We wanted to get a little bit more of the history behind Japan as a nation and the rapid modernization of Tokyo while we were here. After considering different museum options, we decided that the Edo Tokyo Museum would be a good place to check out. We first stopped by Tokyu Foodshow in the basement of Shibuya station and again selected an assortment of Andersen breads (as we had most days in Tokyo) for breakfast on the way to the Ryogoku district where the museum is located.
The Edo Tokyo Museum was a great experience, we opted to use the audio guide headset rather than an English-speaking guide; both are available at no cost but we thought the headset would be a better option so that we could go at our own pace (which was very slow). You should collect the headset when you purchase tickets if you choose to go this route, we weren’t aware of this so we went up to start viewing exhibits then determined we’d like the audio guide and spent about 30 minutes running around trying to figure out where to get them and how to get them working. There are plenty of English descriptions on the displays in addition to what you receive on the audio guide. We roamed the exhibits for 5 hours starting with the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early 17th century through fiery destructions of their paper made buildings, a city-wrecking Great Kanto earthquake and utter obliteration of Tokyo through firebombing during World War II. We learned about the expansion of Japanese public transportation, which is the best in the world, as well as their government led embrace of Western culture with a balance of their own tradition. Ideally, we would have visited the museum on one of our first days in town, but it was certainly time well spent and we would recommend the experience to anyone visiting Tokyo!
Ryogoku is the ward where the sumo stadium is located. There is a craft beer establishment called Popeye’s in this neighborhood which we visited on our previous Tokyo trip, we had been lucky enough to enjoy a televised sumo match with a Japanese couple next to us at the bar – we were high-fiving, belly-bumping and mimicking the large wrestlers. We didn’t make it to Popeye’s on this trip and unfortunately the sumo matches are held in alternating months January, March, May, July, September, November; while we were visiting in February. We hope to catch a live sumo match at the stadium on a future visit, but we were able to pass through the small sumo museum outside of the stadium since it is near the Edo Tokyo Museum. You can see hand-prints of the famous wrestlers and see how your own hand or foot matches up. The sumo museum is free entry and we only stayed for 5 minutes total so it’s easy to pop in and out.
We read about a lovely park just down the street from the Sumo Museum and Edo Tokyo Museum called Kyu-Yasuda Garden. The sign said open until 5PM but at 4:30PM the gate was closed and the alternate entrance was far on the other side so we did not make it in, but it sounds like it would be a worthwhile stop if you find yourself in the area. We were pretty hungry by now so we took the train to Shinjuku to find an udon shop. Udon Shin has many udon dishes to choose from including cold or hot, in broth or dry with a dipping sauce. We both got hot soups since it was a chilly day, one with brisket and tempura burdock root and one with no meat and tempura veggies. The udon was really tasty and warming. The shop was small only seating about 7 people at the bar and 4 tables which could hold 2-4 patrons each; there was no wait when we arrived at 5, but there was a line by the time we left.
Udon Shin got us to wander further into Shinjuku than we had before and it seemed like a different, more reserved version of the district that we were happy to have seen. Afterward we went back to our Shibuya apartment to relax before intending to check out the Ginza cocktail scene that we’d read so much about. Unfortunately, soon after we got home we got sick and sleepy and decided to just stay in the apartment this evening.
Last morning in Tokyo!
We woke up on our last morning in Japan, we had a 3PM flight from Narita so we intended to have a leisurely morning around Shibuya picking up some souvenirs and enjoying one last Japanese meal. Our apartment was right next door to the flagship Tokyu Hands department store so we went in hoping to score some good finds. This store is very neat, you can find almost anything you need – forgotten toiletries (wish I’d known sooner), a walking around backpack, stationary, party supplies, etc. Amanda had fun walking around the beauty department trying the different Japanese hand creams, perfumes, hair sprays, etc. This was our one stop shop for souvenir gifts, we selected some sake sets, hand creams and stationary sets to bring back with us.
As we were finishing up at Tokyu Hands, we started thinking that what we really wanted for our last meal in Japan was the Asakusa standing sushi bar, Hinatomaru, which we visited on Day 6 of our trip. So we rushed back to the apartment and packed our suitcases, praying everything would fit as nicely on the return as it had on the way in – we had packed in a carry-on suitcase and backpack each, that’s it, for 10 days including ski clothes. The small baggage was an excellent help when navigating subway platforms, bus rides, stair wells and the Shibuya Shuffle intersection; so we would make the effort to pack this lightly again on a future trip. Our bags were packed with just enough time remaining to take the train across the city to Asakusa. We rolled our suitcases into the sushi bar and parked them by the wall, grabbed a spot at the standing counter and ordered up 3 kinds of tuna, salmon, whitefish, snapper, salmon again, and 3 kinds of tuna again (this is one spot where we were comfortable enough to order just our favorites – tuna and salmon). This meal was spot on, everything you want from sushi – a friendly and attentive chef, a fresh selection, and ability to choose your favorite pieces at your own pace; a perfect last meal in Japan.
After Hinatomaru in Asakusa, we took the Skyliner train to the airport and spent the last of our Japanese money on matcha ice cream bars as we waited to board our flight. We absolutely love Japan and plan to visit again soon, see next post for our recap and travel recommendations.