Tokyo: The Highlights
Tokyo is by far one of the most amazing and exciting cities I ever visited. Even a month after it's still impossible to compare it to anything else. It's gigantic, fascinating, fun, friendly, very organized, interesting and weird at the same time. Not to mention very tasty.
It would have been impossible to do this metropolis a justice in just one blog post. So here are a few highlights to give the first taste.
1. Gardens and parks
There are many nice parks and gardens in Tokyo that are well worth visiting. Usually you need to pay a small entrance fee, but it's totally worth it. Those green oasis are little capsules of peace and beauty, perfect for either a meditative stroll, book reading opportunity or for enjoying your bento lunch box by the lake, surrounded by beautiful trees. They are timeless.
We visited quite some parks and gardens, my favorite two are Kiyosumi Teien and Happo-en but every single one of them was a very pleasant experience. Kiyosumi garden is a pure delight to walk through, having stones from all over Japan, neatly arranged in a path that leads you across the lake. If you're lucky (or you make an appointment), you can also enjoy a cup of delicious Matcha tea with sweets in the teahouse.
Happo-en means a garden that is beautiful from all the sides. It's small and cute and contains several beautiful and very well groomed bonsai trees, some over 500 years old. Teahouse and nearby restaurant are a plus.
2. Tokyo Sky tree
This new relatively new broadcasting tower is a huge hit in Tokyo. Tokyo Sky tree is 634 meters tall and after an hour or so of very long but super organized queueing (very few western tourists), you can enjoy the 360 magnificent view over the city from 350 m (or 450m, if you chip in a bit more).
I admit I was skeptical about it since it sounded much like a classic tourist trap. But I have to admit it is an experience. You arrive at the top in one of four super fast elevators, each decorated in the themes of one of the four seasons. Yes, everything needs to have a meaning.
And while you're there, you can also take a closer look at the city (in day and night) or learn more about each building using the displays. It's only there that I fully grasped the magnitude of the city. My advice is, go for it!
3. Museums and Galleries
Tokyo has really many museum and galleries that are worth visitng even if you're not a big fan of them. Often there are translations in English or an English speaking volunteer will show you around. But it's not just that - there's something special and unique about Japanese museum that is hard to describe. It's nearly impossible to single out just few museum in Tokyo, but here it goes.
Miraikan, Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is the best museum I've seen. Ever. And I've seen many.
Not only because it somehow managed to put in practice what European scientists are struggling with for decades - to communicate complicated concepts and ideas in human language. But also because it's the most interactive, imaginative, educating and exciting museum I've ever seen. Think toilet exhibition (very educational but admittedly weird and funny), reconstructions of space shuttles, robots that look and talk like humans, future cities, that you can become a part of. Think games, 3D films and well, the future. It's there for you to taste, smell and play with.
Nearly five hours was not enough and next time I'm definitely taking a day to revisit Miraikan. It's a must.
Bridgestone Museum of Fine Art is a delight for all art lovers since it hosts a very nice collection of Western and Japanese Art. And if you're lucky you can catch one of their creative temporary collections (e.g. arts pieces that talk about time). It's like a candy shop for the art lovers.
Shitamachi museum is a very nice recreation of working class life in Tokyo in the early 20th Century. On the first floor English speaking volunteers will take you through different rooms utensils and explain how they were used. Cute little houses and rooms make you admire Japanese practicality and craftiness but also makes you wonder how could a family survive in such a tiny space. On the second floor, you can see and play with Japanese games. I tried but didn't manage to solve one puzzle, not even (or especially not) the one for kids. It's not hard to understand why they are so smart.
4. Senso-ji Temple
Senso-ji is a Buddhist Temple that is simply breath-taking, especially in the evening. After it was destroyed during World War II, the Japanese rebuild it and today it's Tokyo's oldest and most significant temple. Next to the temple is Shinto Shrine Asakusa - two different religions co-existing without any problems.
When there, try out their DIY fortune telling (English translations available). Afterwards you can take a walk along a very nice street market with crafts and food.
5. Tsukiji Fish market
Tskujihi fish market is something special. Though we weren't enthusiastic enough to visit their tuna auctions at 5 a.m., there was still enough to see around 10 -11 a.m. Yummy and interesting snacks, freshly made on the spot, a wide range of fish and different sea food, weird snacks, tea utensils, and traditional Japanese tools and products. It's the kind of place you want to visit more than once.
Though I've had a lot of sushi during the two weeks in Japan, the one at the market was the best. Very reasonably priced and simply delicious. So if you're up for an early lunch, it's really worth visiting one of the restaurants on the market - preferably with a queue that doesn't try to lure you in with touts.
What else is there to say about Tokyo? A lot. Really a lot. So all I can say for now is ...to be continued!