Day 6: Asakusa, Skytree, Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
Our first full day in Tokyo started off with breakfast! One of the reasons we liked our hotel was that it was close to Tokyo Dome and LaQua and we had previously discovered this little cafe called Moomin Bakery & Cafe. In addition to the fabulous flaky pastries that you can find here, the shop is decorated with Moomin memorabilia and you can enjoy your meal sitting next to a large stuffed version of your favourite Finnish cartoon character.
Our first visit to Tokyo was the previous year and we hit most of the big tourist traps. This time around, we wanted to keep the pace a bit slower… revisit some of the places that we enjoyed the most and also check out some of the things that we missed on our first trip. Our first stop after breakfast was at the Asakusa Culture and Tourist Information Centre – not really to get tourist information for our trip but because they have a free observation platform on the top floor. From here, you have a nice view of Tokyo Skytree which dominates the landscape.
The building is located across the street from the large Kaminarimon Gate that marks the entrance to Sensō-ji, the ancient Buddhist temple. From the observation platform, you can get a good sense of the busy Nakamise-dōri shopping street that leads up to the temple.
Our main reason for coming here was to grab a melonpan. We had our first melonpan during our previous trip to Japan and we’ve been really looking forward to enjoying this unique Japanese bun. Contrary to what you might think, there’s no actual “melon” in the bun… it gets the name from the melon-like shape. The more well known shops that sell melonpans include Kagetsudo Kaminarimon, which has a few locations scattered around town.
Among the stalls along Nakamise-dōri, you’ll find plenty of places to try out snacks such as freshly made rice crackers.
This is a great spot to view the 5-story pagoda, one of the tallest in Japan at just over 53 metres. Originally built in 942, it houses the ashes of Buddha donated by Sri Lanka. The 5-stories represents the five elements of land, water, fire, wind, and sky.
While you’re shopping along Nakamise-dōri, make sure you look up and take a look at the statues on top of roofs… many of which have statues of thieves. Nezumi Kozō was a Japanese thief and folk hero who lived in Edo (now called Tokyo) during the Edo period. You’ll also see many doors and shutters painted with Edo-period murals.
Just to the west of the main Sensō-ji grounds, you’ll come across a 5-way intersection with Don Quijote on one corner and the Japankuru Concierge building directly across from it. We happened upon this spot while they were giving a free Ninja vs. Samurai show (to entice visitors to see one of their paid shows I’m sure). It was actually quite entertaining as the action started on the balcony and then spilled out onto the street below.
Since we were close to Tokyo Skytree, we decided to take a leisurely walk there. Passing through Sumida Park and over the Sumida River, we had a pretty nice view of the 634m high tower.
You don’t really grasp the height of this building until you get up close and personal. As we were here in late November, the outside of the complex was just starting to become decorated with Christmas decorations. Apparently, this is a good place to see colourful lights at nightime.
Although were were looking to try new restaurants on this trip to Japan, we decided to revisit Edo Mirakuchaya Sora Machi Tei which is located in the Skytree complex. Although a bit touristy, the sashimi here did not disappoint.
If you’ve “gotta catch ’em all”, they have a Pokémon Center located in Skytree. We even got to see Ash and Pikachu! Needless to say, they were swarmed by all of the kiddies here.
Afterwards, we headed back to Bunkyo to pay a visit to Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden which is located next to the Tokyo Dome area. This 17th century garden is one of three surviving daimyō gardens of the many that were created in Edo after it became the military capital of the country. It’s also one of the best places in Tokyo to check out the colourful Autumn Foliage.
The garden is a bit of a blend of both Japanese and Chinese scenery with a large pond in the centre and various trails that lead to different viewpoints.
The vibrant reds and oranges of maple trees reflect nicely in the water and they even have some bright yellow ginkgo trees that are quite stunning.
There’s a narrow pedestrian walkway that brings you right up to the pond and you can see all of the ducks and fishies come right up to the pathway, looking for food.
There was quite a lineup to get into the gardens on this day (it stretched the entire length of the garden). At only 300円 to get in, I can see why. This was well worth the visit on such a nice autumn day.
Later that night, we decided to head out to Ginza for some Chinese food at Din Tai Fung. This was our first visit to this popular Taiwanese chain and I have to admit that the xiao long bao did not disappoint.
We ended our night with a brief 20 minute walk to the Caretta Shiodome where they put on a small but spectacular Winter Illumination show every 15 minutes.