If you were to plot the paths that we walked while in Tokyo, our first and second days would be neatly wound scribbles in the same relative geographic region. Day three however, would look like long lines bouncing back and forth between every corner of the city.
I think that’s because we were aware that our time in Tokyo was coming to an end and we all had so much that we still wanted to see. On this third day, our attitude kept waffling from “We don’t have enough time to truly jump in” to “We’re sure as hell going to try to see everything!” At the time, I think this felt like indecision but looking back, I feel as though this was the day we experienced the truest form of immersion. With no clear itinerary at hand, we still managed to visit five unique destinations within the city!
We started our day with a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This 800 foot tall City Hall imposes itself prominently on the Tokyo skyline and I imagine that each centimeter of space inside is desperately needed—it is from this building that 23 unique wards, 26 cities, countless villages, and nearly 850 square miles of the Tokyo Metropolis are governed.
Why visit a government building? We’re not exactly political science enthusiasts.
Well, on top of all those leadership levels lies two observation decks, open to the public for free. It’s almost best to think of them as two small city parks, each located 663 feet in the air. After a short queue and a quick security check (where I was asked to not use my tripod, as if I were a shameless selfie-stick user!) we were crammed into an elevator. The operator selected the 45th floor and seconds later—*ding*.
The doors opened to arguably the best free view in Tokyo.
The weather was perfect for sight-seeing from up high. In fact, if you looked beyond the distant clouds, you could see Mt. Fuji watching over the city, 60 miles to the southwest. If you’re having trouble spotting it in my photos, it’s the snow-capped peak above the cloud line.
We walked around the the deck, gazing for miles in each direction. Every now and then, we’d spot a landmark from the past two days and point it out to the rest of the gang. But within 15 minutes, we were ready to leave and caught the next elevator down. Back on the ground-level, we strolled through the building’s courtyard and were inspired to pose by a row of sultry statues.
“I know the Japanese Imperial Palace is across town. We could check that out?"
And so, we caught the Chuo Line across town to the Tokyo Central Station. Leaving the station, we walked down a grand boulevard toward an enormous open-air district that reminded me of New York’s Central Park—greenery and open space bordered by tall structures on each side. It is from here that the Imperial Palace sits on a forested hill in the middle of Tokyo. We crossed the first “moat”-like canal but stopped just short of the second to take our pictures.
The Imperial Palace is beautiful but inaccessible. Still home to the Emperor of Japan, standing in front of the structure was like standing in front of Buckingham Palace when the Queen is in town—it’s neat, but you soon realize the view is limited. We walked around the expansive grounds, taking photos of anything that would make it seem as though we were closer than we actually were.
We then started on the walk back to Tokyo Station. From the outside, the station looks old fashioned and historic and to an uninitiated traveler, there is no warning that beyond this facade lies the station's complex city-within-a-city. But we were prepared and knew where we wanted to go, quickly catching the Yamanote Line to Ueno Park.
Ueno Park is a massive, multi-use park north of central Tokyo. Like Balboa Park in San Diego, Ueno Park is a hilly open-space full of museums and other forms of cultural exhibition. In the springtime, the park is famous for its rows of cherry blossoms. On our autumn-visit, the trees lacked blossoms—or any leaves, for that matter.
We exited the train station and entered the park without a plan (but assisted by a map that we were given by a friendly local). Inside the park, we stopped to read up on monuments and listen to a street-marimba player perform Disney melodies. Reaching the edge of the park's upper-level, we saw a pop-up market down below went to explore. The market, full of tasty-looking food and snacks, was squeezed on the main path leading to a temple and was surrounded by a marshy looking area. We opted not to buy anything but by the time we hiked back up to the park's upper-level, we needed a snack! We bought some ice cream and sat next to a bunch of defunct carnival rides to eat. It was a unique, relaxing moment for us.
Perhaps it was the sugar rush of the ice cream or inspiration from the carnival rides, but a plan was soon hatched to stop by a landmark that Chuck and I were very familiar with: Thunder Dolphin, a massive roller coaster at LaQua in the Tokyo Dome City area.
Chuck and I used to be “roller coaster enthusiasts”. And when I say “used to be”, I mean it in a sense similar to someone who grew up going to Catholic school but who no longer practices Catholicism—they might no longer be devout, but they cant deny it’s a part of who they are and, on the occasional Christmas or Easter, are known to drop in for a Mass.
This is our Mass.
Jutting 260 feet into the Tokyo skyline and twisting through a large portion of its layout while on top of the LaQua spa building, Thunder Dolphin is the 8th tallest roller coaster in the world (I feel obligated to state that this list doesn’t include non-continuous circuit roller coasters, but I suppose you're indifferent to the designation). Chuck and I were very familiar with the roller coaster from our fandom-days and when we saw the coaster from the Chuo Line, it reawakened an interest.
As we walked closer to the massive, triangular coaster, our excitement grew and grew. For Chris and Cindy, however, quite the opposite was taking place. But still, being the excellent and supportive spouses that they are, they reluctantly agreed to a ride. We bought tickets, were practically frisked for loose articles, and immediately found ourselves in rows one and two.
The experience was AMAZ—well, let some reaction photos show you how great the ride was!
With all of us shaken and stirred from an 80 MPH trip around the rooftops of Tokyo, we settled down for a hearty lunch and then made our way back to the train station. On the way, Chris body-checked an unsuspecting local woman (no joke! Check out the video!) and then we returned to our hotel for our third of three mid-afternoon Tokyo naps, the last nap needed to rid our bodies of jet lag. When we awoke, we wished to make the most of one final night in the Tokyo area by visiting one of the most quintessentially Tokyo landmarks.
The Tokyo Tower is a massive Tokyo icon and observation deck, designed to transmit television signals to the region below. Though less elegant than the Eiffel Tower and shorter than Tokyo’s own SkyTree (but then by default, cheaper), we thought it would be the most classic way to view the amazing city at night. We took another private subway line and emerged about a quarter-mile downhill from the tower’s base.
When we walked up to the tower, we approached the blocky four-story structure at its base and purchased tickets for the observation deck. As Chris’s birthday was right around the corner, his ticket even came with a coupon for free ice cream from, well, none other than Baskin Robbins! We entered the building and encountered no line, earning us our own private elevator to the top.
The view of Tokyo was both stunning and staticky as the millions of blocky, illuminated windows provided an infinite range of depth and yet nothing to visually sink our teeth into. We were level with most of the other skyscrapers in the area and, because the upper-observation deck (another 100 meters up from us) was closed for refurbishment, this was the best view we were going to get.
Still, the tower offered plenty to look at, including one electrifying view straight down.
At the end of our visit, we made our way back down the elevator to depart for our hotel (of course, stopping at Baskin Robbins, for Chris). The view from the Tokyo Tower was a great way to spend our final night Tokyo but it was time to pack for our next destination, Kyoto.
There is so much we still haven’t seen in Tokyo. From other touristy spots, like the Edo Castle or the Tsukiji Fish market, to a proper sushi dinner, theatre, countless temples, museums, and even the Robot Restaurant show, there are a million things for us to do when we return to Tokyo.
And one day, we will return.
But in the meantime, to cap our time in this amazing city and hold us off until next time, check out the video of our third day in Tokyo, below.
As always, if you’ve still made it this far, there are plenty of amazing photos to check out in the gallery below.