Sumo and Sky Tree

4 Apr

It was another early start today, as we had signed up for a running tour that started at 8am. We weren’t sure how busy the subway would be at that time on a Saturday, so although we had read that the trip should only take 15 minutes, we. Thought we had better give ourselves at least 30 minutes to get there.

The first dilemma of the day was what to wear. I had originally planned to wear my favourite black running shorts with my SOAS vest, but the weather felt a bit cooler, and I also realised that that outfit only has one small pocket. After some deliberation, I selected my SOAS cycling Jersey as not only does it have short sleeves, but it also had three spacious pockets, with enough room for my essentials: inhaler, packet of tissues, wallet, phone and rain jacket.
When we got to the station, we needed to work out what kind of ticket to buy. We wanted to travel from Ryogoku to Kayabacho, but the stations are on different subway lines that are run by different operators, so we needed to buy a conversion ticket. Fortunately, the subway is very cheap, so it only cost us ¥280 each.
The train was not crowded, but several groups of school children got on – most of them on matching sports kits with the name of the sport (mainly volleyball and tennis) written on their track suits. There were also a few children wearing school uniform. (Later in the day, I asked whether Saturday school is usual, but I was informed that it is usually only children at fee-paying schools who have to go on Saturday mornings.
When we arrived at Kayabacho, the instructions to get to the headquarters of Tokyo Great Cycling Tour were very clear, so it didn’t take us long to walk to Shinkawa.
We arrived just as they were opening, so an older gentleman let us in. We were pleased to find that there was free wifi, so we were able to spend a bit if time catching up with friends online whilst waiting for our guide and the other guests to arrive.
 
It wasn’t long before Su-San arrived, so we just needed to wait for the other 3/4 runners who were expected. After a while, we realised that they weren’t going to turn up, so we set off.
Our guide, Su-San spoke English really well – probably because she worked in London for a couple of years. We set off at a steady pace and before long, we were at our first stop – a small shrine tucked in between some other buildings. Su-San explained a little bit about the rituals to us and then we set off again, this time at a slightly faster pace.
The second destination was a sumo stable in Nihimbashihamacho. The ground floor practice room has large windows so that visitors can look in. I was surprised at how small the room was – just large enough for a ring. There were several young men taking it in turns to wrestle. An older sumo wrestler must have finished his training for the day, as he had on a cotton kimono or yukata. He left the practice and came outside where he mounted a bicycle and pedalled off. The sight of the large man on a small shopper bike was quite comical.
   

  

We then moved on to the financial district of Tokyo, Nihombashimuromachi. This is also where Mitsukoshi department store is located. The Bank of Japan headquarters has an impressive building, which is even more spectacular when viewed from there air as it is in the shape of the Japanese yen sign!
   

  

Next stop on the tour was the imperial palace. We ran outside the wall for a while. There were a lot of runners going past – apparently, the perimeter measures 5km, so it is an easy route for people to run. We also saw a couple of serious-looking cyclists – they had clipless pedals and road bikes 🙂
Running in the grounds of the imperial palace is not allowed, so we walked down the gravel path to get a better look at the buildings. The Japanese royal family’s buildings are tucked away from view, but we were able to see some ancient bridges.
Unfortunately, by this time, it had started to rain quite hard, but it wasn’t cold.
On the other side of the road from the imperial palace, we could see Tokyo Railway Station. It has recently been refurbished. It is built in the same style as Amsterdam Railway Station and looks a little incongruous next to a tall skyscraper, but I’m quickly learning that Japan is a land of contradictions with the old juxtaposed by the new.
We ran over towards Maranouchi, which used to just be a business district, but is now also an affluent shopping area. Again, there are traditional style buildings next to modern tower blocks. In between some of the buildings was a little shrine. It was created to remember a rebel who was killed. Several times, various people have tried to build over the shrine, but bad fates (including death) have befallen them, so it is now kept sacred. I inquired about why there were lots of frog ornaments at the shrine. It is because the word for frog sounds the same as the verb ‘to return’ (kaeru), so people give frogs if they want to return to a place.
It was then a short run to Ginza. One of my favourite buildings here was the headquarters of Mikimoto (pearl jewellers), as the building is very unusual – unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo 😦 We stopped outside the kabuki theatre. Many people were queuing for tickets, as it is possible to buy on-the-day tickets to watch a single act of a kabuki play. Underneath the theatre is access to subway stations, and there is also a large market where souvenirs (omiyage) can be bought. We had a look and enjoyed the warmth and respite from the rain!
The next stop was the fish market. It is very strange to be in a beautiful and wealthy area one moment and the next to be in a traditional, bustling area… However, it is very clean and despite the trade, it doesn’t smell bad. We stopped at one of the stalls where we were given some traditional tea, before we crossed back over the road and saw some of the sushi restaurants.
Tsukishima was the next area that we visited. We were running quite quickly at this point, so I was glad to stop and take some photos of the beautiful sakura!
Next to where we saw some orchids yesterday, there was a narrow alleyway. Su-San beckoned to use to follow her, so we did. I was amazed to find that down the narrow passage way was a small shrine. It was even more amazing to see that in the shrine was the enormous trunk of a tree that was still living. The shrine was sandwiched between houses and when we stepped back outside, we could see the branches of the tree above the houses!
We then visited a hundred-year old shop that specialises in preserved food. Su-San bought two vegetable dishes that we tried after our run. One was a vegetable that was a bit like rhubarb and the other was horse radish.
Just done the road, was a large glass display cabinet. Inside it was a portable shrine that is carried during festivals. It was very intricately made.
We then ran back along the river to Shinkawa, only stopping for some photographs under the cherry blossoms.
I really enjoyed this running tour and would recommend it to any runners who visit Tokyo. We covered 14km, and although some parts were quite quick (5:00/km), it was never difficult to follow Su-San, and I’m certain that she would have slowed if she thought it was too much for us. She is clearly a very good runner as she was able to talk and run at the same time, even doing that pace. She also told us that she has run Tokyo marathon three times.
After the running tour had finished, we decided to head back to the hotel to shower and change before finding lunch, as we didn’t want to get cold. We decided to have a cheap and simple lunch, so we visited the konbini (convenience store) opposite the hotel and bought some noodle pots. I think mine was vegetarian – the picture and the words that I could read indicated that it was – and Stu had a chicken noodle pot. We also bought a packet of crisps to share. The only ones that didn’t appear to be beef flavoured were garlic and basic pizza crisps, which were a bit unusual. We also bought a cheesecake kitkat. The instructions on the packet seem to indicate that it can be oven-baked, but it’s not clear whether this is merely a serving suggestion, or whether it is meant to be served that way.
After lunch, we decided to walk to Tokyo Sky Tree, which is the new antenna. It is the tallest building of its kind in the world and could easily be seen from our hotel room, so we figured that we ought to be able to navigate our way there.
I told Stuart that I wanted to walk a particular route to get to the tower as I could see an athletics track from our hotel room and wanted to get a closer look. I was quite surprised when we got there…
It was a school playground and was the shorted track that I have ever seen!
Stuart then guided us in a particular direction as he had seen that there was a ‘water park’ on the map. This turned out to be Oyokogawa-shinsui-koen Park. It is about a mile long, with a river running through it. It had been beautifully landscaped, with different sections, including a play area for children, a large open area, and an area where groups were picnicking under the trees.
There were lots of joggers and cyclists sharing the footpath, so there were warning signs along the edge. These particularly amused Stuart.
By the open area, there was a mosaic depicting the four seasons, and on the other side of the area, there was a mural that appeared to show samurai, so we think it might have been telling the history of the area.
Towards the end of the park, there was a fishing section, where groups of men were sitting with rods and nets. I don’t know what they were fishing for, but they seem to be having an amicable time.
We left the park by some beautiful floral displays asa we could see that we were very close to the Sky Tree.
When we got to the tower, we found that there was a special booth for international tourists to buy tickets. They were more expensive tickets than local people could buy, but they also allowed us to bypass the queues to get in a lift and go up the tower. The waiting area was attractive – the ceilings were intricately decorated and had lights that changed colour.
When we reached the first viewing platform, the views were magnificent. It was a little cloudy today, so we could only see 30km, but that was far enough. (On a clear day it is possible to see Mount Fuji, which is 100km away!)
Partway around the platform was a cafe. Stu wanted to sit down and have a drink, so we looked at the menu. Originally, he was going to have a coffee, but I wanted to try one of the ‘recommended’ drinks – after all, if I’m unable to sample most of the food, I must try what I can. There were three flavours: Apple vinegar, blueberry vinegar and lychee vinegar, which could be combined with soda, mineral water, milk or soy milk. (An ice-cream type vinegar dessert was also on offer). I thought that vinegar and milk might be a flavour combination too far, so I went for blueberry vinegar and soda; Stu chose Apple vinegar and soda. Stu’s drink tasted quite like cider, whereas mine distinctly tasted of vinegar, although after a few mouthfuls, it seemed to mix together better (or maybe some of the ice melted) and it became more palatable!
We continued on around the viewing deck, until we were back where we started. Stuart had been keen to try the glass walkway at a higher deck, but we would have had to pay extra and as it was quite cloudy and grey and the viability was poor, www decided not to bother.
Below the tower is an enormous shopping mall. We spent a little time browsing the television characters store, before moving to the clothes stores. Many of them have ‘Japlish’ names – weird combinations of English words.
Most people here wear socks with sandals or ankle socks with skirts, and I’ve seen women wearing some beautiful tights, so I was not surprised that there were a number of shops selling socks. There were also rows and rows of toe socks which can be worn with traditional sandals.
Stu was starting to flag a bit, so we stopped and had a coffee and a very small plain waffle each, before leaving the building. It was now dark and the tower looked beautiful as it was lit up.
Tokyo is a very safe city with a low crime rate, so we decided to retrace our steps back through the park. Most of the parties had gone, but we saw some groups of boys cycling home from their baseball practice – they all had on their uniforms still and each one had a bat in the basket of his bike.
It has been another amazing day, but I’m grateful that we can have a lie in tomorrow, as I’m completely shattered. Stu and I haven’t planned tomorrow’s adventures yet, so if there is anywhere in Tokyo that you can recommend, please let me know! 🙂

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