Stopover in Tokyo




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Thursday we left Perth, heading back to Canada. Our flight had two stops – an hour and a half in Kuala Lumpur and almost twelve hours in Tokyo. Not ones to waste a day hanging around an airport, we opted to visit the city. We had read about how beautiful the Shinjuku Gardens were in the Spring so we decided to check it out.

Perth from the air as we leave Australia.
Perth from the air as we leave Australia.

Narita Airport, however, is an hour and a half by train from Tokyo, something we did not know. But we had enough time so we took the Narita Express to Shinjuku Station. A return ticket usually costs around 6000 yen but they were having a promotion for tourists, so if you had a foreign passport, you could pick up a return ticket for 4000 yen. (around US$35 or CDN$46.50). Tickets are reserved seating only and for a specified train. Our return tickets were open ended and good for fourteen days but we had to exchange them for specific return tickets before we could go back.

The train ride itself is a fun experience. You get to see a lot of the countryside and the city along the way. We passed through several miles of forest, then through a lot of suburban Tokyo – houses and apartments, businesses and pagodas. We also passed through some farmland – rice paddies which lay barren this early in the Spring.

Tokyo suburbs - single family homes and the occasional pagoda.
Tokyo suburbs – single family homes and the occasional pagoda.

As we got closer to downtown, the buildings changed from single family dwellings to large apartments. We were struck by the penchant for brick in these buildings. Brick is a very popular building medium in Japan.

Brick buildings are popular. This ten story apartment downtown is across the street from the Shinjuku Gyoen national Garden.
Brick buildings are popular in Tokyo. This ten story apartment downtown is across the street from the Shinjuku Gyoen national Garden.

At Tokyo’s main train station, different cars were uncoupled and sent in different directions. Our car, number 7, went on to Shinjuku. On the way we passed through Shibuya Station and district. One busy intersection has been called the Times Square of Tokyo and we passed right by it. But if you blink, you’ll miss it.

This area of Shuya has been called the Times Square of Tokyo.
This area of Shibuya has been called the Times Square of Tokyo. I took the picture on the return trip to the airport as it went by too fast the first time.

We were there on March 25th so it was just getting into Spring. When our plane landed at 7:30 AM it was just two degrees C outside. The high of the day was fourteen. We thought it might be chilly but by the time we got to Shinjuku the sun was out and it was a beautiful day.

We had picked up a guide and map at the airport and after getting our return tickets, we walked a few blocks to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This beautiful park in the middle of the city covers 58.3 hectares or 144 acres. It dates from 1772 and took its current shape in 1906. Destroyed by Allied bombers during the war, it was rebuilt afterwards.

There is an admission of 200 yen to get in (US$1.77, CDN$2.33). And there is no alcohol allowed in the park. You have to submit to a security check before entering. But those are formalities. The park is stunning and worth the admission.

Only a few of the 1500 cherry trees were in full bloom yet, but they were stunning.
Only a few of the 1500 cherry trees were in full bloom yet, but they were stunning.

Because it was so early in the Spring, only a few of the 1500 cherry trees were in full bloom. But that was enough to get vast crowds of people out to enjoy the day. Cherry blossoms are a rite of Spring in Japan and everyone is keen to see them. And Japan is a nation of shutterbugs. Cameras were everywhere.

There are a number of different themed gardens within the park.
There are a number of different themed gardens within the park.

We wandered through the park and came to a map that explained the layout. There are different styles of garden throughout and we decided to check out the Japanese Garden. It featured many sculpted trees as well as a lake with koi and a tea house on the far side.

A beautiful tea house borders a pond i\n the Japanese Garden.
A beautiful Taiwan Pavillion borders a pond in the Japanese Garden. It was the only building in the park not destroyed in World War II.

A good number of artists were out drawing and painting. Some sketching in black and white and some painting in colour.

Artists capturing different aspects of the park on their canvases.
Artists capturing different aspects of the park on their canvases.

After the Japanese Garden we walked along a lake and spotted some more trees in full bloom. One of the things that struck me was the age of the trees. The cherry trees were large and had intriguingly shaped trunks and branches, usually covered with a dark moss. Often the branches would dip right to the ground. We saw one branch hovering just over the water of the lake.

One of several lake surrounded by trees.
One of several lake surrounded by trees and shrubs.

We hiked a bit further and saw a large group of bare trees. This was the Avenue of the Plane Trees. The foliage appears later in the year and the trees are quite stark in their leafless state. They are related to a type of North American sycamore.

A double row of plane trees flanks each side of the French formal garden.
A double row of plane trees flanks each side of the French formal garden.

Between two double rows of plane tree lie a French formal garden lined with rose bushes. They were just coming into bud.

Rows of roses border the French formal garden.
Rows of roses border the French formal garden. They were just starting to bud when we were there.

We walked around the French garden and looked over the vast English landscape garden, mostly a huge open field. The grass was brown at this time of year, but later turns into a lush green. It is truly huge – larger than a soccer field, surrounded by trees along its borders.

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The size and scope of the park is immense. The English landscape garden is larger than a football field. The gravel plaza in front is itself quite large.

As we walked back along the path, we noticed a large conservatory, so we headed over there. Inside we found a good collection of tropical plants including many orchids. The conservatory doesn’t compare in size or scope to the ones we saw in Singapore, but it was an enjoyable visit all the same.

The conservatory.
The conservatory.
Orchids in the conservatory.
Orchids in the conservatory.

Leaving the conservatory we came across two huge cherry trees in full bloom. There was a large crowd surrounding the trees, cameras out. We took some pictures ourselves, of course.

Large cherry trees in full bloom attracted a large crowd.
Large cherry trees in full bloom attracted a large crowd.
Janis and some cherry blossoms.
Janis and some cherry blossoms.
The cherry blossoms are amazing.
The cherry blossoms are amazing.

The city in the background had some iconic structures including the interestingly shaped Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. This 50 story building houses three educational institutes and is the second tallest educational building in the world. When it was planned, a competition was held to find an architect with the stipulation that the building could not be rectangular. It won the Skyscraper of the Year award in 2008.

The interesting building in the picture is the
The differently-shaped building in the picture is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

After leaving the park, we spotted a rickshaw. We discovered later that the giant Takashimaya Times Square Department Store adjacent to the park and the railway station was offering free rickshaw rides that day to customers spending 10,000 yen or more. (About US$88 or CDN$116).

A rickshaw driver pauses to chat with his passenger while waiting for a red light.
A rickshaw driver pauses to chat with his passenger while waiting for a red light.

We dropped by the store to have lunch at one of the many restaurants there. The top three floors of the fourteen story building are all restaurants with varied menus. We opted for a Japanese restaurant and had a delicious tempura meal.

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The Tenkuni Restaurant on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya Times Square Department Store features delicious tempura.

Afterwards we shopped around a while. The store is comparable to Nordstrom – on the upscale side of things. We checked out the 10th and 11th floor which featured crafts and things as we were shopping for a souvenir for our son who loves Japanese culture.

Costumes are popular in the fabric department. Our son tells us they are for cos-play, a popular activity in Japan.
Costumes are popular in the fabric department. Our son tells us they are for cosplay, a popular activity in Japan.

Among the departments we found a fabric department that included costumes (for cosplay according to our son), a section where traditional Japanese clothing was hand made to order, a school uniform boutique (all Japanese school children wear uniforms), a bakery and deli foods section, a variety of craft and souvenir shops and one that sold very elaborate and expensive samurai shrines featuring hand-made dolls in detailed costumes.

A display of elaborate samurai dolls and shrines. They are fairly pricey, but absolutely gorgeous.
A display of elaborate samurai dolls and shrines. They are fairly pricey, but absolutely gorgeous.

A clerk gave me a brochure in English explaining that these were Tokyo seasonal festival dolls, called Edo Sekku Ningyo, a tradition going back to the 18th century. The feudal government of the mid-1700s limited the size and luxuriousness of the dolls. This forced artisans to come up with creative ways to create their wares with an austere elegance that continues to this day. But today, some of these run into the hundreds of thousands of yen (or thousands of dollars).

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This elaborate samurai doll shrine sells for 421,200 yen (about US$3700 or CDN$4900).

There are two festivals where these dolls are much prized, the Girls Festival of March 3rd and the Boys Festival of May 5th. The store has an online catalogue and I’ve linked the page through Google Translate so it is in English. Worth a browse.

Yet more elaborate samurai doll displays.
Yet more elaborate samurai doll displays.

We browsed some more and found something for our son. We had spent over 10,000 yen including lunch, but time was short so we could not take advantage of the free rickshaw ride. We hopped the Narita Express and headed back to the airport, a very enjoyable morning and afternoon in Tokyo.

If we have another layover on our return to Australia in July, we will take in the Shibuya district, and maybe the downtown area of Shinjuku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building features twin towers with free public observation floors on the 45th floor, definitely something worth checking out. Tokyo is a fabulous city and we would love to visit it again.

 

The twin towers on the left are part of the Tokyo Metropolitn Government building which has free public observation platforms on the 45th floor.
The twin towers on the left are part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which has free public observation platforms on the 45th floor.

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Photo Gallery: Tokyo




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Train tracks approaching Shinjuku Station.
Train tracks approaching Shinjuku Station.
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The fourteen story Takashimaya Times Square Department Store next door to the Shinjuku train station. The top three floors are all restaurants.
There are some traditional structures sandwiched between the modern buildings of Tokyo.
There are some traditional structures sandwiched between the modern buildings of Tokyo.
A plum tree in bloom. A number of the trees are supported by stakes.
A plum tree in bloom in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. A number of the large trees are supported by stakes.
Plum blossoms
Plum blossoms
The old cherry trees are large and have elaborate branch networks with some branches touching the ground.
The old cherry trees are large and have elaborate branch networks with some branches touching the ground. Notice the branch just beyond the trunk. In the next picture, you’ll get a better idea of the size of this tree.
Janis with one of the branches that is touching the ground.
Janis with one of the branches that is touching the ground.
This tree was just starting to blossom and the bees were making an appearance.
This tree was just starting to blossom and the bees were making an appearance.
The Taiwan Pavillion in the Japanese Garden. You can see some koi in the pond.
The Taiwan Pavillion in the Japanese Garden. You can see some koi in the pond.
This man was drawing the Taiwan Pavillion.
This artist pauses to contemplate as he draws the Taiwan Pavillion.
One of several lakes in the park, surrounded by trees.
Part of the Japanese Garden with the city in the background.
A sculpted pine tree in the Japanese Garden.
A sculpted pine tree in the Japanese Garden.
This is the
This is the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, fourth tallest in Tokyo and the tallest if you include the communications mast on top. 
Branch hanging down to the waterline.
Branch hanging down to the waterline.
This artist was painting in colour. Looks like he was finished, but a minute after I took the picture, he dipped  his brush into some paint, added one brush stroke, then paused to think some more.
This artist was painting in colour. Looks like he was finished, but a minute after I took the picture, he dipped his brush into some paint, added one brush stroke, then paused to think some more.
Avenue of the Plane Trees
Avenue of the Plane Trees
City view over the French formal garden.
City view over the French formal garden.
The English Landscape Garden with city in background.
The English Landscape Garden with city in background.
Trees in bloom.
Trees in bloom.
Some white cherry blossoms.
Some white cherry blossoms.
A pretty blossom
A pretty blossom
Chrysanthemums are also popular in the park.
Chrysanthemums are also popular in the park.
In the conservatory
In the conservatory
Large plants in the conservatory.
Large plants in the conservatory.
Some of the orchids on display.
Some of the orchids on display.
The rickshaw we could have had a free ride in. Unfortunately we ran out of time.
The rickshaw we could have had a free ride in. Unfortunately we ran out of time.
Oh, by the way, smoking is prohibited on city streets.
Oh, by the way, smoking is prohibited on city streets. This sign is embedded in the sidewalk at periodic intervals. 
View from the fourteenth floor of the Takashimaya store. Unfortunately the outside boardwalk was not open to the public.
View from the fourteenth floor of the Takashimaya store. Unfortunately the outside boardwalk was not open to the public.
Traditional Japanese outfits are made to order here.
Traditional Japanese outfits are made to order here.
And there is a school uniform shop as well.
And there is a school uniform shop as well.
Some more samurai doll shrines on display.
Some more samurai doll shrines on display.
A helmet, a bow and arrow, and a kitana sword fill this shrine.
A helmet, a bow and arrow, and a kitana sword fill this shrine.
And so it's farewell to Tokyo until our next visit.
And so it’s farewell to Tokyo until our next visit.


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