A weekend abroad.
To many people, myself included, a weekend is a break, a time to relax after the end of a long week. When you’re abroad, however, a weekend becomes so much more. It’s a gift, a golden opportunity to do whatever you want, to go anywhere you feel like. It’s a world of opportunity, the chance to experience everything that being in a foreign country has to offer. Here’s what one weekend in Tokyo looks like.
Japanese tradtional ceremony.
This weekend, I was meeting an old friend of mine, a Japanese foreign exchange student that came to my town years ago. They happened to be coming to the city during my stay, and we planned to spend a couple days seeing the sights around Tokyo. With much to do, Saturday morning I got up at 7:00, and was out the door at 8:00. After riding the subway into the city, I made it to Tokyo Station, the central hub of the transportation network in Japan. Serving over 3,000 trains every day, and home to an extensive underground shopping mall, Tokyo Station is the beating heart of the city.
The dome of Tokyo Station, inspired by the architecture of Amsterdam Station
From here we left for Western Tokyo, where we began the day at Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s premiere Shinto shrine. Built in the honor of Emperor Meiji and his role in the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, the shrine commemorates the lives and accomplishments of the royal couple. Even during Japan’s cold winters, the 175-acre shrine was filled with green trees and life, and although only a few minutes away from the station, was a peaceful getaway from the busy city. The air was cool, the sky clear, and the faraway sound of birds chirping drifted through the woods as we walked through the park.
The entrance to Meiji Jingu
Only minutes away from the busy streets of Tokyo.
The main shrine grounds.
After taking a tour of the shrine and the Meiji Treasure Museum, we left left the park and headed to the nearby Harajuku, the center of youth culture in Tokyo. Wild styles and flashy outfits abound along Takeshita-dori, the main street of the district. Costume shops, fashion boutiques, and all manner of hip and trendy clothing stores lined the long street, and I felt almost claustrophobic amongst the bright colors and dazzling regalia.
The archway above Takeshita-dori
Pink is the flavor of choice here.
We then dropped by Oyasono Temple, a Buddhist temple built in a modern Japanese aesthetic, and stopped for a quick snack, ducking into one of Harajuku’s many sweets shops. I ordered some Maccha ice cream, a favorite of many Tokyoites. Consisting of green tea powder mixed into ice cream, biting into a cone tasted just like a sip of Maccha tea, and served great as a refreshing treat.
It really did taste just like green tea.
From there, we headed to Mitaka, to visit one of Tokyo’s most famous attractions, the Ghibli Museum. Honoring the works of the animation team Studio Ghibli, the museum features exhibits demonstrating the inspirational, creative, and technical process of animation. Once I entered, I couldn’t help but feel like a kid again as I was captivated by the delightful and enchanting exhibits on display. Studio Ghibli is known for transporting you into other worlds with their movies, and this was no exception. The same amount of love and care that goes into each and every one of their works went into the museum, and we spent hours amongst the many floors and galleries, never wanting to leave. But the day grew dark, and it was time for the adventure to come to an end.
A life size model of one of Studio Ghibli’s many characters
The next day, we met at Ueno, a district in northern Tokyo. Known for its large park and many skyscrapers, the name is comprised of two kanji, 上野, meaning upward field. We first visited the Ueno Zoo, featuring the rare Giant Panda on display, as well as the Tokyo National Museum. Housing some of Japan’s most treasured cultural relics, over 17,000 years of rich Japanese history lies within the Museum. From the earthen pottery ware of the early Joumon period, to the masterwork katanas of Japan’s medieval era, the museum offered a diverse and beautiful collection of works from throughout Japan’s long history.
Ukiyo-e (wooden block prints) on display
Everybody loves Zou-san
The Skytree from further away.
After spending the better part of the day exploring Ueno Park, we headed off to Oshiage, to see Tokyo from another angle. The Tokyo Skytree, which I had seen from below but never ventured inside, was our next destination. After exploring the mall for a couple hours beneath the tower, we headed up, to see Tokyo from on high. Reaching 634 meters above the city, the Tokyo Skytree offers an uncompromised 360 degree view of the city. By the time we reached the observation deck, night had fallen. As we looked out, I could hardly believe my eyes. Tokyo laid out before us, filled with the same flashing lights and tall buildings I had seen so many times before, but now looked so small.
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From such of lofty height, I could finally see the massive expanse of the Tokyo for my own eyes, which truly stretched on as far as I could see. Yet from my perspective, it all seemed so insignificant, the city reduced to skyscrapers, billboards, and the faint lights of cars driving on highways. It felt strangely familiar. I found myself looking out to the sea, towards my home. I’d been here for two months, and California seemed so far away. As I looked back down towards the city, I realized that I was looking at Tokyo the same way I looked at my town back home; as a part of my life. Somewhere along the way, Tokyo had gone from a strange, foreign place, to something that felt, well, normal. Like it was home.