Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Tokyo Tower Experience (The Classic Red One) and Zojoji Temple

In a way, this is the story of three towers, two in Tokyo, and one in Paris.  This is because the Tokyo Tower design was influenced by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and now the Tokyo Tower has been superceded by the Tokyo Skytree.  There is even talk about demolishing the Tokyo Tower (as of 2014), but I hope it sticks around as it is very iconic to Japan.  It was also something that I had always wanted to see when I went to Japan for the first time.
Tokyo Tower as seen from the Mori Office Tower in Roppongi.
The Tokyo Tower is classic to Tokyo and is a very nice tower on its own.  The tower was originally built in 1958 and was one of those Showa Period symbols of modernity and pride for the Japanese.  It towered over the Tokyo skyline then and has been part of Japan for over 50 years and has been part of the cultural matrix.  This tower has been destroyed over and over in monster movies and everyone knows its orange and white colored steel latticework shape. 
It is still a tall structure in Tokyo, but you can see how many tall buildings there are now.
Now lets talk about the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  I bring this up as I visited Paris and Tokyo both last year and wondered about the comparison between the two.  The Eiffel Tower is simply more iconic and  massive in comparison to the Tokyo Tower even if they share a similar form. Considering the Eiffel Tower was built in the 1880s, it is an amazing architectural marvel of its time that has endured to the present.  The Eiffel Tower and the Tokyo Tower are almost the same height with the Tokyo Tower being taller by about nine metres at a height of 332.9 metres.  However, you can tell the Eiffel Tower is more massive by walking around it's base and compared to walking around the Tokyo Tower.  The ground footprint is huge for the Eiffel Tower and the Eiffel Tower masses at over 7000 tons compared to about 4000 tons for the Tokyo Tower.  Still, visiting both towers is a bunch of fun and crowds are often mandatory at each!
Eiffel Tower
Both times I visited Tokyo on my own, I ended up visiting the Tokyo Tower on the very last day.  On both times I also had good weather.  I'm going to share some of my experiences with Tokyo's classic tower icon from both visits in this post.  The first time I went was back in 2009 and this was before they have even started building the Skytree to replace the Tokyo Tower as a taller and better radio antenna and tourist attraction.  I've been to both towers now and I have to say that the Tokyo Tower still has a lot of charm and things going for it.  The Skytree is designed to be a modern tourist attract with a train station, mega shopping mall, museums, and other attractions deliberately built under it.  The Tokyo Tower is your old school stand alone attraction with a small entertainment and shopping complex built under it.  The Tokyo Tower looks vintage and that is where it's charms are.
Zojoji Temple
It was the last day of my first trip to Japan.  I checked out of the hotel, leaving my luggage for the morning and wandered off to see the Tokyo Tower.  Getting off at Hamamatsucho Station from the Yamanote Line you are in an older area (as in post WWII)  that is full of shops and cafes at street level.  You pretty much just walk due west to get to the tower.  As you can see from the photos it was a beautiful early fall day.  It turned out to be a wonderful way to end the trip.
Jizo Statues.
There are many gardens and cemeteries in the area.  One part of the garden at Zojoji Shrine has a shrine area full of Jizō Statues.  While they are very picturesque, they are little shrines decorated by parents who have lost unborn children.  Jizo is the guardian of unborn children and ensures that they are brought to the afterlife.  It is both a beautiful and a sad place at the same time because of this.
Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower
Tokyo Tower
While I didn't go up the tower the first time, I walked all around and took plenty of pictures.  Six years later I came back for another visit to the tower.  Strangely enough, this time I went on the last day of a trip in the spring and it another beautiful day, unlike the damp experience from the rain for half of the time.

So in 2016, I also stayed down at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in a small single room. I checked out and left my luggage at the hotel and had a similar repeat of my first trip.  Shinagawa Station had undergone a few renovations, and a massive office complex with many shops, restaurants, and walkways on the east side of the station (Konan Exit) had appeared by now.  Walking through the station, there are many shops selling ekiben (train bentos), bakeries full of tasty baking, and even specialty onigiri (rice ball shops).  Shinagawa is a Shinkansen (bullet train) hub too, so these shops cater to the many people passing through.
Tasting baking.
Rice ball shop sign.  I love the shrimp tempura onigir shown here.
Many onigiri for sale here.
An ekiben shop selling the train bentos.
Train bentos display.
After getting on the Yamanote Line I went to Hamamatsucho Station and disembarked there.  There is an observation deck here at the World Trade Center where you could get a good view of the Tokyo Tower, but you need to pay for the privilege.  Out on the street, on the north side of the station you walk west for a bit to get to the tower.  The next couple of photos below shows what the walk to the Tokyo Tower is like in the commercial district.

Lots of cafes and shops at street level.  You'll pass things like Coco Curry, Starbucks, and many other local restaurants.
You're on the right track when you see this gate.  Of course you home in on the tower.
Finally you get to the front gate for Zojoji Temple.  Pass through the gate to get to the parks and the tower beyond.
Zojoji Shrine Front Gate.  Big and imposing for an important temple.
The front gate up closer.
The main temple building.
This is a big temple.
The Jizo statues again.  There are hundreds and hundreds of them.
Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy.  View is through a rack where bad fortunes are tied off.
Temple grounds Info
Walking past the Jizu statues, you'll find this road that leads down to the Tokyo Tower.  It is very pretty here.  Quite quiet.
Another shot of the Tokyo Tower.
On the second floor is a bazaar of souvenir shops.  There are all kinds of little toy, Tokyo souvenir, and food shops.  You can buy these Tokyo Banana sponge cakes.  They're actually quite popular.
There is now a One Piece theme park in the base of the tower.  It actually looks like it would be worth a visit if you are a One Piece anime fan.
The first observation deck of the tower.
Carp streamers or koinoburi for Children's Day in Japan.
The view down from the first level observation deck.  You can see some of the newer skyscrapers near the tower, including Toranomon Hills.
Looking west, you can see the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills on the left.
Observation Deck.  This time I went up and had an enjoyable time walking around and seeing the sights.  It was a classic observation deck type experience, but thoroughly enjoyable.
Looking below, you can see many cemeteries surrounding the tower.
Zojoji Temple from behind.
Mori Tower.  This places has a great observation deck and the Mori Museum also often hosts really good exhibits.
The One Piece Theme Park
There is a food court here too.  You can actually order Pizza-La Japanese pizza.  This is one of the few outlets in a food court.
I was tempted, as Japanese pizza is quite different and I think the quality of the ingredients is higher, but it is more expensive than North American pizza.
Some Pizza-La meal specials.
There is also a MOS Burger Outlet.  I highly recommend that you try them for a Japanese burger experience.  Pick something different like rice buns, or teriyaki grilled chicken.  It's nice a freshly made.
MOS Burger menu.
I was here to try the Tokyo Curry Lab outlet.  They have some unique curries and are quite good.  Curry is a Japanese national dish, and is very popular with the locals.
Curry menu.
I love their place mats.  The water is very much needed after eating.
It was a tasty vegetable curry with veggies and an italian meat sauce.  Very different, but good.
Closeup of the curry.
More Koinoburi
Some of the parks nearby.  I saw joggers going through here.
A roasted sweet potato vendor who was calling out his wares.  I was full but I wanted to try it too.  That's one of the problems visiting Tokyo as you always want to eat some more.
Back at the temple they were burning old furniture in these pits for either a purification or a funerary ritual.
Another shot of the tower from the temple.
Going up the big stairs up front.   They did some redecorating of this place and it was where they filmed the funeral scene in the movie Wolverine, where he goes to Japan.
Inside the Zojoji Temple main building.  It is beautiful with a great deal of gold in the decoration.

Closeup of the main altar with Amida Buddha.
The big gates from the inside.
Bullet train.
So that is a brief walk through of the trip to the Tokyo Tower and of the tower itself.  It is a visit that will last a couple of hours, but you can do it at your own pace.  I've enjoyed visiting it both times.  I also bumped into a bunch of New Zealanders who were looking for the Pokemon Center that used to be near Hamamatsucho Station, which closed a year ago.  I was fortunately able to direct them to the new one that I had visited this trip over in Ikebukuro at Sunshine City, after they saw the Wolverine Temple.  After this, it was back to the hotel and then I caught an NEX Express Train back out to Narita.  It was a nice way to end my third Tokyo Trip.

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