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Tokyo City Trip - Sensoji Temple

Tokyo Bay & the man-made island of Odaiba
Tokyo Bay & the man-made island of Odaiba

TOKYO DAY 2: Asakusa, Ueno and Odaiba Districts

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The Asakusa (ah-SOCK-sah) district, in the northeast corner of town, came to prominence shortly after Buddhism arrived in Japan from China, in the sixth century. Legend has it that two fishermen found a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, by the bank of the Sumida River, and a temple was erected nearby in her honor. Today, Asakusa's Sensoji Temple is one of Tokyo's largest, and easily the most visited.

Not least of the surrounding attractions is Nakamise-dori, a street leading up to the temple lined with shops that sell fresh-cooked senbei (rice crackers) and manju (sweet-bean dumplings), Japanese Noh masks, worn traditionally by stage performers, and wooden geta sandals, among other trinkets. Though Nakamise-dori is admittedly touristy, the colorful souvenirs and nostalgic cries of the shopkeepers make it great fun even if you buy nothing, and the surrounding blocks are filled with specialty shops for traditional crafts: everything from paper lanterns, to kabuki makeup, to gold leaf and matchstick blinds.

Asakusa's Sensoji Temple in Tokyo
Asakusa's Sensoji Temple

Stop for a tempura lunch at shops near the landmark Kaminari Mon (thunder gate), which marks the entrance to the temple precincts.

After lunch, a short subway ride west deposits you at Ueno, home of the Tokyo National Museum; the second floor walks you through the history of Japanese art, from prehistoric statuary, to arms and armor, and Edo Period woodblock printing. The museum is located in the giant Ueno Park, great for a stroll and a peek at some historic temples and the Toshogu Shinto Shrine, which echoes its more famous counterpart in Nikko (a couple hours away).

Next, return to Asakusa to see the city from an entirely different perspective, on a cruise south along the Sumida River. Note how the cityscape gradually shifts from low rise to high rise as you enter the central business district.

A view of Mt. Fuji in Japan
Snow-topped peak of Mt. Fuji

Some of the boats stop at Hama Rikyu, a stately and sprawling garden on a seaside plain with pruned pines, waterways and a teahouse, or continue on to Odaiba (aka Daiba), a man-made island in Tokyo Bay and a major recreation district amid some very futuristic architecture. In summer, boats and bathers gather on Odaiba's shores and on clear winter days, it's possible to see 90 miles away to Mt. Fuji from the Fuji Television Network building — the spherical observatory hovers above the main building like a space station right out of Star Wars caught in a gigantic lattice.

Any time of the year, you can view the latest in Toyota technology at Mega Web, visit the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) or indulge in another Japanese obsession, natural hot springs at Ooedo (oh-edo) Onsen Monogatari, which in translation means Edo Hot Spring Story. This massive bathing complex is separated by gender, and has Edo period decoration, food, games, entertainers and visitors walking around in yukata (cotton bathrobes) that can be rented on site. A fun fact: the natural hot spring water is pumped nearly a mile below the floor of Tokyo Bay.

When you're done, the conductorless Yurikamome railway line can take you where you need to go around the island and back toward Shimbashi train station in the city center, where you'll have easy access to train and subway lines for wherever else you may want to go.

Continue to Day 3

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* Images courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organization and TCVB

(Updated: 02/15/13 CT)


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