Japan Trip, Day 2, Part 4: Imperial Palace and Sumida River Cruise

I know it’s been a while, and you’d probably given up on me actually finishing the narrative of our trip to Tokyo in May. Even though some of the freshness of the moment has faded, I do want to document the rest of what happened in Japan. You might want to review the previous entries to get yourself back up to speed on our trip so far.

Day 2 in Japan was the Dynamic Tokyo Tour; so far, we’d visited the Tokyo Tower, participated in a group tea ceremony, seen 500-year-old bonsai trees, and had a Japanese BBQ lunch. Next on the agenda was a visit to the Imperial Palace grounds…

The actual Imperial Palace is only open to visitors twice a year: once on the Emperor’s Birthday, and once on New Year’s. We were planning to walk around the grounds and the gardens.

During the bus ride to the palace grounds, our tour guide Junko pointed out the old palace wall from centuries past, and the original moat around the wall. Apparently, the wall has stayed intact through earthquakes and bombings by virtue of its unique structure and craftsmanship. Like other earthquake-proof structures, it can shift and move without losing cohesion and without buckling.

The weather had been drizzly and damp and overcast ever since lunch. As we were approaching the palace gardens, though, the skies opened up and a downpour commenced. The bus parked beside a cafe and other touristy peddler shops, and Junko asked who was going to walk with her to the palace grounds.

No one moved.

“You’re paying for this,” she reminded us. “No one wants to go see the palace?”

No one had an umbrella. The cafe apparently didn’t sell umbrellas, either. We’d all rather just hang out here, thanks. We ended up all going into the cafe and seeing what kinds of kitschy trinkets they sold there.

After a few minutes, the rain let up and the sun came out. At that point, we all walked over to where the samurai statue stood, and got some pictures and looked at the tourist booth that was set up beside it.

Samurai Statue, Imperial Palace

In Japan, all the tourist traps have their own personalized Hello Kitty wares. The Imperial Palace had Hello Kitty dressed up in samurai garb. I wish I’d thought to take a picture of it, but I didn’t, and we didn’t buy the Hello Kitty Samurai face towel. Just imagine something kind of like this (almost), but on a small towel.

Once our time at the palace grounds was over, we headed to the Port of Tokyo for our cruise up the Sumida River. Due to the day’s rains, we weren’t allowed to sit on the open upper deck of the boat; since the river was running high, anyone seated on the upper deck would have run the risk of being clocked in the head by a low bridge. Our choices for seating were the enclosed main deck, or the open aft deck. Nearly the entire contingent of our tour packed onto the benches surrounding the aft deck.

On the Sumida River Cruise

We passed under thirteen bridges on our trip up the Sumida River, including the Shin-ohashi (new chopstick?) Bridge:

Shin-ohashi Bridge

We also passed the Asahi Building:

Asahi Building, Asakusa

The building on the left is supposed to look like a giant glass of beer (biiru desu, ne?). The building in the middle is supposed to be sporting a golden flame. Unfortunately, when the building was erected, the flame wouldn’t stay upright, so the architects compromised and put it sideways. Even Junko said that the golden flame has been nicknamed with several rude names depicting bodily functions.

At the end of our cruise, we were given half an hour to wander around Asakusa; knowing we’d be back later in our trip, though, we made our own preliminary Asakusa agenda.

But more on that later…

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