After landing back at Tokyo Haneda Airport, I briefly met my friend (who had just dropped her mom off to a flight bound for Osaka). We took the train together into the city and she headed off to meet a friend and I hung out around the Yurakucho Station area for a little while before heading to Shin-Urayasu with some of my OLC colleagues for dinner, one last time before leaving Tokyo.
The next morning, I woke up relatively early and went to see Tokyo Skytree. On my very first trip to Tokyo (beyond the airport) in 2012, I had visited Tokyo Tower and was curious to see the view from the other side of Tokyo. Unfortunately, getting to Skytree from the Urayasu area is not the easiest or most direct. One essentially needs to travel most of the way into Tokyo then out on a different branch of the rail network, even though the two areas are somewhat geographically close to each other.
The views from Skytree were wonderful and I was able to look to many of the places I had visited earlier in my time in Tokyo as well as to my next destination, Senso-ji. I could see Tokyo Disney Resort in the distance, Tokyo Tower across the city, and I took some pictures of the general urban sprawl.
Compared to the temples I had visited in the prior week… Senso-ji is a monster. The complex is large, but its scale seemed comparable to other temples I had seen. It’s not the scale of the area or the height of the buildings, but the number of people coming and going and visiting. The entire area is clogged with people and feels quite a bit different than many parts of Tokyo with high numbers of foreigners in one small area.
The temple was interesting but by this point in my travels around Japan, I had seen so many that I wasn’t overly impressed by Senso-ji. The overall complex begins with the “thunder gate” (kaminari-mon -雷門) and a street of small stalls and shops selling a mixture of tourist trinkets and traditional Japanese textiles and clothing. At the end of this street, one passes through a second gate and into the inner part of the temple complex. There was such a rush of activity everywhere that it was impossible to feel the sense of peace I had felt in Takaoka at Zuiryu-ji. I walked around the complex, saw the tall pagoda, walked through the garden (which was marginally more peaceful), and made sure to get my shuin stamped with the temple’s stamp.
After leaving the temple, I visited a few of the shops and bought a Yukata (浴衣) for each of my kids as well as a toy Shinkansen train for them to play with. I stopped briefly at a Turkish kebab place to eat döner kebap and was happy that it was relatively close to the real thing in Turkey. Making my way to the nearby Subway line, I was surprised by how dirty parts of Asakusa were.
Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館)
One of the major history museums in Tokyo is the Edo-Tokyo museum, which covers the history of Tokyo from early times (when the city was called Edo) to the modern era. The building itself is pretty remarkable and in many ways very odd. The main museum structure is held above the ground by four massive columns, with a large open area directly beneath the museum. As I rode the escalators up and up into the museum, I got a sense of scale of the building, but it was impossible to guess what was contained inside.
Arriving at the top of the many escalators and having museum staff scan my ticket for the third time, I realized that the museum is unique not only for having built such a large structure up in the air. It’s even more impressive that they’ve filled it with full-scale replicas of buildings from throughout Tokyo’s history. A massive wooden bridge leads the way from the main entrance to the exhibits covering the earliest moments of human civilization in the area.
The museum does a fantastic job of introducing each period of the city’s history and showing how the city evolved geographically over time as each successive regime took charge. It was very interesting to see the level of detail in many of the exhibits. In one area, there would be several houses from an old Japanese village including details on firefighting, sewage and water treatments, and some of the mundane day-to-day aspects of life throughout history. One of the most minor exhibits that I appreciated the most presented Japanese woodblock printing (mokuhanga 木版画). The skill required to carve each layer (color) and cleanly print them over one another was remarkable.
Of course, as my trip through the museum went on, so did time in the city’s history, eventually leading to World War II and the fire-bombing of Tokyo with incendiary bombs. The pictures of Tokyo decimated after the war were not altogether different than the pictures of Hiroshima after the nuclear attack. Looking at the images, it was almost impossible to comprehend how much the city has changed since 1945. Leaving the museum, I passed by the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), one of the major arenas for sumo wrestling events.
Final Hours in Japan
And finally, here it was, my last 24 hours in Japan after nearly 3 months there in 2017. I headed for dinner in Shibuya (渋谷) because I had never been there and never seen the Shibuya scramble. Even though I’d seen pictures, there is nothing that can quite describe or replicate the insane number of people that pass through the intersection every single time the light changes. The train station itself is just as insane with seemingly dozens of train lines passing through and too many options to even consider.
After dinner, I returned to the Hilton Tokyo Bay (my home for nearly every night I’d spent in Japan) and was lucky to be on an EMPTY train. I can’t even describe how rare this is in Tokyo. At the Hilton, I was once again greeted by Usatama in the lobby.
The next day, I spent some time around Tokyo Disney Resort and said a few goodbyes to friends then headed to my flight at Narita airport. Eleven or so hours later, I was back in Los Angeles, parked far away from the terminal building, taking a slow bus back to slow immigration, and once again, re-entering the United States of America.