Tokyo in half a day
TOKYO, Japan – Towering skyscrapers, beautiful temples, busy streets, delectable food, and expensive shopping. This was how I imagined Tokyo – and I was right in every way.
I had a short trip to Japan’s capital city last November to participate in the 2013 Developing Asia Journalism Awards and Forum organized by the Asian Development Bank Institute. Due to the jampacked schedule of the conference, I only had half a day to go around one of the world’s most visited cities.
Luckily for me, I had Japanese friends who toured me around the city. So even with the short time I had, I was able to do a lot, and the few places I visited showed me a lot about Japanese culture, history, and tradition.
Temples and towers
My friends took me first to the Senso-ji Temple, arguably the most famous and most visited Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Foreigners, pilgrims, and locals come here to get blessed and pray for guidance.
The temple is beautiful and well-preserved despite the daily volume of visitors. The design follows traditional Japanese architecture and religion.
Beside the temple is the Asakusa Shinto shrine. It has a beautiful garden with little homes that Shintoists believe houses the spirits of their ancestors. Since I visited in November, the garden was in full autumn beauty. The ambience was perfect for reflecting and meditating.
Outside the temple is the place to shop for authentic Japanese souvenirs. Before reaching the temple’s gate, you’ll pass by a stretch of shops that sell every Japanese souvenir possible, from lanterns to fake katanas to fans.
Tokyo has two skyscrapers that are worth visiting: the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree. Due to the time constraint, I was only able to visit the former.
Used primarily for communication and tourism purposes, the Tokyo Tower is Japan’s version of Paris’ Eiffel and Kuala Lumpur’s Menara KL. Standing at more than 1,000 feet, it is also the second tallest structure in Japan (Tokyo Skytree stands 2,080 feet high).
I suggest visiting the tower at night, as my friends and I did, in order to see the tower with all its lights. The FootTown building in the tower’s base is also a good place to have a snack and shop for souvenirs.
Sumida River cruise
This is a must-try for tourists visiting Tokyo, as the Sumida river cruise takes you across the city in less than an hour.
Since there was a station located a few blocks away from the Senso-ji Temple, my friends and I rode the cruise to reach the Tokyo Tower. It was a good ride for sightseeing and relaxing. The water buses also have restaurants inside so passengers can drink hot tea or coffee while moving along the Sumida river.
We got off the cruise at the famous Hama-rikyu Gardens, which was located at the mouth of the Sumida river.
Hama-rikyu is a public park in the center of the city, near the Tokyo Tower. It’s a perfect place to exercise or reflect in at anytime of the day. Visitors can also drink tea or other refreshments in the restaurant in the middle of the park.
When we visited, the park was a coloful sight, thanks to autumn. The leaves looked as if they were burning in the sun’s rays.
The river cruise costs around JPY200 and the entrance to the park roughly JPY100.
Shopping and beer
A visit to one of the world’s tourist hotspots won’t be complete without shopping and a bit of drinking. So I made sure I had time for both.
On my last night in the city, I visited Shibuya, Tokyo’s shopping district and a famous nightlife area for young people. You can find several fashion department stores and almost every brand here. Shibuya 109 is a major shopping mall where you can buy Japanese-style clothes.
For those looking for cheap buys, go to the Don Quijote shop in Shibuya. This store chain has everything from clothing to furnitures to groceries. Every product is sold at a discounted price and the store is open until late night (some are even open 24 hours).
Want to have some beer to cap the day? Check out one of the many bars in the district! My friends took me to this restaurant where we ate shabu-shabu and had unlimited alcohol for only JPY2,500 per person. You can choose from draft beer, imported alcohol, and the traditional sake.
On one of the nights of the conference, I visited Ginza with the other participants. For those who like high-end brands and have the budget, Ginza is the place for you – the district is considered as one of the most expensive shopping districts in the world. There are also many coffee shops and bars where you can warm yourselves during cold weather.
Tokyo has one of the world’s most complicated train systems. Compared to those of Taipei, Bangkok, and Seoul, the subway system in Tokyo is not as tourist-friendly as most of the signs are in Nihongo. The friendliness of the Japanese, however, makes up for this so there’s no need to worry. It’s easy to ask around for directions to anyone passing by.
Short trips normally range from JPY100 to JPY300, while trips involving many train transfers could go as high as JPY600 (JPY 100 = US$1).
There is also a train line going to and from the Narita International Airport from Tokyo Central Station and it costs around JPY1,300. This is the cheapest way to get to the airport aside from the bus. Our group of Filipino journalists had to take a cab going to our hotel when we arrived since our flight got delayed. We had to pay the cab JPY22,000 from Narita to Chiyoda-ku.
Cab drivers are friendly and professional. They don’t ask for more than what’s on the meter and will insist on giving your change.
There are so many places to explore in Tokyo. A week should be the minimum spent there for vacation. The city is beautiful during autumn, but I heard it’s much more beautiful in springtime because of the cherry blossoms.
Lastly, remember to bring a big budget if planning to visit this city. Tokyo, after all, is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. – Rappler.com