As David likes to describe it, after 15 days on a ship, we’re like a couple of baby birds kicked out of the nest when we land: What?! We have to figure out where to eat on our own?? Kind of pathetic. Despite the initial adjustment, we were more than ready for some time ashore on our own. Cruises are fun, but it was time to dig in a bit deeper.
We lucked into sunny skies our first day in Tokyo, the only real weather problem being a bit too much heat and a haze that made tower viewing of Mt. Fuji a nonstarter. We spent the first night onboard, so only baby steps required: taking a train from Shinagawa station (the station nearest the industrial port where the ship berthed the first night before moving to the nicer Yokohama cruise port). The ship shuttled us to Shinagawa, so all we had to do was catch a train to Tokyo Station. Easy, right?…Except for the total lack of English on the signage. Thankfully, helpful young ladies in uniform are stationed throughout area train stations and we were soon on our way.
After wandering the gardens of the Imperial Palace, we walked to Hama-Rikyu Park, a place I remembered mostly for its old duck hunting blinds…and the water bus to Asakusa, the real reason to go for me. For around $6 apiece, we caught the water bus for a 40-minute ride along the river to the charming old Asakusa district with its temples and narrow, crowded roads. The water bus has both an air conditioned interior and an open, covered interior deck (with tinted transparent roof, so you can see up). There’s also an air conditioned toilet. An audio guide is broadcast in both Japanese and English as you glide under bridge after bridge, taking in the changing cityscape; it really is one of the best deals in Tokyo.
Asakusa is big fun. Lots of locals rent kimono to wander the old temples and vending stalls, adding much to the scenery themselves. I get a particular kick out of the young couples, out on a date in their traditional clothes, selfie-sticks at the ready and the family groups with everyone down to a toddler in the stroller decked out. We came upon two weddings: one bride in a gorgeous red kimono and the other in a traditional Shinto white kimono and headdress. David was shoulder-to-shoulder with the official photographer, but no one seemed to mind.
We joined a line for a small restaurant with no idea what they served. David confirmed the presence of air conditioning inside and it smelled good, so we went for it. We ended up with overpriced–an Asakusa hazard–tempura prawns with a large tempura bay shrimp patty in a bowl of rice with cold beer. The tempura suffered from a lid placed on top so that steam robbed it of crispness. Not great, but a pretty darned enjoyable break after much walking in the heat.
After the technology and skyscrapers of modern Tokyo, Asakusa provides a wonderful contrast of Old Tokyo: temples and shrines, the smell of incense and street food, the flash of kimonos among the throngs, shaven-headed monks and rickshaw drivers running with amazing stamina. I wouldn’t miss it!