Tokyo Day 1 – Tokyo Free Guide Tour, Geisha Show and Meiji Shrine
This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review
Japan Day 2 (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara
Japan Day 2 (Part 2) – Bullet Train/Nabana no Sato Illumination
Conrad Tokyo Review
We woke up early on our first day in Tokyo to meet up with our tour guide. I had read on The Planet D about a great experience with an organization called Tokyo Free Guide that provides free tour guides in Tokyo, after signing up at their website: tokyofreeguide.com. You are responsible for paying transportation costs, admission fees and a meal for your tour guide, but Tokyo Free Guide provides the guide for free other than that. We signed up a couple weeks ahead of time and were very excited when we received our first email from our guide Ichiro – the same guide that The Planet D mentioned! His email was very friendly. He told us a little about himself and included a picture. We sent back a picture so he’d know who to look for, and then he suggested some places to visit that day. Shortly before our trip, he emailed mentioning a geisha show he had heard about and asking if we’d like to go. He offered to go before meeting with us to get tickets. We were grateful and told him we’d love to go.
He met us at the Conrad, and we headed out. While we were getting to know each other he told us that he learned English largely from the radio. His English was wonderful, and we were very impressed. We took the train to Shibuya where he first showed us the statue of Hachiko, a dog that waited at the train station for years for his deceased owner.
Next, we saw the famous busy Shibuya pedestrian crossing. He pointed out a great viewing point for pictures that was free. From Shibuya we walked to Yoyogi Park and into Meiji Shrine.
Meiji Shrine was very neat, and Ichiro was full of information. It was great to hear about the shrine and the culture. We were lucky enough to see a wedding progression while we were there.
We also saw several young children dressed up at the Shrine. Ichiro explained that they were at the shrine for blessings. We looked up a little more information when we got home. It’s called Shichi-go-san and is a rite of passage that occurs once a year for children at certain ages. You can read more here on Wikipedia.
After Meiji Shrine we headed to Takeshita Street and then to Harajuku. We quickly passed through these areas on our way to Asakusa for the geisha performance. Ichiro had gone early and was first in line to get tickets to the show. The tickets were free, but since he was first in line we had great seats right up front.
The show was very interesting. Most of the audience was Japanese, and the introduction/explanation was done in Japanese. The guy speaking was kind enough to pause and lean over to us in the first row and repeat much of what he had just said in English for us. I thought that was very nice.
After the show we went to dinner. Ichiro asked where we would like to go and we decided on a random udon restaurant. He explained some of the dishes for us, and it was a delicious meal. Since we were still expecting Japan to be expensive, we were amazed at the low cost in some of the restaurants we went to.
After dinner we headed to the Asakusa Kannon temple, also known as Sensoji. There is a gate called the Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, at the entrance to the temple. Inside the gate was a neat street with several vendors set up. It was pretty crowded and we almost got separated a few times just trying to walk through. Luckily Ichiro was wearing a red cap that allowed us to quickly find him, and as my boyfriend and I are both over six feet tall, crowds aren’t too difficult for us to spot each other in.
We walked around Nakamise Street for a little bit and looked at some of the goods before heading towards the temple. It’s a very neat area and I’d recommend it. Although, I think if we hadn’t had Ichiro with us it might have been a little overwhelming for our first day in Tokyo due to the crowds.
After seeing the Asakusa Shrine, Ichiro took us to our last stop for the day. At this point it was already getting dark out. Ichiro was still full of energy, and probably could have run circles around us! We were amazed that he spent the entire day running around with us. Our last stop was Kappabashi wholesale kitchen street. Many Japanese restaurants will display plastic food in the window. Kappabashi is where they buy the food, and some of it looked really good!
It was around this time that a lot of stores started closing up. As we were walking we noticed a lot of metal doors on stores. It wasn’t overly crowded and was getting dark. From our experience for some locations in the United States, that tends to be a warning symbol – in that if you need metal on the door when the store is closed it may not be the best area and that may be necessary to prevent theft.
We asked Ichiro if there were any areas in Tokyo we needed to be concerned about wandering into. He said no, and looked surprised when we mentioned the covered store fronts in the United States.
After checking out the wholesale kitchen supply street, we started walking back to Shinbashi station to head back to the Conrad. We passed a street vendor selling yakitori and Ichiro wanted us to try some. It was delicious. Ichiro helped us to get home and we said our goodbyes.
If you have a free day in Tokyo, I highly, highly, highly recommend tokyofreeguide.com and especially Ichiro! We had a great day and really enjoyed hearing about Tokyo and its culture instead of just reading guidebooks and signs.