Exploring Tokyo with Tokyo Greeters

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). I still don’t know how to describe my experience in Tokyo, but I wanna tell you about my experience with Tokyo Greeters.

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.  The next morning I went on a tour with Tokyo Greeters.

What is 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 two, we spent the afternoon exploring several places in Tokyo. Here is just some of what we saw.

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center

We started our Tokyo Greeters tour 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.

Asakusa from Viewing Platform

The Tokyo Skytree from the free viewing platform at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. You can also see the Akashi Brewery Headquarters (that’s the gold building and the one next it it with the golden flame type thing on top).

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa

View of the Senso-ji Temple and the crowds from the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center.

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).

Treats for sale outside the temple.

Treats for sale outside the temple.

Omikuji at Senso-ji Temple

Outside the temple there are these stands where you can get your fortune (Omikuji). You put in a 100 yen coin ($1.17 CAD), shake the metal container and pray for good fortune. A stick comes out with a number that matches one of the drawers and inside is a paper with your fortune (there’s English translation available). If your fortune is good you’re supposed to take it with you, and if it’s bad you tie it to a nearby metal stand so it won’t follow you home.

Crowds inside Sensoji Temple

People inside Senso-ji Temple

Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan

Outside Senso-ji Temple.

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.

Outside the Asakusa Shrine

Outside the Asakusa Shine. Of course I blanked and didn’t take photos of the shrine itself or the fountain, mostly because people were using it and doing their thing and I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It’s a fine line.

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. Had I not taken this Tokyo Greeters tour I probably would have never found out about this temple and I wouldn’t have gone to this ceremony. After 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.

Sumo Museum in Tokyo

Sumo Museum in Tokyo. Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside. The museum is free to enter, except during sumo tournaments when it’s only open to ticket holders.

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.

Tokoy during the Edo Period

Miniature of what Tokyo looked like during the Edo Period.

Kabuki Theatre

Replica of a Kabuki Theatre stage.

Denkikan replica in Edo-Tokyo Museum

A replica of Denkikan, the first movie theater in Japan. It closed in the 1970s.

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

Noriko and I after a lovely lunch.

Noriko and I after a lovely bento lunch at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Things You Should Know

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. If you’re looking to take a tour with a Global Greeter be sure to fill in a request online with the Global Greeter Network  in advance of your trip.
Since the Global Greeter Network uses 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 program because of my experience. I was not asked to write or endorse this program. All opinions in this post are my own.
Admission to all of the attractions mentioned in this post are free, with the except of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which costs 600 Yen. If you want to get your fortune at the Asakusa Temple it is 100 Yen.
While in Tokyo I stayed at the Business Hotel Fukadaya in the Asakusa nieghbourhood. This is a great budget hotel (that’s more like a guest house). I had a single private Japanese style room (with tatami mats) with a mini fridge. There is a shared bathroom and a share onsen (a male onsen and a female onsen) for guests. I paid about $26US/night for my room. The hotel is in a quiet local neighbourhood, but is within a short walk of the Minami Senju Station. I paid for my own stay here, and would recommend this hotel if you want a private room that is affordable.

Would you take a Global Greeter Tour like this one? Leave a comment below.

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2 Responses to Exploring Tokyo with Tokyo Greeters

  1. Laura @ Grassroots Nomad May 17, 2016 at 1:27 PM #

    Looks like you had a blast! We did a tour with the Greeters in Novi Sad in Serbia and we loved it!

    • Alouise June 12, 2016 at 12:13 AM #

      Yes I loved the tour. I’d definitely do the Greeter Program again.

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