I know I’ve written a bit about Hong Kong, but I haven’t written anything about my time in Tokyo, Japan. It’s been 2 months since I got back from the biggest city in Japan (and the world), and I still don’t know how to describe my experience in Tokyo.
Let’s start with the honest truth. My start in Tokyo wasn’t the best. I got into Haneda Airport in the evening, my phone battery had died (bad move on my part), I was tired, and I got lost taking the subway (Tokyo’s subway/transit system is huge and pretty confusing). During my trip it was cold and rainy which put a damper (haha) on a few things I wanted to do. Despite the less than ideal start I did find my hotel in Asakusa, and the next morning I went on a tour with Tokyo Greeters.
Tokyo Greeters is part of The Global Greeter Network. These programs allows you to connect with a local in various cities around the world. If you’re traveling to a city listed on the Global Greeter Network you fill out information about when you’ll be in that city, and what types of subjects interest you. Then (depending upon availability) you’ll be matched with a local who will take you on a local tour of the city you’re visiting. It’s a free and unique way to connect with the local community and to learn about a new destination.
After filling out the contact form I was matched with a lovely lady named Noriko. I said I was interested in culture and art, and Noriko met me at my hotel on my first morning in Tokyo. While I only expected a short tour of maybe an hour or so, we spent the afternoon exploring several sites in Tokyo. Here is just some of what we saw.
Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
We started by exploring Asakusa (not to be confused with Akasaka), which was the neighbourhood where I was staying. After a 5 minute bus ride we went to the Asakusa Cultural Information Visitor Center. It’s located across the street from the Senso-ji Temple (our next stop), and as a visitor center they have brochures and information about area attractions and things to do. The real highlight is up on the 8th floor where there is a free viewing platform. They also have really nice washrooms if you need those too.
Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine
Next we went to the Senso-ji Temple, which is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. It’s located in Asakusa and has several shops and stalls along the way selling souvenirs and food. The temple itself is one of the most popular in Japan, and was rather busy (see the previous aerial shot of the crowds).
Next to Senso-ji Temple is the Asakusa Shrine. This is a Shinto Shrine (Shinto being the other major religion in Japan). Here we came across a chozuya, a fountain used for purifying oneself before going into a Buddhist Temple or Shinto Shrine. Noriko showed me how to use the fountain to purify yourself before going into the temple. This proved handy to know for later on too.
Buddhist Ceremony at Fukagawa Fudo-do
We took the subway to Fukagawa Fudo-do a Buddhist Temple based on the Shingon sect of Buddhism. We got to see the Goma Rite where the Buddhist monks do a ceremony involving drumming, chanting, and burning wood for the deity Fudo-myoo, the angry/determined Buddha. The ceremony was about 30 minutes long, and was very interesting to watch, and something I wouldn’t have known about or probably found on my own. Outside the ceremony we wandered around the temple. There was one room that had thousands of small statues of Fudo-son like those glass hologram souvenir statues you can buy. They were backlit by neon lights and looked pretty cool. Unfortunately no photos again. Below is a map of Fukagawa Fudo-do incase you want to check it out for yourself.
Sumo Museum and Edo Tokyo Museum
By this time it was starting to rain heavily so we hopped on the subway to see some indoor attractions. First up was the small (and free) Sumo Museum. It goes through the history of Sumo, the national sport in Japan.
Next we went to the nearby Edo Tokyo Museum, which the history of Tokyo during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), as well as after the Edo period to today. A lot of buildings from the Edo period were made of wood, and were destroyed over the years due to fires. The Edo-Tokyo Museum does a great job of showing miniature representations of what Tokyo would have looked like.
After going through the museum we went to the museum cafe for lunch, and Noriko was kind to treat me to a delicious bento meal. Noriko gave me some wonderful art postcards, and we got our photo taken by one of the waitresses at the cafe. When we were finished with our meal we took the subway back to the Senso-ji Temple and said our goodbyes
If you couldn’t tell I loved my experience with Tokyo Greeter. Noriko was kind, gracious, and showed me a lot of Tokyo I wouldn’t have thought to or known to explore on my own. Since the Global Greeter program relies on local residents to show travelers various parts of their cities your experiences with this program may be different than mine. While the tour was free I later made a donation to the Tokyo Greeter program because of the wonderful time I had. I was not asked to write or endorse this program. All opinions in this post are my own.