Our last full day in Tokyo was to be our most ambitious. Our original itinerary included Meiji Jingu, Robot Restaurant, Hedgehog Cafe Harry, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Fire Museum, Samurai Museum, Hanazono Shrine, and Himawari Zushi Shintoshin.
If you haven’t read Day 2 of our Tokyo trip yet, you can catch up here. For Day 3, our first stop was Meiji Shrine. We’ve done this a few times now, and I like it because it’s a beautiful park and tree-lined walkway that feels about a million miles from Tokyo.
It’s also a neat shrine, free, and–if our experience is any indication–people are always taking wedding photos in traditional attire. That last one is the biggest, and it’s really interesting to see these elaborate outfits.
Following Meiji Shrine, we made our way to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. This is another thing we’ve done before, and we absolutely love it.
For a modest admission fee, you’re granted access to a sprawling garden complex that contains exemplars of gardening styles from around the world.
I have exactly zero interest in gardening, but after a few days in Tokyo, places like this are a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. I’d hazard a guess this is also why it’s so popular with Tokyo residents.
We wandered a bit and did the greenhouse, but also sat for a while, sipping on green tea.
Our next stop was to be the Hedgehog Cafe. We had gone back and forth on this one. It’s a bit like the Fukuro No Mise Owl Cafe that Sarah and I had previously done, but with hedgehogs.
You’ve probably heard of Japan’s cat, goat, or rabbit cafes. It seems like new ones keep popping up, trying to push the envelope on absurdity with cuter animals. I’ll only be half-surprised to read a news report of every patron being mauled at the opening day of Tokyo’s first polar bear cafe.
Our hesitation with the Hedgehog Cafe Harry was in how the animals were treated. We ultimately felt comfortable in doing the cafe, but it’s hard to say whether what we read that reassured us was actually credible. In any case, we cut the cafe from our itinerary because it was clear early-on that our day was too ambitious. I did get to pet a Saint Bernard later, so at least there was that.
Next, we headed next to the Fire Museum. This is a free museum that’s basically inside the Yatsuya Fire Department in Tokyo. I believe we had learned about it via Tokyo Eye, a show we watch on NHK World that highlights a bunch of random things to do in Tokyo.
We like the show because the stuff they cover is off the beaten path, and (like us) they are preoccupied with things on the Yamanote Line. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Peppler (the host) lives on the Yamanote Line and highlights things he stumbles upon. In any case, it’s a good show–highly recommended for getting hyped on a visit to Tokyo.
The Fire Museum was excellent–better than any free museum has any business being. It was interesting to read about the history of firefighting in Japan, and how the abundance of wood buildings presented significant challenges and allowed fires to spread. (No wonder just about every temple we’ve ever visited lists how many times it has burnt down in its history.)
It was also neat to see the firefighting helicopters, trucks, and other interactive displays. While nowhere near as comprehensive as the Railway Museum, the Fire Museum had more substance than I expected. You could easily spend an hour there.
Next up was Himawari Zushi Shintoshin. This is a conveyor belt sushi spot I found while doing food research, and I even had a back-up location in case it was too busy. However, we arrived 5 minutes after they opened, and had no wait to be seated.
It was phenomenal. We’ve had some really good conveyor belt sushi in our visits to Japan, but I think this was the best yet. I’m sure sushi connoisseurs will turn up their noses at conveyor belt sushi, and I’ll be the first to admit that my palate for sushi is not sufficiently refined for a high end sushi experience (nor is my wallet that refined). However, for the money, Himawari Zushi Shintoshin was pretty much unbeatable. We’d highly recommend it.
After lunch, we got lost in Shinjuku Station for more time than I’d care to admit while chasing down another Book-off. No Japan trip is complete for us until we get lost in either Tokyo or Shinjuku Station.
We’ve visited each dozens of times and to this day, still find new ways to get disoriented in these stations. Being underneath skyscrapers, Google Maps is zero help.
Once that fruitless wild goose chase was finished, we headed to Shinjuku. We started by washing down the poor taste of getting lost with some boba, crepes, and a view of Godzilla. This ‘life-sized’ Godzilla is really just a head that peaks over the Shinjuku Toho Building, but nonetheless cool.
Apparently, Shinjuku is also home to a non life-sized, albeit patriotic and peaceful King Kong?
For us, Shinjuku would be the highlight of the day: Robot Restaurant and Samurai Museum. Unfortunately, we only had time for one (if we wanted to do the early Robot Restaurant seating–which we did, otherwise we couldn’t buy discounted tickets). Since we’ve done Robot Restaurant several times, we decided to give the Samurai Museum a chance.
I was really apprehensive about the Samurai Museum. Between the location in Shinjuku and the cost, I was worried that this was a touristy cash-grab. And to an extent, that’s exactly what it was. However, in Japan, there’s honor even in that.
Instead of being a hokey novelty, the Samurai Museum presented the history of samurai in a way that was both educational and entertaining.
While the displays were mostly reproductions rather than authentic historical items, the museum was worth the time and money for the guided tour (in English) along with the sword demonstration.
As with Robot Restaurant, it’s definitely a touristy experience, but it had enough substance and quality that we’d recommend the Samurai Museum.
Even though it was the most expensive museum of our trip, we felt satisfied with our experience. Your mileage may vary on the cost.
At this point, it was time to eat. We were in the neighborhood of Kanda Station, which is within walking distance of another restaurant we’d researched for the trip: Kanda Matsuya.
Unbeknownst to us, Tom Hanks had dined here last fall. Like any patriotic American, we knew our nation’s dad had visited Japan and had seen some of his exploits on social media, but we had no clue he was at this soba spot.
Rocking Tokyo with my crew. Hanx. pic.twitter.com/U1gG22KHhq
— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) September 16, 2016
The restaurant made sure to let everyone know of this fact, with Hanks’ photo at the back of every menu. In their defense, if Tom Hanks ever visited our home, I’d do more than just hang his photo on the wall (we already have like 7 Tom Hanks photos adorning our walls, anyway).
I love Tom Hanks so much that I’m contemplating getting the same face tattoo as he had in Cloud Atlas. On that note, I love Tom Hanks so much that I’m one of like 12 people in the U.S. who actually saw Cloud Atlas. (Joking aside, an underrated film, in my opinion.)
We did our own take on Tom Hanks photo–you’ll notice the same fan is at the top of both photos:
Rocked out with my crew at Kanda Matsuya tonight. Thanks for the rec. Brix. pic.twitter.com/9r4748HhsF
— Tom Bricker (@Tom_Bricker) November 4, 2017
This meal was good, but of the restaurants with stellar ratings that we did on this visit to Tokyo, it was the least impressive. Whereas the rest blew us away, Kanda Matsuya was “just” very good.
Still better than 90% of meals we’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t put it among the elite mid-tier dining options in Tokyo.
With no Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons), Japan wastes no time getting into the Christmas spirit.
I’ve probably noted this somewhere before, but it’s fascinating to me just how into Christmas Japan gets. Christmas is almost entirely a secular holiday in Japan, but the cute and jovial side of the season makes it incredibly popular.
Following dinner, Sarah and I continued on to Ueno Park, which was cut from Day 2. Well, it was a Friday night, meaning the Tokyo National Museum was open until 9 p.m. Wanting to make the most of our time, Sarah and I headed there.
It was an exceptional experience. Ueno Park was already decked out for Christmas, with a corridor of trees adorned with lights. There was also performance art in the center of the park and a number of outdoor food vendors with options that looked very appealing–if we weren’t so full from dinner we definitely would’ve given some of these a try.
We really enjoyed Tokyo National Museum. I think we actually got more out of the experience by virtue of having visited the Samurai Museum earlier in the day, as silly as that sounds.
The Samurai Museum had provided a wealth of ‘101’ level information, and some exhibits in the National Museum offered a deeper dive (and assumed some knowledge) into the same topics.
The exhibits in Tokyo National Museum were really fascinating, and there were some beautiful works of art and artifacts on display. The big advantage of visiting so late (we arrived just after 7 p.m.) was that we had almost every gallery entirely to ourselves. With many points of interest closing at 5 or 6 p.m., the National Museum is definitely a strong evening option if you’re not into nightlife.
Alright, I think that about wraps up our long weekend in Tokyo! We headed to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea for the start of their Christmas season next. After that, we visited Mt. Fuji (Lake Yamanaka) for a couple of nights for their autumn colors and illuminations, followed by a couple of days in Nagoya. We actually just finished that leg of the trip, and I’m currently writing this report while on the Shinkansen from Nagoya to Hiroshima. This means that I’m a few installments behind in terms of this “live” report. As we have limited time in each of these cities, my plan is to focus primarily on doing things, and then catching up on the report once we get settled in to Kyoto. We’ll pick our next trip report installment up with the Mount Fuji leg of the trip!
Any particular thoughts about the things we did during our final day in Tokyo? Does any of this look interesting to you? Is the Samurai Museum something you’d do, or would you stick to something more “normal” like the Tokyo National Museum? Have you eaten at any of the same restaurants as intergalactic treasure Tom Hanks? 😉 Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!