Monday, 28 July 2014

Tokyo Trip: The Tokyo Skytree and Sumida River

Night View of Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Sumida River
Our intention was to walk to the Tokyo Skytree from the Senso-ji temple at Asakusa. The Skytree is a 634 meter tall broadcasting station and the latest landmark of Tokyo.  It was estimated to be around 30 minutes at leisure pace. We eventually gave up the idea when my wife backache caught up with her. Before heading to the Sky Tree Line, we decided to take a rest by the Sumida River. It was a good decision as we got to enjoy the river breeze and taking in the view of the river scene. For those who did not not know, the famous Golden Kannon statue at nearby Senso-ji temple was retrieved from this river. At the opposite end, we could see the interesting Asahi Beer Hall (which looked like an overfilled beer cup with a golden beer drop at the top) which for obvious reason, was overshadowed by the newly built Tokyo Skytree. You could see how close we were away from our destination (anyone heard of Daryl Hall and John Oates's song-So Close?) For those interested, you can book a river cruise at Sumida River which can actually bring you to all the way to Odaiba.
Sumida River Scene
Bridge at Sumida River
Close Shot of Skytree
It only took less than 10 minutes to the Skytree Station by train from Asakua. We went straight to the ticket counters at level 4. The queue was surprisingly short.  I asked the counter staff if I could buy the tickets first and went up the tower around evening time (Day Ticket to Tembo Deck at 350m. Adult: 2060 Yen, Child: 930 Yen). She told us that we have to go up the tower straight after purchasing our tickets. We decided to come back later at my planned time. During the break, I grabbed the opportunity to take close up views of the Skytree. Certain shots actually required me to lie on the ground but I was not the only one around performing the feat :-). My wife and daughter did some shopping at the Tokyo Solamachi and found "treasures"at the Skytree Hello Kitty Shop. There is a Sumida Aquarium housed below the Skytree which we did not visit.

Up Up and Away!
Skytree's Hello Kitty
I timed my visit to the top of the tower at around 6 pm. Many past visitors have recommended to visit at this period as they could visit the transit from day to night and most importantly, to capture the beautiful sunset at 350 m above ground level at the Tembo deck. Before boarding the lift, there was a "lift lady" which explained to us the history and operation of the lift. All these were in Japanese and we could not comprehend a hint of what she was saying. But I really admired her dedication in her work knowing that she had to do this at least a few hundred times daily.

At 350 meter above ground

Crowd at Observation Deck
The lift brought us to the Observation Deck (Tembo Deck) within a minute. This is one of the fastest lifts in the world. The Tembo Deck was not unlike the other towers that I have visited. Just like Taipei 101 and Macau Tower, it offers a 360 degree view through full glass panels of Tokyo city. Every landmark, including the distant Mount Fuji could be seen from here. But the weather was foggy on that day and the Japan's most iconic landmark was hidden from our sight. My wife and I bemoaned our "misfortune" as we had only seen the elusive Mount Fuji once at our last trip from the Shinkansen.We cheered ourselves up again knowing the we could try to see it again from our Kamakura trip the next day from the Inamuragasaki beach.
Densely-packed building
From 350 meters above ground, all other buildings in the city were dwarfed by the Skytree. We could clearly see how densely-packed were the buildings of Tokyo. Little wonder it is the world's most populous metropolis. I could almost feel the buildings and its' people fighting for breath with one another. We saw Sumida River splitting the city almost into half and the many bridges that connected the both ends together.  I identified the location that we have taken our photo at noon and made a mental note to return to the river later and captured the night scene of the Skytree.

Sunset at Skytree
The sky was quite kind to us. We failed to witness the sunset but still could see the bright red sun descending into the cloud of mists. The city started to light up as night descended. It offered a completely different perspective of view from the day as the city was bathed in yellowish light. We noticed that for an additional fee, there were lifts which you could take to Tembo Galleria which was 450 meter above ground. We did not take up the offer as we were deterred by an electronic signage showing a warning of poor weather. We left the Skytree after spending 11/2 hours at the Tembo deck. Of course, we did not miss the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs from the Skytree shops (Tembo deck and level 5).

Spot Sumida River
At our return route, we visited Sumida River again. The Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall looked magnificent at night. I took the opportunity to capture a family photo with the two icons and Sumida River as our backdrop. During our trip back to the hotel, all of us were already anticipating our trip to Kamakura the next day. 
Close Up View of Skytree at night
Family Photo at Sumida River
For those preparing to visit the Skytree, this is the official site to visit: The Tokyo Skytree            

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Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tokyo Trip: Asakusa and Senso-ji Temple

Kaminarimon-The Thunder Gate
Any tourist going to Tokyo will not want to miss Asakusa. It's the old town of Tokyo where the famous Senso-ji temple is located. My wife and I have visited Senso-ji temple at our previous trip and we have been missing the place since. It was no surprise that we chose to visit Tokyo oldest temple again. As the newly built Tokyo Sky Tree is only a stone throw away from Asakusa, we planned it together in the day's itineraries.

Guardian of the Gate
Big Red Lantern
Bottom View of Lantern

The first sight that greeted us when we came out from the Asakusa Train Station was Kaminarimon-the Thunder Gate which was the outer gate of Senso-ji temple. Flanked by the two statue guardians-Fuijin (God of Wind) and Raijin (God of Thunder), the entrance of the gate was easily recognizable by the big red lantern with the Chinese character "Thunder Gate" hanging in between. The Thunder Gate is the symbol and icon of Asakusa. It is always crowded but taking a photo with it is a must do when you visit Senso-ji temple.

Japanese Masks
Lanterns for Sale

Entered thru the gate, we reached the crowded Nakamise-dori. Stalls selling masks, souvenirs, foods, clothing, accessories etc lined the both sides of the 200 meters street. We were spoiled for choices on what to buy back home and took our time to explore the stalls that caught our eyes. Make sure you compare the prices of the stalls that sell similar items before purchasing anything. The difference can be vast. Generally I felt the stalls nearer to the Kaminarimon were cheaper but I could be wrong.

Hozomon Gate
Big Sandal
Hozomon Gate and Asakusa Pagoda
Hozomon Gate and Sky Tree

We would reach the second gate-Hozomon Gate leading to the main temple. Just like Kaminarimon, it is protected by two guardians (Two Deva Kings) with a large red lantern at the main gateway. There are two side gateways which are distinguished by a gold lantern each hanging from the ceiling. The Hozomon gate has a second floor which historic Buddhists' treasures are stored. But it is restricted to the public. At the rear end of the gate, two gigantic sandals donned the walls at either side. It was said they were shoes made for the Deva Kings that guarded the gate. At the left side of the Hozomon Gate lies the famous Asakusa Pagoda. The five story pagoda housed the sacred Buddha's relic and can be visited only at certain time of the year.

Main Shrine-Hondo
Purification Fountain
Close View of Hondo
Girls in Kimono

Going through the Hozomon Gate, we reached the main shrine (Hondo) of the temple. It was newly renovated. After the purification process at the purification fountain, we offered our prayer to the sacred golden Kannon statue which was housed inside the inner shrine and out of sight to the public. Legend told that in Year 628, the statue was found and re-found by two fishermen at the Sumida River after they threw it back into the river. The chief of their village enshrined the statue in small temple, recognizing the sacredness of the statue.  Following the local custom, we offered incense at the incense pot at the main temple ground. It was said that the smoke from the offered incense would cure one from any illness and bad luck. We also visited the Asakusa Shrine that is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers-Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari. Pay attention to the two Komainu (Korean lion dogs) guardians after the stone Torii. I found them rather special. Near the Asakusa Shrine was Nitenmon-the lesser known gate of the Senso-ji temple.

Asakusa Shrine with Komainu
Senso-ji Temple Layout

On our way back to the Kaminarimon, we visited some old streets that side tracked from Nakamise-dori. There were many things on offer and we could witness the day to day life that the locals lead. Note that some of the streets offer good photo-taking spots for the nearby Sky Tree. Make sure you snap some photos first if your next stop is there.

Colorful shop
Old Street Shot 1
Photo with Sky Tree
Old Street Shot 2
Street shot with Sky Tree
Give me a "FIVE"!

One of the reasons we came to Asakusa was also to try the it's famous Unadon (Eel rice). We actually targeted a famous restaurant introduced by the tour guide book but found it already closed for business when we reached there. Guess what, it was only 130 pm! The business must be overwhelming.  We were quite disappointed as we have to walk a few streets to reach there. Our spirits picked up again when we found another restaurant which has a long history of selling Unadon.

Sorry! Shop Closed (Unadon Restaurant)
Lantern-making Shop
Open for Business! (Unadon Restaurant)
Although expensive, we were not disappointed. The Unadon served to us were of top quality. They could be easily distinguish from the ones you try at the normal shops. The tenderness of the grilled eels and tare sauce for seasoning were from a different league.  Make it compulsory to try the Unadon if you are here. This was one of my most sumptuous lunch in Tokyo.

Unadon Feast
My Portion
Last Photo before Feast
After filling our stomach, we were prepared for our next destination-The Tokyo Sky Tree.

Family Photo at Kaminarimon
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Monday, 7 July 2014

Tokyo Trip: Sanrio Puroland (Hello Kitty Land)

Sanrio Puroland
When I visited Tokyo, visiting Sanrio Puroland (popularly known as Hello Kitty Land) was a must do item. The reason was simple. Both my daughter and wife are fans of the Sanrio characters and I risked incurring their wrath if this was not included!

Charlotte & Sanrio Characters
Sanrio Puroland is an indoor theme park and situated at Tama Center in Tokyo. The theme park is not very big and is housed inside a three story building. Most of the attractions are at 1st and 2nd floor and you can easily spend 1 day here. We went there on a weekday and found the place not overly crowded. The entrance fee during weekdays are also cheaper (Adult: 3300 Yen, Child: 2500 Yen).

Jewelpet Dokidoki Magical March
Hello Kitty in Wonderland

Needless to say, the theme park is decorated with the "Kawaii" concept in mind. Kawaii means cute in Japanese. Everything is centered around it's main starlet-Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty Bun
Hello Kitty Decor
My Melody & Kuromi Mymeroad Drive

Sanrio Character Boat Ride
There are two rides-"Sanrio Character Boat Ride" and   "My Melody & Kuromi Mymeroad Drive" available for the visitors. My daughter enjoyed both rides thoroughly which allowed her to see the cute characters at their lovely settings. We managed to catch a stage show-Hello Kitty in Wonderland and a live participatory show- Jewelpet Dokidoki Magical March which the children got to mix with the stage Characters. Although not a fan of Sanrio, I must admit I enjoy the shows with the Kawaii characters dressed in their attractive outfits accompanied by the alluring music.

Do not missed the spectacular dance parade where you got to meet all the Sanrio Characters. My daughter was overjoyed to meet her favorite Hello Kitty but my wife was slightly disappointed not to see her favorite PK Duck-her young time darling.

Parade Shot 1
Parade Shot 2
Parade Shot 3
Parade Shot 4
There are other attractions like the Lady Kitty House, Kiki and Lala twinkling tour etc. The girls enjoyed their outing here. If you are a Sanrio fan, you will not be disappointed. Go to this website for more info on Sanrio Puroland.

Photo with Little Twin Stars
Lady Kitty House
Family Photo at Sanrio Puroland

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