Panoramic Tokyo Day Tour – Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise

November 14, 2012 by

Asia, City Tours & Sightseeing, Travel Advice & Inspiration

In a city as large and diverse as Tokyo, I knew I’d be overwhelmed without a city tour to help me get my bearings. I needed a bit of a layout of the city, more than the maps could provide me, and I needed help narrowing down the long list of impressive attractions the city offers to a manageable number to see in a few short days.

The Panoramic Tokyo Day Tour – Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise promised a jam-packed day tasting (literally and figuratively) a little bit of everything the city had to offer.

The tour

Our tour guide Nobu, or Nobu-san, graciously welcomed us and answered questions with a nice blend of being available without hovering. Her love of country shone through and helped infuse in me a sense of the history and culture of Japan totally different from my preconceived notions. I wanted an overview, with a few specifics thrown in, and that’s exactly what I got with a drive through some of the neighborhoods and time spent exploring some of the major sights.

Meiji Shrine

Shinto wedding processing at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

The Meiji Shinto Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken. The complex is a large one, covering about 175 acres of land, but our visit was to the Naien, or inner precinct. Walking past a free-standing, wall-sized display of sake barrels, we arrived at the inner shrine buildings. The shrine is impressive, and Nobu-san explained the significance of some of the rituals like the cleansing of hands, posting prayer requests, and praying. For me, though, the highlight involved a bit of serendipity – a wedding procession was in progress when we arrived and we got to share in the joyous occasion right along with the bride and groom.

My favorite stop was Senso-ji, better known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple, and the adjacent Nakamise shopping street.

Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Temple

Lanterns outside Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Temple, Tokyo

This Buddhist Temple, the oldest in Tokyo, welcomed us with its red and black paper lanterns that are said to be suggestive of thunderclouds and lightning.  I’m not sure if I caught that same symbolism, but they are eye catching and inviting. Inside the temple are ornate religious displays, visible to the general public and available for worship if you are Buddhist. A large incense pit sits in front of the worship area and visitors wave the incense smoke over their heads asking for wisdom, over parts of their body asking for healing, and over their hearts asking for love.

Nakamise

Nakamise shopping in Tokyo

Outside the temple is the Nakamise-dori, a street leading to the temple that is lined with small shops and eateries. I loved this area! The idea of shops near the temple date back to the tradition of providing food and goods to those making a pilgrimage to the temple on foot. Not many people make the journey on foot these days, but the stalls along the street still provide food and goods. Sure, you’ll find the typical souvenir and tourist shops, but look a little closer and you’ll also see shops offering traditional noodles, snacks, pastries, and more. Most shops have a sample tray out front, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Breaking up a busy day of touring, a cruise on Tokyo Bay gave us a different view of Tokyo.

Aqua City on Odaiba Island

Aqua City on Odaiba Island, Tokyo

The tour ended with time to spend at Aqua City on Odaiba, a man-made island reached by going across the Rainbow Bridge, moving you from historic Tokyo to the modern. With beaches, amusement parks, restaurants, shopping, the Fuji television studios, and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, Odaiba is almost too much to take in.

My recommendations

View of Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo from Odaiba Island

Nighttime view of Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo from Odaiba Island

Extend your time on Odaiba to see more that the short stop will allow. Since this is the last stop on the tour you can opt to remain here rather than return to your hotel, which I highly recommend. Try to get to the top of the Fuji building to watch the sunset and stay on the island well into the night to enjoy the views of the colorful Rainbow Bridge and the nighttime views of the city.

The city tour will whet your appetite to see more of the city, so use it as a research tool to select the neighborhoods you’d like to go back to. There are plenty of stops that are worth exploring for a full afternoon.

Note: This tour also includes lunch.

All photos courtesy of Mary Jo Manzanares.

Book a Panoramic Tokyo Day Tour – Meiji Shrine, Asakusa Temple and Tokyo Bay Cruise

 – Mary Jo Manzanares

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