No Tokyo visit is complete without a tour of the gardens of the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda. The palace buildings are off-limits to visitors but can be clearly seen from the nicely appointed gardens. Tokyo Science Museum and the Yasukuni war memorial complex are on the north side of the palace park and the Diet parliament buildings to the south.
Yasukuni features a Shinto-style shrine which pays homage to Japanese soldiers killed in wars in addition to a museum with military themed displays and collections. The New Otani Hotel is within walking distance of the Diet. One of the hotel’s upper floors has been converted into a peerless art museum containing French and Japanese pieces including a sizable number of ukiyo-e artworks.
Ueno Park is 15 minutes on a Ginza Metro train from Chiyoda. The park is really a fabulous spot with lots of interesting and unique things to keep visitors occupied. Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple is a cultural gem which is more than 300 years old. Benevolent goddess Kosodate Kannon is immortalised in statue form inside the bright red walls of the temple and legend has it that women who give her a doll will be able conceive a child easily.
Ueno is home to a collection of museums covering several different genres. The Western Art Museum is one of the finest locations outside Europe to see masterpieces created by luminaries including Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh, Rubens and Monet. The National Museum of Nature and Science Museum traces Japan’s path through time from pre-history.
A spaceship, a huge chunk of meteorite, a futabasaurus skeleton and a model of Hachiko, Japan’s favourite dog testify to the diversity of the National’s collections. Ueno Zoo provides another great excuse to head for this part of Tokyo. Giant pandas, puffins, white rhinoceroses and polar bears are just a few of the 2,000 animals housed at the zoo.
Ueno Park has lots of sakura trees and these are awesome sight when they flower in spring. As the sakura flowers blossom, Tokyo goes into party mode and residents and tourists head for parks and other city locations to enjoy al fresco picnics. Around 1,000 sakura trees are lined up like soldiers on the bank of the Sumida River between Azumabashi and Sakurabashi bridges. Other sakura hotspots are the Imperial Palace’s eastern gardens, Chidorigafuchi and Shinjuku Gyoen.
Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple is one of the scores of temples and shrines that are a living reminder of Tokyo’s rich past. In Yoyogi Park and right in the middle of a large forest, Meiji Shrine is a cultural icon with a museum full of royal memorabilia. Nezu Shrine features elegant old structures and is famed for its springtime azalea blooms. Yushima Tenjin Shrine and Yushima Seido Temple are two more visitors should take in if they have sufficient time.
Tokyo Tower soars more than 300 metres above the city’s skyline and its two viewing decks provide incomparable vistas over this sprawling metropolis. The upper observation deck is 250-metres above ground level. FootTown is at the bottom of the tower and is where an interesting aquarium is located. FootTown is the boarding point for lifts to the observation levels.