Sunday, September 25, 2011

Old, Low, High - My Tokyo Walk

It's not always about food when I'm in Tokyo -- it's also about exploring, discovering and just walking about this really unique city.
 I go to Tokyo for business, and most of the time I go alone, so I try to stay an extra day -- presentations and meetings are done, time to relax, unwind and have some me time!

I wake up to this view when I'm in Tokyo. The city unfolds before me and I can't wait to get out and start my day!
Today, I've decided on the theme for my little walkabout ... I want to experience the various nuances of the city.  
My walk will start with visiting the "old" side of Tokyo.

So, I take the metro, riding the Ginza line all the way to the end -- to one of my favorite places in Tokyo, Asakusa. It's a must-go-to every time I'm in town.  I love the vibe of Asakusa. 
In the old days, Asakusa was the center of  the city's shitamachi or low or old town.
Since it's a popular tourist destination, you can stop off at the Tourist Info Center for tips on how to walk around the area.

Right at the corner of Asakusa, you can catch a glimpse of the new Tokyo Sky Tree, now the tallest tower in the world.  It stands by the Sumidagawa, the river that runs through Tokyo.

Old style rickshaws can be hired in Asakusa, you can have yourself pulled around the area by young Japanese rickshaw drivers.

The rickshaws are parked by the sidewalk and since it's still early morning, most of them are waiting for customers.

I walk past this very old tempura store where tendon is the main specialty.  I've enjoyed a number of solitary lunches here but for now, it's just after 9 a.m and too early for lunch!

And here is the first torii or gate that welcomes you to the entrance to the Senso-ji, the most famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

Beyond the gate starts Nakamise dori, a shopping lane lined with shops selling all sorts of toys, kimonos, souvenirs, sweets, candies, Japanese crafts that date back to the olden days. There are other smaller alleys and lanes off Nakamise dori where the locals shop for clothes and shoes. 
I've spent many a happy hour meandering along the side streets of Nakamise dori.

Another gate comes up after the shops end, beyond which is the temple.

Just before I climb the Senso ji Temple steps, I pause by this urn where sticks of incense burn continuously.  People believe that the smoke from the urn can heal all sorts of ailments.  The trick is to stand and waft the smoke onto the part of your body that you feel needs healing the most.

And right inside the Senso ji Temple is the image of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  Devotees clasp their hands and bow their heads in supplication and to thank the goddess for blessings she has bestowed on them.

Off to the side of the temple are rows of fortune cards. You whisper a wish to the deity, shake the canister and get the wooden stick that falls out from the hole.  Each stick has a japanese number character (which is exactly like the character on a mahjong tile!) which matches the various small drawers.  Open the one that matches your number and the answer to your question or wish is printed in the piece of paper.
If you're not happy with the answer, that's okay.  Just fold the paper and tie it on the many lines set up outside -- with so many little pieces of paper tied on the lines, I'm  thinking that many wishes were not granted today.

I stand on the steps of the temple, looking out on the people who have come to Senso ji this morning.

As I get ready to leave, I look up at the Five Storied pagoda, which is right beside the Senso ji Temple.

Then, it's back to the metro to take the train to the next destination!

I get off at Ueno and since it's midday and a weekday, the usually busy train station is quite empty. Ueno is another old district of Tokyo.  The station has exits for the famous Ueno Park and Zoo and the Tokyo Museum is close by but those are not my destinations for today.

I get off the station and into the hot and humid day.  

My plan is to go across Ueno Station and walk all the way to Okachimachi through the Ameyokocho Market which is a narrow alley that runs right beside the JR Railway Tracks.  After World War II, Ameyokocho was also known as the place to go for US goods -- PX in my vocabulary!

Today, Ameyokocho offers up all sorts of shops where there are bargains to be had, in a city as expensive as Tokyo.

It feels like Divisoria!  There are lots of stores selling all kinds of trendy apparel -- casual clothes like shirts, tees and jeans.

Ameyokocho is a major attraction in Ueno and tourists and locals alike both love shopping here.

Footwear spills out onto the sidewalk.  Lots of sandals and sneakers, given the hot September weather.

You can also do your food shopping here -- there are all sorts of fresh meats, seafoods and produce that are available.

My favorite chain drugstore, Matsumoto Kiyoshi!  I absolutely love this place and find all sorts of tonics, cosmetics, remedies, skin care and hair care products that are available only in Japan.

If you start to feel a little hungry, there are Japanese style carinderias where you can sit and have a meal.

As I walk closer to Okachimachi, sporting goods stores start to proliferate.  Okachimachi is the go to place for golf enthusiasts -- serious bargains can be had here for both used and brand new golf equipment.

Finally, my walk through the "low" part of Tokyo ends at the JR Okachimachi station!

I go up the platform and don't have to wait for too long before the train comes to whisk me away to the last segment of my walk for today.
I'm headed for Omotesando, definitely a "high" part of Tokyo.

I get off at the JR Harajuku Station.  It's a weekday so there aren't any cosplay dressers (by the way, they've all moved out to Akihabara) but there are a couple of guys with differently colored hair!

Takeshita Street, right across the station, is the heart of the Harajuku spirit. But that's not my destination for today so I walk on.

The tree lined Omotesando avenue leads to all things expensive and premium, Tokyo's "high" life indeed.

Omotesando actually means "front approach" and this refers to the Meiji-jingu Shrine which stands at the end of the avenue. I make a mental note to visit next time I'm in Tokyo.

Aside from the leafy and shady trees that line the avenue and the expensive shops that stand beside each other, there are metal quasi benches  -- you can sit and rest, take a phone call or just watch the people walking by.

Small shops dot the avenue -- I pause and take a photo of this really kawaii cat bag!  It takes a lot of will power to stop myself from buying this.

I cross Meiji dori Avenue and continue walking down Omotesando. Another new shop looks like it's about to open!

Omotesando Hills is a luxury mall right in the middle of the avenue.  I decide to take a detour and walk in.

I'm glad I did.  It's a very quiet, elegant mall with such high end branded stores.  It's also quite empty.  The Japanese economy is still hurting from all the obstacles it has had to face.

I walk back outside and see more luxury brands -- LV has a store right across the street.

As I near the end of the avenue, I come upon a small shrine. It's a serene spot amidst all the commercialism and I find it quite comforting.

It's mid afternoon and I've been out and alternately riding and walking for more than six hours! Time to head down the Omotesando station and catch the metro back to Shiodome!

Back in the hotel room, a glass of very tart but cooling cherry juice aptly named "Refresh" is just the right thing to restore and recharge me.

With my tired feet up on the window seat, I relax and look out onto the same view I woke up to this morning.  I already have plans where my feet will take me next time!
Tokyo -- jaa ne!

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