Japan Take Two: First Day in Tokyo

by - Monday, March 19, 2018

When I left Japan last time, I thought for sure I'd never be going back. The flight is long and often expensive, who knew if my friend would still be living in Tokyo, there are other parts of the world I'd like to see, etc.

But then Air Canada was having a stupid cheap sale, my friend was still willing to let me crash at his pad, and I realized there was still so much of the country I hadn't seen last time.

And that's how I found myself strapping in for another insanely long flight back to the other side of the world.

Ready for our long flight

This time around the flight felt way longer than last time, but we did eventually land, clear customs and make our way to my favorite ramen shop in the world.

Best ramen ever
This will forever be the best ramen I've ever eaten in my life.

After a night of not great sleep (thanks jet lag), we set off for our first day of exploring around Tokyo.

We started with the Meiji shrine a touch south of Shinjuku. This was my favorite shrine in the city of Tokyo on the last trip, and I was really excited to go back.

Meiji shrine

Worship hall at Meiji shrine

Close up of the sake barrels.

As an added bonus, this time around, we also spent some time strolling through the shrine's inner gardens, something we hadn't done on our last trip.

Meiji shrine garden

Meiji shrine teahouse from below

As you can see in the pictures, it was still a little too early in the season for much to be blooming, but the gardens were still really pretty.

I loved how the teahouse looked out over the pond.

Flowers floating on water at Meiji shrine

Massive fish at Meiji shrine

We strolled through the back half of the gardens where the flowers are usually planted in rows. I was so bummed we missed them in bloom. I can imagine they must just erupt with color.

We also stopped to visit Kiyomasa's Well. This well feeds the pond below, and is said to be a place where people can take the positives, restorative energies from the well with them. I'm not sure that happened, but it was cool to stop and stare into it. The water was insanely clear.

A look inside Meiji shrine well

After a little more time spent wandering around the shrine, we strolled south through Shibuya stopping to see the famous Shibuya crossing. It was around lunch time when we were there, so definitely not as busy as rush hour, but I think you still get the gist of how crazy this intersection can be from the video.

Shibuya scramble at lunch time

We visited one more shrine that afternoon. It was the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine -- a shrine honoring Japan's war victims.

Yasukuni-jinja Shrine

The shrine and the grounds itself were really pretty. I especially enjoyed this memorial to soldiers who died at war. It's called Irei no Izumi, which means Soul-Comforting Spring.

War Memorial in Yasukuni-jinja Shrine

However, as you can probably imagine, this shrine also comes with plenty of controversy. There are 14 class-A war criminals enshrined here, and when we got to the statue/memorial for the kamikaze pilots, we knew it was time to leave.

Our last touristy stop of the day was the Imperial Palace. Last time I was in Japan, we didn't spend a ton of time here. We just ran the popular 5K loop.

This year, we spent a few hours exploring the East Gardens of the palace. The East Gardens are kind of cool because you can see some of the old structures from when the East Garden grounds actually used to be the home of the Imperial Palace.

Moat surrounding the Imperial Castle

So we saw lots of old guard stations and watch towers and other defense mechanisms.

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

Close-up of imperial guard tower

The other part of the East Garden is an actual garden. Again, we were there at the wrong time of year to see it fully in bloom, but we did get to see a few early cherry blossoms.

Colorful fish in the pond

There were also some pretty water features like the pond and waterfall.

Waterfall in the garden

After a pretty full day of exploring Tokyo, we headed back to my friend's house to clean up for dinner.

We were meeting my friend Scott and his coworkers for a large traditional Japanese dinner.

On the way to meet everyone, we stopped at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

This building has a look out on the 45th floor that offers some gorgeous views of the city.

We spent a few minutes enjoying the skyline as the sun was starting to set.

More views from TMG

Funky shaped building in Tokyo

Dinner was quite excellent. It was a multi-course meal and I'm not even sure I know all the foods I ate. There was sushi and bacon and all kinds of fish and a potato salad and soup and rice and I'm sure plenty of other things.

Our entire dinner group

I was stuffed by the time we left.

We spent the rest of the night exploring Shinjuku, popping into tiny bars with like eight seats to grab a quick drink, strolling through the packed streets full of bright lights.

Godzilla and the road below

Strolling down Memory Lane in Shinjuku

We eventually called it a day and went back home to get some sleep. We had an early train to Kyoto the next day.

Like last time, I tracked how much we walked on this trip with my FitBit.

Here are the highlights:
32,493 steps
13.8 miles

My favorite thing: The Imperial Gardens/Meiji shrine

Up next: Our adventures in Nara and Kyoto!

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