Tokyo Extravaganza D3: Asakusa & Odaiba
Asakusa (浅草) is located on the north-eastern side of central Tokyo and is most famous for Senso-ji (金龍山浅草寺), an ancient Buddhist temple. Senso-ji is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon, is apparently the oldest temple in Tokyo and clearly one of its most significant, given the number of domestic and foreign visitors it sees every single day.
The singular symbol most commonly associated with Senso-ji must be its entrance just by the roadside, characterised by a large lantern with the Kanji characters 雷門 (Kaminarimon, or translated as ‘Thunder Gate’). This must also be one of the most photographed spots in Tokyo.
Cross the Kaminarimon and you will find yourself walking along Nakamise-dori (仲見世通り). Lined along this street on both sides are some 89 stalls selling an array of products from souvenirs to traditional sweets. This street is approximately 250 metres but given the crowd and interesting wares the stalls offer, it could easily take up to 30 minutes for a person to get the end of it. When we visited, it was obviously autumn and a big year for Senso-ji. 50th year anniversary of the re-inauguration of the temple main hall, I gathered. We even purchased a commemorative souvenir coin, but I’ll be damned if you ask me for its whereabouts now. It’s… somewhere in the house. Just don’t ask where.
And of course, at the end of the street is the Senso-ji Main Hall. The many lanterns affixed on the bamboo structures must bore names of the temple’s donors or sponsors. They aren’t usually there on normal days but we didn’t visit on a normal occasion, apparently. While the mister went in to the main hall to pay his respects, I stood around the entrance waiting and people-watching. Not an activity I usually indulge in, but in Japan I do it quite often because the Japanese don’t get all offended and defensive. People don’t realise it but we actually learn a lot from just observing. And I have learnt a lot from the Japanese, in particular their social civility.
The Asakusa area is particularly famous for Ningyo-yaki (人形焼), a Japanese snack. On Nakamise-dori itself, there are at least 3 stalls selling these snacks. But our choice was, and clearly still is this one corner stall on the right about 2/3 way towards the main hall. It’s hard to miss: if not the massive number of biscuits on display, then the crowd that is always congregated on the other side of the stall watching the staff skilfully partial hand-make these Ningyo-yaki is a dead giveaway. The rest of the stalls, from what we observed, completely automated the process. The mister absolutely loves the Ningyo-yaki from this stall, and every time we return to Tokyo, we make a special trip out to Asakusa just for this snack. Without fail.
After Senso-ji we had a quick lunch at KFC before going over to the pier across the street to board Himiko to Odaiba (お台場). The tickets for a 60-minute water bus ride are rather expensive, priced at 1,520¥ each. But Himiko is a really cute, futuristic-looking water bus so we thought it was by any means a justifiable expense.
And it would have been a great ride if we had understood Japanese perfectly. The voice-over was introducing the buildings and structures we came by in the 60 minutes but you must have guessed it – we didn’t understand much of what was said. And although Himiko looks very cool, it didn’t actually feel very cool sitting on the inside of it. Think greenhouse effect and you’ll understand why this is so.
When we finally arrived at Odaiba, the first monument that caught my eye was the replica of the Statue of Liberty. I knew Tokyo has a replica from a Japanese drama called ‘With Love’ broadcasted in 1998, but the real thing looks way cooler. Scroll right to the end of this post for the contrasting day and night shots of the statue with Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower in the far back.
Odaiba has several landmarks and shopping malls. While walking towards the shopping malls, we came by Fuji TV Building with its huge ball of 32 m diameter. It serves as an observation deck too, with a small entrance fee. We didn’t go up to the observation deck. Instead I was more attracted to the colourful ferris wheel nearby. This ferris wheel is called Daikanransha (大観覧車) located at Palette Town and measures at 115 m tall.
We headed to VenusFort first. I wanted to visit a cheesecake shop specifically but was instantly attracted to the unique decor. According to its website, VenusFort was ‘designed to resemble a medieval European village‘. The roof also features a ‘magical atmosphere’ with clouds moving like they do in the sky. After having lunch and dessert at VenusFort, we moved on to another attraction – Toyota Megaweb, a car museum of sorts. Not particularly aficionado of cars, the mister and I walked through the museum without being really able to appreciate the vintage cars on display. We did enjoy the little automated ride around the museum though.
Next on, to ride on Daikanransha. For every 10 or so coloured capsules, there would be a clear capsule that comes complete with glass flooring. We waited for that particular capsule because logically, it should be more interesting. Queue was short because it was a drizzling weekday so we did not have to wait long. But choosing the clear capsule was clearly a mistake. I realised that the moment I got into it. The ferris wheel got into motion and we found ourselves getting higher and higher. My anxiety sky-rocketed as I looked down through the glass flooring. I felt insecure and decided to lift up my feet instead of applying pressure on the flooring. The mister was amused with my apparent discomfort (I’m not exactly acrophobic, but I distrust glass flooring as a general rule). He stood up and started stomping on the flooring, which promptly sent me into hysterical screams. That was when he thought it wise to stop his pranks, if he still wanted to be able to hear after the ride.
I loved the pretty Daikanransha. Its bright colours extended to night-time too, and I spent a good few minutes just staring at the ever-changing lights as we were walking back to the train station at the end of the day.
And as promised earlier in the post, here is a day and night shoot of the Statue of Liberty, the Rainbow Bridge and the Tokyo Tower. Quite an arresting view, isn’t it? I personally prefer the night shot although the day shoot might have turned out better if it weren’t an overcast sky.
After a long train ride back to downtown Tokyo, we ended the day by making our way to Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) in Shinjuku (新宿), Tokyo’s famous entertainment and red-light district. If you are expecting it to be like Amsterdam’s red-light district, then you will be greatly disappointed. All there are, are rather tame photo displays and menacing-looking bouncers in black suits. All right, menacing isn’t exactly the right word to describe the bouncers, but they did exude an aura that screamed ‘Don’t mess with us’. Other than that, they pretty much left us alone as we walked the whole stretch of the street. And no one attempted to hand out flyers to either of us (well yes, there are boys clubs too, that entertain women). In this respect, I think they are professional. Or that we simply didn’t look anything like their target audience. 😆