Landmarks in the Tokyo of the Past, Present and Future: Day 1

Tokyo Travel Blog

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Kae and Yasu walking towards the Tokyo Imperial palace.

Our next stop was to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which has been the home of Japan’s emperor and his family since the palace was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration and the resignation of the last Tokugawa Shogun. Apparently the Shogun’s stronghold, which was Edo Castle, eventually became the Imperial Palace. Most of the palace is off-limits to visitors but we were able to walk through the gardens, which were beautiful, and up an elevated area in the garden where there was a really nice view of the area.

The moat surrounding the Tokyo Imperial palace.
The Imperial Palace (also known as the Kokyo) is situated on an enormous piece of land, located in the heart of the city, which is surrounded by a moat and huge rock walls that are actually really massive in size. There were clouds of mist looming over the water and a single white swan decorated this otherwise dark and gloomy place. I am sure that the combination of these walls, as well as the presence of guards, has probably done a pretty good job of discouraging intruders from breaking into the emperor’s home. I wish that it hadn’t been raining so heavily when we went to the palace because I am sure it is absolutely stunning on a clear day; however I am still really glad that we went to this important site.

Our next stop was Kappabashi, a small neighborhood in which all of the shops specialized in plastic food.

Kappabashi, or "Kitchen Town", is where all the restaurant owners go to buy their fake, plastic food to display in either the front or the window of their restaurants.
Yasu explained to us that Kappabashi is where all the restaurant owners in Tokyo come to buy plastic models of the food that they serve to display in their window. Almost all of the restaurants do this, which we thought was really strange considering a lot of the plastic food looked pretty fake, and even unappetizing. This is an interesting quirk when it comes to dining in Japan since you actually see it everywhere you go.

We then headed off to Akihabara, also known as “Electric Town” because of the enormous amount of electronics for sale,  and perhaps because of the tall neon buildings that lined the streets.

Colorful buildings in Akihabara.
One thing that caught me off-guard about this area was the way that the gadgets were sold, which was bazaar style. Brand new laptops, cell phones and handheld video games were laid out onto plastic sheets right out on the sidewalk. It also happened to be raining that day, so they had clear plastic covers over their display models, but they were still getting wet! There were buckets full of used cell phones for sale, and sales people announcing sale prices with loudspeakers and microphones, hooked up to karaoke machines. Aside from the salespeople in front of these small, narrow shops there were also teenaged girls dressed up in unique styles and costumes, for example, one was wearing a skin tight power ranger outfit and several other girls were dressed in “gothic lolita” fashion. There were several girls dressed up as maids handing out flyers to nightclubs and French maid cafes, which apparently are pretty popular hang-out spots in Tokyo. The area was extremely crowded, and the majority of the people cluttering up the streets were men and teenage boys.
A teenager dressed as a french maid passing flyers to a maid cafe in Akihabara.
“Nerds”, Kae wrote to us on her translator, and we all laughed. Overall, I don’t think Akihabara is an essential destination for the first-time visitor to Tokyo, but it is truly a paradise for those who love manga, anime and video games- there are arcades, as well as enormous stores that specialize in only manga and anime. As for the electronics themselves in “Electric City”, I didn’t see anything that I couldn’t find in the U.S., but maybe that was because I don’t understand Japanese and couldn’t understand the labels on the boxes they came in.

Then we went to Ikebukuro because we needed to pick up our JR Pass.

An elevator in one of the many stores in Akihabara, a haven for fans of manga, anime and electronics. "This is a town full of nerds" said Kae's translators as she held it up for us to see.
We had bought our JR passes in the U.S and, basically, it’s a train pass that you can use for unlimited travel within Japan on the bullet trains. It’s actually a really good deal. We purchased the week-long pass, which cost us a little over $200, but it was worth it considering we could go anywhere we wanted in the country throughout that length of time. It actually is a way better price that buying a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto, which amounts to pretty much the same price. These passes are not available in Japan, so if you plan on traveling there, you must buy it in your home country before you leave. They have a website with a listing of locations worldwide that sell these tickets. We had to go to Ikebukuro to exchange our JR voucher for the actual ticket, however the JR office was closed.
Early evening at Ikebukuro.
It was worth coming to Ikebukuro, though, because it was a very busy area with lots of cool clothing stores and very fashionable young people. I wish we had been able to stay there a little longer, but Yasu was in a hurry, so we only walked around for about 15 minutes.

Then Yasu and Miho took us to a simple, family-style restaurant in Iidabashi for dinner. This restaurant specialized in chanko-nabe, which we later found out is basically “sumo fighter stew”. Sumo fighters eat this stew because it enables them to put on tons of weight, yet remain healthy since all of its ingredients are actually very healthy. Chanko is served in a big bowl full of broth, onions and other greens, and is set in the middle of the table, over a burner. A large plate is served alongside the broth, with a variety of fish balls, chicken, and vegetables. We didn’t know how to eat it, so Miho showed us. She put the fish and chicken into the bowl, which was actually a heating appliance, as well as the vegetables.

Ikebukuro, a great place to shop and take a stroll and people watch.
We then each had our own little bowl with which we served ourselves. It was quite good, but extremely different from anything we had ever had. Nicole and Alex didn’t really want to try it because they were a bit intimidated by the fish balls, so they mostly picked at the edamame that was on the table, as well as the yakitori chicken- which was delicious!  The other side dish we had was the same “egg pudding” we had tried at our dinner the other night. Needless to say, we didn’t try eating it again.


darlingwish says:
oh it was too late for me when i found out about the jr passes as i was already in japan when i knew about it! 200$ is a very good deal for bullet trains! will try it next time!! ^^ thanks for the info
Posted on: Mar 03, 2008
southafricangirl says:
wow, thanks for all the great info, it looks so nice
Posted on: Aug 01, 2007
constantquantum says:
I have a friend who was in Japan at the same time as you. She actually teaches Japanese Popular Culture here in Canada, and has a course next year on Manga and Japanese video games.
Posted on: Jul 31, 2007
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Kae and Yasu walking towards the T…
Kae and Yasu walking towards the …
The moat surrounding the Tokyo Imp…
The moat surrounding the Tokyo Im…
Kappabashi, or Kitchen Town, is …
Kappabashi, or "Kitchen Town", is…
Colorful buildings in Akihabara.
Colorful buildings in Akihabara.
A teenager dressed as a french mai…
A teenager dressed as a french ma…
An elevator in one of the many sto…
An elevator in one of the many st…
Early evening at Ikebukuro.
Early evening at Ikebukuro.
Ikebukuro, a great place to shop a…
Ikebukuro, a great place to shop …
A corner in Akihabara.
A corner in Akihabara.
Buildings in Akihabara. I am sure …
Buildings in Akihabara. I am sure…
A tree in the beautiful Imperial g…
A tree in the beautiful Imperial …
A banso guardhouse where samurai g…
A banso guardhouse where samurai …
photo by: maka77