Closing out Tokyo by honoring history

Japan is a very eclectic mix of old and new, but on my last day I had to dive into some of the history that makes Japan unforgettable with a visit to their Imperial Gardens and Samurai Museum. A last day on any trip can feel a little overwhelming as you sort through things missed and those you can’t miss.  My last day I decided to split between something important to me and something important to my daughter.  Frist stop was the Imperial Gardens as they were within walking distance from my hotel.

One of my main priorities in choosing Tokyo as a destination was just to relax and find a space to clear my head after dealing with a personal loss. While Japan overflows with beautiful gardens, something about the regal nature of the Imperial Gardens called to me and we off set to explore the grounds.  With several entrances to the Gardens make sure to get a clear idea on where you want your access point to me.  The Gardens are divided into a ground level portion and a different section on a steep incline.  If you go to the wrong entrance you have a steep hick ahead of you.

The Gardens offered me just what I was looking for, a serene place where you can sit back and enjoy nature.  Part of why this is such a tourist destination is how the Japanese make serenity an art, carefully plotting out waterfalls, coy ponds, bridges and monuments to give you an opportunity to carefully observe and appreciate the thoughtfulness of design.  Serving a delicate balance of nature and how human artistry can work to enhance, not take away from the beauty of nature.  With my mind feeling calm it was time to hop to my daughter’s top pick, the Samurai Museum.

Just as it sounds the Samurai Museum is an ode to the discipline, culture, and exquisiteness of the Samurai culture. The museum offers English tours of everything from the dress to a history of their battle skills and rise and fall of the samurai culture.  There is something quite special about an interactive museum as it gets you a chance to not only learn more about a culture you admire but to take a small step in their footsteps to see just how amazing their life and devotion to their craft were.  Perhaps it was all the karate movies my daughter watched her whole life but this tour gave her life.  Add in the opportunity to try on a Samurai outfit and hold a sword and this was one of the highlights of her trip.  Make sure to plan extra time for the tour as they have daily Samurai fighting exhibition that we had to miss to make a break for the airport.  All of the fun new culture Japan offers have a distinct line to their proud and innovative past that demands some reverence to their beautiful history.

 

Day 2 in Tokyo Enjoying the mix of fun, fashion and serenity of Meiji Shrine

One of the big draws for me to visit Tokyo was getting some peace from the beautiful scenes and parks the city is renowned for so the Shibuya district was at the top of my list.  On my second day in Tokyo my quest lead me to Shibuya and the Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine to take a walk in the park if you will.  Often my travels are about seeing all I can see but crossing a city off your travel list does not have to be what wanderlust is all about.  Coming off the death of my grandmother, my motivation for traveling to Tokyo was just to take a break and appreciate my blessings and nature is one of the best spaces in which life is put into perspective for me.

Meiji Shrine is a huge area encompassing the temple area, covered walk ways and bridges, museums and historical buildings.  Unfortunately for us the access to the Treasure Museum is limited to the weekends, however the grounds in themselves are a looking glass into the world of ancient Japan.  During your stroll to the Temple you get to enjoy the tree lined walk ways and trails.  From the old wine barrel displays to the bonsai garden you have a sense of reverence for the history that is contained within the park area.

As we approached Meiji Shrine you are reminded that despite it begin a tourist attraction it is a place of worship for many as well. From the ritual cleansing of the face and hands instructions at the entrance to the shrine and prayer area there is a real sense of peace in watching others celebrate their beliefs.  I was lucky enough to even see a wedding processional solemnly parade through the courtyard.  This temple also did a great job of giving some explanations to the ceremonies and celebrations that were ongoing in the space.  During my visit I saw the harvest festival which used elaborate fruit offerings as a celebration of blessings.

Outside of the Temple the park is an explorer’s paradise. The grounds allow you to visit several historical buildings or just relax in the grass and enjoy the peace and beauty of it all.  Outside of the temple, however, the city is still bustling all around.  We decide to just wander our way to our next destination, even passing some comforts of home such as Garrets Popcorn.  We grabbed lunch just blocks away at the Omotesando Hills.  This is a go to destination for premium luxury brands, but as usual there was just food on the brain.  After a tour of the ten restaurants and their menus we settled on a small restaurant doing what Japan does best when it comes to food, showcasing simple ingredients in an exceptional way.  Even with my simple order of chicken the barrage of colors and sauces and flavors on my dish made it one of the most memorable meals I had in Japan.

While luxury brands were not my cup of tea this trip I am always interested in exploring local shops so we headed deeper into Shibuya to see what we could find. This is a huge area for shops and stores, most that are original to Japan.  After a long day of walking and exploring we headed back towards our train stop but the relaxing tour of the Meiji Shrine stayed with us as a sense of appreciation for the beauty found all around us that is celebrated in Japan.

Day One in Tokyo – Asakusa history, beauty and fun

Getting a real vibe for a new city usually means getting emerging yourself in that culture so getting hands on in Tokyo will probably lead you to the Asakusa area.  This was the top recommendation from the hotel concierge when we checked on what to do in Tokyo so we gathered our city and train station maps and set out to see what all of the fuss was about.  One of the things I love most about Tokyo is their train system.  Admittantly I got a little flustered when I could not get my credit card to work but after exchanging some cash the English prompts and signs made it easy to get around the city not to mention the price was right.  With Asakusa just eight stops down from the Ginza district we were off for some Tokyo exploration.

While the train offers English prompts everywhere, the streets signs from Tokyo do not so getting your bearings quickly is an important tool in making it around town. As maps have never been my strength, I had to rely on my following skills by pegging other visitors and following behind others who seemed to have a sense of where we were going.  As I began to see more and more stores and shops pop up I knew we were in a visitor friendly part of town and learned what we were in the Nakamise shopping area.  These rows of shopping streets have everything from Japanese snacks to souvenirs in every shape, size, and form.  It is a great place to find something for friends and family at home as there are offers from the very cheap fans and cards to luxury kimonos and swords in between the open air market and store front areas.  As we hit the Kaminari Gate it truly struck me of the majesty, beauty and history that was sure to make the trip one of a lifetime.

After some wandering around we got to the main attraction for Asakusa, the Sensoji Temple.  This Buddhist temple built over thirteen hundred years ago is a great introduction to some beautiful Buddhist traditions. From the handwashing station to the prayer walls it was a great place to gain some reverence for a culture not your own.   This is definitely one of the places I wish I hired an English tour guide to give me a true understanding of some traditions that I stumbled through by watching others.  The temple and surrounding gardens are a great place to wander around and just take in some of the beauty.  As my trip was in the fall the leaves were falling and it was a great place to sit and relax or have a leaf throwing party that really just reminds you what a blessing it is just to be alive.  Either way the beauty of the city quickly welcomes you in making the city seem a lot less foreign in a lot less time.

With all the things to see in Asakura what went from a planned stopped turned into an all-day affair. From my daughters quest to try new favors at the food vendors to my kimono instructional there is so much to do and learn in the Asakusa area.  If the walking of the day has you pooped you can also hop in a water taxi or a ricksaw to cap off a day of exploration the beautiful and historic Asakusa area.

The Peninsula Tokyo: Kon’nichiwa luxury!

When in a strange land, having some place comfortable and safe to lay your head can give you real peace of mind and when that place is crazy luxurious you may have found yourself in the Peninsula Tokyo.  Set in the business district of Ginza the hotel offers class beyond compare, a central location, transit options from within the hotel, and impeccable service.  My initial Tokyo plans did not include the Peninsula, however with the 4th night free offer with the AMEX Fine Hotels I thought it would be a great addition to what was sure to be a great trip.  When I read you could also access the train from the basement of the hotel while also being just minutes from the Imperial Palace the scales tipped in the Peninsulas favor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I am a big fan of the Peninsula Chicago for their lovely high tea service, this was my first time staying at the Peninsula hotel. After some sickness on the plane and an hour ride from the airport, the welcoming staff was definitely a site for sore eyes.  As expected the lobby areas were beautiful, although much more compact from the sprawling Peninsula Chicago that I was used to.  After moving up to my room, however, I could care less what was the lobby dimensions as the room was simply amazing.  From the large walk-in closet and dressing area to the opulent bathroom to the huge master suite and sitting area with expansive views of the city around I was in love.  I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention my favorite part, the toilet.  No bidets are not the rage in America, but this one was something special.  I have seen nice ones, but a toilet that automatically lifts the seat when you walk in, has a warmer, spray settings for both front and back targets and even a dryer (Yes a dryer) literally blew me away.

As with most great hotels the extras are where you lose any lingering regrets you may have about the price. Including simple amenities that are a lot more important when you are far away from home like Q-tips and slippers, tvs and radios in the bathroom, Oscar De La Renta soaps and shower gels all add to a wonderful and luxury experience at a hotel.  These things you can’t qualify but also can’t duplicate at a hotel that is not on par.  For instance after noticing one guest was a mini, we came back to the room with a special baby basket and kids robe and slippers for my one year old Bronx.  Now this is class at its finest.

My next biggest concern with a hotel is always location as I like to hit the pavement in a new city no matter where that is in the world. The hotel is centrally located and close to the shopping in Ginza, the Imperial Palace by foot and the incredibly efficient train stations to get you to most of the highlights in Tokyo with ease.  The staff did a great job in arming us with site and transit maps before we headed out on our way.  The one drawback for me was in reading about the transportation options online before arriving.  When we went to book the basic car service I thought would be a free, first come first serve service, we were told it was only associated with suites in the hotel and could not be accessed.  As the trains were so convenient it wasn’t a sticking point, but some places such as Tokyo Tower, are still a bit cumbersome to get to with the transit system.

Without question the comfort and luxury found in the Peninsula hotel could have you spend your entire vacation in the 500 sq. ft. of a room and love every second of it.

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