So, today was totally on us. Elissa gave us some possible bullet trains time to get us from Nagoya back to Tokyo (quick hour trip). Adam and I decided to take an earlier bullet train to get into the city a bit earlier. Today was definitely one of my favorites. Exploring Tokyo for the very first time was so incredible, because every experience, every sight, EVERYTHING was brand new. I tried to visit totally different areas today than my first free day and I think I succeeded. Read on to see what I did!
Our bullet train dropped us at Tokyo Station, at which point we needed to transfer to a local train to get to our first location. But first, we wanted to take a look at the grandeur of it. I cannot overstate how incredibly large many stations are. It never felt confusing, but wow. It puts NYC to shame in scale.
Yeah, it's a beaut. In some pictures, you can see a little black pack sneaking out from under my shirt. Yeah, I wore a fanny pack of sorts. Needing to carry my passport, JR Rail Pass, Battery Pack, Mofi Wifi charger, cash, it was just easier this way.
If I haven't already explained, I pre-purchased a mobile wifi hot spot. Think I paid about $100 for 20 or so days, which I felt was more than fair. Going through Verizon would have cost me more and this worked for both my work and personal phone (DOUBLE THE BATTERY). It came with it's own portable charging block as well which was nice for these long free days where I was looking stuff up. The device got shipped right to my first hotel and was super easy to pick up and return (included an envelope with instructions and labels and I dropped it off at the airport) Also, this is a man cleaning.
We have arrived at Tokyo Dome City!
LaQua is the shopping and Amusement Park area, I believe. So that was our next stop!
Another thing that is on my definite must do when I return (there just wasn't enough time) is to see a Japanese baseball game. Huge baseball fan. Gives me another reason to return.
Thunder Dolphin in the distance.
And the fancy wheel.
Thunder Dolphin was fun. The 'trick track' was pointless, but cute. It seems like a bit of a short ride, likely because not too much of it is at high, high speeds. But it's an Intamin and is worth checking out if it means a lot to you.
You can just buy individual tickets for it and pick the row you want (nobody was riding when we got there).
Adam and I split up and did our own thing from here on out. But first, I needed a little snack en route to my next stop.
Post shaka shaka.
En route to Ginza for some general exploration, saw that this place was a thing. Figured I would check it out!
This is also a thing. Did not check out.
Ginza is a very upscale shopping district.
Here we are! The store was about four floors, each one separated by a theme of sorts. I know one floor was entirely stuffed animals (mostly bears). Many of which were SUPER expensive. But they did look nice.
A whole bunch of these wooden structures you could build. The ferris wheel did move.
On the top floor, they had this race track that was pretty sweet. I didn't partake, but did see a few folks flying around the tracks.
So, I left there and just started exploring some alleys. As was common and maybe I've mentioned... very often, small businesses would buy out just one floor (small room) of a building for their business. In a way, wouldn't it be nice if in Times Square, there was 4x the number of businesses and some of them were smaller? Reduces the cost of entry for folks wanting to make a buck.
My girlfriend is a creative type, and I discovered that there was an arts supply store that had been open for 101 years and was opened by husband and wife poets. They sold loads of stationary and proprietary paints, pencils, etc. It was neat to stop in and grab a few things. Think there was a gallery and cafe in the basement.
Next up, I visited the Hamarikyu Gardens. Not going to pretend to know the historical significance of the place. But if you are interested... it was originally built as a tidal duck hunting ground when part of it was reclaimed by the Shogun to build an estate in 1654. It was passed down from generation to generation and in 1871, the Japanese Imperial family took ownership of the land until it finally opened to the public in 1946. I had been very interested in visiting a classic Tokyo Garden and this one did not disappoint.
A little map and some more history, probably.
This pine tree is actually 300 years old, which was pretty neat!
What really sealed the deal for me was how quiet it was. At points, I would look all around me and see no one. In the largest metropolitan area of the world, it was remarkable to have moments to yourself.
I walked around for a good while. There are parts of Central Park in NYC that are beautiful, but this park serves a different purpose it seems.
They were actively rebuilding structures that would've been in the gardens back in the day to try which was neat. These guys went inside the building ahead to appreciate their work. Gotta have hard hats, though.
This bridge was originally built by the sixth shogun in 1707 and is the main focal point of the park. It is about the length of a football field and winds across the lake and the reflection of the bridge and the teahouse on the lake was stunning. Had a really nice day too, which helped.
I cannot put into words the beauty of the bridge.
You can get an idea of how the bridge kind of zig zags.
Nakajima Teahouse was my next stop. I knew I wanted to have an 'authentic' Japanese afternoon tea ceremony and this seemed like a great place to do it. The original teahouse was built the same year as the bridge but burned down before being rebuilt in 1788. It burned down again in an air raid during WWII, but was rebuilt again in 1983. I paid about $7 for the experience and was given a cup of matcha and a confection. As you'll see in a bit, there is a specific way to partake, which I tried to adhere to. The tea house had a beautiful patio attached which really gave you a great view of the surrounding gardens and Ginza.
It wasn't much, but the matcha was very tasty. A bit different creamy and a different texture than tea typically is.
The confection was also nice, not super sweet.
I really appreciated having these free days. I ultimately think I would've felt a bit unfulfilled if I had taken this trip without these days. And also, it was nice to not have them just at the beginning or end of the trip. Broke up the parks, a bit.
Got on some higher ground for a moment.
The Gardens run along Tokyo Bay so I walked along for a while.
Just a little bitty vehicle traveling through. There were a bunch of folks situated throughout the park painting, which if I had any talent, would be a cool thing to do..
By this point, I was rather thirsty. I was practically always carrying a drink of some kind around. It was a neat, cheap way for me to experience something new all the time. This is the flagship sports drink in Japan. I am a big fan of it, because it isn't terribly sweet or overpowering in flavor, but it serves the same purpose as a Powerade. A slight grapefruit flavor to it. Just needs a new name.
A unique little gas station, maintenance bay. Real estate is at a premium. Saw VERY few gas stations in big parts of the city. Which I guess is fairly typical.
Did a bit more exploration of Ginza afterwards. Did intend to visit a store called Tokyu Hands while here, as they sell LOADS of things. Lots of good souvenir opportunities. But, time did not really allow as it was a bit of a walk.
Tons of unique building and very narrow, tall stores.
Visited another high end department store. Largely for the food basement, but also just to see. I am fascinated by the retail scene in Japan. It seems entirely justified for a store like this to exist.
Just look at this directory.
On my quest for lunch/dinner now. Will this be the place?
WILL THIS BE THE PLACE? In fact, the alley I walked down and stumbled upon this... the restaurants all seemed to close for about an hour between 3 and 4 PM. Customers who were inside by then would still be able to eat, but no folks could come in.
It was around 3:40 when I stumbled upon this Gyoza joint. Walked in and was politely informed they would re-open at 4:00. I felt a bit weird waiting it out, but I did have an engagement later in the evening and I really wanted gyoza. So I walked around a bit and returned around 4:00.
Tell me this doesn't look delicious.
I ended up initially ordering chicken and mozzarella, curry, and standard pork gyozas. Probably got about 12-16 to start. They were fairly small, but holy cow, delicious. I had some gyoza at Universal City Walk which was also pretty solid (and super cheap). But this was on another level. Ended up ordering some more and had a Whiskey Highball to boot. Probably paid about $15 total, which was legit.
Where to, next? This is near Shinegawa Station, where our first Tokyo Hotel was at...
Wait? Now I am in Odaiab? How did that happen? I don't have a car?
There are a couple of these around the world I think, but was neat to see!
This was in fact just a large mall.
There's a bridge? Did I cross that bridge to get here? With a car? Via rail?
So. Some information here. One of my college friends visited Japan and when I asked him about things I oughta do, the suggestion he made that I was 1000% sold on was MariCAR. Basically, for a fee you can take a 1, 2, or 3 hour trip all over Tokyo (or Osaka). They depart from various hubs around the city and follow similar itineraries. If you are interested in doing this, some things you oughta know. It's about $100 for 3 hours, and $60 for 1 hour. Just do the 3 hour trip. It is worth it. The difference between the 2 and 3 hour trip departing from Shinegawa was the inclusion of Rainbow Bridge (I KNOW!) and Odaiba. Basically, we left from the hub and traveled to the bridge, crossed at around 50 mph, flew up an empty garage, parked, explored (in costume) and then went on our way. Also, if you want to participate, you need to get an international driver's license. I was able to get one from AAA for around $20. Seems a bit stupid since there was nothing to it except getting some photos taken and signing some forms. But yeah. I would highly, highly recommend it. I'm not super passionate about Mario Kart or anything, but I love go karts. And these fly. One more note: I didn't do this because I thought it was like a cultural experience. Clearly, this thing is catered to tourists who think a certain way about Japan. But, I just did it because it was fun. I do worry about people abusing the privilege of this experience. This would never happen anywhere else. So I hope folks don't blow it by speeding or getting in accidents (seems to be starting to happen). With that, some pictures!
I would not suggest Yoshi. The hood (my head) was super top heavy and enjoyed falling down which was annoying. But, alas.
We departed in a group of 6. Everyone was clearly tourists from all over.
You might cringe a bit at this all. But honestly, it was a blast and I have no regrets at all. Definitely a top 5 experience on the trip.
Here is the gang! Some in our group purposely grew out a mustache to play as Mario, so I felt an obligation to go a different way.
A common trend during the experience was that locals were fascinated by us, on and off the road. Took some pictures to appease them.
A really neat place, for sure. Back on the road. Where to, now?
The really nice thing was that at every light we would line up in rows of 2 (unless it was a narrow alley, he would call for 1's and he would hop out of his kart and take pictures of all of us. Throughout the trip, you'll see our order change around. Which he purposely did, so everyone got a chance in the front.
We drove single file, right alongside traffic and honestly, I never felt unsafe at all. There were seat belts, but they did not recommend wearing them. If the kart flips, it likely wouldn't be good to be locked in like that anyway.
Cars were quite respectful of us and folks were constantly greeting us. At one red light, a man walked out with a tripod and took our picture, which was funny. We visited Tokyo Tower and got SUPER close to it which was neat as I didn't get around to visiting this area by foot.
We also visited Shibuya (where the busiest pedestrian crossing is located). We actually approached this intersection three times (did some looping around) intentionally so that the guide could have a better chance of getting us stopped right AT the light to get the perfect shot.
The trip had a great mixture of scenic driving and intentionally took us down some narrow alleys and hairpin turns to give everyone a chance to really handle the karts.
It was a perfectly created experience. We got back to the depot when we were done, changed out of our costumes (went straight into a cleaning basket), and then our guide air dropped all of our pictures to our phones right then and there. Super convenient.
Thanks for reading along and dealing with all these pictures. Wanted to give ya'll an idea of how this all worked in case you ever find yourself in Japan. It is well worth the $$ and is something I'll never forget. Plan to do the Osaka version when I return to get a different experience.
Last edited by Taylor Finn on Tue Apr 23, 2019 7:14 am.
Thanks for all the great feedback, guys! I've most enjoyed recounting these free days, to be honest! Did lots of cool things.
SharkTums wrote:^I have added that Gyoza place to my list of places to try next time! Thanks for that!
Remember next time you do the MariCar, you won't be able to dress up in Nintendo clothes but other random outfits instead.
Hmm, yeah after you commented this, I read some of the articles about the company. I think they're doing everything right. Just have some idiots as usual ruining a good thing. It was only a matter of time before the costume thing went away, I guess.
Canobie Coaster wrote:Great report! I think we went to ride Thunder Dolphin latter in the day and since it had a queue, they were assigning seats. Fortunately the sights are enjoyable in every row.
I'm now bummed I missed that Mario Kart tour!
Yeah, it was tricky, because you had to basically commit to it weeks before the trip to get your international drivers license. There's always next time!
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