Project Description

This article is the next part of “Japan – Tokyo, Sensō-ji”. Click on the name of the article to get there, or continue your reading below.

TOWARDS SUMIDA RIVER

After my visit of the Sensō-ji and a delicious and very stodgy lunch, I head east toward the Sumida River, the visit of the Skytree tower being my last goal of the day. I plan to go there on foot, although I could also go there by underground or via a suspended train, probably the fastest method. So I arrive after a few minutes to Sumida Park, just before the river that marks the border between Asakusa and Sumida districts. I spend some time in the park, but do not stay there for a long time because of the crowd thronging to admire the cherry trees. It is almost impossible to move around without bumping into somebody. It’s probably also because of the starting point for river tours which is closeby. After the Sensō-ji, here is my second walkabout!

Dozens of people are sitting under the cherry trees, still eating or just talking. It is said that one must book in advance to enjoy the place; a plastic sheet laid on the floor and stunning views of cherry flowers just above. People sometimes come there  early morning to “book” the spot, for a few people of a big group, sometimes just by writting a letter saying they reserved it for such or such time. I do not know how they manage to organize this among themselves, but I guess it comes naturally in a Japanese manner.

After my stroll in the park, I go back to the entrance in order to cross the bridge to step in the district of Sumida. Before that, I imitate other Japanese people “heavily” equipped with super expensive cameras in order to take a picture of a famous view of the city: the Asai headquarters and the Skytree tower in the background since 2012.

A few words about Asahi, its “mug of beer with foam” building and its golden “flame/turd”, which will give me the time to cross the bridge.

Asahi was founded in 1889 in Osaka to produce and market a new beer. The brand flourishes and continues to develop over the years to finally become one of the most consumed in Japan with Kirin and Sapporo beers. To create the design of its Tokyo headquarters, the company was help by a French designer, Philippe Starck. Originally, the golden sculpture was supposed to represent a “bubble of beer that rises to the surface of a mug” but because of the height standards at the time, the municipality of Tokyo does not validate the project. The bubble was then placed horizontally and is a priori intended to represent the future. Today it is regarded by some as a flame, and by others as a golden “turd” more than a bubble rising to the surface. However, it remains a known symbol and a picture which tourists have to take when visiting around.

Whatever one thinks of this flame/tud , Asahi remains an excellent beer which can be tasted on the 22nd floor of the building, where one can also eat and enjoy the 180 degrees view around. Note however that the view here does not compete with those of many other observatories of the city, but is worth the glance if you’re in the building.

TOKYO SKYTREE

Speaking about observatory, I head now, always on foot, towards the Tokyo Skytree. Nothing complicated, because the tower is the most visible element of the capital city: just walk in its direction to get there, what I manage to do in about 10 minutes after I crossed the bridge. If you lose sight of the tower (which remains highly unlikely if you are on the surface and not underground), the easiest way is to follow the signs here and there. Once at the foot of the complex, just get to the 4th floor by climbing stairs or escalators outside or inside via the first three floors of the building, through an impressive maze of aligned shops, selling everything (especially souvenirs of all kinds), not to mention countless restaurants everywhere!

Once at the 4th floor, I discover an outdoor plaza surrounding the various entrances of the tower (north, west, etc.) as well as distinct waiting lines: one according to scheduled entry time, other for groups, etc. And the queue of visitors is already very long outside, several hundred meters from the lifts! I then do a quick tour of the complex to realize that the estimated waiting time is about 3 hours! It is huge, but justified given the number of people present. Disappointed and clearly no wanting to wait here during the rest of the afternoon, I am about to return to the nearest metro station with the idea to book my ticket in advance on Internet. Indeed, I think that it’s something I can do quietly from the hostel another day. Before that, I sneak one last time inside, just to see if I can not reach the upper floors by another way.

It is then that I spot a counter where “Fast Entry Ticket” is written and behind which are waiting for 5-6 people, all foreign tourists. I approach an explanatory sign in English stating that since February 2015, Tokyo Skytree offers a new type of admission, the famous “fast ticket” that allows a direct access to the elevator without having to wait in line. This ticket is available only to holders of foreign passports, which explains why there are only tourists here. The only drawback of the ticket is its higher price: ¥ 2,820 instead of ¥ 2,060, but if it can save me three hours of waiting, I take it! Having just bought my ticket, an English speaking Japanese guy asks us to follow him. We walk without stopping next to many queues towards the elevators! I must admit I feel embarrassed to pass directly in front of everyone, but if this kind of ticket exists, why wouldn’t I take it? So, my waiting time changes from 3 hours to 3 minutes, which means the time for me to arrive at one of the many lifts and go inside, ready to start the rise to the summit!

The tower was opened to the public on May 22, 2012 (the day of my 27th birthday), first only with a reservation and later freely. It rises to 634 meters high, a number that was not chosen randomly as it can be pronounced “musashi” in Japanese, which is the former name of the Sumida district where the tower is located. After a few seconds in an elevator climbing at the speed of 600 meters per minute (without transparent ground, if this can reassure people suffering from acrophobia!), We arrive at the first platform of observation, Tembo Deck, 350 meters above the ground and offering magnificent 360 degree views of the city, just spectacular!

The platform spans on three floors where one can find a café, a restaurant, a souvenir shop, toilets and glass floor overlooking the base of the tower, kindda scary! However, few benches and other chairs, the idea being that the flow of visitors does not stay there for a long time in order to facilitate a smooth rotation, which is understandable according to the thousands of daily visitors. I admire the wonderful views of the city center, although somewhat veiled by smog. It is of course possible to see far from the Skytree, even Mount Fuji, but one must be especially lucky with the weather because specific climatic conditions must be met to enable this. This is not the case today, but I will have the opportunity to admire Mount Fuji from a closer and better perspective!

By adding ¥ 1,000 to the money already spent to get to the first platform, I take another lift to the Tembo Galleria. This is in fact a long gallery composed of a spiral sloping ramp that climbs around the tower to reach an inside patio which rises to 451.2 meters precisely. This is the highest observation point and large windows offer magnificent views, but in all similar to the first platform.

I take some pictures and rest a while, totally amazed by the view. I finally go back down to the first platform and treat myself with a small snack at the Skytree Café: a delicious matcha coffee and a slice of meringue pie. I enjoy both quietly while admiring the landscape and trying to identify particular buildings in the distance.

During my trip in Tokyo, I also had the opportunity to visit other observatories towers in Tokyo (I will speak about them in other articles), but the Skytree is definitely my favorite and one of the most impressive. It is definitely worth a visit, sometimes through a hell of patience! Do not hesitate to go there at night, as the crowd has long gone and the observatory being opened until 10pm. Little tip for you if you want to avoid finding yourself in the fog once at the top: next to each entrance on the 4th floor are signs indicating the level of visibility from the viewing platforms, from Chiba (neighboring district) to Yokohama, Takaosan, to finish by Mount Fuji. Thus, even before getting into the tower, you will know if the visibility is good enough to see Mount Fuji or juste the building at the base of the tower!

After returning back on solid ground, I go towards Asakusa Station using a new train line specially set up at the opening of the Skytree, right at the bottom of the complex. I then take the metro towards Ueno. There I found the place where I placed my bag earlier and then take the Hibiya subway to Iriya, always as easily with my Suica card. Once there, I take out a map from my bag to find the path to my hostel, which is about 100 meters further. In no time, I’m here, in front of Toco Heritage Hostel! I refer you to my article balance for my opinion about this hostel.

Having barely crossed the main sliding door, I am greeted by Izumi who welcomes me with her very good English. We sit down and she very kindly explains how the hostel works. After my registration and payment of the stay, we go for a guided tour of the hostel and its premises. We then go out of the living room, both reception and rest room during the day which turns to an enjoyable bar-lounge in the evening. Through the second sliding door, we arrive in the beautiful garden of the property with the annex where the rooms are located just in front of it.

Pure concentrate of traditional Japanese style in a quiet and central district of Tokyo, the wooden annex is a little gem that exudes authenticity. The outdoor garden and its mini “Mount Fuji” (which Izumi explains the origin to me) gives the place a sense of serenity and greatness. The floor creaks under my feet, but far from disturbing me, it really makes me feel at home in the Japanese capital city! We go through the kitchen-dining room and shower-WC. Everything is very clean and Izumi tells me the basic rules for this place to stay like this. The tour ends with the choice of my bed in the 8-bed dormitory, the largest of the hostel. I then settle down and unpack my stuff when Izumi brings me a delivery: my SIM card! I have almost forgotten it. The time to install it inside my iPhone and I am equipped with Wifi during the time of my trip in Japan. I then register on GoogleMap a few restaurants and places to see during my time here in Tokyo.

In the early evening, I have the opportunity to sympathize with other tourists who have just returned from their day of sightseeing/arrived at the hostel. We then have a drink at the bar, the first being free if you stay overnight! Later, I ask the bartender, Hiroki, about a place to eat something in the neighborhood and he advises us to try out the place called Banninriki for its delicious noodles. It is 10 minutes from the hostel; back on the main street, we follow the road, cross another road and here we are!

Like many restaurants in Japan, it is sometimes necessary to order your meal by buying tickets from a machine nearby the entrance, as is the case here. Everything is in Japanese, but do not worry, because we are quickly spotted by the waiter that hands us a menu in English. We must then choose the main course available in three sizes (small, medium or large serving), and extra dishes if desired. Come on, it’s easy: you insert money into the machine, you press the buttons corresponding to the requested dishe(s), recovered your ticket(s) and your change if any. Then just give the ticket(s) to the waiter and wait a few minutes.

The wait never lasts very long, even during peak hours. The time to talk a little between us and here are our noodles, large portion for me, with extra seaweed, onion and even an egg! Then we follow the procedure for flavoring noodles as advice by the waiter, who smiled and nervously looking at us. Rituals even for the simplest food, but we do not want to disappoint the other customers who are watching at us! Thus, we enjoy our meal while discussing about our respective trips. Having some difficulties to finish my noodles, I feel more than happy when I finally see the bottom of the bowl! We returned to the hostel after a great meal and an even greater first day!

SUMIDA RIVER BY NIGHT

A few days later, in fact just after my visit of the Sensō-ji by night, I walked again along the banks of the Sumida River. I took advantage of being around to see the area with another lighting and wanted to go to the top of an observatory to enjoy the night view. However, it is already quite late, observatories are closed and this is undoubtedly an activity that I would have the opportunity to do one day soon. Back on the bridge I crossed earlier in my trip, I continued my way and followed the riverside, taking some night pictures from time to time. Not terrible without a tripod, but there is a couple of them which are fairly nice anyway. Then I went back towards Asakusa station to catch the last subway, as I don’t want to go all the way back to my hostel on foot! Well, it is doable, but not today, because I’m exhausted!