Our second day in Tokyo was unbelievably sunny. We had a very, very full day to make up for the day before. We woke up early and made a quick trip back to Harajuku to revisit Meiji Jingu and Yoyogi Park to take better photographs. The beautiful weather made everything so much brighter and the atmosphere infinitely cheerier. Following that, we had breakfast at the Square Enix ARTNIA Café in Shinjuku, took a train to Komagome Station and wandered around Rikugien Garden, spent some time in Asakusa exploring Nakamise Street and viewing Sensō-ji Temple, and finally walked all the way to the Tokyo Skytree to visit the Sumida Aquarium and the observation deck on the 350th floor.
1. Yoyogi Park & Meiji Jingu
Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of Emperor Meiji. Unlike many of the shrines and temples in Tokyo, Meiji Jingu exudes a tranquil, almost austere air, making it the perfect place for leisurely stroll on a cool afternoon. The shrine itself is located in the 200 acre Yoyogi Park, with a towering 40 foot high Torii gate marking the entrance. A relaxing 10 minute walk through the park will get you to the shrine, where you can stop to purify your hands and mouth at the chōzuya (purification fountain), before making an offering at the offering hall or writing your wish on an ema for the kami to receive. Meiji Jingu is best accessed from Harajuku Station on the JR East Yamanote Line. Whilst the shrine itself is free, some of the surrounding gardens and the treasure house have an admission fee.
2. Sweet Box Crêpes, Harajuku
A trip to Harajuku isn’t complete without trying a dessert crêpe, so despite it being a rather unhealthy snack, we couldn’t stop ourselves from getting a crêpe at one of the many iconic stands dotted along Takeshita Street. After spending far too long trying to decide what we wanted out of the sinful array of fillings (including everything from gelato to a whole slice of cheesecake), we settled on a simple double chocolate banana and cream crêpe (¥490) from Sweet Box. The crêpe itself was beautifully soft and chewy with slightly crispy edges, and the bananas were perfectly ripe and sweet.
3. Square Enix ARTNIA Café, Shinjuku
After Harajuku, we took the train straight to Shinjuku to have breakfast at the Square Enix ARTNIA Café (one of our definite must-see places on our itinerary, because we’re such adorable geeks). Dedicated fans of Square Enix mustn’t pass up a visit to ARTNIA, located in Higashi-Shinjuku Hillside. Whilst its sleek, egg-shaped exterior may look underwhelming, the interior boasts both a café and a shop full of Square Enix merchandise (mostly dominated by Dragon Quest, but Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts fans still have a reasonable selection). The café features Square Enix themed food and drinks, such as the Buster Sword Chocolate Parfait, Materia and High Potion beverages, and Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy themed pancakes.
4. Rikugien Garden, Bunkyō-ku
Stomachs full of pancakes, we made our way to Rikugien Garden (near Komagome Station, located along the JR East Yamanote Line). At just ¥300 to get in, the park is definitely one of the best places to see fall colours. Featuring a large central pond surrounded by manmade hills and forested areas, it is a fairly extensive park that can take you over an hour to explore. Rikugien is often considered one of Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape gardens.
5. Nakamise Street & Sensō-ji, Asakusa
For a taste of old Tokyo, Asakusa must not be missed. Once a prime location for prostitutes and gangsters during the Edo period, Asakusa offers a mellow contrast to Tokyo’s intense modernity. The main attraction in Asakusa is Sensō-ji, a colourful Buddhist temple enshrining a statue of the goddess of mercy Kannon, supposedly fished out of the Sumida River by two brothers. Sensō-ji starts with Kaminarimon, the thunder gate, with its famous giant lantern and statues of Raijin and Fujin (the gods of thunder and wind). Leading up to the main gate is Nakamise-dori, a 250 metre long shopping street lined with shops selling all sorts of local snacks, Buddhist paraphernalia and souvenirs.
6. Sumida Aquarium & Skytree Observation Deck
Not far away from Asakusa is Tokyo Skytree Town, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex at the base of the famous Tokyo Skytree. The Skytree, Japan’s tallest structure at a staggering 634 metres, offers spectacular views over Tokyo from its two observation decks (at 350 and 450 metres). For those afraid of heights, Sumida Aquarium, located at the base of the Skytree, is a great alternative. The highlight of the aquarium is the 350 thousand litre open tank housing dozens of penguins and sea lions. Aquarium enthusiasts will also appreciate the breathtaking displays by Takashi Amano.
Tokyo Skytree Town can be reached by a 20 minute walk across the Sumida river from Asakusa, or from the Tokyo Skytree Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line. Entry to the Tokyo Skytree costs ¥2060 for the lower deck, and an extra ¥1020 for the upper deck. Entry to the aquarium costs ¥2050.