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Tokyo — Otemachi January 3, 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 – Otemachi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Is

Otemachi is a small business district north of Tokyo Station.  By all means, it is not a place most tourists would ever consider visiting.  It is an area that is virtually shut down on Sundays.  It is devoid of any open shops and restaurants which makes looking for food a near impossible task.  While there is almost nothing to do on the weekends, it is an interesting place architecturally and they do have various events scheduled in the area.

The first thing to understand when visiting the Otemachi area is to learn how to get around.  For most people, entering via Tokyo Station will be the easiest.  Entering via Otemachi Station will also be easy, but the labyrinth of underground passages makes this a very daunting task.  The street is much easier to get around, but due to the changeable weather at times, this is not always feasible.  Being close to the Imperial Palace, it is often rumoured that most of the tunnels around Otemachi were originally built in the build-up to World War II and that there are several secret tunnels still remaining.  Unfortunately, a walk through the tunnels of Otemachi is nothing interesting.  It is a typical labyrinth of access tunnels that will get you lost.  Otemachi Station itself is situated in a square shape around one block making transfers from one line to another very inconvenient.

Otemachi is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo and it is currently undergoing revitalization.  In many areas of Otemachi, you will see various construction sites and buildings in various degrees of completion.  Some of the older buildings will be around for many more years, but like the neighboring Marunouchi district, the old buildings have been destroyed or in the process of being destroyed.  If anything, you can get a great sense of Tokyo’s construction industry and how it functions when building high rises.  When visiting some of the newer buildings, you can find a lot of surprises.  The older high rises are generally closed to the public, but newer buildings are open with shopping floors in the basement.  As Otemachi continues to be revitalized, it is looking less and less distinct from neighboring Marunouchi and will soon be indistinguishable.

Otemachi, for tourists, is well known for being located at the entrance to the Imperial Palace East Gardens.  A short walk across the street from Otemachi is the main entrance to the East Gardens.  Located adjacent to the entrance is the Wadakura Fountain Park.  It is a beautiful park with many fountains.  It is just as beautiful, if not more, at night when the fountains are lit up.  While these are the large parks in Otemachi, Otemachi also has many tiny parks and areas to relax.  Similar to Marunouchi, this area has many secrets waiting to be discovered if you look for them.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Otemachi is an area that can easily be skipped by a typical tourist.  Neighboring Marunouchi has more things to do while Otemachi is a true business district.  There are many offices in the area and very little else.  Most people will just pass through on their way to the East Gardens and that’s pretty much it.  For those living in the area, or rather working in the area, it can be a treasure trove of secrets.  You can find passages underground that you never knew existed.  You can find small parks that are populated only by people working the surrounding buildings.  You can also find the typical “slaryman” of Japan.  Unfortunately, you won’t see them in their natural after work environment, the bar.  For that, you’ll have to walk across Tokyo Station to the Yaesu district.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo — Imperial Palace East Gardens May 17, 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 – Imperial Palace East Gardens” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-DC

 

I have written in the past about the Imperial Palace but I have almost always neglected to visit the East Gardens.  The East Gardens are a free area of the Imperial Palace that is home to one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo.  Being a free garden makes it more special as there are few if any gardens in Japan that are open to the public.  The East Gardens are situated on the north east corner of the palace grounds.  It can be a little difficult to find at first as most people will head to the main palace, or the Kokyogaien, the southern park.  There are three entrances to the East Gardens, but most people will use the main Otemon gate.  It is easily accessible from Tokyo Station or Otemachi Station.  Upon entry into the gardens from Otemon gate, you will be within the Sannomaru grounds.  When visiting a Japanese castle, or former castle, they have “marus”.  A maru is literally translated into circle, but for a castle, it can be roughly translated into an area or section.  Each section is fortified by walls and defences.  Think of a traditional European castle with an outer and inner wall.  This is no different except traditionally there is no ring, but rather areas.  The Sannomaru area is not a very interesting place, to be honest, but it is a typical tourist “entrance”.  You will pass a small entrance where you must grab a tab.  This is mainly to keep track of who is inside the park, especially when closing.  You must return this as you leave.  Don’t worry about having to pay for anything as everything is free.  Once inside, there is a small museum and souvenir shop within the Sannomaru area.  The Sannomaru Shozokan is a museum housing works from the Imperial Collection.  The collection is rotated to display various items that were gifted, donated, or inherited by the Imperial Family.  You can see various works of art within this very small museum.  It is actually just one room with various works of art inside.  The souvenir shop is equally as small offering very simple gifts such as chopsticks and a few books about Japan.  Calendars of the Imperial Family are also available, however making use of the building as a rest stop is a good idea.

On the self guided tour, you are supposed to head up to the Honmaru area first.  This is the largest area and home of the old Edo Castle when it was standing.  I found the garden in this area to be somewhat sparse compared to the Ninomaru area, but the historical importance of this area is much higher.  You can see various remnants of the old castle along with a little information of what they were used for.  Sticking to the centre of the garden will take you to various planted gardens.  The centre of attention for this area has to be the Oshibafu.  It is a large grass lawn that is used for Imperial ceremonies at times.  In reality, I found it to be a bit boring and stuck to the outer circle where you can see more trees and plant life.  The Honmaru area is filled with various fruit trees, rose bushes, and bamboo groves.  Aside from the plant life, the Tenshudai is the main artificial focal point.  It is the remaining foundation of the old Edo Castle before it was destroyed.  It is used more as a viewing platform these days but the view is only of the Honmaru area itself.  If you are expecting a nice view of the surrounding area, you will be disappointed.  There is also the Tokagakudo Concert Hall.  It is a tall concert hall with various pieces of art on the sides that depict the different seasons of the year.  It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the gardens, but keep in mind that it is a modern styled building.  The other buildings are all traditional buildings that have a lot of history, such as barracks for soldiers.  You can’t really compare old and new things in terms of beauty.

The Ninomaru area is the most beautiful area of the garden.  This is where you will see the most life.  If you approach the area from the back of the Honmaru area, not from the Otemon entrance, you will be delighted with a view of either the Ninomaru area or plum trees.  The Bairin-zaka Slope, or plum grove slope, is absolutely beautiful during the plum blossom season (March).  You can see two varieties of plum blossoms, both light and vibrant pink.  They are very similar to cherry blossoms and provide an early taste for the famous cherry blossom season.  The Suwano-chaya Tea House and Ninomaru Garden are located near the plum tree grove and are, in my opinion, the focal point of the Ninomaru area.  The Tea House is not open to the public but it is a traditional looking tea house.  The surrounding trees make this a very picturesque area.  To one side of the tea house is a small section of trees.  There are 47 different trees with each tree representing a different prefecture in Japan.  The Ninomaru Garden is another beautiful area with a medium sized coy pond and a small waterfall.  You can climb up a small embankment to the top of the waterfall where you will get great views of the Ninomaru gardens.  The Ninomaru Gardens are a great place to relax in the afternoon.  You may not be able to find a nice place to sit, but you will definitely find it peaceful.

The East Gardens are a pleasant surprise for me.  I was expecting it to be a little boring and to be honest 5 years ago I would have found it boring.  While the rest of the Imperial Palace grounds are nothing to get excited about the East Gardens is a small exception.  It’s a great place to spend a few hours enjoying the nature Japan has to offer.  It offers a wide variety of plant life that you would see if you toured all over Japan.  You can also get a small taste of what a traditional Japanese garden will look like.  Of course each garden in Japan is different but this garden is not extremely different compared to others in Japan.  It isn’t very traditional, and the landscape is set within the castle grounds itself.  The plants are more “modern” compared to a traditional Japanese garden, but you will still get a better feel of a Japanese garden at no cost to yourself, aside for the time it takes to tour the area.  It’s definitely a good place to visit if you have the time.

Imperial Palace East Garden Information:

Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3018.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Imperial_Palace

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Imperial Palace) June 29, 2010

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 (Imperial Palace)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pC

The Imperial Palace is one of the biggest tourist spots in central Tokyo.  It is the home of the Japanese Imperial Family and home of one of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo.  The area itself is somewhat difficult to reach, but the area also provides one of the most unique views of Tokyo.  The most famous way to reach the Imperial Palace is to exit from Tokyo Station, Marunouchi Exit, and head down the biggest street.  This will lead to the main entrance of the palace.  Following this road will take you to a vast open area with no buildings.  This is the Imperial Palace.  Once there, you will see a small park full of cherry trees on the east side.  This is one of the most beautiful views for cherry blossoms in Tokyo.  It is always popular, but do be aware that security is very heavy and they will tell you if you are doing something wrong.  There is also a major street running straight through the middle of this area called Uchibori Dori.  On the west side of this street is the main entrance to the Imperial Palace.  This area itself isn’t special as almost all of it is full of gravel.  You can walk up to the inner moat of the inner palace grounds, but that’s about it.  You can take photos of the palace from behind the moat.  It is popular to take pictures of two famous bridges, but access onto the bridges and into the palace is extremely limited.  Twice a year, you can enter, but you will still be restricted to specific areas, and if you take the tour, the chances of English guides is low to none at all.  If you do head over, January second is a good day to visit as you can enter the inner grounds a little and you can see all of the dignitaries from around the world visiting the Emperor and wishing him a happy new year.  Many of the dignitaries will be wearing their traditional clothes as it would be an official visit.  If you are lucky, when a new Ambassador visits the Emperor for the first time, they usually take him or her from Tokyo Station to the palace by horse and carriage.  It’s a unique experience that I hope to experience once, but I haven’t been that lucky.

Just north of the main entrance is the Imperial Palace East Gardens.  I have not had the luxury to visit this area yet, but it is the home of the original Edo Castle.  The Imperial Palace itself sits on the property of the original Edo Castle.  This was the main castle of Tokyo that was destroyed either in the late 1800s or during World War II.  Unfortunately, the information on the internet is not very clear on an exact date of destruction.  Today, the East Gardens are open to the public, but the sights are no where near as grand as in the past.  The old castle is nothing but a stone foundation, but the gardens are sure to be nice.  Visiting this area, you are sure to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and be able to relax.  If you were hoping to see a real Japanese castle, unfortunately, you have to leave Tokyo to see one.  If you have the energy and the time, heading a little farther north, you will come to the Nippon Budokan, or Budokan for short.  This is one of the most famous concert venues in Tokyo, and also the biggest martial arts arena in Tokyo.  It was originally built for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, but it is also a very popular venue for artists.  There are several famous places to play a concert in Tokyo, and the Budokan is one of them.  Tokyo Dome and Jingu Stadium are bigger and more famous, but you’d have to be a huge star to play there.  If you are lucky, you can always buy a ticket to see one of the judo competitions.  It is said to be one of the most interesting places to see judo.

While the Imperial Palace is a famous spot for tourists, many locals take advantage of the palace grounds as well.  It is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and seeing the autumn leaves.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cherry trees located on and around the Imperial Palace.  During the cherry blossom season, the cherry trees are lit up at night and people jockey for position along the moat.  It can create a very nice and interesting picture.  The biggest draw for locals is the road encircling the palace.  The road goes around the palace in a ring for 5 kilometres.  This provides an ideal location for people to go running.  It’s most popular for people to head to Takebashi Station, walk to a nearby sento (public bath), change and go for a run.  When they have finished, either 5/10/… km run, they return, take a shower, and head back home.  If you are a runner, this is the once place you must go to enjoy a nice morning, afternoon, or night run.  The most popular way to run around the palace is to go counter-clockwise.  You start off from Takebashi Station and head uphill until you are near Hanzomon Station.  From there, it’s downhill to Sakuradamon Station.  Because the uphill is steeper going counter-clockwise, it’s easier, so most people go this way.  Also, at night, if you go clockwise, you will have many headlights pointed in your face.  This makes it difficult to see with the glare.  There is one thing you must be careful about, and that’s the pollution.  When running in other areas, there is less pollution.  When I had run in this area, I didn’t have problems as I am used to Tokyo, but after this run, my clothes were covered in a thin, or thick depending on your viewpoint, layer of soot.  This can be disgusting to most people, do be prepared.  The good thing about this is that you can see a lot of Tokyo in a short time, and experience another aspect of Japanese life.  Running is now a major pastime for many Japanese people, and it’s growing.

Is the Imperial Palace worth a visit on your next trip?  Many people say yes, but for me, it’s 50/50.  I think it’s a nice place to go, but I wouldn’t put it high on my list of places to visit.  You can do many things there, but you are still extremely limited, and you may be in for a disappointment.  If you go expecting nothing, you will probably enjoy it a lot more.  If you go expecting to be wowed, you will probably be disappointed.  Just go and have fun as always and you will be fine.

Imperial Palace Information

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Imperial_Palace
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3017.html
Budokan (Official Site – Japanese):  http://www.nipponbudokan.or.jp/
Budokan (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nippon_Budokan
Edo Castle (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_Castle
Edo Castle (JNTO): http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/attractions/facilities/castles/83dn3a000000ece7.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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.

Information:

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/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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