More must see places in Tokyo17 January, 2012 by Chad
We had initially wanted to visit the Disney Resort this Tuesday but couldn’t find the energy to wake up early enough this morning. Instead, another day was spent within the city, this time visiting more of Tokyo’s must see sights. The first destination would be Asakusa, for the famous Sensoji Temple.
In an attempt to avoid some of the crowds, we had delayed our temple visit to the third day of the new year. It was still pretty packed here this morning though, akin to a busy day at Harajuku. Hadn’t seen this many people in Asakusa before, who knows what crowds we would had faced if we had came earlier. Had quite a bit of trouble making our way to the temple (and even more trying to make our way back to the entrance later).
For some odd reason, the crowds seemed to disperse as we approached the temple area. The main temple building was accessible and we didn’t have any trouble getting inside. In fact there were more people huddled outside and at the cleansing areas.
Most of the people belong to a Chinese tour group, who were especially fascinated with the incense burner in the forecourt and the cleansing basin beside it. The locals were more busy buying their “evil dispelling arrows” and omikuji, the slips of paper with random fortunes printed on them.
Like at the shrines, the usual donation box had been made away and folks could simply throw their money within a barricaded area inside the temple. The temple was fully operational today though and you could even enter the main prayer chambers if you wanted to.
All around, food stands had been set up around the temple courtyard. As with most festivals, the food here tend to be overpriced and subpar at best but many come anyways for the novelty or nostalgia.
Instead, we returned to the main street to look for other ways to spend our shillings. We didn’t have to go far, for the first stall on the return journey caught our sight. It was selling ageman, a kind of fried bun with different fillings. Many people were gathered around here. Bought one to try, it was quite nice. Freshly made and still warm, the ageman was pretty light snack, almost resembling a puff with its thin crispy shell. Inside was a deliberately sweet red bean filling.
Figured we’d might as well get an early lunch for once at Asakusa. There seems to be a universal rule that sleazy neighborhoods always tend to be filled with no shortage temples and great gastronomical delights. As luck would have it, we chanced upon this hole in the wall eatery called Asakusa Nobu.
The small shop took pride in its homely setting. Somehow a family of 4 managed to fit behind the narrow counter, an elderly couple, their son and his wife. The walls were covered with recommendations from television stations and autographs of famous guests, many from an older time.
Asakusa Nobu’s specialties were their daily steak, which were limited to the first 20 customers of the day, hamburgs and omurice. Seeing that just about everyone who entered had ordered a serving of the omurice we decided to go with that. We weren’t wrong.
Needless to say, what we were served today was quite possibly the best omurice I’d had ever. The picture falls short of conveying the taste of the demi glace sauce or the softness of the rice. Now, I’m not an omurice connoisseur by any means but Asakusa Nobu had to take the cake for the best culinary discovery this trip.
After lunch it was off to Ginza for more window shopping. Some of the department stores were still closed for the holidays. The others had begun their fukubukuro sales already. Continued to weigh between getting the pair of Adidas shoes. The Adidas store at Ginza sold their lucky bags as metal paint cans filled with clothes. Maybe it was the weight or the fact that people tend to be pretty picky about their sports clothing, but no one was purchasing any.
Spotted some interesting amps at the Yamaha building and a really cool model test track at the Hakuhinkan Toy Park here. People could fit a special chassis to their model kits which would allow them to control the speed of the model on the track with a remote. Take a corner too fast and your car would flip over.
The chassis were customized to various popular configurations so you could fit them onto Tamiya Mini 4WD kits for example. There were also cars you could rent for free (but the remotes were coin operated. The track digitally kept score of your number of laps, time taken and best laps automatically. A little boy played with a rented car while a couple of enthusiasts in their 30s joined in to test their customized rigs.
Saw a bunch of people eating waffles, which reminded me of the existence of the Manneken shop here. After poking around, we found it at the corner of the junction.
Not sure if this Manneken is ever without a queue. But that’s because it serves some of the best Belgian Waffles you could find. A couple of American guys in front of us had a tough time deciding what flavors to buy. Ended up getting some of the safe favorites as well as their seasonal special a fromage one. It was quite indistinguishable from the plain ones though.
We were to head to the Tokyo Tower next for the evening but with it still being early, decided to take a short walk over to Tsukiji to see if anything was open there. We passed by the site of the former Kabuki theater, construction of a new office building was underway.
Along the way to Tsukiji, we passed by someone who looked awfully like Uchida Mayumi but with long hair. Didn’t pay any notice at first, but the tiny lady caught our attention when she began tapping at her friend and saying something while passing by us.
But between the holidays and it being the afternoon, most of the shops at Tsukiji were closed. There were a few still opened though but we weren’t particularly hungry at this point so ahead to Tokyo Tower it was.
Along the way we passed by Zojoji Temple, a Japanese Buddhist temple famous for its giant 390 year old gate. The neighborhood here had been named Daimon (literally Big Gate) after the temple gate. The temple had a picture perfect location just beside the tower. A small number of festival stands had been set up and there was a performance monkey doing some tricks.
The main temple here sold some interesting Japanese Charms. This was the first time I had seen a black one so decided to add it to my already sizable collection. It was for victory.
From Zojoji, it was just a short walk uphill through an area lined with rows of depressing Jizo statues and tall trees to the tower. The numbers 2012 were prominently displayed on the windows of the Tokyo Tower.
The tower wasn’t particularly more crowded than usual so getting up didn’t take too long. Above, we were greeted to the beautiful panorama of Tokyo and its endless sea of city lights. It’s a magnificent view that can only be found in truly metropolitan cities like those found in Japan and something I’ve come to love dearly.
It’s not limited to just one area either with the lighted buildings stretching in all directions. Above, we could see the streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku with their telltale skyscrapers. Below, the glowing Azabu-juban highway with the famous Rainbow Bridge in the distance.
A small window on the floor allowed you to take a look down below, but as Gage pointed out was too smudged with footprints to be of much use.
Couple of special seasonal things here. A miniature tower studded with 10,000 Swarovski crystals was on display at the information counter. It was here to promote Tokyo Tower as a “Love Power Spot”, which is just Made In Japan English for a place that is supposed to infuse you with gimmicky cosmic energies or something.
You could also buy commemorative ema to write your (probably relationship related) new year wishes at the counter too but there was only space to display a selected few. Instead, you were supposed to hang them up at Tokyo Daijingu. The shrine is located at the opposite side of Tokyo.
You’ll find this standard brand of commemorative medal coins at just about ever major tourist destination around Japan. They’ve apparently been dispensing them for decades. Surely there are commendable people out there who collect absolutely every design for each place they’ve been to.
I had previous bought this Hello Kitty one from Tokyo Tower and another from Osaka Shinsekai’s Tsutenkaku. The red one here caught my eye but decided not to get another as I already had little use for the previous two.
Didn’t remember seeing it before and that’s because (as I would later find out) that some of designs rotate with each season. The new one in the signature Tokyo Tower red was a lot more attractive than the previous holographic design.
Little has changed much at the official souvenir store downstairs. Just your usual assortment of typical Japanese omiyage, like snacks made in the remote likeness of a tower, bottled water and clear folders. You must always have clear folders.
After witnessing so many such shops selling the same uninspired themed goods, I have realized that the problem with Japanese intellectual properties being unable to monetize their brands properly (AKB48 I’m looking at you) stems far deeper than expected.
While we need to look no further than Disney for effective merchandising examples and Radio Eva is an excellent recent success story, being able to take a 17 year old franchise and make it relevant again, most seem content with slapping the direct likeness of their properties straight onto useless items. I’m sure somewhere in history, Hello Kitty is to blame for this phenomenon.
Further downstairs, you’ll find all the tower’s dining options as well as a collection of 3rd party souvenir shops. Nothing much here but you can get popular souvenir snacks like those from the Tokyo Banana series for far cheaper than at Narita Airport. A young Caucasian lady was busy snapping up unofficial Johnny’s goods.
We stopped for a snack at one of Baskin Robbins’ branches here. The local stores had recently begun serving crepes since last week. For the same price as their sundae cones (430 yen / SGD$7), Baskin Robbins served premium crepes with two small scoops of ice cream.
Gage had their advertised Choco Banana crepes with scoops of chopped chocolate ice cream, at the suggestion of the cute shop assistant. I went with their Strawberry Cheesecake Sundae with a scoop of surprise, strawberry cheesecake. The servings for their crepes were pretty puny. Not recommended.
Back outside, a bunch of kids were fleeing from Tokyo Tower’s horrific mascot. People were still queuing up to get tickets up the tower. Without any clouds to reflect light off, the clear blue skies turn to pitch black nights at a switch of a button. It’s easy to forget that it was barely 7 PM. Night tends to fall around 5 PM here and that’s during the longer months.
On our way back, we dropped by Ueno to take a look around again. Most of the shops were already closed or starting to. Gage was wondering if he should get a pair of unique modular Timberland boots that also turned into sneakers. They appropriately featured a SKE48-ish yellow tartan accent. He ended up passing. I returned to the Yamashiroya Toy Shop to pick up a little something before heading back to our hotel.
Not pictured here but dinner was just a couple of Nissin’s BIG Cup Noodles.
For dessert, a box of colorful confectioneries from Asakusa that we were reminded to consume by today. These were purchased at Funawa, a famous sweets shop at Asakusa. I had passed it quite many times before and these had caught my eye before, but it wasn’t until today that decided to grab a box.
The Ankodama are balls of sweet bean paste, coated in a shiny layer of transparent jelly to give it its shine. Traditionally filled with azuki red bean, this box of 9 (546 yen) also came with ones featuring milk (white), coffee (brown), strawberry (maroon), orange and matcha flavored bean paste. Taste wise, some of them were too delicate to tell apart.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.