Day One: The Dynamic Tokyo Tour

Today we got up around 5:30 am Sunday morning (4:30 pm Saturday in Ohio) to eat a quick breakfast of rice balls and green tea before our day long adventure as we take the Dynamic Tokyo Tour!

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Early morning at the Nishi Ogikubo train system right next to our apartment.

After getting back to Shinjuku station, we got a little lost and ended up taking a taxi to get to where we would be picked up for our tour!  After finding out where we had to be, we were soon taken to the bus terminal where our tour would begin.  We met our tour guide, Mina, who would lead us and other tourists around Tokyo for the day.  Our first stop was the Tokyo Tower where they broadcast all kinds of signals.  From the observation deck of the tower, you can see miles of the metropolis that is Tokyo.

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Tokyo Tower

After the tower, we went to Hippo-en garden, where we were invited to a tea ceremony.  The ceremony is lead by a tea master who is very well respected and must study the ways of the tea ceremony for more than ten years before becoming a master.  We had a quick lesson on how to do our duties in the ceremony such as proper cup holding, bowing, and a brief overview of a couple of phrases to thank our hosts.  Out of respect for the ceremony at hand, I was unable to take any photos.  However, after the ceremony, we were free to move around the garden and take as many photos as we liked, and I did.

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Daigojinja Daigo Shrine at Hippo-en

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Hippo-en garden

Next it was time for some lunch in the Chinzan-so area where we were given a lovely meal cooked right in front of us in a restaurant called Mokushun-do.

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Our very vegetablely lunch is prepared for us.

We were hanging out in an garden outside of the four-seasons hotel where there happened to be another wedding ceremony taking place (the first was at Hippo-en).  I happened to get a quick shot of the bride as the group passed by.

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The bride of a wedding party passes by as I’m walking around the garden.

For our fourth stop on the tour, we were going to see the grounds of the Imperial Palace as we are not allowed very close to the palace itself.  Mina told us a lot about how the political system had changed over time from Emperor to Shoguns to the Emperor once again to now the Prime Minister.  We also learned about all the area surrounding the palace such as the inner and outer moats which are still there today with all the original stones, some of which are over 400 years old now.  One of my favorite parts about the grounds surrounding the palace was the statue of Kusunoki Masashige, the samurai.

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Kusunoku Masashige faces the Emperor, showing his loyalty.

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This was just about as close to the Imperial Palace as we could get and that’s not even it there.

Unless you’re a V.I.P or it’s the Emperor’s birthday, it’s very challenging to get close to the palace.  But honestly, the grounds are impressive enough to make  a visit well worth it.

Our last stop was Asakusa, but to get there we had to take a thirty-five minute boat ride down the Sumida River.  The tour continued as we passed by buildings and floated under bridges.

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My sister Emily and myself on the boat to Asakusa.

Asakusa is home to both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  This was my first real up close and personal experience with these places and it was fascinating.  Asakusa is also well known for it’s market which is filled with snacks, knick-knacks, and other gift shops.

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A small portion of the market stalls of Asakusa.

The Buddhist temple has two main gates before you reach the main structure.  This was probably one of my favorite places for pictures on the whole tour.  The whole area was packed with shoppers from the market and also many people exploring the Buddhist and Shinto grounds.

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Middle gate of the Buddhist temple.

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Gateway to the small Shinto shrine located right next to the Buddhist temple.  Upon passing under the gate, you’ve entered sacred ground and must soon seek to purify yourself.  To do so, you don’t have to look too far.

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This small structure here has a fountain which pumps in water which can than be used to wash your hands and rinse your mouth to purify your actions and words before approaching the shrine itself.  All shrines are guarded by two of these dog-like statues.  One says “Ah” and the other says “Nn” symbolizing beginning and end like alpha and omega.

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After making a donation, one will perform a combination of two claps and two bows and prayer.  You clap to get to attention of the Shinto deities, bow to respect them, and pray.

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It’s a trained monkey!  I couldn’t resist.

_DSC0507 The Buddhists have their own fountain for purification.  They also have incense burning a little to the left that you waft over yourself to heal yourself, increasing your intelligence and prosperity.

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As you can see, I really enjoyed Asakusa.  It’s hard because I took so many pictures of all these places and I’m only picking the best, and I happened to take the best there.  Maybe it was all the blessings and healing I was receiving.

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It’s hard to imagine I’ve only been here for one day and seen so much.  It can be overwhelming at times, especially with jet lag still in effect, the language barrier, and the incredible heat and humidity.  I’m going to be so used to the weather here that when I get back home I’m going to think its fall in Cincinnati.

The night ended with us saying goodbye to Mina who gave us the best tour we’ve ever been on and was an amazing host.  If any of you ever plan on coming to Tokyo and taking this tour, make sure you get Mina.  I promise you will not be let down.

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Mina helping us out with some basic Japanese.

After arriving at Shinjuku station, we walked around trying to find something to eat and Em suggested we tried Japanese style Italian food.  It was surprisingly incredible!

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It’s been a long day of walking around, eating good food, hanging with the family, and seeing Tokyo.  And now that I’ve finished this blog entry, I can finally sleep!

Tomorrow, we’re going to visit the Studio Ghibli museum!  For those of you who don’t know what that is, Studio Ghibli is essentially Disney’s Japanese counterpart.  They’ve made films such as “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Ponyo” and “Princess Mononoke,” to name a few.  What makes the museum so great, is that it is the home of a couple Studio Ghibli films that have never been seen by the outside world.  The only way to see the movies is to go to the museum.  Growing up watching these films, this is a great honor for me.  Because of the exclusiveness of these films, no cameras are allowed inside the museum.  So you won’t be getting too many photos tomorrow.  However, the grounds outside the museum are subject to my photography and include a life-size robot from “Castle in the Sky,” (one of my favorites) and a Cat bus, like in “My Neighbor Totoro.”

Check out my blog tomorrow to see how it goes!

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