Tokyo is a fabulous modern city with huge skyscrapers, a state-of-the-art railway system, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, there are many traditional sites in this megalopolis where you can discover and admire the work of exceptional Japanese craftsmen.
During this visit to Tokyo, I joined one of the programs of the Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi that the city is actually promoting. The Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi is a taxi that will drive you around the city, all day long, through predetermined courses and with guided explanations from an English-speaking driver. The great thing about these tours is their flexibility and the fact that you can tailor them to your liking. For more information about these tours, please have a look at this brochure. By the way, the tour I’m telling you about is the sixth model course on the brochure. To book yours, here’s where you need to go.
I travel alone most of the time but I have to say that I really appreciated the company of an English-speaking guide throughout the day. In addition to the useful information on the places we visited, I was able to make a few stops that weren’t on the program to visit other places I wanted to see. If you book a taxi with a group of people, the price per person won’t be too expensive.
The taxi picked me up at my hotel and drove me to the first attraction on the program, the Shunkaen Bonsai museum.
When I read “museum” on the program, I expected a conventional building. But the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum is an open-air museum and it looks more like a big garden. There you will find some incredible bonsai trees that look more like natural sculptures than ordinary trees. Those shapes are incredibly soothing to look at.
If you think you could use some of them in your living room, you’re going to have to put some money into it because the most expensive ones can cost 100 million yen or a little less than a million dollars!
But if you absolutely want to have a bonsai at home, why not grow it yourself? That’s what’s so great about the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum. You can join introductory courses where you can learn the basics of growing a bonsai tree from home.
For example, you can learn how to “wire” the tree so that the bonsai takes the shape you want and so that the branches grow in the direction you choose. Growing a bonsai isn’t just about technique, there’s also an artistic element to it.
I must admit that even if I wasn’t a fan of bonsai at the beginning, all I wanted to do when I left the museum was to start mine as soon as possible. I was also offered this book in French and this nice little pot, so I have no more excuses! 🙂
Let’s get back in the taxi and drive to Asakusa! Before we get there, we stop to take some pictures of the great Skytree. You can see why it’s called that way! This tower is 634 meters high which makes it the tallest tower in Japan and the second tallest in the world after the famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Asakusa is the traditional district in Tokyo and home to the oldest temple in the city, Sensoji. We had a first look at it from the 8th floor of the Tourist Center (exact location here). Then we entered the temple through the famous Thunder Gate, the Kaminarimon.
What’s most remarkable about that gate is probably its central lantern which is more than 4 meters high and weighs over 1500 pounds! This lantern was donated by Panasonic in 2013. We are going to build our own lantern later on and I’ll tell you more about it later. Let’s continue our tour of the temple!
After crossing the Kaminarimon, you will walk along a street full of shops selling souvenirs and Japanese culinary specialties such as mochi, dango or senbeï. The story goes that once you reach the end of this street, you will have gained at least 4 pounds. 😀
We then get to the main buildings of the temple with the beautiful 5-storey pagoda that we could see in the distance.
Once at the main temple, you will see the legendary dragon fountain on the right used as an ablution vessel and the incense burner in the center.
Tradition has it that you need to plunge headfirst into the incense fumes to purify your body.
Instead of visiting the Asakusa district on foot, how about doing it in the Edo style? You can tour the neighborhood in a rickshaw pulled by a young man dressed in a traditional outfit with ninja shoes called tabi. The experience was really fun but it is not always available so make sure to book in advance.
Instead of buying a souvenir in a store, why not make it yourself? You can make your own customizable lantern in Asakusa, I have to say I loved making mine! You start by choosing the type of paper you want to use. They come from different parts of Japan as you can see on the map above.
Then you will be provided with pencils, markers and also stamps to decorate your lantern the way you want it. I decided to draw the dream kanji on mine because my dreams led me to create this blog. 🙂 By the way, I always encourage you to follow your dreams, no matter how crazy they seem. With courage and a good dose of determination, they always come true. 😉
After a few doodles and scribbles, I draw the kanji on the lantern sheet and find it less difficult than I thought.
I spent a wonderful day in Tokyo discovering Japanese crafts. This tour will take you to some of Tokyo’s must-see attractions while teaching you more about traditional Japanese culture.
If you’re into manga culture, then choose this otaku tour!
See you around for more travel tips on your upcoming trips to Japan. 🙂