Tokyo: towers, temples, trains

Tokyo is a city of paradox: modern buildings of Akihabara sit right beside the 1,000-year-old Kanda Shrine; bright, crowded streets and scramble crossings in Shibuya contrast greatly with the quieter, more deserted neighbourhoods in Shinjuku; walking along with everyone are girls in maid uniforms and women in kimonos, boys in visual kei-inspired outfits and men in stuffy suits, children looking like little ducklings with their yellow hats and senior citizens seemingly wearing cardigans from the same brand.

And Tokyo during late November and early December definitely called for an adventure.

The first experience of trains came as soon as we made it past immigration. With the place we’re staying at located at the heart of Shinjuku, the trains were going to be our saviour. We were given a glimpse of the quieter side of Chiba, giving us time to mentally prepare ourselves for louder, more crowded Tokyo. Reaching Shinjuku at four in the afternoon, the darkness of the evening has set in, wondering where the sun has gone, as we walked yet again to get ourselves an early dinner; the cold finally made its presence known.

Waking up at five in the morning gave us the headstart that we needed for the day. Avoiding the morning rush of everyday Tokyo, our first agenda was getting to Minato-ku; what better way to get into the feel of Tokyo than joining in the train ride hustle?

Okubo Station-2-EditedOkubo Station at 4AM.

At Minato-ku, Zojo-ji (Zojo Temple) was a sight to behold. It is a Buddhist temple located in Shiba, the Tokyo Tower standing tall beside it. We got a first glimpse of the iconic tower in daylight, the reds of the steel blending it with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the autumn trees. It’s main gate, the Sangadetsumon, is said to be the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo, and has close ties with the Tokugawa clan. (Read more about Zojo-ji here)

Zojoji-EditedZojo-ji with the Tokyo Tower in the background.

We went straight to Ikebukuro right after, the cold winds biting, our skins more used to the tropical weather of the Philippines than the 4-degree weather of Tokyo streets, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre being the first to greet us as soon as we get off Ikebukuro Station. The colourful atmosphere of the city can be recognised in the district even in broad daylight, the Sunshine City complex giving it the life one wants to see even without travelling to Shibuya or Akihabara. Walking around led us to Junkudo, the largest bookstore in Tokyo, housing ten stories worth of books. (Read more about Ikebukuro here)

Ikebukuro-EditedIkebukuro.

Harajuku was both a haven for spiritual awareness and mania. The station looked like it belonged to 18th century Europe than it would Japan, and walking on opposite sides almost felt like whiplash. Yet before we get swept away by the paradox of Harajuku, a hearty, warm (and spicy!) bowl of ramen was first on the agenda.

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Spicy ramen from Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku.

Even inside the restaurant, one could see the two sides of Harajuku. On one side was the solemn and ethereal Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine), kazaridaru (sake barrels) and warm-coloured trees greeting you, before coming face-to-face with a giant torii gate.

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Our dad at the bridge at the Meiji Shrine, with red and orange leaves at the background.

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Sake barrels at Meiji Shrine.

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The torii gate at Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Shrine is just as tranquil as the long trek going to it. Immediately past the torii gate, the energy is different. The grey autumn skies made the whole trek even more meditative, the gravel path and cold winds being constant reminders of the sacred place. The shrine, dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, looked picturesque with its spherical trees and sloping roofs; one couldn’t help but take a deep breath and feel instantly lighter. (Read more about Meiji Shrine here)

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Meiji Shrine and the spherical trees.

One could be amused at the contrast of the tranquil Meiji Shrine to the bright lights and loud sounds of Takeshita-dori (Takeshita Street) and Omotesando. The street was right across the shrine, almost teasing everyone who just came out of the sombre place. Immediately, the senses are bombarded with the smell of crepes, the lights of the pastry shops and fashion boutiques, and the sounds of music beckoning each and every individual to come inside. Just a bit further is Johnny’s Shop and anyone who is a fan of idols and actors under Johnny’s Entertainment should pay a visit.

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Takeshita Street.

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Strawberry chocolate crepe.

Before you could get a glimpse of Shibuya Scramble, you’re greeted by Japan’s favourite and most loyal dog, Hachiko, once you get off Shibuya Station and use the Hachiko Exit.

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The Quijanos with Hachiko-chan.

The infamous Shibuya Scramble and its surrounding areas are staples in media, the bright lights and the large crowds rivalling New York City’s Time Square. Considered one of the busiest wards in Tokyo, Shibuya never sleeps. And yet, even with everyone hunched down, eyes on their smartphones, no one seems to bump into each other; they were like puzzles moving together and never once getting it wrong.

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Our dad with the Shibuya Scramble in motion at the background.

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Our mom with the Shibuya Scramble just about to end in the background.

Once the sun has set, one has to walk in wonder to see the lights of Shibuya and visit the infamous Tower Records. Immediately, one can hear the different sounds of Japanese music and the occasional foreign act. Standing tall and proud is the music retail chain, knocking at nine floors worth of music merchandise. It stands as a beacon for music lovers alike because after all, “no music, no life.”

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“No music, no life” sign in front of Tower Records in Shibuya.

Early in the morning was a regular occurrence in this trip to Tokyo. Like the day before, Close to six in the morning was the time of order, considering the daily trek we had to do from the apartment to Okubo Station. Half-asleep still, Bunkyo was the first place we had to get to—the first place being a dome that could hold 55,000 people inside. Tokyo Dome was a marvel to look at, even in such a grey November day. (Read more about Tokyo Dome here)

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Frosted flowers beside Tokyo Dome.

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Our mom in front of Tokyo Dome.

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“Untitled: Arashi Live Tour 2017-2018” at Tokyo Dome.

Just a few blocks away from Tokyo Dome was the Bunkyo Civic Center, and like a burst of sunshine in the grey skies, kindergarteners were walking in two straight lines, reminding you of ducklings following their mother. And once inside the observation deck of the center, the view of the city is what greets you first. One has to wonder in awe as the monochromatic skies and white buildings contrast greatly with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the trees in the parks scattered all over the city.

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Bunkyo from the Observation Deck at Bunkyo Civic Center.

A few rides away, Akihabara made its presence known. Immediately, the senses are bombarded by the bright lights of the district, as well as the many maids and electronic shops all around the place. After all, as soon as you get off the place, the first cafes to greet you are the AKB48 Cafe and Gundam Cafe. Akihabara itself is home to different electronic shops such as Yamada Denki and Yodobashi Camera, and otaku goods shops such as maid cafes, Don Quijote, and Mandarake. (Read more about Akihabara here)

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Gundam Cafe at Akihabara.

From the loud Akihabara, we went straight to the serene Imperial Palace. The home of the Imperial Family of Japan was just as guarded as its walls, and the long walk from the Marunouchi Exit of Tokyo Station to the palace gates was worth it. The palace is situated on the former Edo Castle, which also used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun in the 17th century. (Read more about the Imperial Palace here)

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Panorama of Marunouchi Exit, Tokyo Station.

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Imperial Palace from the gates.

Like whiplash yet again, Roppongi enlivens the senses yet again. True to its name of being an entertainment district, the district was alive. Roponggi Hills is just as expensive as it looks, but Roppongi just reels you in. Roppongi itself is home to many embassies and expatriate neighbourhoods in Tokyo. (Read more about Roppongi here)

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Tokyo at night from the Observation Deck at Roppongi.

The tourist trap that is Asakusa is always on the list. Found in Tokyo shitamachi (downtown Tokyo), the Tokyo of the old decades survives, with the Senso-ji (Senso Temple) found in the heart of the district. Senso-ji, unlike Zojo-ji, was crowded and livelier, especially for a temple. Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) is a towering entrance gate, a large lantern hanging in the middle of the gate.  A long path filled with souvenir shops and food stalls greet the people before coming face-to-face with Senso-ji itself. (Read more about Asakusa here)

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The long path filled with souvenir shops and food stalls on the way to the temple.

Senso-ji is a Buddhist temple found in Asakusa, and is known as one of Tokyo’s most colourful and liveliest temples. Completed in 645, it is regarded as the Tokyo’s oldest temple to date. Further in was Nakamise and Shin-Nakamise, shopping streets that held countless traditional souvenirs like yukata, folding fans, and sake barrels. (Read more about Senso-ji here)

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Senso-ji from the gate.

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One of the towers in Senso-ji.

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Okonomiyaki bought from one of the food stalls in Senso-ji.

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Tokyo Skytree from Senso-ji.

Whiplash was a normal thing during this whole trip. From solemn and serene came loud and bright. Shinjuku is known for its entertainment areas such as bars and karaoke parlours. It is also home to the busiest station in Tokyo, and at some point, the world. The district has a large number of skyscrapers, with the Shinjuku Skyscraper District being home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building as well. Kabuki-cho is Tokyo’s red light district, it can be seen from the numerous host and hostess clubs in the area. (Read more about Shinjuku here and Kabuki-cho here)

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Kabuki-cho at night.

And right at the heart of Kabuki-cho is the Shinjuku chain of Toho Cinemas. Godzilla peaks out from the top of the cinemas, a looming figure over the bright, Blade Runner 2049-esque Kabuki-cho. One has to be careful around Kabuki-cho considering this in itself is a red light district and the town never sleeps. Even so, Godzilla stands like a beacon, as if guarding the citizens with its red eyes and sharp teeth.

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Godzilla on top of Toho Cinemas.

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Close-up of Godzilla.

There is much more to Tokyo that one week is never enough for someone to explore the metropolis. The capital is so much more than what the media tells us and one has to go back to experience it all over again. After all, once you visit Tokyo, you’ll want to visit it again.

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