The Sun Rises in Cosmopolitan Tokyo

Japan is popularly called the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Mount Fuji, located 100 km west of Tokyo, is the country’s best known symbol. (Photo courtesy of Fujiyoshida City/JNTO)

WANDER LUST

Unquestionably still one of the world’s popular travel destinations, it attracts millions of tourists annually due to its multitude of attractions—its temperate weather, being a food paradise, a mecca for shoppers; and yes, the ‘snow’ experience it provides during winter. Gastroenterologist Dr. Jun Ruiz lists the top sights in Tokyo that Filipinos will love


The beautiful country of Japan is popularly called the “Land of the Rising Sun”. The Japanese characters that make up Japan’s name Nippon or Nihon mean “sun origin””. It was the Chinese who gave Japan this name, as the sun rises from Japan, which is located in the east from the Chinese perspective. Today, Japan is a constitutional monarchy, whereby the power of the Emperor is very limited.

The author is recommending the hop on hop off bus that goes around Tokyo. This was taken at the Skytree Town area.
The author is recommending the hop on hop off bus that goes around Tokyo. This was taken at the Skytree Town area.

Japan is a popular tourist’s haven due to its multitude of attractions, its temperate weather, a food paradise, and a mecca for shoppers. In 2016, the country attracted 24 million foreign visitors, majority mostly coming from China and Korea. That same year, there was a surge in Filipino tourists to Japan as 350,000 people traveled to Japan to enjoy its wonderful attractions.

Factors that contributed to Japan being among the top destinations for Filipinos include the common desire to visit Japan for its snow experience, the relaxation of visa policy for Filipinos since 2014, the now affordable travel cost, the rise in the Filipinos’ financial stability, and the effectiveness of the “Visit Japan” promotion with local travel agencies. The only disadvantage is that Japan is a very expensive destination by Filipino standards.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and the Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan city in the world. The metropolis has 13 million people. Tokyo is a city where modern pop culture collides with ancient Japanese traditions. It was formerly known as Edo, and officially became the imperial capital of Japan after Emperor Meiji moved his seat of government to Tokyo from the old capital of Kyoto in 1868. At that time, Edo was renamed to Tokyo.

Tokyo is a cosmopolitan center of the world’s economy and culture. This aerial view of the city is courtesy of Pixabay.
Tokyo is a cosmopolitan center of the world’s economy and culture. This aerial view of the city is courtesy of Pixabay.

Tokyo has risen as a center of the world’s economy and culture. Its distinctive reputation is supported by its top-ranking in the “best overall experience category” in travel surveys. Among its best attributes are the courtesy and helpfulness of locals, cleanliness, local public transportation, shopping, and nightlife. Tokyo is also known as the Gourmet City in Japan, and its dining landscape ranks among the world’s best. There are 80,000 restaurants throughout the city.

My first Japan trip was to Tokyo in 2014. I am a “late-bloomer” when it comes to traveling to Japan, as I had lived in faraway California for a decade prior to that time. I went with family and friends during the Holy Week. There were only three of us who were first-timers to Japan, while the rest were repeaters. I set aside one day to visit the must-sees for a first-timer on a hop on-hop off bus, as the rest were no longer interested in seeing those attractions. We toured together in the rest of the days.

Admire the graceful bridge Nijubashi that forms the entrance to the inner Imperial Palace Grounds. (Photo courtesy of Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO)
Admire the graceful bridge Nijubashi that forms the entrance to the inner Imperial Palace Grounds.
(Photo courtesy of Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO)

I list the following tourist attractions in Tokyo as must-sees for first-timer Filipinos, based on my experience and recommendations from friends. The city offers limitless options for tourist sightseeing, entertainment, cultural and historical landmarks, and dining options. These personal choices may appeal to most but can vary, depending on one’s interest.

1. Imperial Palace Grounds

The current Imperial Palace (Kyuden) is designed with a modernist style with clear Japanese architectural references. It is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large green area surrounded by moats and imposing stone walls in the heart of Tokyo. It is the official residence of the Imperial Family. The palace grounds contain the magnificent remains of the emperor’s residence, watch towers, fairytale bridges, museums, galleries, and elegant Japanese gardens.

Guided tours of the palace grounds are offered during the year, although no buildings are entered. Admire the graceful Nijubashi, the two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds, and is popular backdrop for photos. Wander to the Imperial Palace East Gardens where you see the relics of the old palace, walls, and gates. The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public, except on January 2 and December 23.

Asakusa’s main attraction is the Sensoji Temple, built in the 7th century. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jun Ruiz)
Asakusa’s main attraction is the Sensoji Temple, built in the 7th century. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Jun Ruiz)

2. Sensoji Temple and Asakusa

Historically, Asakusa was the entertainment district of Tokyo for centuries with its stores, acrobats, red light district, and Kabuki theatres. Most of the neighborhood retains the charm and feel of the old Edo era. You can consider a guided tour on a rickshaw (literally “man powered vehicle”) for a complete Asakusa experience.

Asakusa’s main attraction is Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temple of Sensoji, built in the 7th century and dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of Mercy. Enter through Kaminarimon, which is the large entrance gate adorned with a giant red lantern, and is the symbol of Asakusa.

The author Dr. Jun Ruiz in the Sensoji Temple grounds, before the statues of Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu. (Photo courtesy of JM Te)
The author Dr. Jun Ruiz in the Sensoji Temple grounds, before the statues of Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu. (Photo courtesy of JM Te)

 

The Nakamise-dori shopping street stretches from Kaminarimon to the main grounds of Sensoji Temple. It is lined by more than 100 shops, which offer a variety of local specialties and tourist souvenirs.

The Kannondo Main Hall is where the golden statue of Kannon is enshrined. Appreciate the five-storied Goju-no-To pagoda as well.

3. The Tokyo Skytree

The Tokyo Skytree is a television broadcasting tower and has been a major symbol of modern Tokyo since it opened in May 2012. It is the second tallest freestanding structure in the world at a height of 634 meters. The appeal of Tokyo Skytree lies in the fusion of its neo-futuristic design combined with traditional Japanese architectural elements. Even the color is based on the traditional Japanese bluishwhite hue called aijiro. The new commercial complex includes a large shopping complex, restaurants, and the Sumida Aquarium.

The highlight of the Tokyo Skytree is its two observation decks which offer panoramic views over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at 350 and at 450 meters, making them among the highest observation decks in the world. From these decks, the panoramic views of the city are breathtaking, and one can even get a glimpse of Mount Fuji on clear sunny days.

4. Shibuya and Shinjuku

Shibuya often refers to just the popular shopping and entertainment area around Shibuya Station. This is one of Tokyo’s most colorful and busiest commercial districts, where a multitude of specialty and fashion stores, restaurants, and nightclubs cater to the locals and tourists alike. This is popular with the young Japanese crowd, because of its night clubs, and bars.

The Tokyo Skytree is a major symbol of modern Tokyo and dominates the skyline. It is the tallest free-standing structure in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau)
The Tokyo Skytree is a major symbol of modern Tokyo and dominates the skyline. It is the tallest free-standing structure in
Japan. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau)

A famous landmark of Shibuya not to be missed is the large intersection in front of the station’s Hachiko Exit. The intersection is brightly lit with neon advertisements and giant LED screens mounted on the surrounding buildings. You can feel the hectic pulse of Tokyo here, and invites comparison to New York’s Time Square. I was awed by the fast-paced yet organized scramble-crossing of pedestrians in the intersection each time the crossing light turns green. This is a testament to how organized and disciplined the Japanese people are, despite the heavy traffic in a sea of humanity. Close by, you will also find the statue of a loyal dog named Hachiko and is one of Tokyo’s most popular meeting points.

Shinjuku is another neon-lit center of Tokyo where you will find entertainment, the business and shopping area (especially for electronic geeks), and the Tokyo’s skyscraper district, home to many of Tokyo’s tallest buildings. Also in Shinjuku is the Meiji Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji `and Empress Shoken. It is a large tranquil forested area that offers relaxing walking paths, created by the plantation of 100,000 trees donated from all over Japan.

This large intersection in Shibuya is famous for its organized scramble-crossing of pedestrians. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau)
This large intersection in Shibuya is famous for its organized scramble-crossing of pedestrians. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo
Convention and Visitors Bureau)

5. Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is the city’s answer to the Eiffel Tower of Paris. Standing at 333 m high in the heart of Tokyo, it is the world’s tallest, self-supported steel tower and was completed in 1958. It is 13 m taller than its inspiration. It is a symbol of Japan’s post-war rebirth and triumph as a major economic power. The Tokyo Tower was the country’s tallest structure from its completion until 2012 when it was surpassed by the Tokyo Skytree.

The Tokyo Tower becomes a dazzling sight at night when it is lit up. (Photo courtesy of Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO)
The Tokyo Tower becomes a dazzling sight at night when it is lit up. (Photo courtesy of
Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO)

Despite its relatively moderate height, the two observatory decks at 150 m and at 250 m offer very good stunning views of the city due to the tower’s central location. However, the tower becomes a dazzling sight at night when it is lit up, blending with city’s skyscrapers and serpentine highways. So ending your night at Tokyo Tower brings the city experience to a higher level.

6. Ueno Park

Ueno Park is the largest green oasis in the heart of the bustling Tokyo. It opened in 1873 and is the country’s first public park. This is a mix of leisure and culture, as it is also home to several government buildings, temples, shrines, a zoo, and cultural museums. The Tokyo National Museum in the park holds 86,000 works of art and archaeological findings.

The park is a popular place to see cherry blossoms (sakura) from the more than 1,000 trees in spring, and lotus blossoms in summer. The locals gather for the largest cherry blossom watching (hanami) parties in spring.

7. Day Trip to Mount Fuji

Japan’s sacred mountain is Mount Fuji and is one of the most famous peaks in the world. It is also the highest mountain in the country reaching a height of 3,778 m. The alluring mountain plays a role in the spiritual, national and cultural life of Japan. Fuji is a dormant volcano, and its distinct graceful almost-perfect cone was formed by repeated eruptions and the build-up of lava and ash. The last time Fuji erupted was in 1707.

The author and his friends had a day tour to Lake Ashi to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji. (Photo courtesy of Odakyu Electric Railway/JNTO)
The author and his friends had a day tour to Lake Ashi to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji. (Photo courtesy of Odakyu Electric Railway/JNTO)

Mount Fuji is 100 km west of Tokyo, and can be reached in around an hour. The beautiful mountain is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is surrounded by five lakes and the pristine countryside. We went on a guided tour that included a short boat cruise on Lake Ashi, a tour around Hakone National Park, and an aerial scenic cable car ride on Hakone Ropeway. We were supposed to go to Mt. Fuji’s fifth station at about halfway to the summit, but the weather conditions were not favorable. Indeed, it was a big disappointment that we did not even see Mount Fuji due to rain, clouds and poor visibility that day.

8. The Tokyo Disney Resort (Disneyland and DisneySea)

Prepare to make your dreams come true. Filipinos have always dreamt of visiting Disneyland in the United States. With Tokyo and Hongkong not so far away, a lot of wishes have been granted. The Tokyo Disney Resort has two theme parks, four Disney hotels, and a shopping complex. The Disney Resort can be reached in less than an hour from Tokyo.

Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disney theme park outside the United States when it opened in 1983. The park was modeled after Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida. This Disneyland is made up of 7 themed lands and features seasonal decorations and parades.

The Tokyo Disney Resort (DisneySea above) is popular with Filipino tourists. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
The Tokyo Disney Resort (DisneySea above) is popular with Filipino tourists. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

The DisneySea theme park opened in 2001 and the myths and legends of the sea inspired its creation. It is designed to appeal to both kids and to the more mature adult audience. It has 7 ports of call, each with a different theme and their own attractions and rides.

Having reviewed most of the Japan tour packages that include Tokyo by the local travel agencies, they only allot less than two full days to visit the city. Clearly, you will need three to five days (exclusive of the Mt. Fuji excursion and the Disney trip) to enjoy the city’s culture, entertainment, gourmet, and shopping time for a full Tokyo experience. This is accomplished by planning for an extension from your package tour, travel on your own, or a return visit. Tokyo offers endless opportunities of sightseeing and culture appreciation that is worth coming back.

March 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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