Monday, September 9

Tokyo in a day

The Tokyo region is home to an estimated 20 million people.  It's bustling urban jungle that spreads around the shores of Tokyo Bay and across the broad Kanto Plain. The view from any elevated location reveals an endless expanse of concrete, buildings and murky haze. Over the years I've developed a comprehensive one-day tour that gives first time visitors a vivid snapshot of the city.

My tour always begins with a view of Tokyo from the Southern observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office tower in Shinjuku. The local government provides access to the 45th floor free of charge.  At 202 metres (663ft) it provides a breath-taking view of the city and its environs. I then take visitors to the opposite side of Shinjuku where the dazzling neon lights of Kabukicho come alive after dark in spectacular fashion.  Mum and I did each sight on separate days as our hotel was within a comfortable walking distance of both locations.

However, the view from our hotel room was almost as spectacular as the Metropolitan Government Office Building.  We cashed in a fistful of loyalty points and booked ourselves into the Hilton Hotel in Shinjuku.  We were given a room on a high floor with a stunning view over central Tokyo.  I was thrilled that my camera successfully captured the cosmopolitan razzle-dazzle in all its glory.

On our final day in Tokyo we spent out time taking a leisurely loop around sights of the inner city, broadly tracing the famous Yamanote train line circuit. Our tour began with a short ride to Shibuya to see the famous statue of Hachiko.  In the 1920s, a teacher who lived near the station kept a small Akita dog. His faithful companion would come to the station every day to await his master's return.

The man died in 1925 but his dog continued to return each day until its own death 11 years later. Today, a statue of Hachiko the dog sits outside the station immortalizing his loyalty.  The locals use it as a meeting place to gather before heading off to shop or share a meal. We used the statue as the perfect opportunity to take our own classic Japanese photo; one with everyone giving the photographer a cheesy peace symbol.

From here we boarded the train again and made our way to Ginza, Japan's homeland of luxury brand shopping. It's also a convenient hop-off point for visiting the Imperial Palace, the home of Japan's Emperor. Everyone flocks to the edge of the palace's inner moat to catch a brief glimpse of the palace and it's famous entrance bridge, Niju-bashi.  The current palace was constructed in 1968 after allied bombing destroyed its predecessor in the final months of World War II.

I then took Mum for a stroll through the heart of Marunouchi, the central city's exclusive business district, that eventually led us to the majestic Edwardian facade of Tokyo Railway Station.  In recent years. the building elegant central dome has been carefully restored to form a light and airy entrance lobby.

Our next stop was Senso-ji, a colouful temple complex in the heart of Tokyo.  Getting to the site can be quite an ordeal.  Visitors must first weave their way through narrow lanes filled with shops and stalls selling all manner of souvenirs, trinkets and craft ware.  The temple itself is protected by a towering red gate known as Kaminari-mon, or Thunder Gate.  To the left of the gate stands a classic five-story pagoda which is usually closed to the public.

Mum and I visited Senso-ji on Saturday afternoon.  This was clearly the temple's busiest period as the streets and temple grounds were simply heaving with people.  The most memorable moment of our visit came as we stood outside the main hall.  We were mesmerized by the constant sound of clattering coins as each visitor stopped to pray and leave an offering. The temple must rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars every month.

We finished our day tour of Tokyo by returning to Shinjuku to wander the massive food hall of Isetan Department Store.  It's considered one of Tokyo's iconic stores, selling luxury goods from across the globe. Incredibly, its roof consists of an expansive grass lawn surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens and mature trees.  It's hard to believe this green oasis exists in the heart of city.


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