This is Diem’s 3rd trip to Japan and my first. She loves Japan and this trip was high on her list of places she was most looking forward to visiting. She spent most of her time in Japan around Tokyo so she was excited to see more parts of Japan, but still thrilled that we’d get to experience Tokyo together. We got in late from Hong Kong so we just went to our Airbnb and straight to bed. Our place was set up in more of a hostel-style configuration with a shared bathroom and a common kitchen area. This was Diem’s first experience with this type of place and she liked the kitchen but didn’t like having to share a bathroom with strangers.
Our first full day, we went to the SkyTree which is Tokyo’s version of the Space Needle. The SkyTree isn’t that far from our place. We grabbed lunch at a conveyor belt style sushi restaurant that Diem wanted to try at the SkyTree. We didn’t end up going up to the top because we were going to other observation decks to see Tokyo’s skyline and we didn’t want to pay the $20 USD to go the top. After lunch, we walked to the gardens around the Imperial Palace, but were disappointed that we couldn’t get close to the actual Imperial Palace. We also walked around the area near the Palace gardens which included a few museums, parks, and the Yasukuni Jinja Shinto Shrine. The shrine was OK, but nothing special. I wasn’t feeling well so we went back to the apartment and took a nap. We grabbed ramen near our apartment, worked on our blogs, watched Suits and went to bed.
The next day I was feeling a lot better and we went to Tokyo’s Times Square, Shibuya. This is the place that has the famous street crossing where a mass of people consistently cross the street. We first went to a famous ramen place called Ichirin that was located not far from the Shibuya Station. There are actually a lot of Ichirin locations around Japan but we heard this location was really good. It’s a small place and there are only a couple of selections on the menu that you order at a vending machine before you get in. The ramen was really delicious. They have a couple of options of how much spice and flavor you want in the broth, they recommend just getting the medium amount and that’s what I stuck with. After lunch, we went to the Starbucks overlooking the Shibuya crossing. We had to wait a little bit to get a seat overlooking the crossing but I got a nice time-lapse video of people crossing the square.
We stayed there for a bit and then decided to head to a cream puff pastry shop that Diem had heard about. It was a little out of the way and hard to find but the cream puffs were decorated like Totoro, this famous Japanese cartoon that I’d never heard of, with different accessories (hats, bows, etc.). The servers were really nice and the cream puff (~$4 USD) was packed nicely in a box with an ice pack that we took to Tokyo Tower. We decided against actually going up the tower but wanted to go to a nearby park that has a nice view of the Tower so Diem could take a picture with the cream puff. The park is also next to a Shrine which we went by. The shrine was just all right, but the park overlooking the Tower offered an amazing view. It had some beautiful flowers and a nice grass area where people could sit down and have a picnic. We took our pictures and relaxed for a bit taking in the view.
Then we went for a walk down by the pier and to where we saw the Hamarikyu Gardens on Google Maps. We got a little lost because we couldn’t see a street crossing where we could get to the garden and ended up at a pier overlooking the harbor. By the time we found the entrance, the garden was closing and we weren’t able to get in. We kept walking and went by the Tsukiji Fish Market where we wanted to go to the fish auction and have breakfast sometime in the next couple of days. However, we later found out that in order to get in to the auction, you have to arrive around 3:30 AM and wait in line. They only allow 60 people into the auction in two groups of 30 around 6 AM. We didn’t want to get up so early and we weren’t prepared for the cold fish auction floor, so we decided against trying to see the fish auction this time.
We got up late the next day around 10 AM. We got lucky, and it turns out that the Grand Sumo Tournament was in Tokyo during our stay. We decided to head to the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium to see if we could get tickets. We actually got to the stadium after 11 AM, but the tournament started at 10AM. We didn’t think we would get tickets, and we were right, it was sold out for the day. We did see a lot of people standing outside waiting for the wrestlers to walk by. We stopped and saw a good number of the wrestlers walking into and out of the stadium. We decided to grab lunch around the stadium, we at a restaurant sitting on Japanese Tatami floor. We got a couple of different soups that were pretty good. We headed to Yogogi Park and Meiji Jingu Shrine, the park has some beautiful tall trees. The shrine itself was nothing special, but it had a section where you could find out your fortune. You would shake a jar full of sticks until a single stick would come out. The stick would have a symbol on it and you would find a fortune corresponding to symbol on the stick. We got a couple of bad fortunes, but kept at it until we got a “regular fortune.” We figured that was good enough and we then headed to another famous garden, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which was close by. We got there around 5 PM right when the garden was closing so didn’t get to see the garden we wanted to for the second straight day.
We heard that the view of Tokyo Tower at night is really beautiful and in particular the view from the Seaside Top Observation Deck of the World Trade Center. After missing the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, we headed there and went up. The entire floor is dedicated to viewing the Tokyo skyline with the best view overlooking both Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji in the distance. It’s a pretty good deal for $6 but it was surprising that there are only vending machines up there for drinks and no food which seems like a waste. We had a pretty clear night so we could see both Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji. We got there early enough so we got a pretty good spot facing the Tokyo Tower. We watched the sunset, took a ton of pictures, then stayed until it got dark. The entire Tower lights up and glows at night, which I enjoyed better than the sunset.
We took another ton of pictures and then went to get dinner. Diem wanted to try this restaurant by the Shinagawa train station which was close by. It was a yakiniku restaurant, which is the Japanese version of Korean BBQ where you cook your own meat on a grill at the table. Unfortunately, 8 PM on a Friday night is not a good time to try to get dinner around Shinagawa station. The restaurant is in a tiny alley off the main street and when we walked in and asked for a seat for 2 we were immediately told there were no seats. We asked how long the wait was but guy just repeated there were no seats and didn’t seem very happy that we were asking about it. We walked around and tried a couple more restaurants and they were all booked up for the night. We almost gave up but we saw a Japanese curry restaurant that was empty so we went in and got dinner. The curry was decent but nothing special. We headed back to sleep so we could get up early to get sumo tickets.
We got up early around 4 AM and left the apartment a little after 5 AM to wait in line at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium. We got there around 5:40 AM. They hand out numbers to people who stand in line and that lets you buy general admission tickets. We got numbers 175 and 176 out of 350. The general admission tickets are in the very last (upper) row of the stadium. After we were able to buy the tickets we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. We got there around 9 AM when the market opens to the public and it was already pretty crowded. Along with fish and restaurants, there were stalls selling fruit and other knick-knacks. We ate at one of the sushi restaurants there.
We each got a variety of different Nigiri sushi, which were very good and ending up being around $50 USD for the both of us. The sushi was presented a little sloppily and the fish wasn’t mind blowing but there were a couple of pieces that were really delicious. We went back to the apartment and I went for a run while Diem took a nap.
We got back to the sumo stadium around 2:30PM and found out there were very few general admission seats together. Apparently everyone who gets general admission tickets goes in early and saves their seats by putting their things on the chairs and then leaves for the day coming back for the best fights (you get 1 re-entry). I would recommend getting advanced tickets if you can, that’s what I would do next time, but if not, you can get general admission tickets. The first floor of the arena is all box seats and everyone sits on the floor on cushions. The boxes are pretty small though so if you’ve got a lot of big or leggy people, it may not be that comfortable. I think the best seats may be the first row of the second floor so you have a comfortable seat and have a good view of the fights. The fights themselves are really entertaining, they typically last anywhere from 5-30 seconds.
I used to watch Sumo back in the day when ESPN ran sumo late at night. That was when American Akebono was winning sumo tournaments. The tournament actually starts at 10 AM when the lower division fighters start. The highest ranked wrestlers started around 3:40 PM and lasted until about 6 PM. We sat next to a guy from the US who now lives in Japan for some of the tournament. He let us know that one of the Yokuzunas (highest ranked wrestlers) named Hakuho was basically the Michael Jordan of Sumo. He had the record for most wins and was the only undefeated wrestler heading into the 14th of 15th day of the tournament. He was the second to last bout of the day and after an initial scare, he ended up winning his match and we found out later that he won the entire tournament, going undefeated. After sumo, we headed to Shinagawa to have dinner at Banya where we tried to eat yesterday. This time we got in but there was no English menu. We pointed at a couple of pictures, the food was good but a little expensive and the grill was really hot, which made dinner a little uncomfortable. After dinner, we headed back to our apartment.
The next day our JR Pass started so in order to take advantage of it, we took a number of day trips from Tokyo, which I’ll cover in a different post. However, Tokyo was so nice we decided to come back for a day trip while we were in Osaka, which I’ll also write about in a separate post.
See the full gallery here: Tokyo, Japan