Imperial Palace Gardens
The Imperial Palace, located in the central Chiyoda ward, is the official residence of the Emperor. It is a huge complex, surrounded by beautiful gardens. My friend Mel and I toured the East Gardens. The total area of the complex, including all of the gardens, is 4.31 square kilometers (1.32 square miles), located right in the center of the city. It’s really nice to have so much green space in the city. It’s actually one of my favorite things about Tokyo – how easy it is to stop in a shrine or park, and to find a nature and place of calm in the center of such craziness. We wandered through the gardens for a couple hours. It was overcast and started raining, but we didn’t mind. We were just happy that it was not swelteringly hot out, like usual.
Asakusa and Sensō-ji Temple
Then we headed to Asakusa, an area most known for the famous Sensō-ji temple. Founded in 645 CE, it is the oldest temple in Tokyo. Directly in front of the temple, there is a pedestrian street with vendor stalls on each side, selling overpriced souvenirs and snacks. It was packed with tourists. We stopped to buy what we thought was some kind of meat on a stick, but turned out to be some kind of hot, sweet rice snack.
After touring the temple, we stopped into a tiny little restaurant for lunch. It was a really cute little place, which could only sit about eight people total, run by an elderly couple. We ordered rice bowls topped with veggies and fresh fish. We awkwardly ordered by pointing and nodding. I’m okay with chopsticks, but I still struggle to get the remains of my rice at the end of the meal. I cheated and used a spoon. We had a plum jelly for dessert. It was a cheap and delicious meal.
The next day, I wandered out to explore Ueno, another area in central Tokyo. It was extremely hot out. I got off the train at the Okachimachi Eki, and entered a very cute, busy shopping area. It was an outdoor mall with stands in the street, and shops behind. Each little stand was selling something different – fruits and veggies, fish, clothing and jewelry, sports accessories, all kinds of stuff. I stopped into a little temple, nestled in right in the busy shopping area, and bought a kebab and coke for lunch.
I made my way to Ueno Park, which is huge. It’s not really a just a park; it’s a humongous complex, complete with a zoo, pond with boat rentals, and numerous temples, shrines, and museums. You could spend days exploring the whole thing. I went to the pond and a couple of the temples.
Then I headed to the Tokyo National Museum, vastly underestimating the sheer size of the park. By the time I arrived at the museum, I was literally dripping in sweat, exhausted, and felt like I was about to faint from the heat.
I wandered inside the museum for a few hours, happy just to be in the air conditioning. The museum is huge – the largest art museum in Japan – so I didn’t cover it all. It has a huge collection of artwork and archeological objects of Asia, mainly from Japan. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and get a rest from the heat.