Monday, March 27, 2017

A Day in One Place - Tokyo 2

Since my first post on Tokyo, Japan, I have been fortunate enough to return several times. My initial A Day in One Place was meant to give someone visiting that location quite a bit to do in a short amount of time whether it be a layover or limited stay in that city. With that, here are a few more things to do while visiting Tokyo.

My preferred area to stay is in the Asakusa area, famous for it's Sensoji Shrine. It just has more of a neighborhood feel which also seems less crowded to me than other areas like Shibuya, Ginza, Akihabara, or Shinjuku. You won't find many branded hotels here either. Most are Asian brands or smaller Japanese or boutique hotels which are actually great. My go to place it the Red Planet Hotel. It's an affordable brand found allover Asia with limited services. The rooms are very clean, modern and comfortable. Why pay for more when you're out exploring a great city. Plus, it's just a few minutes walk to everything Asakusa has to offer - Sensoji Shrine, Sumida Park, Asahi Tasting Room, the Ginza line and more! If you get a view room, you will most likely wake up to this.
View of SkyTree at sunrise

I like to start my day around 6:30am walking to Sumida Park and around the river. It takes about 30 minutes or so. Along the way you will see lots of people walking and exercising. As you exit the hotel take the second right down an alley and through a few blocks of shopping arcades. You will then cross the street and see a sign for Tokyo Cruise. Just to the left is Sumida Park. You can walk through the park, safely, to the next bridge and cross over. You will then come up the other side of the bride and continue on the newly paved path. I usually turn right and cross over the bridge when I reach the corner of the Asahi building. It's the one with the giant yellow squiggly on it for lack of a better word. Here you can also visit a Starbucks or venture back to the hotel to get ready for the day. I also like to walk down Kaminarimon "Thunder Gates" which is the entrance to the shrine. It's so peaceful before the stores open and tourists arrive. Most start to open around 9am but the action doesn't really start until 11am. It offers quite a lot in the way of souvenirs, clothing, and street food. I usually pick up a few things here which I find to be less expensive than other parts of the city. Don't be afraid to try new food, either. There's lot of snacks which can be had for just a few yen.
Friendly staff can assist with your choices
Look for this sign

My favorite is this little fried snack almost to the end of the walk, about second from the end on the right facing the temple. I really don't know the name. For under 200y, you can get a delicious treat. My favorite is the sweet potato. The sellers do speak some English and can help you with flavors. The outer fried coating is light and crisp, and the filling is sweet and soft. It will be handed to you in a little piece of paper. If you don't want to eat it right away, ask for a small bag. Remember, it's not usually polite to eat and walk in Japan, so step over to the side out of people's way.

 Another great place to stop is what I consider the "Walmart" of Asakusa otherwise knows at Don Quijote. This place can be intimidating once you come upon it. It sticks out of the ordinary and almost looks like a casino, but it's not. It's floors and floors of amazing goods including food, snacks, clothing, household items, luggage, toys, etc. This is another great place to find souvenirs or even snacks for your hotel or backpack. Did you forget socks? This place has it! They take major credit cards. Check out the three or four levels for a true experience. Once you pay, you will move to the little table to bag your items. Plus, it's close enough to the hotel that you can just return the items to your hotel and get on with your day.

Asahi SkyRoom
 Finally, a great way to enjoy your day or evening is a visit to Asahi's Skyroom. There is no charge to enter but it's suggested that you purchase a beverage of your choice or snack item (approx 600y). I always find these types of places more enjoyable to visit then other touristy spots such as SkyTree and Tokyo Tower which can have exorbitant entrance fees plus you can't drink beer there. Here you can relax, enjoy a beer or wine for a few yen and take in the views. We opted to go later at night around 7pm. The views can't be beat, however, but taking photos is a bit challenging with the lighting from the room interfering with each shot. The seating area is small and it does allow smoking. Smoke travels so if this is bothersome for you try to sit away from the windows. You will enter the lobby of the elegant skyscraper and proceed to the 22nd floor. If you see signs for the Alaska Room, you are in the right place. Just find the Asahi Room.
It's the building on the left you're looking for!

Additionally, one of my stops included a visit to the Harajuku area reachable by train to visit an "art latte" place called Reissue. You can take the Ginza line from Tawaramachi Station and transfer to the Yamanote line (JR). This small cafe offered a few desserts as well as "art lattes" or 3D lattes. If you are coming from Harajuku Station, you will walk all the way through Takashita Street to the end. Cross at the walk and look to your left. You will see a "floral" clock on a wall. It's very large and you cannot miss it. Turn left here and walk about a block or two down. On the left side you will see Reissue and proceed up the stairs. They charge an average price for a cappuccino or latte, around $400y but for an additional $400y they will do art or 3D. So have a picture ready for them or ask for a 3D character such as a bunny or Pikachu. The extra yen is well worth it. It can get busy, too, and they will take reservations so if you can't get in one day I highly recommend you come back.

Look for this outside and Gontran Cherrier is to the right
If lattes aren't your thing, then get on over to Shinjaku Station to visit Gontran Cherrier. This French style bakery on the right side of the JR Station is also a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The exterior is modern and almost sticks out from the other more traditional architecture nearby. You will see it as you cross between two stations outside. Seating upstairs can be hard to come by, and sadly I did not find any outside. The croissants, epi breads, cakes and pastries are all fresh and made throughout the day. I enjoyed a butter croissant, bacon-epi, a cheese bread and sparkling lemonade. Just grab a tray and tongs and choose from the many assorted items offered. A few items were not present when I went through the queue but were quickly replenished. Teas and jams are also offered for purchase.

French loaf, bacon epi, cheese bread, croissant