bridge" that beautifully crosses the moat. A view of this bridge with the palace in the background is a popular spot for photographers. There is usually a professional photographer stationed here with a few seats for organized group portraits using the palace as a wonderful backdrop.
Lovely grounds and well-manicured gardens surround the palace. The East Imperial Garden and Outer Garden are frequently as far as one can go as far as accessible areas. It is interesting to note that these areas used to border the sea before infill projects added much-needed land for city expansion. Joggers are perpetually huffing and puffing these gardens, normally in a counterclockwise direction.
The central location of the palace is naturally near many important buildings, like the National Diet Building (Japan's version of Parliament), Supreme Court, Metropolitan Police Department, Tokyo International Forum, National Theater, etc.
Tokyo, Japan 100-0002
+81 (3) 3213 1111
One may get different opinions from different people, but the Ueno Zoo probably comes to mind first when one thinks of Ueno Park. There are always kids walking around with colorful balloons and snacks around the various animal areas. There is the sizeable Shinobazu Pond, which features lotus flowers, ducks, and an island with the Benzaiten Temple. Other old temple structures, all dating from 1631 to 1651, are the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple (based on the famous Kyoto complex), the Toshogu Shrine, and the Five-story Pagoda of the Kaneiji Temple, with a height of 120 feet.
Ueno Park is also a museum campus in itself. The Tokyo National Museum displays not only Japanese artifacts, but also Iranian, Egyptian and more standard Asian items as well. The great LeCorbusier designed the National Museum of Western Art, although this project is not generally regarded as one of his more significant efforts. The Tokyo Metropolitan National Hall, the place to go to for classical music in Tokyo, is also located here.
The park features an unusual statue of Saigo Takamori, whose image is captured walking his dog. Across from the west side of Ueno Park is an unusual tower that looks like a weird stacked wedding cake. This is the Sofitel, a deluxe hotel with only 83 rooms within its 26 floors, designed by architect Kiyonori Kikutake as a cross between a multi-leveled temple and a tree.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 20, 2002
5-20 Ueno Koen
Tokyo, Japan 110-0007
+81 (3) 3828-5644
Attraction | "Senso-ji Asakusa Kannon Temple"
One usually enters Asakusa through the distinctive Kaminarimon Gate, which was reconstructed in 1960. The bright vermilion colors of the gate welcome you into the complex. This is also called the "Thunder God Gate" because of the image in the left niche. The God of Wind is on the right niche, and people walk under the large red paper lantern in the center. This leads down Nakamise-dori, a fun pedestrian avenue with family-operated shops and stalls selling stuff like rice crackers, toys, dolls, clothes, and assorted trinkets.
The main hall of Senso-ji was originally constructed in 645, and it was reconstructed in 1958 after a great effort of fundraising. This main hall is fronted by a large vat of incense, where the worshippers all stop to perform their rituals. Nearby are structures like the Five-Storied Pagoda, the Hozomon Gate, and the Nitenmon Gate (built 1618) which survived the ravages of World War II.
Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple, but it is very close to the Asakusa Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine. This is the site of the Sanja Festival in May, one of the largest annual festivals in Tokyo. Also within the complex is the secluded Denbo-in Temple, which requires special permission in order to visit.
Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Kannon)
2-3-1, Asakusa, Taito-ku
Tokyo, Japan 111-0032
81 (0)3 3842 0181
Attraction | "Meiji Jingu Shrine"
Two large torii gates reaching heights of 40 feet (among the largest of this kind) lead to the shrine. The style of the building is called "Nagarezukuri", and liberally employs Japanese cypress wood in its construction. The green copper roofs have a steep and graceful swoop to them, but they are looking a bit weathered nowadays. Other buildings on the premises are the Treasure Museum, the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, and the Meiji Memorial Hall ("Wedding Hall").
As indicated by the name, the Inner Garden beautifully surrounds the shrine. Over two million visitors pack the grounds to pay their respects to their ancestors during New Years ceremonies. The Outer Garden, in effect an annex to the Inner Garden, is a bit further east. The Outer Garden has a completely different character than the Inner Garden, as this is more like the "sports center" of Tokyo. There is the National Stadium (used during the 1964 Summer Olympics), baseball fields, tennis courts, and gymnasia.
I remember meeting a few fellows who flew in from Sao Paulo to Tokyo via Chicago (that's a lot of flying!). These green-clad guys were fans of the Palmeiras soccer club, who were to play Manchester United in a championship match. It almost seemed that they came to the shrine to wish their team good luck in the game (they would eventually lose the match to the storied English club).
Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)
1-1 Kamizono-cho Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan 151-0053
+81 (0)3 3379 5511