A walk from Tokyo Tower to Ueno Park
Another day means another adventure, a new itinerary. This one started obviously at The Knot Shinjuku Hotel, with a hearty breakfast, but continued with a trip to the emblematic Tokyo Tower! On that day, I had planned to explore also Tokyo Station and the Ueno area...
You might have heard about Tokyo Tower or at least seen it in a few movies, animes and mangas. I definitely remember it from X - 1999 and Card Captor Sakura (many many years ago) both designed by Clamp Studio. And seeing it this year was, maybe not a dream, but another check on my bucket list. We took the Oedo line from Nishi-Shinjuku-Gochome Station towards Kiyosumi-Shirakawa and stopped at Akabanebashi Station. A simple 17 min ride on a quiet subway.
When we exited the station, we immediately saw a glimpse of the tower among the buildings and after a few hundred meters, we fully saw it from afar. We kept walking towards it and ended up climbing a steep street to finally find ourselves at the bottom of the Tokyo Tower. I must say that it was an impressive sight, it looked so tall! The ground floor is dedicated to shops and restaurants and you can buy tickets onsite to visit the observation decks. The view isn't as mind-blowing as in the Tokyo SkyTree but it's nice nonetheless!
In the area, the Tokyo Tower isn't the only site to visit. There are a few temples/shrines to see as well as a Japanese cemetery. Following the instructions of Google Map, we quickly found a first shrine and a bit further a much bigger complex including: the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Shoguns, Ankokuden, San'en-zan Zōjō-ji, the Gate of Daitokuin Mausoleum, the Onarimon Gate or Nishimukikannon. Visiting all of it might take some time but it is definitely worth it!
I was particularly touched by the Nishimukikannon which is a shrine dedicated to children and unborn babies. Loosing a child is never easy nor is finding closure, these statues are meant to help women move on and cope. You'll see statues lining up (Jizo = protectors of children) and each of them has a windmill and wears a hat, sometimes a jacket, to protect the children's spirit. It's something I had never seen before but profoundly respect.
The side alley where I found the Nishimukikannon led me to the main part of the complex. We prayed a lot in there, bought more omamori and took a lot of pictures. Note that there were also a lot of charms linked to the year of the pig ^^ It was so cute and I also realized that I could collect stamps from each temple or shrine I visited. There are even note books sold for this sole purpose!
Not all buildings were open that day but being able to walk around was amazing nonetheless. The doors (torii) were so impressive and the overall architecture was breathtaking, especially with the Tokyo Tower in the back. Not too far, we spotted a "Pain Quotidien" and decided to stop for a well deserved coffee/Matcha to warm up and discuss our next visits. It looked just like a regular Belgian Paint Quot', with the usual suggestions and a few Japanese twists...
At that point, we wanted to visit the Nick Hayek Swatch Center in Ginza and checked how far it was. We could have walked there but there was a metro station nearby... Plus it was a lot faster! We arrived after a few stops at Shimbashi station, from where we headed to the shopping street. It reminded me a lot of New York with its tall buildings. This district is a concentrate of luxury brands, from fashion to food, and every vitrine is carefully designed to attract your attention. We found rather easily the Swatch Building and its aerate construction but we also stumbled on the competition with Seiko. We checked a few more stores before heading slowly to Tokyo Station.
You might have heard of Tokyo Station and its "streets": Ramen Street, Sweet Street and Character Street? That was my next stop, starting with Ramen street for lunch. It took a bit of walking but eventually, and with the help of Google Map, we got there and found Ramen Heaven! It was a full underground street with just shops selling noodles and I couldn't have asked for a better lunch. I couldn't decide where to eat, everything looked so delicious and clean and full! We settled for one shop that sold ramen and cold noodles, waited in the line patiently after ordering our food at the ticket machine.
The wait was not too long, I believe it took 10 minutes to free the 3 seats we needed and the food arrived almost immediately. It felt so good to finally eat something warm, especially after walking so much outside on a winter day. The Ramen was good but extra spicy and my cold noodles/warm dipping soup were a delicious discovery. I really wanted to try this dish and wasn't disappointed. We took about half an hour to finish our meal while chatting about Japan. We also realized that my dad lost his metro ticket (72h pass) which meant buying a new transport ticket and testing the machines in the subway! (see my previous post on "public transports")
After eating, the first thing we did was to check out more restaurants from Ramen Street, analyzing menus and plastic displays. This led us to Sweet Street and Character Street, where I found loads of Kit Kats and other Japanese specialties but also anime characters like Totoro or Miffy. There was also a small Pokemon Store in the station but it wasn't as great as the one in Ikebukuro. I found it quite amazing to have that much "life" in a station and more specifically, the basement of the station. I couldn't picture this in Brussels to be honest, although it would be super nice/useful! I would love to have cool shops and food chains in the metro!
Getting back to the surface, we walked some more the area and found some nice coffee places and more shops. But mainly, we were next to Chiyoda and the Imperial palace. Since we heard that the visit wasn't too nice in winter, we skipped that visit and will plan it next time we are in Tokyo, hopefully in Spring or Summer. The gardens are supposedly exquisite so it is better to go on a sunny and warm day, when nature is blooming! This strategic choice gave us more time to focus on other attractions which were better suited for a short winter trip :)
This is why we ended up in Ueno and its lovely park early in the afternoon. You'll ask me, why a park if you are not even visiting the gardens of the imperial palace? Well because there is more to this park than meets the eye! You'll find a bunch of attractions at Ueno park including temples, the zoo, cafés, fountains, demonstrations and more! Not to mention that the park is located next to the Ameyoko, a street filled with shops selling sweets.
We started at the entrance close to the Ueno station and made our way to the Ueno Onshi Park and its Fountain Square. The day was sunny so we sat and enjoyed a quiet moment, watching the water dance and children play. Since the park is huge, we spent some more time exploring it and its hidden corners. We walked towards the zoo and stumbled upon Ueno Toshogu Shrine and its magnificent Pagoda (Five Storied Pagoda of Kan’ei-ji) and golden Shrine. The details on this building are stunning and definitely worth your time so make sure to stop there. Also, you can visit some of the gardens for a fee, it might be something to do in Spring/Summer.
If you enjoy like me traditional small shrines then you'll like what's coming next: Gojo Tenjinsha. This little sanctuary is dedicated to health/medicine/exams and a gem of authenticity. To get there, you will have to pass under a series of red toriis that reminded me of Kyoto but smaller. You'll usually find them at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. We followed the past, went down a few flight of stairs and found the first shrine. We cleansed ourselves, prayed and took in every detail of the architecture and statues around us like the kitsune. This first building led us to a bigger complex that looked more modern but was still interesting to see.
Following the way out, we found ourselves at the Shinobazu lake and its Buddhist temples: Daikokuten-dō, Shōtenjima & Shinobazunoike Bentendo. I honestly didn't expect more temples on my way but I didn't complain, I really like temples/shrines/sanctuaries! On the way to the middle of the lake, where the temples were build, you'll have a few improvised shops selling drinks and skewers, sometimes even more. It's lively and yet not too noise, it's a nice break from the city.
Next to the side of the park, you'll easily reach Ameyoko a.k.a Sweet Street. If you are looking for cheap snacks (sweets and savory), this is the place! Prices are almost unbeatable and special offers are legion. This is also the neighborhood where you'll find seafood and Korean specialties. There are a bunch of small restaurants serving small bites to share, just sit at a table and choose something from the menu!
At the end of the streets, you'll find a metro nearby that can bring you wherever you need to be, in our case back in Shinjuku for a late dinner a little curry restaurant next to The Knot Hotel!
Have you visited Tokyo? What was your favorite place? Let me know!