The Possibility of Endless Fascination


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November 25th 2018
Published: November 30th 2018
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Moon Over Tokyo Moon Over Tokyo Moon Over Tokyo

This was the scene that greeted me as I exited the monorail to transfer to the Tokyo subway at Daimon station.
If you followed my Midlife Crisis Flashpacking Trip series, you may recall that that trip had a couple of false endings while I sorted out terms of employment with a potential (and now my current) employer. I’ve been at my new job for over six months now. Because I had a number of use-it-or-lose-it days off, I decided to visit family and friends in Singapore during Thanksgiving week. When I booked my flights, I chose an option with a 16 hour layover in Tokyo, one of my favorite cities. As this was my eighth time in Tokyo (three visits + five long (12+ hours) layovers), I didn’t have a specific list of sights I wanted to see other than a vague plan to eat breakfast at Tsukiji after landing, and then look for fall foliage.


Tsukiji: A Shadow of its Former Self




I landed at Haneda Airport just before 6am, cleared immigration, topped up my Suica card, hopped onto the monorail, and switched over to the subway to get to Tsukiji. As I walked through the subway station, a worker who was cleaning the hand rails stood up, bowed, and greeted me with ohio gosai mas. You just have to love
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My chirashi bowl for breakfast at Sushi Zanmai.
the service culture in Japan.

The Tsukiji Inner Market - which includes the wholesalers and the world famous tuna auction, recently moved to another location, but the Outer Market remained at Tsukiji. I was curious to see how this has impacted the stall holders in the Outer Market. The answer was obvious as soon as I approached on foot: the Outer Market was a shadow of its former self. Many stalls were not open or were only just opening when I arrived at 7.20am, and the formerly dense crowds were thin. This would have been a perfect time to visit one of the famous sushi restaurants like Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi, but they were closed as it was a Sunday. Drats. Anyway, I walked around, assessed which stalls were open, and then selected one of the Sushi Zanmai branches which I had never eaten at in the past because there was always a long queue to enter. This branch was full of Japanese people, so I felt good about my choice. I opted for a reasonably priced 1,500 yen chirashi bowl, which came piled high with different types of seafood. It was pretty good but not the best
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One of the boats made of vegetables.
I’ve had. After this, I wandered around for a bit, ate a blowtorched Hokkaido awaebi (abalone) and a boiled snow crab leg from two street vendors. The crab leg was very tasty but priced steeply at 1,500 yen. I also visited the shrine at Tsukiji and saw evidence of a temple celebration as there were what I assumed to be offerings scattered all over the shrine as well as a vendor selling the offerings. While there, I witnessed a small group of devotees purchasing offerings and chanting as they proffered their gifts.


Desperately Seeking Fall Foliage




After eating my fill, I retrieved my backpack from the coin locker where I deposited it, and made my way to Shinjuku station which I decided would be my base for the rest of the day. Reaching Shinjuku, I found a coin locker exactly where I needed to board my train that evening for Narita, deposited my backpack there, and then headed towards Harajuku.

Back in 2010, Jeff and I wandered around Harajuku enjoying the kids in cosplay costumes and the girls in goth and lolita garb. As this was Sunday, I wondered if Cosplay Sunday was still a thing. Unfortunately, the
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View of the Shinjuku skyscrapers from the Government Building viewing gallery.
fad appears to have died down. I sat down for a coffee at Tully’s and plotted my next move. I decided to walk over to the nearby Meiji Shrine to see fall foliage on the grounds. I had already been to the Meiji Shrine in the past. Sadly (for me), the trees were mostly still green. Nevertheless, I had a enjoyable few hours strolling the peaceful grounds. Visiting the shrine itself, it again looked as if I had missed a major temple celebration; there was an impressive display of produce that devotees had given as offerings, and a pretty display of chrysanthemum. There were also two “boats” made up of vegetables. I couldn’t extract any more detail from the displays, though.

After this initial disappointment, I thought maybe Shinjuku Gyoen might have better fall foliage. I decided to make my way there on foot. En route, I started thinking that it looked like a clear day by Tokyo standards. During prior visits, I’d paid good money to visit the viewing platforms at Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and Mori Tower, only to be a tad bit disappointed that my views of the far horizon were obstructed by haze. I realized that the free
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Fall foliage at the lake.
viewing platform at the Shinjuku Government Office was on the way to the gardens, so I made a short diversion and found that the 45th floor observatory was open. I joined the queue and started getting my hopes up that I might be able to see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed as soon as I stepped out of the elevator - it was hazy; I had been deceived by the blue skies at ground level. Nevertheless, I still had an enjoyable time surveying the Tokyo megalopolis from yet another vantage point.

The fall foliage at Shinjuku Gyoen looked promising from the observatory, so I made my way there. The gardens were pretty and there was a little more fall foliage than at the Meiji Shrine. I had an enjoyable couple of hours strolling the grounds and observing the locals enjoying their local park.


The Possibility of Endless Fascination




It was past 2pm when I departed the gardens. I wanted some lunch and I thought about a friendly little hole in the wall donburi and noodle shop nearby that I had patronized several times on past trips. I made my way there, collected a ticket
Hanazono ShrineHanazono ShrineHanazono Shrine

Lanterns lit up at night.
from the vending machine for my 650 yen lunch, and happily devoured the value meal handed to me by a cheerful English speaking lady.

I finished my meal at around 3pm and wondered what else I could do as I wasn’t ready to head to Narita Airport. I started wandering aimlessly towards Shinjuku station and then came across crowds and street vendors near the Hanazono Shrine in Kabukicho. Wandering into the crowd, I marveled at the street vendors and saw people carrying the same type of offerings that I had seen earlier that morning at Tsukiji. I turned right towards the shrine and saw even more people and vendors. At the shrine itself, there were many stalls selling the offerings, and a long line of devotees waiting to go to the shrine, presumably to pay their respects. Now, I don’t speak the language, I didn’t know what the heck was going on, but I still reveled in this amazing display of local color and culture. This is what travel is all about: the possibility of endless fascination. Independent travel can be tedious at times, but the effort can really pay off when one encounters gems such as these.
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Trendy pup.

After observing the temple celebration, I still wasn’t ready to head to Narita, so I decided to visit the same onsen I visited last September which, incidentally, was right next to the Hanazono Shrine. I spent a very enjoyable 1.5 hours soaking in the various pools, and then decided to enjoy a different perspective of the temple festival after sundown. The celebration was even more spectacular by night with lighted lanterns.

After another gander through the temple celebration, I reluctantly made my way to Shinjuku, retrieved my backpack, and took the next train to Narita Airport.


Additional photos below
Photos: 72, Displayed: 27


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Inner Market closed.
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Inner Market closed.
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Empty streets in the Outer Market.
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Empty streets in the Outer Market.
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I photographed this same van last time I was here, which was in March 2018.
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Tuna head.
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My blowtorched awaebi (abalone). Lovely, chewy goodness.
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Scallops (foreground) and other seafood being blowtorched.
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Snow crab legs.
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My pricey 1,500 yen snow crab leg. It was extremely tasty though.
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Offerings at the shrine.
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Offerings at the shrine.
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Path leading to the shrine.


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