Monday, August 13, 2018


After visiting Mt. Fuji, we reached Tokyo and checked in at the Hotel Shingawa Prince Annex Tower.

The breakfast place was common for all the wings of the hotel. So we were warned not to get lost in the maze and also remember that there would be a long queue for breakfast, so we had to manage our time so that we didn't delay the fully packed itinerary of the day. The sightseeing tour of Tokyo included - Asakusa Temple, Nakamise shopping streets, Sky Tree, Imperial Palace, Shinjuku Garden, Toyota Web, Venus Fort and Tokyo Tower.

There were several restaurants located at different levels of the hotel. We remembered our manager's instructions and landed at the right one, which was a sprawling area. There was a long queue but it was moving fast. We had to show the coupon for the day (from our room) and get a placard with a table number. We could choose a table and leave that there, which would be our reserved table and not be taken by any others.
Then we could go and get our breakfast from the spread - of Japanese, Continental, and Asian sections, occupy our table and enjoy the breakfast. 

We enjoyed vegetarian continental fare.
Some friends tried out the Japanese cuisine too. 

While leaving the dining hall, we had to return the table number placard.
We left our hotel and started on our outing, half an hour behind schedule, no thanks to one group who were late. Our manager was pretty upset and stated that we'd have to forego our shopping at Nakamise. We tried to remonstrate, saying that we could cut down five minutes at every point, rather than cutting out an entire spot. Of course he was only trying to give the 'late-kate's the guilt and was just kidding, as it turned out!

We reached Asakusa Temple (also known as Senso-ji or Asakusa Kannon), one of Tokyo's most colorful and popular temples is a must-see. 
Its architecture, 
centers of worship, 
Japanese gardens,
statues, and traditional markets offer visitors a panoramic view of Japan’s rich history and culture. Erected in AD 645 in an old fishing village, Asakusa Temple was dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Legend says that in the year 628, two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built in the vicinity for the goddess Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo's oldest temple. 

We entered the temple and did a quick round, clicking pics . 

We didn't fail to catch a glimpse of the Skytree at a distance. Then we rushed out to snatch a few hurried minutes of shopping in the famed centuries-old Nakamise’s shopping streets, filled with vendors selling Japanese handicrafts and traditional Japanese snacks / street food. It is said that there are some shops run by the same family for many generations. 

There are around 90 shops on the 250 m shopping street (reminding us of 'Fashion Streets' back home) that sell Japanese snacks and souvenirs ranging from outrageously cheesy items to authentic and useful souvenirs such as chopsticks, yukata, geta, wooden combs, fabrics and folding fans. 

There were bunches of artificial cherry blossoms stacked in one place, which I wanted to buy. I looked around for the vendors - some Japanese men and women were sitting nearby. I looked at them and I pointed to the flowers and gesticulated about its owners. But they gave a blank look. I was very disappointed. Of course I did manage to buy a dozen Japanese fans as souvenirs. I was in such a hurry, I just chose 4 different patterns and asked for three of each. The lady picked out the pieces, based on their Sr number and even opened one of each to confirm my approval. I gave my nod, paid the bill and hurried away to catch up with our group. It was after reaching home that I discovered that three of them were plain navy blue fans with self design. Oh no! Some mess-up! Not to be outdone, I made the most of my mistake. 
I personalized them by painting a pagoda / Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms on them and now look at them!

As we were driving, we could get to see the commuters on their way to office.  
Thanks to Yash for sharing his awesome photos.

After this, we had a photo stop at the Skytree which is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower. Japan's planned digital television transition by July 2011 was problematic; Tokyo Tower's height, 332.9 m was not high enough to support complete terrestrial digital broadcasting to the area. 
A taller digital broadcasting tower, known as Tokyo Skytree, was completed on 29 February 2012. It became the tallest structure in Japan with a height of 634 m and the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa (829.8 m). The height of 634 m was selected to be easily remembered. The figures 6 (mu), 3 (sa), 4 (shi) stand for "Musashi", an old name of the region where the Tokyo Skytree is located.

Next on the day's itinerary was Imperial castle, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area with buildings including the main palace, the private residences of the Imperial Family, an archive, museums and administrative offices.

Built on the site of the old Edo Castle, the total area including the gardens is 1.15 square km. During the height of the 1980's Japanese property bubble, the palace grounds were estimated to be more than the value of all of the real estate in the state of California.

We could only see the palace at a distance, with the main gate, and the moat in the foreground ....

and the scenic high rise buildings on the other side. After that we drove to Shinjuku garden we had cherry blossoms dancing in front of our eyes.

As we went inside the garden, all of us almost screamed in delight - 
canopy after canopy of cherry blossoms - pink and white - covering the trees, invitingly beckoned us. 
We rushed towards the trees bending down with bunches of 'sakura' and clicked pictures to our hearts' content, posing under different trees. The joyful glee on all the faces had to be seen to be believed.

The garden is a favorite 'hanami' (cherry-blossom viewing) spot, and we could spot some groups enjoying 'hanami', seated on sheets under the sakura trees.

The garden has more than 20,000 trees, including approximately 1,500 cherry trees. 

The present greenhouse, built in the 1950's has a stock of over 1,700 tropical and subtropical plant species on permanent display.

The garden is open from 9:00 until 16:30. On Mondays the garden is closed, except during the cherry blossom (late March–late April) and chrysanthemum seasons (early November), when it is open seven days a week.

We then went over for a late lunch at Indian restaurant Moti.

Then we started our drive to Odaiba, a large artificial island in Tokyo Bay, across the Rainbow Bridge from central Tokyo. 

We got to drive on Rainbow bridge, a spectacular suspension bridge completed in 1993. The name "'Rainbow Bridge" was decided by the public. The towers supporting the bridge are white in color, designed to harmonize with the skyline of central Tokyo seen from Odaiba. We were told that there are lamps placed on the wires supporting the bridge, which are illuminated into three different colors, red, white and green every night using solar energy obtained during the day. We did not get to see the illuminated bridge.

Odaiba started developing in the late 1990's as a tourist attraction, with several large hotels and shopping malls. It is one of the venue locations in the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics - for beach volleyball, triathlon and marathon swimming, and gymnastics. The D1 Grand Prix motor sport series has hosted drifting events at Odaiba since 2004.

We reached Palette town, a giant complex - much more than just a shopping center. 
Its towering Ferris wheel, known as Daikanransha, can be seen all across Odaiba, beckoning visitors with its attractions.

Toyota Mega Web and Venus Fort are located opposite to each other. We had an hour at our disposal and we had to use it diligently visiting both these places. First we went to Toyota Mega Web - we had to click pics for our car-crazy grandsons and check out whether there were models on sale.
Toyota Mega Web is Japan’s biggest automaker's car-centric theme park. No, there aren’t any roller coasters or furry mascots inviting you, but it is a must-visit car theme park for motoring enthusiasts of all ages. The best part is there is no entry fee. And can you that we can hop in and out of any number of cars. I remember 'Ferrari World' in Italy - we are not allowed to get closer to the cars and had to be beyond the yellow lines.

Part car showcase, part amusement center and part automobile museum, it spins together varying facets of the automobile as well as displays heritage pieces as well as concept cars for the future. 

The Mega Web is split into three different sections - the Toyota City Showcase, the History Garage, and the Ride Studio.

In fact, the concept is to allow visitors to  'Feel', 'Ride' and 'Look', at the cars through three different sections of the attraction.
You can 'feel' at Toyota City Showcase which has two floors dedicated to cars. 
On the first floor are sixty of Toyota’s recent car models at the Line-up Zone, where, you can check the tires, get inside the cars and try / inspect them. This is where we spent most of our time, hopping in and out of cars of our choice.

There was a cute single-seater electric vehicle which caught our fancy.

We were informed that after browsing through the cars in the Line-Up Zone, visitors with the requisite driving license can register to test-drive a car around a 1.3 km long circuit. This test drive section known as 'Ride One' is chargeable.

Then there is the Ride Studio consisting of a 230-meter course, 'Indoor Ride One', for children between 6-18 years, to enable them to experience the fun of driving for the first time. The only catch is that the Ride Studio is officially open to people who understand Japanese only. Younger children between three to five can try out a mini course, Petite Ride One, instead. There is an outdoor E-Kart Ride too. We did not have the time to watch these activities.

We just did a quick round of the Global Discovery Zone on the second floor to view Toyota’s concept cars.

Enthusiasts can spend hours learning about underlying technologies being used to power automobiles and also getting into a Toyota race car or learn about safety behind the wheel of a car simulator.

The Toyota Mega Web History Garage is a museum dedicated to automobiles and motor sport racing. The focus of the museum is on cars from between the 1950's to the 1970's. You can view motor sport rally cars at the Motor Sports Heritage gallery.
For the motor sports enthusiast, the History Garage provides a fascinating look into the world of cars with small model cars. Unfortunately they had no tiny models for sale.

We then rushed to Venus Fort, regarded as Tokyo’s quirkiest shopping center. With its artificial sky and Venetian themed interior, it is Odaiba’s most unusual shopping center.

Venus Fort has three floors of shops, each with a different focus. The first floor is called Venus Family, which houses a variety of products for kids, pets and lifestyle. This floor is also dog-friendly, so we bumped into people shopping with their dogs. We quickly went up to the the second floor, Venus Grand, where the fashion stores of world famous brands are located. Then we did a survey of the third floor, Venus Outlet, which has around 50 fashion and lifestyle stores at outlet prices. As we had nothing to buy there, we came down to Venus Family and started hunting for some expensive toys such as remote control cars / planes and more importantly, the bullet train for our grand kids. We went around the isles looking for them even as the minutes were ticking away. We tried to ask the shop assistants for bullet train. But they could not understand. Silly me - I didn't remember 'Shinkansen'. Suddenly I saw Thomas, the train. I pointed to that and said "Japan". And hey presto! He understood! But he shook his head and pursed his lips - obviously they had no bullet train toys to sell. It was a similar story in all the shops we tried. Disappointed, we decided to get back to the group.

We then drove over to Tokyo Tower and spent an hour there. 
I remembered getting a fleeting glimpse of the tower the previous night while driving to the restaurant and feeling puzzled that Eiffel Tower had moved to Tokyo. 
Yes Tokyo Tower is an Eiffel Tower look-alike, painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations. 

 A communications and observation tower, it is the second-tallest structure (332.9 m) and a prominent landmark in the city. 
Completed in 1958, Tokyo Tower's main sources of income comes from tourism and antenna leasing. Every five years, it is repainted and the job takes one year! Over 150 million people have visited the tower. 

We visited the two observation decks. The two-storey Main Deck is at 150 meters, while the smaller Top Deck reaches a height of 249.6 meters. 

The views of Tokyo from here were breathtaking.

We then came down to Foot Town, a four-storey building directly under the tower, housing museums, restaurants and shops. We had just 20 minutes shopping time there - the shops had very good, reasonably priced souvenirs which we grabbed greedily. Our search for 'Shinkansen' continued. We managed to spot a pretty long Shinkansen and were so excited that we wasted no further time but bought two of them for our grandsons. (It was after we came home that we discovered they were bubble blowers in the shape of the Shinkansen! I have to mention our grandsons had outgrown that stage. Nevertheless, they can display it in their rooms). Rushing in and out of those shops there, we could get some Japanese-made souvenirs - dolls, cups, plates, magnets etc. If only we had more time there....  We had expensive toys in our shopping list and had come equipped with a sizable amount in Japanese yen. A major chunk was still unspent. We asked our local guide Iako where to get it converted. She told us that we could either do it back home and get INR in exchange. Or we could get the yen exchanged for USD at kiosks located inside Narita International airport - this seemed a great option. 

After a hectic yet exciting day, we were glad to go to the Indian restaurant 'Aaryas' for dinner. 

It was a delicious affair with a mixed fare of delicacies - pav bhaji, misal, batata vada, puri shrikhand, etc. We also cut a cake to celebrate the successful completion of our tour. 

Emotional speeches, thanksgiving, and claps followed for our tour manager Sachin Mangaonkar and local guide Iako, assisted by Toshi.

We checked into our rooms after a long and exciting day.

The next day, we had to leave for the airport at 7 am. So we went to the breakfast hall at 6 and relished the continental fare.

During the 45 minute drive, there were more songs and jokes till we reached the Narita International airport.

After the usual routine of boarding pass collection and luggage check-in, we used the special line for senior citizens at the security check and escaped the long queue. While walking to our gate, we spotted a 'currency exchange' kiosk and got our yen converted into USD. That was so quick, cool and hassle-free.

While waiting at our gate, we did some window shopping - 
lovely authentic Japanese items were on sale, a little overpriced though. 

Our direct flight to Mumbai was ready to take off at the scheduled time 11.30 am. The flight taxied on the runway and then halted - our captain announced that we were in queue.

As we looked out of our window when our plane took a U-turn, we could see several planes lined up behind us too! I've never witnessed such a queue in any other airport!
It was with a joy and gratitude that we bid adieu to Narita airport and heavenly Japan for the cherished experiences.

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