Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Too early going to bed last night. We were up very early this morning but, thankfully, we knew that the place we wanted to have breakfast: The local “Sukiya” where we ate the night we arrived. We had noticed that they served breakfast and opened at 5 every morning (including Sunday). Their breakfast menu was also quite inexpensive but looked pretty good…


Wandering over to the restaurant we had a seat in the same place we sat the other night. There were only a few people in the restaurant. After seating our complimentary cold barley tea arrived as we reviewed the menu. Mother had the salted salmon fillet that came with a miso soup with mushrooms, a small savoury seaweed salad (had this in Japanese restaurants before - has a slightly fishy flavour and has cured tofu in it), rice and some small sheets of seaweed. It was 310 yen - a bargain by any definition. I had something very similar but instead of salmon it was a few small pieces of fried chicken and a (shudder) raw egg. 350 yen. Very nice but I could have done without the (cold) egg as I mixed it into my rice. A bit of the “rice seasoning” on the table helped a little bit…

Today we wanted to see a bit of the harbour as we had not seen it at all on the previous visit. We returned the ferry terminal we visited last night and found that we had missed the ferry across to Odaiba - An area that appears to where the local people go to enjoy themselves with the “Fuji Television Headquarters” visible from our hotel (the building with two towers and a big circular ball suspended between that is a harbour observation deck). They told us it would be about another 45 minutes but as this was our last day here we decided to take the monorail - The same monorail that passes in front of the hotel stops at the ferry terminal then continues on across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba on the far side. Bonus!

Hinode Monorail Station

The monorail station was only a short distance away and was very futuristic. The monorail is on the new Yurikamome or “New Tokyo Waterfront” Line. The platform had floor to ceiling glass to separate you from the train tracks with doors that opened when the train arrived. Boarding it was very busy but I managed to film the whole trip…A large circular track took us up to the height of the bridge then the train followed beside a lane of vehicular traffic in one direction while the other direction was in a deck above us. With all the metal girders in the way we could not see a lot but we were up very high and it was sunny.

Having crossed the harbour we got out at Odaiba-Kaihinkoen station and had a look around. There is a large shopping centre on the harbour side but our destination was on the far side of the island where we could see a ferris wheel - Palette Town. A wide suspended walkway took us away from the harbour as we made our way across.


Leaving the walkway we found ourselves in a large open area immediately before what looks like a giant mall with the ferris wheel on top and to the left. Heading in we found the shopping centre was on the right but on the left was “Mega Web” which is a massive Toyota auto showroom with massive high ceilings and the latest models on several floors. What caught my eye though was a path that it appeared cars could follow inside the building then outside again (later we saw it went around on the ground quite a ways - winding around).


The place was not open yet as it was still quite early but they let us pass through to “Tokyo Leisure Land” which is a large indoor amusement centre (mostly video games) but outside was our target: The ferris wheel. The ferris wheel cars are quite old-fashioned round plastic things with large windows and a metal railing around the inside.

Ferris Wheel

We chose our favourite colour (pink) and got on-board. We could see a lot from the ferris wheel but, truth be told, there was not a lot to see with (ok, large) warehouses on artificial islands jutting out to the south, the shopping centre below us and, vaguely in the distance, the other side of the harbour with Tokyo proper. The area is very interesting as is has been obviously developed to attract Japanese rather than foreign tourists. I can see it would be a good break away from the city…assuming you wanted to either shop or play video games.

View from the Ferris Wheel Towards Ariake

Leaving the ferris wheel we returned to “Mega Web”. I had figured out that you could test drive any Toyota model you wished on the track I had seen winding its way around earlier so I wanted to see whether this might be possible. After waiting a few minutes for them to open we followed the signs downstairs to where you booked the cars and found that they did not have any availability until later in the afternoon (most people pre-book on-line) and they required an international drivers licence (which I do not have…though I did not check to see if they might take my EU one). A bit disappointed we had a bit of a look around at the cars. Many of the models we were familiar with but a few were a bid odder - There appears to be an attraction to small van-type vehicles with very high headroom. The only thing we could figure were that they gave the impression of space and they were also easy to get in and out of. They are quite boxy too.

A Bit Small...

One of the exhibits I found interesting was of a Le Mans car that had been driven by some Formula One drivers I know - I spent a few minutes talking about the car with a salesmen who had actually studied in Oxford (England) so spoke very good English indeed. The car did not look very comfortable and was very low.

Le Mans Car

Leaving Palette Town we returned along the walkway back towards the monorail station to visit the “Decks Tokyo Beach” shopping centre which stretches along the harbour here. We knew that somewhere over here was the ferry we could take to return to the other side. As we approached the shopping centre I was looking at the sign and realised that one of the shops it showed was quite interesting: Odaiba Takoyaki Museum! Wow. Explanation, right, as we had last night Takoyaki are small fried balls filled with cream and a piece of octopus then covered with sauces and, often, benito (fish) flakes. They are much tastier than they sound. Here was an entire MUSEUM devoted to them! Cool. Obviously, a must visit.

A Takoyaki Museum!

The shopping centre was nothing special as we passed through the ground floor - shop names you would recognize from anywhere in the world. We found the escalator to the third floor near “Joypolis” which is another entertainment complex. The third floor was wall to wall shops selling cute Japanese toys, candies and clothes - Lots of “Hello Kitty” if you follow me. It was unbelievable what they had as we made our way through.

Cute Toys...

Eventually we had arrived: Odaiba Takoyaki Museum with tako-yaki figures with arms and legs welcoming us - as well as, oddly, some happy looking octopus. It was, of course, basically a small food court devoted to the favourite Japanese treat.

Odaiba Takoyaki Museum

There are about 10 or 12 shops selling different types of takoyaki that you pay for by purchasing tickets from machines outside their stalls.

Takoyaki Stalls

Ticket Machine

Still early we had something to eat anyway - I started with what I thought would be a good idea from one stall which was three different types of takoyaki one of which had meat (no octopus) in it. The 12 balls were good but quite small.

Assorted Takoyaki

Mother had some takoyaki that were covered in what looked like rice crispies but did not have a lot of flavour. Not entirely satisfied I dug out my remaining coins and found a place in the corner that looked pretty good. These were by far the best with lots of flavour, lots of toppings (mayo and sauce), and quite large too.

Very Nice...

After eating we had a look around and there were a few displays explaining the origin of takoyaki (in Japanese) including a display of the cooking implements which are dimpled metal plates that are heated up with the batter dropped into them.

Takoyaki Cooking Instruments

As one side cooks they are individually flipped often using a toothpick so that they end up round. In the shop they had all the makings for takoyaki (including the pans and frozen takoyaki) but I settled on some takoyaki flavoured chips (!). I was really interested in some little “takoyaki” figure so as I was paying I noticed on top of the till was this tiny cute plastic octopus about a centimeter high whose eyes popped out when you tilted him - The shop assistant noticed my interest and gave it to me, no charge! Wow.

Me and Another Octopus...

Yeah, a museum devoted to Takoyaki is…odd…but it was a heck of a lot of fun and a bit of silliness. Really worth it. This is the sort of stuff we want to see here: A bit quirky but definitely not boring.

As we left the shopping centre we walked along the pavement looking down at the harbour. We passed by, oddly, a replica of the statue of liberty. It was not full size but interesting to see it here.

New York?  No wait...

Walking down the ramp we followed the path along the harbour past a beach (way too cold today for people swimming but there were people out sitting and enjoying it) to the ferry terminal. It was a bit confusing but we managed to explain that we wanted a ticket to cross the harbour to the terminal near our hotel where we could catch another boat up the river. Not exactly tourist friendly but I think that here we are talking about Japanese tourists not English-speaking ones. Strange as I would have thought that foreign visitors would want to travel in the harbour to see the city.

View of the Harbour

We headed to the dock to wait for the boat to arrive. All along the shore where we waited were large numbers of white shells but fish that we could see but it did not dirty at all as the bottom was clearly visible. A few minutes later the tourist boat arrived to take us to the other side of the harbour. We immediately headed to the back of the boat which was elevated but also bathed in sun - Ok, it was cool but it offered great views. The commentary was in English and Japanese as we left the dock, passing under the Rainbow bridge and back to where we started this morning.

Catching Flies

On arrival there was a bit of confusion as we stayed on board expecting the same boat to continue up the river but we were ushered off and into the waiting room to wait for another boat to arrive. Yet again, here we were visiting the Hinode terminal but this time we were finally going to actually catch a boat! We had a few minutes to wait for the next boat to arrive so had something to drink from the cafe and watched the people come and go. We were the only non-Japanese there.

Eventually we made our way along the pier to catch our tour boat. Expectation was high that we would be boarding a large rather gaily painted three-story red oriental-looking cruiser but sadly this was not to be as eventually our more typical tour boat arrived - A short glass-windowed affair that the growing crowd filled. We decided having had our fill of the fresh but cool air that we would sit inside this time next to the window. The interior turned out to be very warm as we set sail up the Sumida river.

Our Hotel

Very soon after setting off we passed beside the Tsukiji fish market that on our previous trip to Tokyo we had visited incredibly early in the morning to see the amazing auction of frozen and fresh tuna. We learned on this visit that they have actually stopped these tours now which is a bit of a shame but I can see that the tourists might really interfere with what is simply the fish market doing their normal business.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Continuing up the river the trip struck me as more than slightly on the boring side. There are a number of parks and walkways along the river along with a few pieces of public art.


A succession of bridges - none particularly notable - and buildings - again, nothing of great interest until we got to Asakusa with the impressive “Tokyo Sky Tree” a short distance away from the river towering over the skyline and the quirky “Asahi Beer Hall” which is one of the buildings of the “Asahi Brewery Headquarters” but is in the shape of a large rectangular mug of beer with what looks like a flame coming out of the top. It is here at Asakusa Pier that we disembarked.

Asahi Brewery and Tokyo Skytree

After the calmness of Odaiba and the river the busy street came as a bit of a shock to the system. Of course, it is Saturday so there are bound to be more people doing tourist-type things and here we were very close to one of the biggest tourist and religious sites in Tokyo - The Sensoji Temple. Making our way from the river we spotted a sign to yet another quirky Japanese thing that has become quite famous a “cat cafe”. These are cafes that are populated by large numbers of cats. You pay for the amount of time you visit but is one of those things that we thought would be a lot of fun to visit (and my wife would find particularly neat to hear about). Following a sign directing us down a side street we never did find it though despite walking quite some distance. I can only assume there was another sign that we missed, perhaps in Japanese (though the sign we saw was in English…). Giving up we crossed the road seeing that we were very close to the main building in the Sensoji Temple. A small road leading to the temple was lined with some rather nice shops selling traditional Japanese goods such as pottery and clothing. We visited one for quite some time and found it was actually home to a kimono museum as well (which explained the number of people in the shop dressed in them - men and women alike).

The temple was incredibly busy but it is very impressive - A massive wooden building that is obviously Japanese with the curved eaves in the roof that is covered with tile. To the side of the temple we noticed a large number of people gathered around so stopped to have a look. It turned out to be a lady putting on a show with a trained monkey who was walking on stilts and jumping over fences and other obstacles. I was momentarily shocked as it has been years since I have seen something like this as it is really so much frowned in these days of political correctness - No trained animals. The crowd certainly enjoyed it.

Trained Monkey

We had a quick look at the temple but out of respect did not enter or really get to close other than to climb the steps and take a picture along the main walkway/road leading into the temple which is lined with many shops and today was wall to wall people. The temple exterior is embellished with colourful and elaborate paintings of birds, religious figures and wildlife. We glimpsed the magnificent gold altar behind glass panels in the middle of the building itself with the devout crowded in front praying and paying their respects. Basically the crowd consisted of the religious people and those watching the religious people surrounding them. So much for peace and meditation.

In Front of Main Temple Building

In front of the temple are smaller covered buildings where you can wash your hands and cleanse yourself prior to visiting as well as others where you could burn some incense which thickened the air around us.

Looking Up the Main Road into the Temple

On the far side of the temple there were a series of stalls selling Japanese fast food including, we noticed, more Takoyaki! Of course, we have had enough of that today already.

Food Stalls

Over on this side there are a series of additional temple buildings including the homes for the monks. We took some time to walk around some gardens and smaller shrines located here. Very peaceful as most of the people were over at the main temple so here, being slightly out of the way, it was much calmer and really quite pretty.

Temple Buildings


We had to also have a look at the koi in the water - Why is that we are always looking at the fish in small gardens like this? Anyway, we threw some money in the water and mother noticed that I almost hit one of the fish…oh dear. Can imagine if I had stunned the poor creature and it floated to the surface - Would have caused quite an international incident!

Wounded Fish

Looking up from the koi I noticed a short distance away some amusement rides poking up above the surrounding buildings - Looking at a map I find that this is “Asakusa Hana-Yashiki”, the “oldest amusement park in Japan”. I am told the roller coaster there is from 1953. It is a bit of a juxtaposition after the temple…

We made our way down the central road away from the temple towards the main gate which we could just about make out in the distance with glimpses between the vast numbers of people.

Large Crowds

Before continuing too far we passed under a closer gate that was massive - Three stories high with a huge red paper lantern hanging from the middle with two smaller lanterns hanging to the left and right with massive grotesque figures guarding on either end.

Gate Lantern

Massive sandals made of rope hang from the gate as well to symbolise the footwear previously worn by pilgrims who would have in the past left them as an offering at the gate. This is even more impressive than the main gate off the street that we could see in the distance - I guess this really told visitors in the past that after their long journey they had finally made it…

Large Sandals

It was a slow trip but it did give us ample time to try the various snacks on offer at the shops. Most of the shops had free samples so I was in my glory. Biscuits, cookies, sweets, etc. These shops are very traditional as they were built to serve pilgrims visiting the shrine in the past who often had a very difficult and long journey to get here. There used to be guest houses here as well but these have long since vanished replaced by yet more shops. To the left and right of the main strip there are yet more shops but these often were selling things such as antiques and art. We had a poke in many and I did pick up some biscuits and crackers.

Food Stall...

The “Kaminarimon Gate” has another large red and black paper lantern hanging from the middle (where people stop beneath to have their pictures taken) with statues standing to the left and right. It is here we left the temple grounds and returned the city itself.

Kaminarimon Gate

A half-hearted attempt to try to find the cat cafe again left us disappointed as we made our way into Asakusa subway station to catch the “Skytree Line” (“Tobu Isesaki Line”) which took us across the river to, of course, the Tokyo Skytree.

Tokyo Skytree - Up Close

Completed in 2012, at 634m tall the Skytree is the “tallest freestanding broadcasting tower in the world” and towers (no pun intended) over the Tokyo Tower that we visited on our previous visit in 2007 which is only 333m high (now, officially, the second tallest structure in Japan). at is on top of a large shopping centre, “Tokyo Skytree Town”. We had to go up a series of escalators into the shopping centres then around the base to get to the entrance of the tower where there was a massive queue of people waiting. Not much for it but to join.


On the plus side the queue did move quite quickly and people seemed generally in good spirits as we wound our way around the barriers and inched our way closer to the ticket counters. Immediately in front of the ticket counters we watched a long set of monitors showing cartoon-like images of Tokyo with massive characters such as giant cats that would occasionally zoom in to show you various traditional aspects of Tokyo life. Though we arrived before sunset after our 1.5 hour queuing time the sun had long since left the scene as we passed through security and into the massive elevators that whisked us at frighteningly fast speed (600m/minute) to the “Tembo Deck” at 350 m (“floors 345-350”). The doors to the lift opened and we were faced with a darkened interior and the lights of the city stretching out in front of us. Of course, we had to look over and around the many, many people that were crowded in front of the slanted windows.

Tokyo at Night from 350m

It is neat to see the city spreading out below but not really too much to particularly highlight - perhaps the distant Rainbow Bridge and the river is really all you can easily make out from up here. The white lines of the streets stand out with the scattered lights of the buildings all around with few massive buildings to get in the way. Later, as mother visited the toilet looking out the window the clouds moved in to block my view of the city but then moved away amazingly quickly.

The highest deck is the “Tembo Galleria” at 450 m (“floor 445”) that we had to purchase an extra ticket to access. This lift was far smaller but had a great glass wall that we could look out as we ascended. The view up here was far better if only for the fact there were far fewer people obscuring our access to the windows. Of course it was much darker making the lights of the city really stand out as well. The floor here is basically a large spiral and as we made our way around (to the sounds of the “Blade Runner” soundtrack - perhaps a slight exaggeration but fairly apt).

Tokyo at Night from 450m

At the other end of the spiral we noticed a camera set up pointing out and downwards to where we had first arrived - literally the other end of the spiral where you can have your picture taken with the city spread out below. I watched as the camera operator talked on his head set to the other end to make sure they were appropriately positioned when the shutter came down.

Looking Down

The Highest Point

We returned to the lower level with me concentrating on trying to get some video of the amazing view of the city out of the elevator on our way down. It really was getting late. You may have noticed but at this point we still had not really had much to eat after our lunch-time Tako-yaki extravaganza so we were determined to have at least a drink so we found their small cafe and I made my way to grab a seat while mother picked up the drinks. I was a table away from the window but it was nice anyway (the people beside us only left a few minutes before we did but we moved over anyway!).

Relaxing in the Cafe

A short visit to the glass floor area (very crowded and a bit scuffed but a great view straight down the side of the tower), then the gift shop and we were on our way back down to street level and the subway station for our return trip.

Don't Look Down!

We topped up our Suica cards (these really are making our visit easy) then boarded the subway. This is the first time we ever really used the subway. Previously we had only ever really used the JR Rail lines so it is a bit of a different experience - Far more local. It was getting late but we were determined to make the most out of our last day here so we took the subway to Suehirocho station to have a quick look into Akihabara. It seems we are not really destined to visit “Electric City” as in 2007 we had only visited for a few hours and this visit turned out to be about the same. The buildings here are not as high as you might think but they are certainly lit up even now at 9 o’clock at night. Signs in both English and Japanese festoon every surface of every building.

We were not really looking for anything here in Akihabara but on a bit of a pretense I went looking for some anime (Japanese animation) videos to see what was on offer. We first visited a small building that really reminded me a department store but with the departments all being electronics-related. So, one floor was cameras, another was laptops, another was televisions, and so on. The prices here were not any better than either of us have seen back home so the days of making a specific trip to come here to purchase them are long gone. We made our way up a small escalator to the floor with DVDs and found a large assortment of anime-related items such as dolls and models with the DVDs themselves along the far wall. Along the outer wall and one of the aisles were not videos themselves but posters describing videos that I am assuming you then picked up from somewhere else - I presume these are the porn-related ones as the standard videos were out in other aisles that you could simply pick up there and then. I did not see anything interesting so we made our way back to the street.

The big mall beside the main Akihabara (JR Rail) station is one that we are familiar with - Yodobashi Akiba. We had visited this enormous place last time. Each floor is the size of most large stores in London and there are 7 floors selling all manner of home and electronic goods. I noticed a familiar name on the 7th floor - Tower Records. It was at Piccadilly Circus in London for many years. We made our way up the escalators again to explore. The large store was tucked away (!) at one end of the 7th floor (we almost did not spot it) so I spent some time wandering around having a look. I did not find what I was looking for (an audio CD of music from a show I enjoy) but I did find an interesting DVD that is a tour of the Ghibli Museum (that we visited yesterday). DVDs are not cheap here and this one was about 4,000 yen.

We had to have a visit to the coin-operated machines that we remembered from our previous visit where they had several hundred of them in an aisle with all manner of toys and things on offer at the twist of a handle. This time their collection has significantly diminished in size and not so interesting though there we noticed a line of people waiting for access to one particular empty machine that was in the process of being refilled - Must be something very interesting but we did not stop to have too much of a look.

Yodobashi Akiba

The 8th floor is where the restaurants can be found (yes, restaurants not simply a food court…full size restaurants) but we were very tired after what has turned into a very long and busy day.

It was getting onto 10 pm when we boarded the Yamanote line back to Hamamatsucho station.

>> Next: Day 5

For further details, please see: