Friday, July 27, 2012

Tokyo Tour On The Sumida River Cruise, Japan

Day 2: Sensoji temple, Asakusa in Tokyo - Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade in Tokyo - SUMIDA RIVER CRUISE, TOKYO - Hibiya Garden - Imperial Palace and Gardens - Tokyo Tower
Japan is an island nation located in eastern Asia and what better way then to get a glimpse of it than a boat ride or a cruise, as they call it in Japan!

Sumida River Cruise, Tokyo

A few mtrs away from the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa is the starting point of the famed Sumida River Cruise, a perfect and a very popular way to enjoy the panoramic views of the city, both with the locals and the tourists alike.

The Sumida River cuts across Tokyo for more than sixteen miles crossing seven distinct districts in its way. One can head towards it right after visiting the Sensoji temple and choose from one of the many cruise ship packages that they have on offer. The most popular option is to take a cruiser from Asakusa to Hinode Pier which is a 40 minute tour (one way). Most tourists get off at Hamarikyu Garden (a stoppage after 35 minutes) en route to enjoy the beautiful Japanese garden. But we opted for the complete 40 minute tour to Hinode Pier without getting down mid way, thanks to an advice by a lady officer there.

Come Aboard!


Before going to Japan, I had never planned for a ride on the Sumida river cruise in Tokyo but, like many other things there that took place unplanned, the cruise somehow fell in my way. Now, I've always been a huge fan of boat rides or cruises ever since I started my yatra travels – be it the Mathura boat ride or the Varanasi boat ride - I've always loved the slow and paused rapidity that comes along with them.

Hence, I was super delighted when I found myself standing in the Sumida river cruise office, by chance and didn’t think twice before getting onboard.

Seating area, Sumida river cruise, Tokyo

And my pleasure only doubles up today, as it gives me the opportunity to enjoy it once again here in our diary, with all of you as wonderful company!So, as we always do... I ask your permission to break our conversation as I invite you to step on the ship, take your seats, feel the breeze and get set to unveil the charms of a city that seems mesmerized by its own beauty!

Let's together, Soak it all in and Enjoy!

Sumida River cruise starts, Tokyo - Japan
With grey skies above and a cool breeze blowing around us,
the cruise begins!

Wonderful views - Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Leaving the very famous Sky Tree Tower of Tokyo behind
(the needle shaped tallest tower in the pic)

Tsukiji Fish Market - Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Significant buildings come and go out from view - The Tsukiji Fish Market

Tall skyscrapers in the Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Bridge and buildings together during the Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Water lashing at the sides of the boat - Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Tall skyscrapers in the Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Panoramic views - Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Tall skyscrapers painting the beautiful landscape
and panoramic views steal the heart

A speeding boat in the Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Different boat..Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Speeding boats or boats standing still... the river just lets them be

Eitaibashi Bridge at the Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Enjoy the Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Sumida river cruise, Tokyo starts
Chuo-ohashi bridge, Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
Tokyo through a bridge - Sumida river cruise, Tokyo
A magnificient bridge in the Sumida River cruise, Tokyo - Japan
Experience the thrill when bisecting the twelve historical and architecturally magnificient bridges cutting the river and going under them

People waving at us, The Sumida River Cruise
And here comes my favorite part of the cruise:
The cheerful onlookers from the water front waving at you
like they have known you for long... and we wave them back

An inspiration for a  phtographer - The Sumida River Cruise
The cruise finally concludes but not before,
it is captured in the eye of the photographer...

40 minutes passed by admiring the beauty that came onto us - the cool breeze, the towering buildings, the lovely bridges - ah, how I had loved them all... and I only longed for more. But the cruise had come to an end... and it was time to alight.

As I got out, I found myself clutching something in my hands, something I'd been carrying all this while, picked up from the cruise office in hurry. Well... today, that something, though very small, has gotten special and I have neatly treasured it in my Japan souvenir box of keepsakes... Hmm, will definitely show it to you someday :-) but for now we need to head forth to our next destination. Let's go...

Fast Facts and Other Traveler Tips:

1. The boats run every 30-60 minutes.

2. The charges vary depending on your choice of destination. Asakusa - Hinoda Pier one way cost us 760 Yen/head and took 40 minutes for the ride. There is no boat change and you can also get down at Hamarikyu gardens after 35 minutes for which the charge could be slightly less (not sure though).

3. The other packages on offer are Asakusa - Odaiba Sea park (50 min one way), Odaiba Seaside Park – Hinoda Pier (20 min. both ways), Hinoda Pier – Tokyo Big Sight (25 min. one way). More information on these can easily be collected in their office in person in Tokyo itself while you are on a tour.

4. If you decide to take round trips to and from Asakusa, you might have to alight at destinations, then wait for some minutes before you can get back again for your round trip. So, make sure you have enough time in your hands if you are going for a round trip cruise.

5. In the cruise tour that we took, Asakusa- Hinoda Pier, you will come across 13 bridges (out of the total 26) and some important buildings which will be introduced to you through an audio clip in English and Japanese on board. There are separate audio guides available which you can purchase for a few extra yen. If you don’t have a very good memory for names of around 30 bridges and a few significant buildings, then you will definitely enjoy the cruise better without it.
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade: Souvenir Shopping In Tokyo

Day 2: Sensoji temple, Asakusa in Tokyo - NAKAMISE DORI SHOPPING ARCADE, ASAKUSA IN TOKYO - Sumida River Cruise - Hibiya Garden - Imperial Palace and Gardens - Tokyo Tower

Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade, Asakusa in Tokyo

The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, the place from where we started our tour in Tokyo, was beautiful... and equally beautiful and fascinating was the road that led us to it - the Nakamise dori shopping arcade.

Dating back to the eighteenth century, the Nakamise dori shopping arcade is a beautiful narrow lane spanning approximately 250 meters in length that includes around 89 shops in total.

Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple, Japan
The Nakamise dori shopping arcade and
far in the background, the Sensoji Temple

The arcade is an attraction in itself and grabs equal attention, if not more, of everyone visiting the Sensoji Temple. It stocks on display all kinds of touristy knick knacks and Japanese souvenirs like key chains, fans, T-shirts, handbags, hats and even kimonos for you to grab. Besides these, there are stalls selling food stuffs like Japanese biscuits, cookies and cakes, freshly baked and packed in front of your eyes. All these things are things that need to be seen and not spoken about, so... let's go -

Clothing and Accesories -

Hats and umbrellas are a common accessory, I observed, the Japanese generally use for protecting themselves against the harsh sun.

Hats on sale - Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - Japan
Hats: 3000 Yen ~ 2000 INR.

Traditional kimonos - Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade, Sensoji Temple, Japan
Kimonos

Shopping bags - Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - Japan
Purses: 1200 Yen ~ 850 INR.

Handbags: 2900 Yen ~ 2000 INR

Food - To pamper your tummies!

A pancake machine, Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - JapanPancakes on sale - Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - Japan
This is a Pancake Shop,
freshly baked pancakes are prepared (top pic) and sold (below pic),
then and there...

An ice cream kiosk at Nakamise Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple, Japan
An ice cream kiosk set up somewhere in the arcade

Take Backs - Memorabilia like Japanese dolls, lantern shaped key chains, souvenirs like Hello Kitty show pieces, wall hangings and good luck charms - take your pick!

Japanese Dolls- Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - Japan
Japanese dolls: 2300 Yen ~ 1640 INR

The red lantern of Senso ji  Temple in keychain - Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade, Japan
Red lantern key chains: 500 Yen ~ 350 INR

Hello Kitty souveneirs of Japan, Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple
Hello Kitty: 1000 to 1300 Yen ~ 700 to 1000 INR

Wall Hangings and other good luck charms on display in Nakamise Shopping arcade, Sensoji temple, Japan
Wall hangings lanterns: 700 Yen ~ 500 INR

Japanese Souvenir at Nakamise Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple, Japan
Gift boxes: 1050 Yen (only box) ~ 750 INR;
                              1575 Yen (with confectionery) ~ 1100 INR

Souveneirs on display in Nakamise Shopping arcade, Japan
Random assortment of souvenirs

And finally... something for your feet,

Slip ons in Nakamise Dori Shopping arcade, Sensoji Temple - Japan
Slippers: made of natural cane and bamboo material
950 Yen ~ 650 INR

Basically, if you wish to wrap yourself entirely in the Japanese colors from the head to the toe, stuff all your shopping bags with everything that spells Japanese and most importantly if you have enough Japanese Yen to splurge, then this arcade seems like the right place for you - it's got just about everything. What makes it even more fascinating is that there is no haggling, pushing or calling–in by any of the shopkeepers.

One can enjoy the complete experience of shopping at one's own pace in its entire limit even when the only intention might well be to just have a look at things and not actually take them back home. I myself must have peeped in a dozen of shops but restrained my shopping spirit from buying any of the stuff lest I empty my small sized souvenir shopping pocket on the first day of my sightseeing in Japan itself!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa - Tokyo

Day 2: SENSOJI TEMPLE, ASAKUSA IN TOKYO - Nakamise dori Shopping Arcade, Asakusa - Sumida River Cruise - Hibiya Garden - Imperial Palace and Gardens - Tokyo Tower

Sensoji temple, Asakusa in Tokyo

Old and ancient structures tend to have a certain charismatic pull associated with them. They safeguard behind their walls ancient mythical legends and stories that get more powerful and magnetic with time. The older the place gets, the history becomes more daunting and the pull, even stronger. Even the things associated with them come to be celebrated and treasured.

One prime example that fits in, in this category is the Sensoji temple in Asakusa district - Tokyo’s oldest and one of the most popular temples living since ages and I was happy to start my tour in Tokyo from this sacred place.

The entire temple is spread in a huge compound consisting of two gates, a row of colorful shops, a main temple hall and a five storied pagoda and is interesting right from the word go! First you encounter the Kaminarimon or the Thunder Gate, the outer gate of Sensoji Temple flanked by two gate protector Gods on either sides – Fujin, the God of wind and Raijin, the God of thunder.

The Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
The Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

However, the most important point of attraction here is the huge red and black colored lantern which hangs from the centre of the gate. The lantern together with the imposing gate is recognized as the symbol not only for Asakusa but for the entire of Tokyo.

The red colored lantern at the Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji Temple, Asakusa- Tokyo
The red colored lantern at the Kaminarimon Gate

The bottom of the red colored lantern at the Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
The bottom part of the lantern

Pass through the gate and a row of around 90 shops neatly lined up come in the scene called the Nakamise dori shopping arcade. Spanning around 200 mtrs and believed to be having a history dating several centuries back, you will find all kinds of colorful trinkets and souvenirs like Japanese fans, key chains, hats, purses on display here.

The Nakamise dori shopping arcade at the Sensoji Temple complex, Tokyo
The Nakamise dori shopping arcade

Get past the shops and you come to the second gate of the temple – The Hozomon gate – not as historic and prominent as the outer Kaminarimon gate but quite similar in looks and attractive nevertheless.

The Hozomon Gate at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
The Hozomon Gate - the inner gate

Enter the gate and you enter a sacred space. Here stand the main temple hall and a five storied pagoda besides the washing area and the smoke bowl of health.

The Main temple hall at the Sensoji Temple, Asakusa- Tokyo
The main temple hall

The five storied pagoda at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
The five storied pagoda at the Sensoji Temple

Before entering the main hall, you wash your hands in a specified pattern, and then take in the smoke from the bowl which grants you good health before proceeding to the main temple hall.

Smoke health bowl at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
Fan some smoke onto yourself from the smoke health bowl

The main temple hall is wooden and spacious with the ceiling covered in beautiful paintings and murals.

Colorful ceilings at the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo
Colorful ceiling in the main temple hall

In the centre of the hall is the main altar covered by a glass pane. I try searching for the main deity Goddess bodhisattva Kannon – the Goddess of mercy that was mystically discovered and fished out by the two fishermen to be later installed here. But I learn that it lies hidden today and is not open for public display.

A painting in the complex depicts the history of the Sensoji Temple

The altar in the main hall at the Sensoji Temple, Asakusa- Tokyo
The altar in the main hall

I offer my prayers by doing what the locals do. Clap my hands twice, bow twice, put money in the treasure box, and clap once again. And then, I stand still with my eyes closed. It’s quiet and the feeling is beautiful.

The main temple hall at the Sensoji temple, Asakusa, Tokyo

Offer your prayers in the main temple hall at the Sensoji Temple

Outside the hall, out in the compound... a statue of serene Buddha meditates in the lap of nature,

A statue of Buddha in the Sensoji Temple premises, Asakusa - Tokyo

Prayer flags flutter in the gentle breeze creating a gentle symphony,

A temple in the Sensoji temple compound

And a lone pigeon meanders around...

A pigeon wandering aimlessly in the sensoji temple p

... perhaps enjoying his day out in peace and solitude,

Just like me...

Fast Facts and Information for Travelers -

Temple fees: Free.
Timings: 6 am - 5 pm (6.30 am October-March). However, the shops in the Nakamise shopping arcade open at around 8.00 - 8.30 am.
Temple is open: 365 days in a year.
Photograhy: Is allowed.
Nearest Subway Station: Around 5 min. walk from Asakusa Subway Station on Ginza line (Exit 1).

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Expedia Japan Office Meet: An Afternoon to Remember


Expedia Japan Office Meet

The clock strikes 11 and a petite figure with youthful childlike demeanor turns up at my hotel Villa Fontaine lobby.

Arti from India? She enthusiastically questions with enquiring eyes.

Yes, and you must be Sayaka from Expedia! I reply excitedly.

She nods with a huge warm grin... and thereon begins my first encounter with the Japanese from close quarters for the first time in the trip .......

She was Sayaka Hirayama, marketing executive for Expedia and my sweet host for the trip. A visit to the Expedia office in Japan was one of the many things that were on my to-do-list in Japan and frankly speaking, I was quite nervous about it. Since I didn’t quite know what to expect out of it, I had come to harbor my very own fanciful qualms of boring presentations and endless introductions and secretly wished for it to get over soon... even before embarking on the trip.

Expedia travel network - The one name for travel

However, it wasn’t long till I realized that all my self imposed nervousness and fears were just that... a fancy.

At the office, which was just a stone's throw away from our hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, I was at once relieved to see everyone busy in their own works. No commotions, no disturbances, no overstated welcomes, nothing – all calm and quiet. Sayaka introduced me to some members of the staff and all of them responded with much warmth and affection.


Expedia travel company Japan Office in Tokyo
The Expedia office in Tokyo, Japan

ExpiBear - The mascot of Expedia Japan
The official and adorably cute mascot of the Expedia Japan, the Expibear
[In the pic: Sayaka (left) and Natsuko - marketing director (right)]

I wandered around the office and appreciated the casual décor of the place as Sayaka went on to explain the working model of the company.

Expedia Office in Japan, Tokyo
Expedia Japan Office

I glared at the computer screens of the people working there in a curious attempt to make out what exactly they were doing at their work stations. The amazing thing was that they never stared back and generally remained engrossed in their work. A few people returned pleasant smiles but that was it, no one ogled back thus ensuring that I feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease at all times.

The views from their glass balcony were impressive. Amid all the concrete, the picture of the red and white painted 333 mtr. high Tokyo tower touching the skies was splendid.


View of the Tokyo Tower from the balcony of Expedia Office in Japan
The Tokyo Tower: View from the balcony

Later after completing the office tour, I was delighted to be presented with a big goodie bag that included a stuffed Expibear and a few stickers.

My Gift in the Goodie bag from Expedia - The adorably cute
The ExpiBear that came in my Goodie bag

To add something more to it, there was a surprise lunch with four members of their staff members organized for us.

My first Vegetable Sushi in Tokyo, Japan
At Potager Veg Sushi Restaurant, Tokyo - My First Sushi

The entire arrangement was so artistic and beautiful,
I actually didn't feel like disturbing it.

My first sushi – vegetable sushi - platter accompanied with some insightfully engaging banter with the lively and spirited Expedia staff was a delight and made for a fun afternoon.

Expedia Japan planning out our sightseeing activies
Expedians helping us plan out our activities for the next day

All in all, the warmth of my Expedia friends, a lot of glorious food and the wonderful company along with some great conversations kept growing in charm all through the afternoon...

The very lively Expedia company members of Japan
Warm, lively and spirited: The 4 Expedians

... giving me very little reason for not marking something that I initially dreaded, as one of the memorable highlights of my Japan trip!

Getting there:

It's a short walk from Villa fontaine Roppongi, the hotel in Tokyo where I stayed.

Roppongi First Building, 7F,
1-9-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo,
106-0032 Japan

+81(03)4577-3201
shirayama@airasiaexpedia.com

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