I was lucky to have a business trip to such a faraway and unique country as Japan. Of course, every country is unique in its own was, but for whatever reasons Japan stands out in my mind. I was anticipating this trip since one year and finally it happened. Very often, when you are waiting for something so long, you tend to set up overdone expectations. I was lucky to confirm that this was not the case. Japan could surprise almost anyone who was not born there and in the next posts I will try to capture at least a few points, why.
I spent only seven days in Japan: the day of arrival, tired from the overnight flight, four-and-a-half days at the office from 10 am to 6:30 pm and one day in Kyoto. Barely enough to even get acquainted with one city. Besides, in autumn it gets dark pretty early in Japan, at around 5 pm it is already pitch-dark. So you can imagine, I had very little time to explore the country. However, this was enough for the very first impression, which was indeed very strong! Already on the second day of the trip I told my colleagues that if there would have been a possibility, I would like to work in Tokyo for a while, spending at least several months in this city which seemed to me a very sophisticated and successful mix of New York and Hong Kong.
Tokyo is a huge megapolis. Around 30 million people live and work here. The space is scarce, therefore the houses and roads are built vertical as well. All over you can see the skyscrapers, the apartments situated centrally are typically small and people work long hours. This forces the Tokyoites to go out for lunch or for a dinner a lot. I had an impression that in the business and touristic areas such as Shibuya, Ebisu and Shinjuku the bars, cafes and restaurants occupy almost every free meter of the ground floor. Neon signs offer you a huge variety of services, usually in Japanese, so I was not able to distinguish what exactly they offer you. But the city looks intensely lightened even after sunset which makes you feel alive and awake. You realize that even in the evening the options to go out are infinite and we made good use of this fact. We tried very different Japanese food and went out for lunch or dinner almost every day. I will tell you more about Japanese food in a separate post.
As I have been to Japan for a one-week business trip, my sightseeing experience was very limited. Besides, it was getting dark very early, before 5 pm. In Tokyo, it total, I had only half a day after arrival on Sunday and made the best out of two jetlagged mornings.
Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa area
On my free afternoon, I met a friend of my childhood and her family. I haven’t seen her for ages, I’m not exaggerating. I love such reunions so much, meeting a friend from my hometown on the different side of the globe, isn’t it a delightful proof that the world is so small yet huge!
We went to Asakusa area and visited the Asakusa’s ancient Buddhist temple, Senso-ji (2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032, Japan) and the Hōzōmon Gate where the world biggest waraji, straw sandals which samurai used to wear and three large lanterns. Don’t miss the Nakamise Shopping Street, one of the streets leading to the temple. This street is lined with lots of shops selling all kinds of goodies from toys to food to souvenirs. When researching on the Internet about this area, I discovered an interesting page, which reveals secrets of the etiquette of visiting temples and shrines in Japan: https://www.moshimoshi-nippon.jp/68492.
When it got dark, we explored the view from the Tokyo Skytree (http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/). The Tokyo Skytree was built in 2012 and with its 614 m it became the tallest tower and the second-tallest freestanding structure in the world. The tower is open from 8am till 10 pm. There are two decks you could visit: the 350 floor Tembo Deck (2060 yen) 450 floor Tembo Galleria (additional 1030 yen). Frankly speaking, the view is pretty much the same, so if you are travelling on a budget, skip the 450 floor.
By the way, next to the Skytree you can find a huge shopping mall where you can try all sorts of Japanese food: I literally was lost in choice and mesmerized by the huge variety of the delicacies.
The Asahi beer tower
In the same area you will not miss a building with a golden something on the top. This is the Asahi beer tower (〒130-0001 Tōkyō-to, Sumida-ku, Azumabashi, 1 Chome−23, 墨田区吾妻橋1−23-1). This building is considered one of Tokyo’s most recognizable modern structures. You will definitely wonder about the giant golden construction on its top and will try to guess what it was dedicated to. It is called the Asahi Flame, and it is said to represent both the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head.
The closest shrine to my hotel was the Meiji Shrine (1-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-8557, Japan), a Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his wife. The opening hours of the Meiji shrine complex follow the sunrise and sunset times and therefore differ from month to month. In November, for example, the gates were open from 6:10 am till 4:10 pm. The shrine itself and the gardens were open from 9 am. On your way to the shrine you will pass through the tori – a gate at the entrance and walk by the Barrels of sake (nihonshu) donated to the Meiji Shrine.
Next to the shrine territories, you can also have a stroll in the Yoyogi Park, which is open 24 hours a day. Before it used to be an army parade ground and housed the main Olympic 1964 village. Nowadays, the park has picnic areas, bike paths, cycle rentals and public sport courts. In spring, thousands of people visiting the Yoyogi Park to enjoy the cherry blossom season.
New Otani’s Garden
A small but beautiful garden belongs to the Hotel New Otani territory, but you can visit it is a non-hotel guest free of charge from 6 am till 10 pm (https://www.newotani.co.jp/en/tokyo/garden/). The garden features several ancient stone lanterns, scarlet bridges over koi (carp) ponds, a stone garden, and even a waterfall. When I was there, I could hardly believe that this quiet and peaceful garden was nestled in the heart of this busy city, between the skyscrapers.
As we were living next to the Shibuya crossroad, we were crossing it at least 2 times a day. The view from above is indeed fascinating. Especially in the evening, hundreds of people cross Shibuya simultaneously in all directions reminiscing a huge anthill. Roughly one million people cross Shibuya crossroad every day. Impressive, right? No wonder this crossing is declared the busiest crossing in the world.
The best place to watch the Shibuya crossing is undoubtedly the facing it Starbucks. It is supposedly open from 6 am to 4 am. However, at 8 am the famous crossroad is still empty, so the better time to watch the crowds would be the late afternoon, but by that time it will be definitely difficult to find a place by a window.
During the year, the culmination of the Shibuya-crossing-story is the night from October 31 to November 1, when Halloween is celebrated in the city. We were lucky to experience this crazy lively action. The traffic was limited during the night and the crossroad so full that it was sometimes literally impossible to make your own way through the crowd. Tourists and locals, all in different costumes, some of them very intricate, came to Shibuya to celebrate Halloween.
Next day was one of my two jetlag mornings, so I was crossing Shibuya at around 7 am. I have seen some people in costumes walking toward the metro, which is absolutely logical after such a party that some celebrate until morning comes. But I was deeply impressed seeing many people, students, scholars and elderly with a violet or orange band crossing their chest who were picking up the trash from the streets. At 7 am it was already so clean as if this wild celebration had never happened.
Shopping in Shibuya
Another thing you can do in the evening is shopping. Some supermarkets are open until 9 or 10 pm, so make sure you take a proper luggage with you as if you fancy little useful household or stationary things, you will leave the country with a handful of purchases. As we lived in Shibuya, we went shopping mostly in that area. Here are some tips:
- Visit Loft for fancy stationary and household articles (21-1 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042, Japan)
- Daiso – here you can find everything for 108 yen (if not stated otherwise on the box), from technical stuff to fancy gift wrapping paper (35-2 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042, Japan)
- Mega Don Quijote for local food, drinks and cosmetics (28-6 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042, Japan)
In the neighbor area, Harajuku, you can visit a shopping mall famous for its mirror entrance, Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku Japan, 〒150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae, 4 Chome−30-3 東急プラザ表参道原宿 4階\