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Tokyo Sky Tree March 27, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Sky Tree” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nv

Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest landmark in Tokyo.  It is a culmination of planning and building that spanned over 5 years.  Tokyo Sky Tree was officially unveiled to the public when the designs were published at the end of 2006.  Tokyo Sky Tree is currently the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa.  Sky Tree was built because of the rapid growth of skyscrapers in Tokyo.  In the past, Tokyo Tower, which stands at 333m, was the tallest structure in Japan.  With an ever changing landscape and advances in technology, Tokyo Tower was quickly becoming a regular structure rather than the tall tower that was needed.  Tokyo Tower is a fully functioning TV Tower that broadcasts terrestrial television and radio programs across Tokyo.  With the large towers in Roppongi creating greater problems for Tokyo Tower, the need for a new taller structure was conceived and Tokyo Sky Tree was built.

In 2008, the ground-breaking ceremony for Tokyo Sky Tree was held and the pace of construction has been furious.  Like many buildings, the foundation is the hardest part of any construction.  It took almost one complete year before the foundations were finished and the main structure could begin to be built.  From that point it was very noticeable that Sky Tree was growing daily.  It took two full years to reach a height of 600m and aside from a few moments where the tower seemed to stop growing for a month or so, it was very easy to see progress being made to the external structure of the tower.  Tokyo Sky Tree is topped by a large antenna that stands 36m tall.  The 36m tall antenna was built inside the base of the tower and jacked up to its final position.  It was about 10m from its final resting height when the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.  Thankfully the main structure held up and the tower structure was completed soon after checks were made along the entire tower.

There is a lot of symbolism and technology within Tokyo Sky Tree.  The first aspect of Tokyo Sky Tree is the shape.  While most pictures will show a circular structure, it is far more complex than that.  The design was created to start as a triangular base as it slowly transforms into a circular design by the time it reaches the observation decks.  The triangular base was designed to minimize the effect of shadows on the surrounding area.  Whether this is true or not is unknown by myself as I don’t have the means to test it out.  The next piece of technology is the use of old technology.  It is often promoted by the designers that Tokyo Sky Tree was built using old ideas with modern technology.  Utilizing the ancient designs of pagoda in Japan, they created a centre column with the structure hanging from it at the top.  This allows the centre column to “float” independently from the outer structure and help protect it from catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake.  Of course this is using modern upgrades to the design and modern technology and materials.  The final symbolism in the structure is the height.  Tokyo Sky Tree stands at 634m tall.  634 can also be read as “mu(tsu) (6), san (3), shi (4)” or “musashi”.  Musashi is the old name of the region.  Musashi Province was an area that encompassed Tokyo, Saitama, and part of Kanagawa.  It can easily be thought of as the entire region that also includes Chiba.

The official mascot of Tokyo Sky Tree is Sorakara-chan.  Sorakara-chan can be loosely translated as the girl from the sky.  The simple backstory of Sorakara-chan is that she found Tokyo because Tokyo Sky Tree was able to cut above the clouds and shine very brightly.  You can already find her items and souvenirs at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree before the tower has even been opened to the public.  It is a typical marketing ploy by the operators of Tokyo Sky Tree and she will definitely make money for them.  Tokyo Sky Tree is not just a TV tower.  It is also a full scale shopping complex.  The main floors are occupied by Tokyo Solamachi.  Tokyo Solamachi is the name of the shopping complex that occupies the main building at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree that stands a mere 7 stories tall.  Tokyo Solamachi isn’t very special as it consists mainly of a typical shopping mall but they have added a dome theatre and aquarium to the top floors.  It will be the focal point for the entire neighbourhood and create a bit of competition for neighbouring Asakusa and Kinshicho.  It is unlikely that the new area, coined “Sky Tree Town” by the developer will take off immediately.  It will take time to build up but it will be very popular once it opens in May.

While Tokyo Sky Tree itself is complete, the entire structure and Solamachi won’t be open to the public until May 22nd, assuming there are no last second delays.  It will be a very popular destination at first and there are sure to be lines to go to the observation deck and lines to get into the shopping complex for the first year or so.  Whether or not it will give people enough reason to keep visiting is anyone’s guess.  It is likely that the complex will do well into the future.  It has the potential to draw a lot of people to the tower as it is located just a stone throw’s away from Asakusa.

This is the first in a series of posts about Tokyo Sky Tree.  To read more, please head over to Tokyo Sky Tree (Opening Day)


Tokyo – Sumida River March 1, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Sumida River” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Cu

The Sumida River is one of the major rivers in Tokyo.  There are three famous rivers, the Kanda, Sumida, and Edogawa.  There are others that are equally as famous, but in terms of rivers that everyone knows and can easily point out on a map, these are the three.  The Sumida River is one of the rivers that I know very well.  I live very close to it and cross it daily as I head into Tokyo to get to work.  I run up and down the river and know almost every inch of the river from Asakusa in the north to Tsukiji in the south.  The entire river front area is a unique area in Tokyo and something that most tourists miss, along with most locals.  If you have a few hours of down time, between running to Asakusa and shopping in Shinjuku, I’d recommend a quick visit to any section of this river and you won’t be disappointed.

Starting in the north, for most people Asakusa is the best starting point.  North of Asakusa, the Sumida River is a very peaceful location.  Along the western bank, there are various parks and schools making this a very pedestrian friendly location.  The views of Tokyo Sky Tree and the Asahi buildings are very famous and a typical photo opportunity for those visiting Tokyo.  The north side is also home to the Tokyo Water Bus which has its main terminal here.  It’s very popular for people to start the day in Asakusa visiting the Sensoji before boarding the water bus and heading to Hamarikyu Gardens or Odaiba.  I’d suggest a quick walk around the park as well as it’s a great way to relax.  On a nice sunny weekend you can expect to see lots of families in the area with their children.  Of particular interest, if you walk along the eastern side, you will come close to the elevated highway which provides an experience that only Tokyo can provide.  Being mere metres from the looming highway above can invoke strange feelings that can’t be explained.  I wouldn’t suggest it for everyone as the idea of hearing cars overhead also brings screams of environmental chants calling for a curb on carbon emissions, but that’s beside the point.

Heading south will take you towards Ryogoku.  This is a great opportunity to see some of the more interesting bridges in the area as well as visit Ryogoku.  Ryogoku is home of the most important sumo stadium in Japan where they hold 3 tournaments a year.  For most of the trip, you will be pleasantly surprised by the detailed art located within the railings of the river walk as well as the details of the bridges.  From the famous red bridge in Asakusa to the equally vibrant yellow of Kuramaebashi, you will see some of Tokyo’s most brightly painted bridges.  While this is the case, most of the time, not every bridge will be as beautiful, and to be honest, not everyone likes a bridge.  Towards the Ryogoku area, you will may be surprised to see large canvas drawings.  These pictures vary from school kids helping to define the area to traditional Japanese paintings to describe the area’s past.  It is a great way to learn about the area and how things have changed and all of this is free.  Be sure to avoid leaving the riverside as the areas on the other side of the dike are not as interesting, but you can find a few gems along the way.

Once past Ryogoku, you will come upon the Hamacho and Hatchobori area.  For this area, it’s best to keep to the west as there is less of a need to exit the riverside area to cross a small river.  This area, along with most areas along the river, is popular for runners.  It is common to see runners at all times of the day running both up and down the river.  For the casual tourist, there are a number of paintings on the walls as well as various gardens and art displays.  I would recommend this area for its relaxing views and the ability to just sit down and enjoy the views.  While it isn’t a natural as the Edogawa, in fact there is almost no nature in the area at all, it is still fairly peaceful.  The architecture of the area is also noticeably different.  You will notice that the buildings are a little higher and a little newer in this area compared to the Ryogoku and Asakusa areas.  Both Asakusa and Ryogoku both have tall buildings but they tend to be focused whereas this area tends to be evenly distributed.  If you travel along the east side, walking around in the streets can be very interesting as you will be walking in an area that is filled with locals.  It’s a popular residential area that tends to be on the high end of the social ladder.  For this reason, the area tends to be more peaceful and distinct.

Just south of Hatchobori is the last section of the Sumida River.  Tsukiji, Tsukishima, and the Hamarikyu gardens mark the area with their own distinct flavours.  The Tsukiji area is relatively calm and a wonderful area to walk as you get beautiful views of Tsukushima and Kachidoki.  It’s also a great way to end a walk by heading in and getting some sushi.  If you head to the other side and visit Tsukishima, you can easily get good monja yaki.  While both areas don’t have much to offer, I do recommend you to visit as both areas provide another unique look at Japan.  In contrast to the area just to the north, this area does its best to combine modern high rises with nature.  It’s very common to see small plazas everywhere.  You can easily take a break and just enjoy the view.  If you head along the east side, you will have to travel past Monzennakacho.  There is a very small island located between Monzennakacho and Tsukishima.  While this island is not very significant and almost never on any tourists “to do” list, I’d recommend a visit if you just happen to be in the area.  It’s a peaceful place with hardly anyone there.  Of course there are a few homeless but the views up and down the river are spectacular and show off the urban beauty of a city built around a river.

For most tourists, I would only recommend visiting the Asakusa to Ryogoku section of this river.  The main reason is that the entire river is long and that’s the only section which would be interesting to a casual tourist.  Even for residents, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this area unless they lived in the nearby area.  If you are a runner and looking for a nice place to run, and you happen to be staying in Asakusa or somewhere near the river, I highly recommend that you go for a run if you have the time.  It’s a wonderful experience and being able to run part of the area is worth it.  It’s better than trying to fight your way through traffic and trying to avoid getting hit by cars on the regular streets.


Tokyo – Ryogoku February 22, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Ryogoku” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Cr

Ryogoku is part of the Shitamachi area of Tokyo.  The Shitamachi area can simply be thought of as the eastern area of Tokyo if you draw a line, north south, from the centre of the Imperial Palace.  It has often been referred to as the old area of town and where you can meet many new characters.  In the past it has been populated by the lower class of merchants and to this very day the entire area has a friendlier and more forward style of life compared to the west which tends to be more high-brow.  Ryogoku can now be considered part of the Shitamachi sould for many reasons.  While the old centre was in Ueno, the heart appears to be in Asakusa, the body in the surrounding suburbs, and its soul lies in Ryogoku.  Ryogoku has one major claim to fame and it has to be the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Ryogoku Kokugikan is located on the north side of Ryogoku Station.  It is the main arena for all sumo tournaments in Tokyo.  There are 3 tournaments a year in Tokyo, January, May, and September.  Visiting Ryogoku during any of these months is a wonderful experience whereas visiting on other months will be special, but not as interesting.  During the tournament month the entire front fence of the stadium is adorned with tall colourful banners for each of the Sumo stables.  Each stable has its own banner and they proudly display it during the tournaments.  During the tournaments, it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of people, if not thousands, lining up outside and around the stadium.  The people who are lining up are generally trying to get tickets, enter the stadium, or just get pictures of the sumo wrestlers as they enter or leave for the tournament.  Within a year of living in the area I have seen many sumo wrestlers at the stadium.  If you happen to be in the area in the afternoon, you have an even greater chance of seeing them at the train station, but don’t expect to see the top Ozeki and Yokozuna.  They tend to get their own cars or have others who drive them.  Sumo is a very old and respected sport in Japan, and part of that tradition dictates that they must live in the old traditional styles of Japan.  This includes their clothing as well as their ability to drive.  Most sumo are not allowed to drive as this goes against the tradition.  There are instances where they do not wear their traditional clothing, but this is not very often and they have specific reasons for this.

While Ryogoku is defined best by the Ryogoku Kokugikan, it isn’t the only important thing in the area.  Next door is the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Edo is the old name for Tokyo and the museum itself is a look into the past of Tokyo.  It is located in a very unique building.  It was designed to look similar to an old style store house but the best way to describe it is to imagine a roof structure on 4 pillars.  The museum is located inside the roof structure and there is a large open area around the pillars.  It’s best to be seen with pictures in order to understand it.  The museum itself can be centred on one floor located in the “roof”.  While there are special exhibits on the main floor, most tourists will want to visit the Edo museum upstairs.  This is a very interesting museum.  There is a full scale replica of the original Nihonbashi bridge, albeit cut off due to space restrictions.  They detailed it perfectly.  The entire area is primarily lined with miniature models.  Everywhere you go you can see miniature models of what Tokyo looked like during the Edo era.  While most of the descriptions are in Japanese, the intricate detail of each model is amazing.  Unfortunately, photos are very difficult to take inside due to the lighting.  They utilize a very dark mood which makes most photos without a tripod nearly impossible.  The main floor adds a bunch of life sized replicas of the way of life in Tokyo.  They include the pre-war and post-war eras.  It’s amazing to see some of the artifacts in the museum from old bicycles to bombs and even a replica of a house built after the war.  The admission is worth it for those who want a little culture, but if you aren’t interested in culture, you might want to skip this museum.

Heading east of the station, along the train tracks, will take you to a large wall.  This is actually a dike built by Tokyo to keep the flood waters of the Sumida River out of the city.  It’s fairly easy to climb this wall and get to the riverside.  The riverside called the “Sumida River Terrace”.  This is a long promenade that stretches for kilometres in each direction.  The section around Ryogoku stretches from a point several hundred metres to the south and about a kilometre to the north.  I will detail as much as possible in a future post, but the area immediately around Ryogoku is worth mentioning here.  If you start at the train tracks themselves, you will be greeted by two things, the Sumida River Art Gallery, and the water bus terminal.  There is a small port used on weekends and holidays for river tours, but due to the relative lack of tourists in Ryogoku, I rarely see the ferries stop in Ryogoku on days other than weekends.  The Art Gallery is a public art gallery that showcases various pieces of art done by people of all ages.  It’s interesting to see some of the pictures the school kids in the area have drawn as well as some of the old pictures of the region.  The information on the pictures are difficult to understand as it can be a little sparse or completely in Japanese.   Most of the art is located on the dike wall but that is not the only place to look for art.  On the floor itself you can see pictures of sumo wrestlers and on the railing before you fall into the river are various metal depictions of sumo moves.  These are all very interesting and extremely informative.  Spending a lot of time to enjoy these depictions and to learn the typical moves in sumo is enlightening.  It is something that you cannot experience at the Ryogoku Kokugikan as the Kokugikan is used for show rather than education.  There may be information on this inside the Kokugikan, but I haven’t been inside so I can’t comment on this.

There are still many other things to see and do in Ryogoku.  You can take a small tour of the area and see small shrines and parks.  Unfortunately, they aren’t as significant as many of the other parks and temples in other areas so they tend to be skipped.  The good point is that when you enter, there won’t be many people so you can enjoy the park as if you were the only one there.  I highly recommend spending a few hours just touring the area, especially to the north.  You can also try some chanko nabe.  It’s a type of hot pot where they boil a bunch of food together.  It’s a traditional sumo dish and being Ryogoku, many past sumo wrestlers have started their own shops.  It’s very easy to find a shop everywhere.  The charm of Ryogoku comes from being part of Shitamachi and the prestige of the sumo.  It can make any visit extremely memorable.

Ryogoku Information:

Sumo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo

Sumo (Official Website) [English]:  http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

Sumo (Official Website) [Japanese]: http://www.sumo.or.jp/

Sumo Tournament Schedule [English]:  http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/ticket/nittei_hyo/index.html

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Official Site) [English]:  http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Official Site) [Japanese]: http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo-Tokyo_Museum

Shitamachi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamanote_and_Shitamachi


Geocaching in Tokyo and Japan October 26, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Geocaching in Tokyo and Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-vR

If any of you have been following me on Twitter, you would know that I have a new hobby called Geocaching.  Geocaching, for the uninitiated, is a type of game where all you need is a GPS receiver and the ability to think.  You are given a set of GPS coordinates and you navigate your way to that location.  From there, you can look around the area and find a container that has been hidden by another geocacher.  The game itself is simplistic in nature.  Think of it as a grown man’s hide and seek, or treasure hunting for geeks.  In fact, you don’t even need a GPS receiver to play the game, just a print out of a map for the GPS coordinates.  Each cache, treasure, is different.  They can be as large as a coffin, this was a real cache, and as small as a button.  The only limits are your imagination.  There are hundreds of places you can hide a cache, and Japan is a place where this is growing.

From reports from other blogs and other geocachers, geocaching in Tokyo has not been that big.  It has taken off, somewhat, in recent years and there are hundreds of different sites around Tokyo.  If you are interested in it, it’s a great way to see the city.  Many of the caches are set up by locals, and many are Japanese.  I have had the opportunity to visit many places that I would never have visited without geocaching to tell me to go there.  While you probably won’t see them at the typical tourist hot spots, such as Meiji Jingu Shrine, you will see them just outside, and at places where most tourists would never think to go.  Imagine going to a famous cathedral, going inside, but never taking the time to walk around the block just outside the cathedral.  You never know what amazing things you can discover if you just walked within a block of the actual building itself.  Geocaching can take you to these places, and it can teach you interesting things if you care to learn about it.

While I’m still very new to geocaching, I have found several caches already, and there are several that I’d recommend.  In Shinjuku, there is the “Concrete Canyon Cache” (GC4B70) located in Shinjuku Central Park is a good example.  Many tourists will come and visit the area, but not many will actually enter the park, nor take the time to read the signs telling them the name of the “forest” inside the park.  Having lived in Shinjuku for years, I myself never took the time to actually read the signs and discovered that the park’s forest actually had a name.  The name itself is part of the cache as it is a Virtual Cache that requires you to find some information to make the “find” valid.  Another good one is “Astronomical clock and LOVE” (GC213BG).  This one is located near a large sculpture of the word “LOVE” that was originally designed by Robert Indiana.  It is world famous and extremely popular with tourists and locals alike.  The entire area is very photographic, and the cache itself is somewhat large for the area.  For geocachers, this is a good place to drop some toys for others to take.

If you are looking for a “traditional” geocache, look no farther than Shinagawa Station.  Going there, you can find a large geocache called “Takanawa Forest Park” (GC25MKW).  I won’t ruin the surprise if you are looking for it, but needless to say, it’s a typical sized cache, but fairly large for Tokyo.  It’s hidden in a fairly quiet area, and the entrance to the park itself is well hidden.  It was so hidden that I had to think twice about entering the park.  When looking for the entrance, you have to use a private driveway which makes you think you are trespassing on someone’s property.  Thankfully, that’s not the case.  When you do reach the area of the cache, it’s fairly easy to find.  Once again, I would never have visited this park on my own, and I was happy to find a very small urban forest in the middle of the hotels in Shinagawa.  This cache was also a treasure trove of goodies.  I found lots of goodies that I could “steal” and keep, and a few things that I could pass on to others.

Currently, I’m working in Ginza, and have found a lot of time to visit the caches in my area.  Unfortunately, there are only a few that I’d mention as being special.  The first is “Shinji Ike Pond” (GC12FXY) which is a small container in Hibiya Park.  While the location isn’t that special, the fact that I can visit a small cache that can hold goodies is important. It’s also a busy cache with many people visiting it every week.  “Godzilla” (GC28YAD) is also a good one.  I haven’t been able to find this one yet, but the area is great.  There is a statue of Godzilla nearby and hand prints of famous celebrities on the ground as well.  It felt a little like the Mann Theatre in Hollywood, but obviously without the same energy.  For relaxing times, a visit to “Brick Square” (GC23C10) is a must.  It is an urban oasis.  When you have had enough of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you can head into this small courtyard and relax with various trees.  There are a few bars where you can also enjoy a nice glass of wine.  This cache was definitely a nice surprise.

One of my biggest surprises came from “Small Island” (GC18B37).  I never knew that there was a small island located in the middle of the Sumida River, let alone a cache.  I saw it and had to visit it.  It was a scorching hot day and with sweat dripping down my face, I took the time to hunt the cache and I found it within minutes.  I had a great time and the view was wonderful.  I wish I could have stayed for an hour or so, but unfortunately, I had no time as I had to get to work.  If you are in the area, or if you want to see something unique, this is a great place to visit.  Unfortunately, there is nothing interesting in the area, unless you are going to eat monja yaki.  While not the most recommended food item in Japan, if you do choose to try it, you might as well come to the cache, say hello, and grab some monja afterwards.

When in Asakusa, going to “Lucky and Happy Come Come Cats” (GC24X6G) is a great place to visit.  You will visit a nice shrine that is dedicated to cats.  If you are a cat lover, you’ll love this place.  I’m not sure of the importance of this shrine but it is a cool place to visit.  “Bridge of X” (GC249RQ) is also an interesting experience.  For this one, it’s the pedestrian bridge that was built to bridge the gap between two parks.  The bridge is full of people, and every year, there is a fireworks festival at the end of July.  I’d also recommend this as an interesting place to see Tokyo Sky Tree, and the various cruisers that ply the Sumida River waters giving tours.  Do note that you can always see things closer to Asakusa itself, but getting farther north will mean things are quieter and more relaxed.   A day spent exploring the area that no one has been will allow you to brag about seeing things that no other tourist would ever thing to see.

As part of the game, there is a thing called a trackable.  These come in two main forms, Geocoins, and Travel Bugs.  A Geocoin is exactly that, a geocaching coin.  It is a standard coin with a special design.  On the back is a special tracking number which is the password to tell the system that you truly found it.  A travel bug is the same, except it can come in any shape or size.  Usually, a dog tag is attached which has the tracking number.  These trackables may or may not have a specific goal in mind.  Some of them are there to just travel the world, aimlessly, and others are in a race or trying to do something specific.  I have seen people race their bugs, and others who have set a goal to visit a specific location before returning home.  Some people have sent USB drives in a goal to meet people, collect pictures, and essentially return home so that they can see all of the people who have touched it.  It’s a fun game and a way to meet people you never otherwise would have.

Geocaching is a fun game that requires a little stealth when playing.  Often, you are looking for something that is hidden so regular people can’t find it.  It can be very suspicious when looking around something that is generally uninteresting.  You may get into trouble from the police or security personal who thinks you are up to no good, but that’s also part of the game.  Just be careful.  When in Tokyo, the majority of caches are small to micro in size.  Unfortunately, this means that most of the caches you will look for and find will be somewhat boring.  They don’t tend to be that creative, but depending on the person, they can be.  However, Tokyo has so many wonderful secrets that most caches will take you somewhere interesting.  While visiting 20 shrines to see geocaches may get boring, you should know that many of them will be unique and give you a sense of “wow”.

Geocaching Information:

Geocaching:  http://www.geocaching.com
Love Sculpture:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_(sculpture)


Running in Tokyo (Imperial Palace) June 15, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Running in Tokyo (Imperial Palace)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pa

The first ever Tokyo Marathon was held in 2007.  It was the start of an annual event that would change the way people in Tokyo thought about running.  While there were several other marathon races, and half marathon races, this was the first marathon that was widely broadcasted.  This was also the beginning of what would become the “running boom” of Japan, which is still going strong today.  The first ever Tokyo Marathon, and all subsequent versions after that started in Shinjuku near the Tokyo Government Offices.  From there, the route heads east to the Imperial Palace where the course turns south.  It then makes a U-turn at Shinagawa where it heads north to Asakusa via Ginza.  From there, runners make a second U-turn and head east again once they return to Ginza where they continue until they reach Odaiba and the finish line.  It is by far the most popular marathon in Japan and one of the most interesting ones.  For those who want to participate in this marathon, it’s necessary to enter a lottery to get a chance to run.  Due to the extreme popularity of this marathon, you must enter the lottery.  Thankfully, there are several other marathons and half marathons run throughout the Kanto area.  If you ever want to try it, feel free to ask.

In terms of running courses, there are several courses located within Tokyo itself.  The most popular route has to be around the Imperial Palace.  This route is fairly simple and has promoted many running related shops to open up along the route.  Most Japanese people start around Takebashi Station.  There are several reasons for this.  The biggest reason people start around here is that the station entrance is located on the course itself.  The entrances have small areas nearby for you to stretch and prepare a little before you head out on a run.  The other reason is that there is a small section on the road where drivers can stop and drop people off.  While this isn’t quite legal, if you do it quickly, you can probably get away with it.  The last reason people enjoy starting at this station is the number of places to change and shower after a run.  With several locations with lockers, it is obviously popular.  One of the few places that I would think about visiting would be the Art Sports: Running Oasis.  Art Sports is considered to be one of, if not the best place to buy running shoes.  They tend to have the most recommendations among the Tokyo Runners Clubs and among many Japanese people.  Unfortunately, it’s still somewhat of a specialized shop, so it isn’t very famous yet.

While Takebashi Station is the most popular starting point, it isn’t the only place to start.  You can always start from Nijubashimae Station, Hibiya Station, Sakuradamon Station or Hanzomon Station.  You can also easily access the Imperial Palace from Tokyo Station, Yurakucho Station, Kasumigaseki Station, Jinbocho Station, Kudanshita Station, and many more.  Whichever station you do use to access the Imperial Palace, just be aware that the location can alter how you feel during your run.  The route around the Imperial Palace is located on the side of a hill.  The west side, near Hanzomon Station, is the highest point, while Takebashi Station and Hibiya Station are at the lowest points.  There are, obviously, two ways run around the Imperial Palace, clockwise and counter-clockwise.  This can make a huge difference in the quality of your run.  Most people run in a counter-clockwise direction.  The north side, from Takebashi Station to Hanzomon Station is a shorter and steeper uphill climb compared to the longer Sakuradamon Station to Hanzomon Station section.  For this reason, it is relatively easier to run counter-clockwise.  The secondary reason to run counter-clockwise is only for night runners.  Cars drive on the left side of the road in Japan, so if you run clockwise, the headlights of all the cars will be shining in your face the entire way around the palace.  If you are like me, you will probably enjoy the challenge of going clockwise, but be warned that it adds the extra challenge of running against the stream of other runners.

In the last year, there have been a many articles regarding the Imperial Palace and the “Runners Boom”.  While most of it has been good, there have been some calls to improve the signage around the palace so that runners can understand where to go easily.  The first time you run, there is one section that can be confusing, if not get you into trouble.  Running on the gravel, aside from near Sakuradamon, will get you into trouble and the police guards will tell you to get out.  The sidewalk is free to run on, but be aware that there are many tourists walking around.  The east side of the course is the busiest for tourists and you will have to avoid them.  One article said that there was an estimated 4500 people running around the Imperial Palace between 6pm and 9pm on a weeknight.  That is by far the busiest time, and probably best to avoid running there.  I have heard from friends that it can be too busy, and running at your own pace can be a challenge.  Weekends and weekday mornings are probably better, but you may have to find a way to pass people who are slower, or let others who are faster pass.  While this may sound bad, the actual route is very nice and picturesque.  Most people only visit the east side, but the west side offers a look at the palace grounds from a different angle.  It may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but a quick run around is worth it.

This is part of a series on running in Tokyo.  To read more, continue to Running in Tokyo – Central Tokyo.


Running Club:  http://www.namban.org/
Runner’s World Article:  http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-281–6897-0,00.html
Running In Tokyo:  http://runningintokyo.com/
Time Out Tokyo (Blog):  http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/176
Imperial Palace Running Guide (Japanese):  http://koukyo-run.boo.jp/
Art Sports:  Running Oasis (Japanese): http://runningoasis.art-sports.jp/


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