Wednesday, June 2, 2004 was my first full day as a tourist in Japan. The day was spent in Tokyo, with stops at the Imperial Palace, Asakusa and Odaiba. Here I posed with some school kids that were interviewing foreign tourists in English outside of Sensoji Temple, the oldest buddhist temple in the city. They gave out small gifts, which included the mailing address of their school. I regret that I never sent them a thank you gift in return. Nevertheless, meeting these young children speaking my language on my first day in another country – a day filled with anticipation and apprehension – made me feel very welcome, and helped deepen my appreciation for Japan even more.
I enjoy reminiscing about the first trip… and I can’t wait for the fourth trip, now less than two months away!
Today I am revisiting one of my classic Tokyo day tour itineraries – Classic Tokyo, Modern Tokyo – and giving it a new look for 2013. My first itinerary, Classic Tokyo, Modern Tokyo, is based on the events of my first trip in 2004 and it is still available here on this blog for those who would like to use it.
The new itinerary – Tokyo Yesterday and Today – keeps some of the elements of the original itinerary. In the tour you will visit:
Tokyo Sky Tree
RIKUGIEN GARDEN: This was one of my first destinations in my 2008 trip. Rikugien is open every day except during the New Year’s holidays (December 29-January 1) for a fee of 300 yen. It opens at 9 AM, and to make full use of the day I suggest arriving here between 9 and 10. Of course, if you fear the rush hour crowds then you can aim for the later arrival.
You will be impressed by its appearance and landscape, as I was during my visit. An example of old Edo-style Japanese gardens, this location – which has been designated by the Japanese government as “A special place of scenic beauty” – is an excellent way to start your day.
SENSOJI TEMPLE: Located in Asakusa, Sensoji temple is the oldest buddhist temple in Japan. The recommended method of approaching the temple is via Nakamise-dori, the large shopping arcade lined with various specialty and food shops. The entrance to Nakamise-dori is the large Kaminari-mon gate, marked with a gigantic red lantern. It should be noted that most of the grounds were destroyed in World War II and rebuilt.
If you do not like large crowds, Sensoji should be avoided during Sanja Matsuri, the annual festival held on one of the weekends in May. But if you do like large festivals, then by all means join the 2 million people that visit Sensoji during this time.
TOKYO SKYTREE: Undoubtedly the newest shining star of Tokyo and of all Japan, the Tokyo Skytree is the world’s tallest communications tower and the second tallest structure in the world, stretching at a height of 2,080 feet.
The new Skytree structure just goes to show how much time has passed since my last visit to Japan. It had barely begun construction in October 2008 – by May 2012 it had opened to the public.
There are two levels of observation decks – it costs 2,000 yen to access the main deck and an additional 1,000 yen to reach the upper deck. There is also a 500 yen charge if you want to access the tower at a specific time.
The Skytree highlights a brand new retail complex, which makes an excellent place for a bite to eat, either before or after your trip up the tower.
ODAIBA: Spend the remainder of the day in Odaiba, a series of man made islands that went from the defenses of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the mid 1800’s into the leisure and tourist zone that it is today.
The best approach to Odaiba is via the Rainbow Bridge, completed in 1993. The rail connection over the bridge is the Yurikamome (ゆりかもめ) , which makes a dramatic 270-degree right turn on the approach to the bridge from the mainland side.
One of the main attractions here is the Fuji TV Building. But one of the more interesting ones is the Toyota pavilion, which can be reached by getting off the Yurikamome at the first stop, Odaiba Kaihin-Koen (お台場海浜公園), then taking a nice walk on the bridge across the expressway. Eventually you will come upon the complex, a part of Palette Town, which includes Toyota, as well as a Lawson convenience store. Inside the Toyota pavilion you can test-drive new Toyota vehicles if you have an international drivers license, or simply push a button and have automated elevators and conveyors present a vehicle to you. The other end of the Yurikamome is on the other side of the complex; board it here with your Suica or PASMO card and take it a few stops to Daiba (台場) to access the Fuji building.
The Tokyo Teleport station (東京テレポート) of the Tokyo Waterfront Railway, aka Rinkai Line, is located within the vicinity of the Fuji building.
There you have it! Two landscapes of yesterday, and two landscapes of today, combined into a wonderful whirlwind tour that you can enjoy.
Now let’s figure out how to get around:
Rikugien is located near Komagome station, served by the JR Yamanote Line (the green loop that circles Tokyo on the maps) and the Namboku subway line of the Tokyo Metro. From the Yamanote Line’s main stations, here is the approximate travel time and cost:
Tokyo Station – 17 minutes, 160 yen Ueno Station – 10 minutes, 150 yen Ikebukuro Station – 6 minutes, 150 yen Shinjuku Station – 15 minutes, 160 yen Shinagawa Station – 28 minutes (via Tokyo), 250 yen
From Komagome, Rikugien is a 5 minute walk south from the train station along the main street, Hongo Dori. If exiting from the subway you will want to go out of Exit #2. As you walk south on the main road, there is a narrow street that comes up on the right side once you get to the Sunkus convenience store. The entrance to Rikugien is not far from this corner.
To get from Rikugien to Sensoji, retrace your steps to Komagome station. You will want to board the Yamanote Line towards Ueno station (10 minutes, 150 yen), then transfer to the Ginza Subway Line to the terminal station of Asakusa (5 minutes, 160 yen). Exits 1, 2 or 3 from the subway will point you close to the Kaminari-mon gate.
As you begin walking through the arcade, take note of the first major intersection that you cross on the way to the temple. The path to the right is the most direct route to the train that will bring you to Tokyo Skytree.
Once you are at the Tobu Railway’s Asakusa station, take a local train for the quick ride to Tokyo Skytree station (140 yen).
At the opposite end of the Tokyo Skytree complex from where you entered, you will find the Toei Asakusa subway line’s station at Oshiage-Skytree. Take a subway train to Shimbashi station (16 minutes, 210 yen), then transfer to the Yurikamome for the ride into Odaiba. The first stop on Odaiba, Odaiba-Kaihinkoen, is reached from Shimbashi in 13 minutes (310 yen).
You can return to the Tokyo mainland by retracing your steps on the Yurikamome, or by traveling on the Rinkai Line from Tokyo Teleport station.
If you are traveling to the western part of the Yamanote Loop – to Shinjuku or Ikebukuro – you can get a direct ride on the Rinkai Line, which continues as the JR Saikyo Line. It’s 25 minutes to Shinjuku (480 yen) and about 30 minutes to Ikebukuro (510 yen). Shinagawa station can be reached by using the Rinkai Line to Osaki station (11 minutes, 320 yen) and then traveling one stop on the JR Yamanote Line (130 yen).
If returning to Tokyo or Ueno, I suggest returning to Shimbashi on the Yurikamome, then taking the Yamanote Line to either Tokyo (4 minutes, 13o yen) or Ueno (12 minutes, 150 yen). Note that another train line, the Keihin Tohoku line, runs parallel to the Yamanote Line in this area – you can pick up one of these blue trains to Tokyo or Ueno if it arrives first.
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, I suggest using it for all JR-eligible journeys: the Yamanote Line to Komagome if you’re using that to reach Rikuguen, Komagome to Ueno (traveling from Rikugien to Sensoji), and then if you are returning from Odaiba to Tokyo or Ueno, the JR line from Shimbashi to Tokyo/Ueno. The Rail Pass will not be valid on any of the other lines. Otherwise, point-to-point tickets or a stored fare card (SUICA or PASMO) should be used.
A special note for traveling from Tokyo Teleport (Odaiba) on the Rinkai line: Even though trains on this line continue onto JR tracks, use your Suica or PASMO card for this leg of the trip. Do not use a Rail Pass since it is not accepted for travel over the Rinkai Line. An alternative is to obtain a regular ticket – not using a Suica or PASMO – from Tokyo Teleport to Osaki (320 yen) where the Rinkai Line joins the JR. Once you have continued past Osaki to your destination on the JR line, exit flashing your Japan Rail Pass.
Have fun enjoying Tokyo Yesterday and Today! Don’t forget that all suggestions on this blog are pursuant to the disclaimer.