Mount Fuji, the tallest peak in Japan at 3776 meters (12,388 ft.) is still classified an active volcano although it has remained dormant since its last eruption in 1707. Located 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Tokyo, it is the most popular tourist attraction in Japan, attracting over 200,000 visitors each year to climb its slopes. Mount Fuji or Fujisan was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 for its universal sacred and artistic value. (According to the World Heritage website (https://whc.unesco.org/en/faq/19) “World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”) In my opinion, Fujisan is certainly worthy of protection for future generations.
We began seeing views of the mountain soon after departing from Tokyo although there are views of the mountain from within the city as well. (You’ll see one later in this post.)
Our friend, Tomo, took us first to a restaurant at Lake Yamanakako, the largest and closest of the Fuji Five Lakes at the base of Mount Fuji. The #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor in Yamanakako-mura, Koshu Hoto Kosaku, serves delicious hoto, a regional dish made with flat noodles and vegetables in a miso soup. Patrons remove their shoes inside the door of this traditional style restaurant before sitting on tatami cushions. (Click on the photos below to see a larger version.)
Following a delicious lunch, we drove around stopping at numerous viewing spots to take in the captivating beauty of Fujisan and to capture some of it in photos.
As we walked the trail along Lake Yamanakako, Lori even made friends with an especially engaging beagle.
Upon our return to Tokyo, the timing was perfect for a visit to the Tokyo Tower. Modeled after the Eiffel Tower and built in 1958, the Tokyo Tower is 13 meters taller than the Paris version and an outstanding way to enjoy views of the largest city in the world.
After purchasing tickets for around $10 each and a quick elevator ride to the main deck, we arrived in time to enjoy Tokyo at sunset from high above the city.
Jim chose to go to the top deck where he captured Mount Fuji in the distance at sunset, definitely my favorite photo of all we took from Tokyo Tower.
He also took photos of each direction from the top deck which gives you an even better impression of the vastness of Tokyo.
We left the tower just after sunset but I’m sure the views of the lights of Tokyo after dark would have been amazing as well.
Tomo delivered us safely back to our hotel where Lori and I visited the women’s bath before calling it a night. The next day we would see a few final sights including a walk through Old Tokyo before Tomo delivered us to the airport for our flight back to the U.S.
Our friend, Tomo, met us at our hotel, Mitsui Garden, to show us more sights in Tokyo on day 2 of our visit. If you missed the first two posts about Tomo and Tokyo, you can find them here and here.
The public transport system in Tokyo is world renowned. I’ve read it’s quite easy to use but for us, it couldn’t have been easier because we had only to follow Tomo as he shepherded us from place to place. These photos in a train station were taken later in the day but they’ll give you an idea of our experience.
Our hotel was located very close to the Gotanda Railway Station and Tomo led Lori, Rick, Jim, and me there to take the train to our first tourist sight at Shibuya Crossing. It was raining so we purchased umbrellas but unfortunately, Jim and I only bought one to share which he immediately commandeered so I was wet and crabby whenever it rained throughout the day.
Reputed to be the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world with as many as 3000 people crossing at once during peak times, Shibuya Scramble Crossing is a well-known tourist attraction in Tokyo. The rain may have kept other tourists away, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm one bit. The second floor of the Starbucks which you can see behind Tomo and Jim in the photo below is a popular spot for photos from above.
Nearby Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken was constructed in 1920 and reconstructed in 1958 after it burned during WW2. The 122nd emperor of Japan, Emperor Meiji and his consort reigned from February 3, 1867 until his death on July 30, 1912. He led the modernization of Japan, ending feudalism and 250 years of isolation. The emperor and his wife were prolific poets, having composed over 130,000 waka (traditional Japanese poems of 31 syllables) between them. One of the poems written by the emperor follows:
Were we to neglect
The completion of a task
Because it was hard,
Nothing would be done at all
In this human world of ours.
In order to pay respect when visiting the shrine, one engages in ritual cleansing of the hands and mouth at the Temizuya (font). Fill the dipper with water; rinse your left hand then your right hand; pour water into the palm of your left hand to rinse your mouth; rinse the handle with the remaining water and return the dipper to its original position.
Sake brewers throughout Japan offer barrels of sake wrapped in straw every year to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. In the spirit of world peace and friendship, wineries from the Bourgogne region of France offer barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu.
On our way to the Imperial Palace, Tomo took the photo below of Jim and me, Lori and Rick in front of Tokyo Railway Station.
The Imperial Palace, a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station, is located on the former site of Edo Castle and has been the residence for Japan’s imperial family since the emperor moved here from Kyoto following the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Edo Castle was home to the Tokugawa Shoguns who ruled Japan under military government from 1603 until 1867 when the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was ousted in a coup which restored imperial rule to Japan.
A popular tourist attraction in Tokyo, free tours of the Imperial Palace grounds are offered twice a day but require a ticket which can be obtained online here or in-person on a first-come first-serve basis. We queued for tickets and then waited in the Visitor House for the guided tour to begin while watching an informational video. The tour is offered in English, takes about 75 minutes, and does not go inside any of the palace buildings. Despite the limitations and the dreary weather, we found it interesting and informative.
Following our tour, we were feeling a little peckish so Tomo led us to Nemuro Hanamaru at Sapporo Station for conveyor belt sushi. A friend who had visited Japan told me about it and I was keen to give it a try. All the foods and drinks circle around the restaurant on a conveyor belt and the patrons reach out and take whatever appeals to them. The plates are color coded and your bill is figured by the number and color of the plates.
Our last stop of the day was a walk thru the Imperial Hotel. The original, designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was constructed beginning in 1917. In 1968 the hotel was replaced with a new structure but the main lobby was dismantled and moved to Meiji Mura, an open air architectural museum in Aichi Prefecture. Although nothing of the original remained in this location, we were interested in seeing where the original hotel stood because of our connection to it. You see, we were visiting from Mason City, Iowa, the home of the Historic Park Inn, the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel in the world. Although I’m no expert on architecture, my impression was the new Imperial Hotel follows the Prairie School but in a fresher more modern style. Compare my photos below to the original.
Our first full day touring Tokyo was fascinating and I’m sure we couldn’t have accomplished so much on our own. We ended the day excited to see what day 3 with Tomo would bring. Please join us next time.
I gave our friend, Tomo, a list of sights we’d like to see in Tokyo but told him to use his own judgement. Since we had only three days and no knowledge of public transportation in a city of nearly 14 million and a metro area in excess of 37 million, it was essential to have a plan and I was grateful not to be in charge of it. In the end, we were delighted with his choices and the efficient use of our time.
Tomo picked up husband Jim, friends Lori and Rick, and me at Narita Airport following our flight from Singapore and whisked us off to Mitsui Garden Hotel Gotanda. He had approved our choice of location in the ward of Shinagawa in advance and we were exceedingly pleased with our accommodations.
We were so impressed with Mitsui Garden, I want to share more photos with you. (Click on each photo to expand.) I am not, however, receiving any remuneration for my rave review.
The lobby and lounge area including an outdoor garden were attractive and comfortable.
Our room, though small, was well-appointed, clean, comfortable, and well worth the total price of $157 per night.
Breakfast, included in the price of the hotel, was generous and delicious. We like to eat a big breakfast, have a snack or protein bar for lunch while sightseeing, and enjoy a nice dinner at a restaurant. It saves time and money to eat one meal out. This breakfast fortified us for the day.
But two surprises made this hotel the best ever. First was the public bath in the hotel. Lori and I were keen to try it out but the men voiced a hard pass. The public bath or sento is a very old tradition in Japan. Originating in the 6th century for cleansing the body and spirit according to Buddhist teaching, by the 12th century the wealthy had also adopted the ritual. Finally in the late 16th century the masses, who didn’t have bathtubs in their homes, adopted the custom of communal bathing. At one time sento etiquette allowed mixed bathing but eventually the sexes were separated. Other rules of etiquette require the removal of shoes before entering the bath house and cleansing oneself before entering the bath. No soap or washing is allowed in the bath itself. The bath is for soaking, relaxing, and conversation. Honestly, Lori and I were relieved to be the only ones in the women’s bath so we didn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of sharing the bath with others while nude. No photos are allowed in the public bath so click here to see photos on the hotel website. The photo below is Lori and me ready to go to the public bath in the spa clothing provided by the hotel.
The other surprise at the hotel was the toilet, or I should say the Shower Toilet, as I read it was called on the instructions. It looked just like toilets we’re accustomed to but it was actually bidet equipped.
I’ve seen bidets all over the world but I’ve never used one and now that I have, I’m a believer. In my opinion, no bathroom should be without this remarkable hygiene equipment. I think I was always a little put off by the fact that the bidets I’d seen previously didn’t have a seat or instructions for use. This one had both. Ours at the hotel included a heated seat, too, which was a nice addition. I’ve read you can also get a dryer on the bidet to totally eliminate the need for toilet paper which, you may have noticed, has gotten pretty expensive. File this under TMI, if you must, but I’m telling you the Shower Toilet was a Eureka moment for me.
We first arrived at our hotel late in the day and Lori wasn’t feeling well so she and Rick stayed in while Tomo took Jim and me out to dinner. For our first meal in Japan, we went to Ootoya for authentic home style Japanese comfort food. Ootoya serves an extensive menu of teishoku which is similar to prix fixe, a set number of courses at a fixed price. Teishoku consists of miso soup, rice, a main dish and several sides. It is served on a tray and is typical of the meals that Japanese eat at home.
Following dinner, we returned to our hotel for an early night. The next day we had a full schedule of sightseeing which included Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Shrine, the Imperial Palace, conveyor belt sushi, and the Imperial Hotel. Please come back and I’ll tell you all about it.