One of our first impressions of Tokyo was that it’s impressively clean, which is not something we’ve come to expect from large cities. We didn’t see any trash on the streets, all of the properties are well maintained, the trains are kept clean, and the public restrooms are the nicest we’ve ever seen. Even the toilets are impressive – I couldn’t resist taking a picture. First of all, the toilet seats are heated! And there are all these fancy buttons on the seat. I don’t know what they are all for, but I pushed the one with the music note on it and the toilet started making a fake flushing sound – hilarious.
Cleanliness and toilets aside, what has really impressed us here are the Japanese people. We’ve found them to be polite (and not pushy) as well as very kind and helpful. English is not widely spoken here, but it seems that whenever we need help – someone who speaks English appears. As an example, when we went to leave Tokyo and take the train to Kyoto, the man at the ticket window did not speak English. A guy standing by offered to translate for us. Then, after we got our train seats, he showed us where to go to catch the train – staying with us on the short connecting train, then walking us all the way to platform for our train to Kyoto, even though that wasn’t where he was going. It’s little acts of kindness like this that make a world of difference when you’re in a foreign country.
In Japan, the exchange rate is roughly 100 yen to 1 USD, so it’s easy math when translating prices in your head. Unfortunately, that also makes it painfully clear that Japan is not cheap by any means; prices here are comparable to the U.S.
We started our first day in Tokyo by getting coffee, picking up a few breakfast items at a local grocery, then heading to the nearby Imperial Palace. It was a Sunday morning and it seemed half of Tokyo had gone there for a morning run. The path around the outside of the gardens is roughly equivalent to a 5k run. It is the most popular running spot in town.
After the Imperial Palace, we took the subway to SKYTREE – the tallest tower in the world when it opened in 2012. At 634 meters high (over 1900 feet), it is an engineering marvel. The “roots” of the building are 50 meters deep.
We took the elevator up to the Tembo Deck. They cram as many people as possible onto each elevator, so thankfully, it moves fast – the ride takes less than a minute.
Once on the Tembo Deck, we enjoyed panoramic views of Tokyo. On a really clear day, you can even see the elusive Mt Fuji; no such luck for us but we did our best to imagine it.
The lower floors of the tower are filled with shops & restaurants. We walked around and ate lunch while we waited for our ticket time (ingenious that they allow you to do this instead of forcing you to wait in line the entire time).
There is food seemingly everywhere in Tokyo. They say that Tokyo has the most eating establishments per capita in the entire world. And as if that isn’t enough, there are vending machines around every corner, selling everything from soft drinks & snacks to beer & cigarettes.
That afternoon, we walked through the towering torii (gate) to the Meiji jingu shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, during whose reign, Japan became one of the world’s major powers.
After visiting the shrine, we went straight to Ginza for the neon spectacular. When the sun goes down, the wide Harumi-dori lights up like Las Vegas. It’s much more spectacular in person than these pictures show.
The Harumi-dori is lined with shops. We checked out the basement food halls at one if the department stores, where bento boxes and free samples abound.
We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant just off the main drag before heading back to our hotel for the night. We had successfully pushed through the jet lag and kept ourselves awake the entire day!
The next morning, before leaving Tokyo, we decided to check out the Tsukiji Fish Market. It’s the biggest seafood market in the world. Once we saw bikes with fish coolers, we knew we must be getting close to it.
Market stalls surround the auction area and provide a feast for the eyes. Although fish isn’t exactly our breakfast of choice, we couldn’t pass up the free samples. I didn’t know what half the stuff was, but that’s all part of the experience, right?
Before leaving the market, we enjoyed a big bowl of soba noodles with shrimp tempura. A yummy way to end our time in Tokyo.