Tokyo, the most populated city in the world is magical and special not only because it blends perfection with modernity and tradition but also the language and customs as well. It offers a great choice of shopping, fashion, entertainment, culture and food. Captivated by this country for years, I set off to discover the land of the rising sun.
During my last trip to Japan, I had planned a tight itinerary leaving no room for unplanned events. However on my first morning in Tokyo, I met a Canadian who changed my outlook on the trip. He heard me speaking to my sister in French and started chatting to me. Having been living in Tokyo for years, he was able to share with me some of his experiences and suggested places to visit. It’s always good to meet people with whom you can have that instant connection. A piece of his advice that struck me was that Tokyo is a city that should be looked both horizontally and vertically. For example, you can easily see all the shop fronts as you look ahead of you but if you raise your eyes, you will see many signs indicating restaurants, shops or companies that the buildings also house. Things happen everywhere, you just need to open your eyes!
Central Tokyo (Imperial Palace, Ginza, Nihonbashi & Marunouchi)
The first stop of my busy plan was the Imperial Palace (皇居, Kōkyo). The place of residence of the imperial family is surrounded by a curtain of skyscrapers and gardens (Kokyo Gaien “Imperial Palace Outer Garden”, Kokyo Higashi Gyoen “Imperial Palace East Garden” and Kita-no-maru-koen Park). Although the inner grounds of the palace are open to the public only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), the gardens are all open to the public free of charge. We did not visit the park because of time. If you are not in a rush and do have time, walk around one of the gardens and enjoy the pretty sight.
On the other side of the Imperial Palace is Marunouchi (丸の内), the Canary Wharf of Tokyo with a variety of offices, shops and restaurants. After my brief visit to the Imperial Palace, I went to Tokyo Station to collect my Japan Rail Pass. You can get more information about Japan Pass, here.
Not far away is Nihonbashi (日本橋). Although it looks just like a bridge under another bridge; the bridge that gave its name to the district was the centre point for Japan’s highway network in the Edo period. Following on from there, I arrived in Ginza (銀座). Being Tokyo’s most fashionable and posh shopping, dining and entertainment district, it reminds me of Champs Élysées in Paris, Fifth Avenue in New York or Bond Street in London. It has lots of department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, night clubs and cafes – all a little too expensive for my liking but window shopping never hurt anyone!
Ginza being not far from Tsukiji Market (築地市場) has plenty of sushi restaurants on offer. We had lunch in this lovely restaurant: Ginza Sushi Marui (Ginzatyuuou Bld.1F, 3-8-15, Ginza, Chuo-ku). The young chef (still in training as it takes years of on-the-job training) was eager to practice his English with me.
Southern Tokyo (Odaiba)
If you are looking for a nice day out of Tokyo, then Odaiba (お台場) is the right place. The easiest way to Odaiba is by taking the Yurikamome Line from Shinbashi (新橋). The monorail runs without a driver between the skyscrapers and crosses the Rainbow Bridge to finish in the bays of Tokyo in about 15 minutes. I recommend you seat in the front to admire the view.
Odaiba is an artificial island and offers a beautiful view of Tokyo, a replica of the statue of Liberty, a onsen (hot spring), sandy beach and even more which makes it the favourite place to spend the weekend. I didn’t see anyone swimming, but there were a few people paddling and windsurfing.
I finished the day in Odaiba with a visit on the Ferris Wheel. At 115 metres tall it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel until it was overtaken by the London Eye. Sadly I was unable to take pictures from “above” as my phone battery inconveniently died while I was enjoying the amazing view! To appreciate the scenery better, it is recommended to do this activity in the evening or at night to have better view of an illuminated Tokyo. Some of the cabins have a clear base so are definitely not for the fainthearted.
At night, the skyline with the rainbow bridge is really beautiful and serene. On the way back to Tokyo, you can either take the monorail or the water bus to Asakusa.
This was an enjoyable but tiring first day!
Have you been to Odaiba? What did you like about it?