“We’re going shopping today” my wife teased and I raised an eyebrow.
After 16 years of marriage, one of the things Angie knows is that I want our trips to be educational and enriching whenever we travel (in fact, I’m keeping tab on the number of World Heritage sites we’ve visited so far). We didn’t spend money, flown great distances just to be thrown into commercialized air-con malls buying meaningless souvenirs that will eventually be kept in the store room or thrown away. It’s the unique cultural and educational exchanges that count. However, I would make an exception when it comes to local markets, especially those dating back to the medieval times, ones that paddle local crafts and cuisines.
After a good night’s rest and a slow morning’s start, we’re off to Asakusa today with our local goodwill guide for the day, Miss Sakiko Mimori, a lady who works as an interpreter for an international patents company. Miss Sakiko once again guided us to buy the necessary tickets for our day trip to Asakusa. Unknown to many, Asakusa is the medieval hub where the huge iconic Karimarimon Gate stands, greeting every visitor to the Nakamise shopping street enroute to Tokyo’s most popular temple, the 7th century Sensoji Temple.
Yes indeed…Tokyo is fun, educational and enriching.
We are thankful to our local goodwill guides, like Miss Sakiko here (left) who helped us navigate through the dense and confusing Tokyo subway.
Onward bound…back in time to the medieval city of Asakusa!
We alighted at Asakusa station and made a brief stop at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. Because it was a Sunday, we chanced upon a complimentary Japanese Cultural Dance Workshop which lasted slightly over an hour. It was purely coincidental but we had a blast there! We learnt the famous Sakura dance, complete with bamboo fan, kimono and Japanese two-toed tabi socks for each visitor, free of charge!
The trained dancers conducted the workshop very seriously. From the wearing of the kimono to the way the fans are held, they patiently went through each step with us (tourists) with such politeness and warmth. It was truly a memorable and surreal moment for me to don the kimono (yes, I learnt that there are male kimonos) and danced the Sakura dance with my 7 year old! This to me is precisely why we travel with our children– to forge precious family memories! We then watched a spell-binding dance performance before heading up to the roof top of the cultural center to take in Asakusa’s skyline, dotted with an eclectic mix of ancient and modern architecture.
The Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Center is an architectural wonder which offers more than just brochures and maps.
Located just opp the Asakusa subway station…it has a free open-air observatory at the top!
To our pleasant surprise, they were conducting free Jap dance classes for visitors…which comes with kimono, tobii (socks) and fans.
Finally! Our princess gets to wear a kimono. She was thrilled! The trainers dressed each of us patiently in a Kimono for the dance.
Elaborate bow and sleeves…
Going through the dance steps together under the guidance of our trainer…
Having fun learning something new in a foreign land…
After few rounds, we were not too shabby…
I’m impressed. This is not a play-play dance. The trainers took it very seriously and we benefited much. The Japs are very passionate about their culture.
A photo moment for Daddy and Daughter to remember – on our 1st trip to Japan.
Aerial view of the medieval town of Asakusa and the famous Nakamise shopping street behind.
Crowds on a Sunday…
The eclectic skyline of Asakusa, dotted with medieval and modern rooftops.
Where the medieval and modern co-exist…
After that bit of cultural experience, we made our way towards the Nakamise Shopping Street but not before standing in awe of the Kaminarimon Gate adorned with 3 huge lanterns. This gate actually has its roots dating back nearly 1000 years! Walking onto the shopping street, which has been around since the 7th century, was quite an experience. We tried to imagine the centuries of Japanese who have thronged this very street to pay homage at the Sensoji Temple. Along the way, we savoured local snacks, ate ice-cream, while admiring local crafts, souvenirs, clothes, apparels and accessories etc…paraded by the local vendors in low Japanese huts. THIS is my kind of shopping. Since it was a Sunday, the 300m shopping street was packed but yet not too congested in the morning. We were certainly not complaining as there’s so much energy in the air! The unique thing about this market is that it is catered to both Japanese and tourist alike so, you can be assured of the quality in the goods and the food being sold.
We thoroughly enjoyed Asakusa. This place threw us right into Japanese heritage and culture! I’ll stop writing and let my photos do the talking.
Navigating through the streets of the Nakamise Shopping Street.
Visitors pay to don these Kimonos and walk around for that ‘authentic’ feel…not for us, not in this Summer heat!
It’s hard to imagine that visitors and worshippers have thronged this place since the 7th century.
I love a cultural market when I see one.
Here is a Japanese lady (left) purchasing a bamboo fan, also known as the ‘Sensu’.
There are also the usual tourist trinkets on sale…really pretty ones too!
Though it was packed, it wasn’t congested. People, locals and visitors, co-exist well here.
Kimonos in all colours…surprisingly most of them are tourists!
The type of architecture that appeals to me…those with historical significance…
The famous Kaminarimon gate, adorned by 3 huge lanterns, has its roots going back nearly 1000 years!
Quite in awe to walk below these iconic monuments…
Angie did warn me that Japan was full of scenic places, even the markets and shopping streets…and she was right.
In the land of pagodas and lanterns…
The 7th century Sensoji Temple, Japan’s most popular temple.
Visitors casting their lot and reading their fortunes. Japanese, though modern, are still very much into spirituality.
Our next experience after lunch couldn’t be more surreal. From the medieval Nakamise shopping street and Sensoki temple, we walked past groups of dashing young Jinriksha (rickshaw) pullers trying to canvas for business for this traditional form of transport. We were headed towards the ferry terminal for our afternoon Sumida River Cruise but the guide did not tell us that our ride would be in a futuristic vessel which looked like something from a manga magazine! We later found out that the Himiko cruise boat was designed by famed Japanese manga artist, Leiji Matsumoto. We almost couldn’t believe our eyes that something so futuristic can actually float and sail!
We bought our tickets for the next available cruise at 3.30pm. After an hour’s wait, we can hardly contain our excitement as we stepped on board the cruise boat. It was seriously cool! The cool air-conditioned interior was exceptionally welcoming on this hot Summer’s day. The all-around, see-through windows and ceiling gave us a stunning 180 degree view up / down and sideways. I secretly admired the captain who really looked like he was piloting a vessel that will cruise into space. The interior was so spacious and comfortable that Dana took a short nap during our ride. There’s a little deli within where we can grab a bite or a drink on the hour-long cruise to Odaiba as it regally sailed along the Sumida River. Somewhere mid-cruise, the crew opened the hatch of the ‘spaceship’ for us to step up to the outdoor upper deck to enjoy the breeze. Awesome!
A quick turn from medieval Asakusa and we are transported back to modern day Japan.
Strapping young men earn their living as Jinriksha (rickshaw) pullers. For income and fitness.
Iconic Asakusa Jinrickshas
The feet that toil…
Jinriksha pullers entertaining their guests…
Rickshaws of Asakusa…
In a land of vending machines.
The HQ of Asahi Beer…the golden ‘cloud’ was supposed to represent the smooth head of the beer.
Check out the Himiko Cruise…a ‘spaceship’ that actually floats and sails!
The interior is roomy and futuristic too!
The magnificent Rainbow Bridge.
Cruising is a good way to see a city…
We loved our futuristic ride!
The futuristic Himiko Cruise brought us past Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba, the huge man-made island which was founded in the Edo period. You can’t miss Odaiba. Not only because it’s a bustling island created for commercial, leisure and residential purposes, it has a scaled replica of the Statue of Liberty, which is actually a gift from the French to the people of Japan. Set against the Rainbow Bridge, we certainly felt like we were back in Manhattan again!
A city of bridges…
No wait….are we back at Lower Manhattan?
Never thought we would see the Statue of Liberty so soon again after our NYC trip last Summer!
Tokyo’s man-made beach in Odaiba!
Odaiba is a big recreational, commercial and residential man-made island where locals visit for leisure.
Met a talented busker there…
Here at Odaiba, we slowed down to a stroll and literally smelled the flowers, particularly the wild lavenders and the wild framed hydrangeas. We soaked in the weekend Tokyo vibes….watched a busker entertain the crowd in Japanese, clapped and cheered for him…It didn’t matter that we didn’t understand a word which was spoken as laughter and humour transcend all barriers! Before we walked to the train station for our commute back, Angie walked into the Odaiba mall and did some shopping….yes…she did.
At dusk, we headed back to Tokyo on subway and bid a grateful farewell to our excellent goodwill guide, Miss Sakiko who had spent her entire Sunday bringing us around.
At Odaiba, we took time to smell the flowers…this was Angie’s favorite – the framed purple Hydrangaes.
The leisurely vibes at Odaiba was infectious!
Back to Tokyo, then back to hotel after a long but fulfilling day.
Thanks to detailed research by the wife and the company of local goodwill guides, we were not lost in transit nor translation…
Our wonderful guide, Ms Sakiko and our Japanese doll, Dana…
The Necessary ‘Evil’:
One of the main reasons why we chose Keio Plaza Hotel was its direct, complimentary Shuttle Bus transfer to Tokyo Disneyland, our next destination. You need to book the bus the month prior to your usage via email as seats are limited. For the transfer, you can bring along all your luggage if you are checking out of Keio Plaza to move near to Disneyland, which was what we did. Early the next morning, we were at the shuttle bus queue at 6:30am, primed and ready to conquer the happiest place on earth! Stay tuned for our next post to find out how we did 18 rides (yes 18!), watched the parades and fireworks all within 12 hours in what is touted as the busiest Disneyland ever.
Our DIY Japan Trip 2015 (Summer):
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