Before going to Japan, we booked a guided tour of Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is only open to the public through specific guided tours, and on Wednesday morning I was pretty much bursting in the seams from the fact that our sheet of information clearly stated that the doors would be closed for late arrivals. We were definitely late!
Yet, we managed somehow to sneak in with the rest of the group as we were given a short introduction to begin with. This was followed by a 1,5 hours walk around the grounds with a Japanese guide and each our audio guide as companions. It was an odd setup and would have been more engaging if there had been an option for an English guide and if the blasted sun had taken a time off behind a cloud or two. But thenit wouldn’t have been Japan.
The Imperial Palace is the primary residence of the Japanese Emperor, which I found pretty cool since – well – he’s an emperor.
The large park and current palace lies on the site of the old Edo Castle which was built in 1457 and later destroyed through rebuilding, earthquakes and fires. A new palace saw the light of day throughout the Meiji era and later a new palace was built to house the imperial family as they moved to Tokyo.
But with the air-raid bombing of Tokyo on May 25 1945 most of the wooden palace was lost.
The current residence of the imperial palace thus is built post-World War II and in comparison to what we have seen in Japan so far not the most impressive of buildings.
Fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market
I know that one of the ultimate Tokyo experiences is to get up before the break of dawn and see a fish auction at Tsukiji market and we had planned to do so at some point during our trip.
But with the small chance of even getting in and the fact that we had no idea of how to get from Shibuya to Tsukiji market in the middle of the night had us skip that part of our trip and instead visit the place in the hours of normal human beings.
We arrived past noon and in hindsight we should probably have made it there earlier as most of the market was closing down, but it was still an amazing experience to walk the halls of this place.
After a walk through the imperial gardens followed by a walk around Tsukiji Market, we were both ready for lunch. And what better place to have lunch than at one of the amazing sushi joint near the market.
I have never and will probably never taste sushi as fresh as that at the small sushi joint we found. These places are known to serve only the latest caught fish from the market next door, and oh my goodness can you taste it.
The Sumida River
After the most amazing lunch we slowly made our way towards Hamarikyu Gardens from where we took the boat sailing up the River Sumida and all the way to Asakusa Station.
It was a hot, but pleasant trip and somehow I kept thinking about how many times I’ve seen Groups of Japanese on a canal cruise in Copenhagen. Today, they would be staring at me.
Arriving in Asakusa, I’d planned a trip around the area, which began with a visit to the Sensō-ji temple and Nakamise Street. Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s eldest temple dating back to 645. It was, however, bombed during WW2 and rebuilt in the post-war period. Nonetheless it is impressive and a landmark for Tokyo.
Reaching Sensō-ji one has to pass Nakamise Street, which could be the explanation for this wonderful street being filled with handcrafts and local goods. It is a rare place for authentic souvenirs in Tokyo.
I would have loved to have more time in Nakamise Street, but so it is with all of Tokyo. It seems impossible to take it all in with the limited time we’ve planned. And I had somewhere else I wanted to explore.
Kappabashi-dori or Kitchen Town as it is known is a street in Asakusa, which caters to the restaurants and chefs of Tokyo and abroad. This is where you will find all the best in kitchenware – be it pots and pans, Japanese knives or pottery. One thing which almost all Japanese restaurants have and which they also shop for at Kappabashi-dori are plastic representations of food.
Anything from sushi and ramen to fruits and drinks is sold in plastic form in Kitchen Town and all of it capable of fooling you into believing it is real food. They call it sampuru and it is the Japanese version of a menu card.
If I didn’t know better I would have eaten it, if it was on my plate.