Tuesday, 13 May 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Pedal Pushing

During my time living in Vancouver if I haven't been running around it then I've been cycling around it. In my heyday I would clock around 120km per week, and whilst I don't get out as often these days I do love the feeling of cycling around a city.

When visiting a new city one excellent way to see what it has to offer is to take a bike tour. Tokyo has several options for taking a bike tour and after a bit of research I emailed Tokyo Bike Tour to see if I could take part in a 6+ hr ride on my penultimate day. Akio, the friendly owner and knowledgeable tour guide of Tokyo Bike Tour, did a great job showing the local sights during a 7+ hour tour. He was also very responsive to emails that were sent prior to my visit to reserve a spot.

Even though I'd visited Meiji jingū the previous day it was worth another visit, especially now I had a local with me. I was still amazed at how tranquil a spot this was in the middle of a city like Tokyo. After that we headed over to Jingū Gaien, famous for its beautiful row of Gingko trees. In this area you can also see the baseball stadium (thee are two teams) and the old Olympic stadium, which will be knocked down and rebuilt for the 2020 Olympics here in Tokyo.

Aoyama Cemetery is a famous cemetery in Tokyo where the graves of many historical Japanese can be found. It is perhaps more famous as the memorial site of a dog by the name of Hachikō. In 1924, Hachikō was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo. During his owner's life Hachikō saw him off from the front door and greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno didn't return on the usual train one evening. The professor had suffered a stroke at the university that day. He died and never returned to the train station where his friend was waiting. The dog, not realizing the death of his master, kept coming back to the train station for more than ten years hoping that his master would still show up on the same spot where they last met. His master is buried in the cemetery and a memorial for Hachikō is at the same site.

Roppongi Hills is a mega-complex of shops and cafés and an interesting insight, if nothing else, into how some of the rich live or rather shop. There was a pet store exclusively selling cats/kittens and the cheapest one was 300000¥ (about $3200CDN!).

From there we headed to Zojoji Temple, the main temple of the Buddhist Jodo shu (Pure Land) sect. It was badly damaged in World War II, but still retains the air of a major temple. The cathedral and other structures have been rebuilt, and Zojoji continues to serve as the main temple of Jodo shu as well as a training centre. The main hall was a lovely spot to sit and take a moment or two.In one particular garden at the cemetery, rows of stone statues of children represent the unborn children of Japan, including miscarried, aborted and stillborn children. Parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. Usually the statues are accompanied by a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children to ensure that they are brought to the afterlife. It was a touching spot to be.

Whilst at the temple you were afforded a view of Tokyo Tower. To me it looked like the Eiffel Tower minus Parisians and the fact it is painted orange and white to comply with air safety regulations. You can go inside and view the city from observation decks, which I didn't do. The tip of the antenna was damaged on March 2011 as a result of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Siodome is the largest redevelopment area of modern Tokyo (think lots of glass-laden skyscrapers) and a good place to stop for some food. There were great views of Tokyo Bay from the top of the building including an idea of how large Tsukiji fish market is. Admittedly I was disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to visit the market which is the largest fish market in the world handling more than 2000 tons of 450 types of seafood daily. It is also said to be one of the best sushi destinations in the world. Apparently access is no longer permitted to the inner market, and the outer market is open to visitors only after 9:00 AM. The tuna auctions are said to be crazily impressive.

The Imperial Palace is likely one of those sights that, if you were to omit it from your trip, I suspect would make it incomplete. Yet you can only walk/cycle around a certain part of the beautiful grounds on certain days, see the moat, the gate entrance and a couple of bridges that go into the palace since the royal family still lives there. The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor's Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony. You can walk to the Main Gate where you can see the Nijubashi stone bridge and the changing of the guard, which is what I did.

The tour was a wonderful way to get an overview of the city, get a glimpse of many neighbourhoods, and see a lot of the major sites. Several stops along the way give you plenty of time to get photos. The tour starts and ends close to the Metropolitan Government building, in amongst the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, so even if you’re not staying in the area it’s an easy place to get to. I walked there and even had time to grab a Starbucks. The biking was pretty easy, only one real hill at the end to get the circulation going, and along a very safe route. The bikes provided are simple to use and in excellent condition, even the gears worked perfectly. A great way to spend the day and a great company to do it with.

I'd read about a great hang out spot! Weekend Tokyo Garage, from a fluke google search. It was about 10 minutes walk from Shibuya train station in a slightly random location which is best found with the use of Google Maps and GPS on your smartphone. It's got funky decor and really good food. Better yet there was live music with a modern jazz vibe and if that didn't take your fancy they were playing an old Heath Ledger movie, albeit without volume. An excellent way to eat my stir fried noodles on my final night in Tokyo.

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