What with the Imperial Palace being closed on Monday, we had decided that we would go back the next day. Dan, Lee and I again traveled to the Palace area, coming out of the metro at a different exit. A difference of opinion very swiftly split the party; Dan and I had feet laced with blisters and didn’t want to walk too far, if we could help it – we wanted to go into the Palace, have a leisurely stroll around, then head off for lunch. We were in pain and held that we needed to narrow down on the things we wanted to see. Certainly, the vast amount of walking we had done the day before had allowed us to see bits of Tokyo that most travellers didn’t, but we still had the reality that we only had so much time in the city.
Lee wanted to walk around the entirety of the Palace walls before coming back in the gate we were stood next to; which Dan and I saw as a lot of unnecessary walking and time-wasting. We parted ways and agreed to meet up at the hotel later.
We made our way to the Ote-mon Gate and into the Eastern Palace Gardens. They only allow so many into the Palace Gardens at once, then it becomes a one-in-one-out policy. Fortunately, despite the heat, we were there early enough to walk straight in, picking up a guide and stamping it with the days stamp (a common part of tourist attractions in Tokyo is an elaborate stamp with the days date on it, that you can stamp your guide or travel book with). We made our way around the Museum of Imperial Collections, a small building filled with stunning traditional artworks, wall scrolls, and pottery. Sadly photography is not allowed inside.
To say that the Palace grounds were beautiful would be an understatement. Little remains of the palace these days, other than the moat and stone walls, a few of the stable buildings, the Fuji viewing tower, and the remnants of a giant pagoda that looks over the main park.
A disused teahouse watches over a waterfall fed pond on the south-eastern side in a beautiful landscaped garden, the Kitanomaru-koen. Golden koi drift lazily in the water, and the trees explode with cherry blossoms making it a perfect spot for hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties).
From this traditional start to the day, viewing gardens and Edo period architecture and gardens, Dan and I decided that we wanted to head back to Shinjuku, to see the Headquarters of one of our favourite videogame companies, Square Enix. We had also been told that they had a themed cafe on site that we could visit. We arrived in Shinjuku and, using the portable WiFi hotspot to help us navigate, we made our way to the Square Enix building.
Just across the street from the Square Enix building is a wonderful little traditional Japanese wooden house, nestled between two skyscrapers. If there was a more on-the-nose image that sums up that high tech with tradition dichotomy of Tokyo, I can’t imagine it.
Around the back of the Square Enix building, we found the Artnia Cafe, a strange little white building shaped to look like one of the slimes from Dragon Quest. Inside they sell all manner of Square Enix merchandise, from postcards, to jewellery, to clothing, to soft toys and more. There’s also a quaint little cafe that sells drinks and snacks based on the Square Enix franchises (chocobo shaped biscuits anyone?).
From Artnia, we made our way leisurely back to the metro and wound our way northward to Ikebukero, to visit the Pokemon Centre Megatokyo. It took us a while to find it, wandering around the streets, under the raised highway, stopping for coffee in a Cafe Velo (these cafes have free WiFi and are reasonably priced drinks with the menu in English – an oasis for the weary non-Japanese-speaking traveler), but eventually we found it.
Ikebukero is a sprawling shopping district in the very northwest of Tokyo. We wondered around for about an hour, window shopping at various different clothing outlets, and looking for food. We found a little restaurant down a side street, ate, then decided we weren’t quite ready to head back to the hotel yet.
Thus we made our way to Tokyo Midtown, an up-market residential and business area. The best way to describe Tokyo Midtown is as a shopping mall with residential districts built into the sides of it, and office towers on the outlying edges too. It’s also home to the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton, a magnificent five-star hotel with views of Tokyo Tower and Midtown Park. So it was, with the Tower in sight, that we decided to head our way there. Oh, the bad choices we made…
A note to the prospective Tokyo traveller: just because you can see Tokyo tower doesn’t mean that you are close to it. We decided the easiest way to get to Tokyo Tower would be to point ourselves at it and walk. Apparently, whoever designed the Roppongi area of Tokyo had a different idea. We passed the Konami building (another popular videogame company) and wound our way through residential areas, past bars blaring metal music and filled with tattooed Japanese bikers. About two hours later (including several rest stops as our feet were in blister induced agony) we finally found our way up to the base of Tokyo Tower.
Tokyo Tower is a 1092 ft Eiffel Tower inspired lattice communication and observation tower built in 1958 and painted orange and white to comply with air safety regulations. Sadly the observation deck was closed by the time we arrived and we didn’t have enough money to afford the executive ride to the top, so we explored the base of the tower, grabbed an iced slushy drink and made our way, worn and weary, back to Ayase.