After the wobbles of yesterday, Monday went a lot more smoothly. Our city-survival strategies are definitely improving. We woke to sunshine so we grabbed the chance to visit Skytree. Tokyo has a number of high places offering great views of this mega sized city. The kids were desperate to visit Skytree – the tallest tower in the world at 634 metres high (and the second tallest structure, only beaten by Burj Khalifa in Dubai). Visitors can only ascend to the top observation deck at 450 metres, but it’s still a pretty impressive height (more than twice Skytower’s top observation deck height of 220 metres!).
We had read stories of horrific queues to enter Skytree, which motivated us to get going at a decent time. It was quite a way from our hotel, so involved negotiating three trains in rush hour. The crowds haven’t been as bad on the trains as we expected. Although the trains shift many millions each day, they are just so frequent that even in rush hour we usually manage a seat after a few stops. We arrived at the tower ticket office to virtually no queue – but the empty queue barriers were a tell-tale sign of just how bad it could be.
First stop was Tempo Deck at 350 metres. There was a fair bit of haze around, but the views were still pretty amazing. The sheer scale of this city was starting to sink in, we had fun picking out places we had visited. After a brief circuit of the Tempo Deck, we went up to the top Tempo Galleria before it got too busy. We had expected pretty much the same view, but got a surprise to see Mount Fuji for the second time on this trip. We thought there was no chance with all the haze, but Fuji was clearly visible popping out the top of the haze band! Last stop was the glass floor, where we stood on the glass and looked 345 metres straight down to the ground. When we emerged from the elevator, the queue barriers had disappeared in the sea of people lining up at the ticket office, it’s amazing what a difference an hour makes.
The kids were really keen to visit Ueno Zoo, home to a couple of giant pandas. They had seen sleeping giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and didn’t want to pass up the possibility of seeing non-sleeping pandas! Ueno Zoo is the bargain of the year – 1000 yen total (about $11) for me and the kids! Andy was keen for another technology fix in Akihabara, so I took the kids to the zoo. We did stop at Akihabara en route to visit the much raved about Don Quijote store (think wacky Japanese version of Walmart – which turned out to be a bit of a let-down) and grab some lunch at a French bakery.
We arrived at the zoo to find the pandas were right by the entrance. That suited my plan for a visit to the pandas and a couple of other interesting enclosures, then a hasty exit. I thought that would be a great $11 worth and save the legs from exhaustion. However, the kids both love zoos and clearly had other ideas, especially once they’d got hold of the zoo map and seen what was on offer. We walked and we walked and we did the lot! Ueno opened in 1882 and is the oldest zoo in Japan. In some places it shows, with rather depressing old-style cages. The more modern exhibits are much more appealing.
First stop was the pandas and we were delighted that one of them was quite active. The other one was as chilled out as the Edinburgh pandas! The other favourites were the polar bears, slow loris, elephants (very cute with three of them waking around holding trunk to tail) and the reticulated python. We exited out a different gate and enjoyed a lovely walk back through the cherry blossoms back to the station.
Our evening plan had been to eat at the food stalls in Ueno park, but we moved to plan B as the drizzle returned. Instead we headed one stop to Ikebukuro in search of some dinner and a Disney Store to pre-buy our tickets for tomorrow. Our destination was Sunshine City, a shopping and entertainment complex. Andy lined up at the Disney Store while the rest of us scouted the 90 restaurants on offer. Andy’s mission was unsuccessful as advance tickets were sold out, but we did succeed in finding a Hawaiian burger place for a fix of Western food!
We arrived back at the hotel and collapsed into bed around 8:30 in an attempt to restore our exhausted bodies ready for our Disneysea day tomorrow.