Free Observation Deck in Tokyo

Tokyo has quite a few places where you can go to an observation deck to lookout over the magnificent city.  We found one that was less crowded, free and easy to get to on our way to Senso-ji. The Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center is just around the corner from Asakusa Station and the building itself, designed by well known Kengo Kuma, is a site to be seen.  The first floor is staffed with a team ready to welcome guests (in Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean)  and each floor offers either an exhibition or conference rooms and a cafe.  Make sure you get to the 8th floor to have your FREE lookout of the Asakusa area.  Don’t expect to be able to see the whole city, after all you are only on the 8th floor.

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The cafe and sitting area on the observation deck floor.
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Information board on the first floor.
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This exhibit gave a plethora of information on all of the famous districts in Tokyo.
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From the observation deck you can see the Tokyo Skytree, the Asahi Headquarters and the Asahi flame.  Notice that the Asahi building looks a little like beer in mug with suds on top.

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1 minute walk from the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center

Japan and Sake

The Meiji Era was the first half of the Empire of Japan from October 23, 1868, to July 30, 1912.   During this time the Emperor Meiji, led the industrial growth and modernization of the country and the Japanese people held Emperor Meiji and his family in the highest regard.  I visited the Meiji Shrine located in Shibuya, Tokyo as it was ranked one of the top Shinto shrines to visit in the area.  At the start of the path towards the shrine, I reached a wall of barrels of sake wrapped in straw.  Every year barrels, pictured here, are given to the enshrined deities by members of the Meiji Jingu Sake Brewers Association along with members of other associations as a symbol of respect for the souls of the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, whom was also buried here.

Sake is a Japanese rice wine with a very strong taste and can have as much as 20% alcohol volume. Sake is said to be the oldest known alcohol that dates back to 4800 BC in China and 300 BC in Japan.   By the 1300s breweries allowed for mass production and during the industrial revolution hand work by villagers was no longer necessary. It seems to be that since about 1904, Japan has been strongly branded with this fermented rice specialty.  I drank sake with a coconut violet cocktail mix nearly every night for the second half of my trip.  It became my tradition to wind down after a day of walking for about 8 hours. Respect be to the Emperor and family souls.

Tip: Purchase a JRailpass (at least 2 weeks before you depart for Japan) to give you more flexibility to see more that just one city when you visit this spectacular country.

Tokyo Streets

I can hear one of my favourite tracks “Where the streets have no name”. U2 fans can hear it too.

Walking through the streets of Tokyo had me practicing my patience at least 100 times a day and even with the frustration of being lost in translation, I still love this city!  There are street signs, but they are not always easily visible and there are so many alleyways for shopping and sometimes dining.  It’s easy to get lost. Thank God for my T-Mobile International plan.  I was able to use the google maps to help us navigate.

I have a very important tip…

When using Google maps, put in the address you are going to but do not press directions. The moment you do, it will send you off course.  Just load the location so that you can see where you are walking. It sounds weird, but I promise you this is the best way to use google maps right (May 2018) in Japan with a US phone.

My eyes were faced with unending stimulation as I people watched, stared at the skyscrapers, bowed at the temples and walked through the parks and there were no shortage of sites to experience in this amazing city. I will definitely be back!

Long ago, I heard about the efficient rapid transit and its complex map.  Like my attitude with New York’s subway lines, I chose not to be intimidated and to just take my time to get my bearings (even with this method, the crew I was with still got lost a few times).  Whether I was on the street or underground, I always had to pay attention very carefully to the signs. The street signs outside were not always obvious, but underground everything is written quite well, except the signage for elevators are less obvious.

For every plan that you make in Japan, add an extra 30 minutes to your schedule to allow for your travel errors. No matter how good you are at reading maps and taking directions, you are bound to get lost at least once.

If you have been to Tokyo, I would love to hear about your experience. How many times did you get lost?

Getting lost is part of the fun, as long as you are not in a hurry to get somewhere.  I find that you can learn more about yourself and a city when this happens.  You also learn about the people that you are traveling with.  It’s okay to go offtrack, especially in Japan. I never felt threatened or unsafe and people try to be helpful even if they can’t speak much English.

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This photo was taken in the Harajuku area. Fortunately, most tourist attractions do have elaborate signs with an arrow to point you in the right direction.

 

Best,

Isabel

 

 

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