Time check: 10:35 AM. The morning rush hour was just easing off. After jetsetting four hours from Manila for a much-needed vacation, there’s a frisson of excitement in us upon deplaning. Stepping inside Narita Airport, we felt like Alice entering Wonderland- with a sense of amazement and a hint of thrill for the adventures that lie ahead. Yes, we have finally arrived in the most populous and the safest city in the world!
Welcome to Tokyo!
Tokyo has long made it to our bucket list of must-visit destinations around the world. It is famous for being a truly cosmopolitan city albeit dense and serried. But what it lacks in space, it more than makes up for in character. We like this sprawling city because it has this assuring pace that seamlessly integrates the live-work-play equity. This bustling metropolis offers everything, from theme parks and entertainment attractions to luxurious hotel accommodations, dining and shopping boutiques, coupled with a thriving cultural scene and cutting-edge cityscape. Simply put, it goes all-out to treat visitors to a world of leisure and delight.
DAY 1: My fiancée and I found ourselves in Asakusa, our home away from home for the next three days. After tearing ourselves away from our hotel, we strolled along the streets and immediately noticed the fusion of old-world charm and modern looks, eliciting delightful wonder to the travel-weary visitors like us. Asakusa houses Japan’s past and heritage but embraces the future. Perfectly balancing the two, innovations dazzle in the center of old heritage and tradition. On this side of the land of the rising sun, sacred shrines and temples stand side by side with tall and modern buildings. We explored Senso-ji, the largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo with the magnificent view of Tokyo Sky Tree on the background.
We bought some high-quality, locally made products like handicrafts, souvenirs and unusual items, among others in Kaminarimon, just outside the temple. This colorful shopping village is made livelier by locals wearing their traditional kimono. The juxtaposition of this old town is itself iconic of the contrast confrontation- of old and new, of history and contemporary, that energizes Tokyo day in and day out.
With maps on our hand, we took Tokyo’s subway afterwards and proceeded to Shibuya. Tourist and locals alike can visit this epicenter of Tokyo for an opportunity to indulge in retail therapy, great dining and lively entertainment. We crossed the famous and busy Shibuya Crossing and had our pictures taken with the statue of Japan’s most endeared dog, Hachiko.
Hachiko, the Akita dog who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death.
While wandering around Shibuya, one can notice the ramen houses on every corner. If people lining is any indication, customers are in for a sumptuous dining experience. The ramen craze which clasped Tokyo in recent years has since spread across the world. We’ve tasted the best ramen in the heart of Shibuya on an unassuming hole-in-the-wall. Trust us, the explosion of flavors and aroma was to-die for.
We also tried their world-famous and succulent Wagyu beef. Japanese love food, stories and spirits so a few helpings of sake, their own version of whisky, is recommended to blend in and enjoy the atmosphere.
DAY 2: “Submerge yourself in nature, breathe it all in and lose yourself”, our tour guide uttered while we are on our way to Mt. Fuji. To get there, one can take a two-hour bus ride from Tokyo with return options of taking Shinkansen/bullet train or bus- the latter being the transport of choice for the aesthetically-inclined while the former, for those who want to reach their destination in no time. We chose both. We took the bus going to Mt. Fuji and Shinkansen going back to Tokyo. And then came the lovely sight of the snow-capped mountain. Mt. Fuji, staggering for its monumentality, is magnificent to behold and steeped in history and significance. We proceeded to the 5th station and enjoyed a panoramic view of the mountain. It’s incomparably breathtaking with its beauty laced with snow, which further heightened our surreal experience. From Mt. Fuji, we drove all the way to the picturesque Hakone where we had lunch and experienced the Sky Gondola all the way up to Owakudani Valley. It’s an ancient crater where we smelled sulfurous fume and saw clouds of steam rose from crevasses. Before we headed back to Tokyo, we also had the chance to try the pirate boat cruise on Lake Ashi. We were extremely ecstatic about our Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo. We saw the bullet train coming and it was spine-tingling. In less than 30 minutes, we found ourselves back in the heart of Tokyo.
DAY 3: Our young hearts and adventurous spirits led us to Tokyo Disneyland on the third day. Gargantuan does not always mean the best but by theme park standards, Tokyo Disneyland is an understated giant and a tribute to Japan’s heritage and technology. It offers a one-of-a-kind experience of fun and entertainment. It uses the wonders of cutting-edge technological advances that add a whole new dimension to the world of entertainment, much to our delight.
We specifically liked the night time Electrical Parade Dreamlights wherein well-loved Disney characters were covered in colorful sparkling lights. With themed lands offering diverse attractions, Tokyo Disneyland is a high level of entertainment in a class of its own.
DAY 4: On our fourth day, Shinjuku awaited us beyond our magical realm. Shopping is a stone’s throw away, with myriad of shops, boutiques and stalls right around the corner. Offering an integrated shopping experience, this part of Tokyo offers a host of leisure activities to cater to all whims and fancies. It maybe frenzied but it’s powerful enough to turn a casual traveler into a city lover. Our eyes became bare witnesses of how Shinjuku pushes the limits of possibilities on an earthquake-prone land. It’s an ever-growing area that prides itself on constant renewal and reinvention.
Last week of March to first week of April is considered to be the busiest season in Tokyo. During this spring time, sprawling parks and gardens with blooming cherry trees compete for one’s eyes and attention. This was our main reason for visiting Tokyo at this time of the year- to catch the beautiful cherry blossoms or locally known as sakura.
We went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and got mesmerized by the quaint white and pink cherry trees that left us spellbound. The beauty of the sakura lies in the brevity of their blossoming, not as the conventional symbol of Japan but as an expression of the presence of time, a reminder that life is beautiful but short.
With everything almost perfect, it’s no wonder Tokyo has already etched a mark in the global scene as a choice destination for discerning travelers. Indeed, time flies when you’re having fun and goes even faster when you spend some time traveling. Travel is not just about the physical journey; it is more of self-discovery and endless possibilities. After four days of grand adventures and sightseeing, our visit to Tokyo has come to a close but we will definitely be back.
Time check: 3:45PM. We’re back in Manila.