Things to Do in Kanto
Even if you don't have a burning interest in Japanese architecture this open air museum of restored Meiji period buildings is a fun and offbeat way to spend an afternoon.
The buildings, spread out over many acres of parkland, are all authentic historical buildings either relocated or reconstructed from various places in Japan. This is one of the only places to see buildings of this style as most have been destroyed by redevelopment and earthquakes. There are middle class homes, bathhouses, working shops and restaurants, even the former residence of a prime minister. It's possible to explore both the inside and outside of many of the buildings, which are full of historical artifacts. The effect is surreal. Film buffs may find some of the buildings look familiar; Hayao Miyazaki visited here for inspiration when making the famous film Spirited Away.
Monjya Street is situated on the man-made island of Tsukishima and is the main hub for monjayaki restaurants in Tokyo. Here, over 70 of these restaurants jostle for attention, coming up with unique flavors for their monjayaki (a type of crispy pancake with various savory fillings). The monjayaki is served uncooked in most cases, and hungry diners must first cook their food using a grill at their table before enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Some of the restaurants only specialize in monjayaki, while others also sell other food items, such as yakisoba. Aside from the food, Tsukishima has some beautiful scenery and is a fascinating mix of the ancient and the modern, making it one of Tokyo’s most interesting neighborhoods.
The Fuji Five Lakes are a group of lakes situated at the northern base of the majestic Mount Fuji, around 100 kilometers west of Tokyo. These lakes are Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji, Lake Sai, Lake Kawaguchi, and Lake Yamanaka. Along with its incredible scenery, the area offers ample opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing. It also features hot springs, museums, and even one of Japan's largest and most popular amusement parks, Fuji-Q Highland. Lake Kawaguchi is easily accessed and offers a wealth of things for visitors to see and do. It’s also a great starting point for climbing Mount Fuji for those inclined to do so, and also popular with Tokyo locals escaping the heat and pace of the city, particularly during the summer. The largest lake is Yamanaka, while perhaps the most picturesque is the horseshoe-shaped Shōji. Elsewhere, Sai and Motosu are great spots to set up camp and enjoy water-based activities such as boating and fishing.
Located just north of the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo, Kitanomaru Park was once the site of the northernmost section of Edo Castle, where members of the Tokugawa clan lived. In 1969 in celebration of Emperor Showa’s 60th birthday, the area was opened to the public as a woodland park.
Today, Kitanomaru Park is home to the Science Museum, National Museum of Modern Art and Nippon Budokan indoor arena, as well as two castle gates now designated as national important cultural assets. Tayasu-mon gate at the northern end of the park was erected in 1636, making it the oldest gate remaining in the Edo Castle complex. In springtime, the 330 trees lining the castle moat passing through the park burst with cherry blossoms; it’s one of Tokyo’s most popular sites for hanami, the Japanese custom of enjoying the annual blossom display.
Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo’s largest park, opened in 1989 on Tokyo Bay, a beautiful area that overlooks the water and the city beyond. Built on reclaimed land, the park was developed with conservation and preservation in mind.
The Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel is by far the park’s most famous site, an iconic behemoth that sits 383 feet (117 meters) tall. Any trip to the park is incomplete without the 17-minute ride on the famous structure, as the views from the top encompass all of Tokyo and the surrounding areas, including Mt Fuji on a clear day.
Also on site is the Tokyo Sealife Aquarium, which features an all-glass dome that transports visitors straight into the sea with fish and other aquatic life swimming above, around and below them. There is also the Sea Bird Sanctuary, an outdoor preserve that takes up nearly one-third of the park.
Tokyo City View Observation Deck may be the sleekest of the city's many observation centers. You can find it on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, which is the centerpiece of the new and modern Roppongi Hills building complex. The Sky Gallery is a 360 degree panoramic observation room split into three separate sections. Gallery 1 offers a view of Tokyo Tower and Odaiba, Gallery Two showcases Yokohama and Mount Fuji and Gallery 3 overlooks Sibuya and Shinjuku. The cost of admission allows you to enter all three. For an extra fee it's possible to visit the Sky Deck, an even higher open air rooftop observation center.
Also included in the price of admission is entry to the adjacent modern art museum which spotlights a rotating series of exhibitions. If you have more money to spend there is a planetarium show as well as several bars and restaurants.
If you are looking for love, make your way to Tokyo Daijingu Shrine. Two sun goddesses and three gods of creation and growth are enshrined here. Together, these deities are known to play matchmaker. Famous, too, for serving as the location for the first traditional Shinto wedding ceremony, Tokyo Daijingu is believed to bless marriages. On weekends, Tokyoites and Japanese from all over the region line up here to worship and ask the deities for blessing in love and marriage.
Tokyo Daijingu Shrine was founded in 1880 in the resemblance of the famous Ise Jingo Shrine located in Mie Prefecture. The original Ise Jingo was a famous pilgrimage for Shinto Japanese in the 17th century. Today, still, many make the pilgrimage to this famous shrine. Emperor Meiji deigned the creation of Tokyo Daijingu to facilitate worship of the enshrined deities without making the long trip to Mie. Today, Tokyo Daijingu remains one of the five great shrines of Tokyo.
Located in the Kichijoji neighborhood of Tokho, Inokashira Park (more specifically the pond found within) was the first water source for Edo (now Tokyo) until a new water supply system was completed in 1898. The public park was established in 1917 and today is one of the city’s most popular and lively green spaces.
The long Inokashira Pond stretches east to west through the park, and tree-lined paths meander around it. Locals and visitors come to the park to picnic in the shade, rent paddle boats for a trip around the pond, feed the ducks or visit one of the park’s bigger attractions, a small zoo or the Ghibli Museum. On the weekends, local artists are often seen selling their wares while buskers perform for tips throughout the park. During spring, some 250 cherry trees surrounding the pond provide a stunning display of blossoms.
More Things to Do in Kanto
Happo-en means "beautiful from every angle." When visiting the Happo-en Garden in Tokyo, you’ll see that the name doesn’t even begin to describe this Japanese garden and teahouse.
Take a stroll through tree-lined paths of century old bonsai, cherry, and maple trees. Take in the lush gardens and budding flowers surrounding a tranquil pond. Enjoy a traditional tea-ceremony served by women in elaborate kimonos. Then, enjoy a romantic dinner at Enju or Thrush, one of the two restaurants overlooking the lovely gardens.
Disneyland is to Mickey Mouse what Sanrio Puroland is to Hello Kitty. The indoor theme park on the western edge of Tokyo attracts 1.5 million visitors a year with its attractions, themed rides, restaurants and musicals based around the Sanrio company’s characters. Westerners may only be familiar with Hello Kitty, but Sanrio also came up with Jewelpet, My Melody and Cinnamoroll among others.
Sanrio Puroland opened in 1990 to mixed reviews, but with a boom in Hello Kitty’s popularity, it’s now one of the most popular attractions in Japan. The park’s hypercute highlights include a life-size version of Kitty’s house, a boat ride filled with Sanrio characters and three theaters with daily live stage productions. Most attractions are aimed at a decidedly young demographic, so if you’re traveling with teenagers, you might be better off at Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.
It's not the biggest or most modern baseball stadium in Tokyo, but Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku is worth visiting for it's unique atmosphere and history. Opened in 1926, it's one of the few stadiums still in existence where Babe Ruth played (along with Lou Gehrig on a 1934, 22-game tour of Japan).
Today it's home to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, as well as a popular host of many college match-ups. If you have time, it's an excellent place to watch a game. Because it is rather small nearly every seat is close to the field. Unlike in the US, Japanese baseball is a very rowdy interactive game for fans with organized chants, dancing and cheerleaders. The traditional way fans cheer for the Swallows is to open their umbrellas and sing a song, so be sure to come prepared!
The symbol of the Asakusa neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan, the impressive, large, red Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, gives visitors a grand welcome to Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa Temple). Standing 38 feet tall (11.7 meters), Thunder Gate gets its powerful name from Raijin, the god of thunder, one of the two deities it honors. Four statues guard Thunder Gate: at the front, the Shinto gods of wind and thunder attract the most attention. The other two – a Buddhist god and goddess - rest at the reverse side of the gate. Under Kaminarimon, a giant red lantern draws the eye next. The fragile piece was restored and donated to the temple complex in August 2003 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the start of the Edo period. Kaminarimon’s history dates back to the year 941, when a military commander constructed the now iconic gate. Over the centuries, it has been destroyed by fire at least three times, and has always been rebuilt on the same ground.
This well-curated museum showcases the ancient art of sword making and is home to more than 150 artifacts. Swords, mountings, armor and metal work are beautifully displayed in this tiny Tokyo destination known as Token hakubutsukan by locals.
The four-story structure houses a gallery and bookstore, where items are available for purchase in a variety of languages. Displays offer visitors English translations with details on the design and use of swords, including some that date back more than 900 years.
Seaside Top is the observation deck of the World Trade Center Tokyo, a towering 40 story building. The Hamamatsu-cho subway station exits directly into the building making it easy to exit, pay the ¥620 fee and hop in the elevator.
At the top you'll find a unique view of Tokyo Bay, other skyscrapers like the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky Tree and even Mount Fuji on a good day. Display screens with light up buttons help you to determine exactly what you're looking at. The deck is usually not crowded so you can linger and enjoy the 360 degree views. The night view is considered particularly romantic, but keep in mind that the deck closes at 8:30.
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