Exploring Tokyo with Tokyo Greeters

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I’ve written a bit about my time Hong Kong, but I haven’t written about Tokyo, Japan. It’s been two months since I got back from the biggest city in Japan (and the world). I still don’t know how to describe my experience in Tokyo, but I want to start by writing about my experience with Tokyo Greeters.

Truth time. My start in Tokyo wasn’t the best. When I got into Haneda Airport at night (not the best time to arrive in a new city) my phone battery had died (bad planning on my part). I was tired, and I got lost taking the subway. During my trip, it was cold and rainy which put a damper (haha) on a few things I wanted to do. Despite the less than ideal start, I did find my hotel. The next morning I went on a tour with Tokyo Greeters.

What is Tokyo Greeters?

Tokyo Greeters is part of The Global Greeter Network. These programs allow you to connect with a local in various cities around the world. If you’re travelling to a destination on the Global Greeter Network, you fill out information about when you’ll be there, and what types of subjects interest you. Then (depending upon availability) you’ll be matched with a local who will take you on a tour of the city you’re visiting. It’s a free and unique way to connect with the local community and to learn about a new destination.

After filling out the contact form, I was matched with a lovely lady named Noriko. I said I was interested in culture and art, and Noriko met me at my hotel on my first morning in Tokyo. While I only expected a short tour of maybe an hour or two, we spent the afternoon exploring several places in Tokyo with Tokyo Greeters. Here is just some of what we saw.

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center

We started our Tokyo Greeters tour by exploring Asakusa (not to be confused with Akasaka), which was the neighbourhood where I was staying. After a 5-minute bus ride, we went to the Asakusa Cultural Information Visitor Center. It’s located across the street from the Sensoji Temple. The real highlight is up on the 8th floor where there is a free viewing platform.

Tokyo Skytree from Asakusa Tower

Tokyo Skytree from Asakusa Tower. The Tokyo Skytree from the free viewing platform at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. You can also see the Akashi Brewery Headquarters (that’s the gold building and the one next to it with the golden flame on top).

View from Asakusa Tower in Tokyo.

View of the Sensoji Temple and the crowds from the Asakusa Cultural Information Center.

Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine

Next, we went to the Sensoji Temple. This is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Tokyo. It’s located in Asakusa and has several shops and stalls along the way selling souvenirs and food. The temple itself is one of the most popular in Japan and was rather busy (see the previous aerial shot of the crowds).

Treats for sale outside the temple.

Treats for sale outside the temple.

100 Yen Fortune in Tokyo.

Outside the Sensoji Temple are these stands where you can get your fortune (Omikuji). You put in a 100 yen coin (about $1.17), shake the metal container and pray for good luck. A stick comes out with a number that matches one of the drawers and inside is a paper with your fortune (an English translation is available). If it’s good you’re supposed to take it with you, and if it’s bad you tie the paper to a nearby metal stand so it won’t follow you home.

People inside Sensoji Temple in Tokyo.

People inside Sensoji Temple.

Outside Sensoji Temple in Tokyo.

Outside Sensoji Temple in Tokyo.

Next to Sensoji Temple is the Asakusa Shrine. This is a Shinto Shrine (Shinto being the other major religion in Japan). Here we came across a chozuya, a fountain used for purifying oneself before going into a Buddhist Temple or Shinto Shrine. Noriko showed me how to use the fountain to purify yourself before going into the temple. This proved handy to know for later on too.

Asakusa Shrine Statue.

Outside the Asakusa Shrine. I didn’t take photos of the shrine itself or the fountain, mostly because people were using it and doing their thing and I didn’t want to be disrespectful.

Buddhist Ceremony at Fukagawa Fudo-do

We took the subway to Fukagawa Fudo-do, a Buddhist Temple based on the Shingon sect of Buddhism. We got to see the Goma Rite where the Buddhist monks do a ceremony involving drumming, chanting, and burning wood for the deity Fudo-myoo, the angry/determined Buddha. The service was about 30 minutes and was very interesting to watch. Had I not taken this Tokyo Greeters tour I would have never known about this temple, and I wouldn’t have thought to go to the ceremony. After we wandered around the temple. There was one room that had thousands of small statues of Fudo-son like those glass hologram souvenir statues you can buy. They were backlit by neon lights and looked pretty cool. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed.

Sumo Museum and Edo Tokyo Museum

At this time it was starting to rain, so we got on the subway to see some indoor attractions. First up was the small (and free) Sumo Museum. It goes through the history of Sumo, the national sport in Japan.

Sumo Museum Tokyo

PHOTO: Sumo Museum in Tokyo. Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside. The museum is free to enter, except during sumo tournaments when it’s only open to ticket holders.

Next, we went to the nearby Edo Tokyo Museum. It shows the history of Tokyo during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), as well as after the Edo period to today. A lot of buildings from the Edo period were made of wood and were destroyed over the years due to fires. The Edo-Tokyo Museum does a great job of showing miniature representations of what Tokyo would have looked like.

Miniature at Edo Tokyo Museum

Miniature of what Tokyo looked like during the Edo Period.

Miniature Kabuki Stage.

A replica of a Kabuki Theatre stage at the Edo Tokyo Museum.

Miniature Denkikan Replica at the Edo Tokyo Museum.

PHOTO: A replica of Denkikan, the first movie theatre in Japan. It closed in the 1970s.

After going through the museum we went to the museum cafe for lunch, and Noriko was kind to treat me to a delicious bento meal. Noriko gave me some beautiful art postcards, and we got our photo taken by one of the waitresses at the cafe. When we were finished with our meal, we took the subway back to the Sensoji Temple and said our goodbyes.

Things You Should Know
I loved my experience with Tokyo Greeter. Noriko was kind, gracious, and showed me a lot of Tokyo I wouldn’t have thought to (or known to) explore. If you’re looking to take a tour with a Global Greeter be sure to fill in a request online with the Global Greeter Network in advance of your trip.
The Global Greeter Network uses local residents to show travellers various parts of their cities. Your experiences with this program may be different than mine. While the tour was free, I later made a donation to the program because of my experience. I was not asked to write about my experience. All opinions in this post are my own.
Admission to all of the attractions mentioned in this post is free, with the except of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which costs 600 Yen. If you want to get your fortune at the Asakusa Temple, it is 100 Yen.
While in Tokyo I stayed at the Business Hotel Fukadaya in the Asakusa neighbourhood. This is a great budget hotel (that’s more like a guest house). I had a single private Japanese style room (with tatami mats) with a mini fridge. There is a shared bathroom, private showers, a male-only onsen, and a female-only onsen. I paid about $26US/night for my room. The hotel is in a quiet local neighbourhood but is within a short walk of the Minami Senju Station. I paid for my own stay here and would recommend this hotel if you want a private room affordable room in Tokyo.

Have you been to Tokyo?

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