2019 Classic Japan Autumn Tour Report
Our 2019 autumn tour started off with a few days in Japan’s capital, the amazing megacity of Tokyo.
For our early arrivals, we’ve always run an optional tour to cover free time before the start of our main tour. Louise was our earliest arrival and was able to join me as we explored central Tokyo and Shinjuku for a few hours before our welcome dinner.
First stop was Tokyo Station. For most travellers to Japan, this place often marks the first major landmark they encounter in Japan with most airport trains and buses terminating here. In recent years, Tokyo Station has undergone significant renovations on its Marunouchi side, with the main highlight being the restoration of the domed rotundas on the west and east ends. More recent work focused around the area in front of the building, which is now a beautiful open plaza that connects to Gyoki-dori Avenue and onto the Tokyo Imperial Palace. I’m always amazed by how clean and neat Japan is, and Tokyo Station Plaza is no exception – absolutely exemplary!
- The beautiful new plaza on the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station. To the left is the western rotunda. There is also a countdown timer to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in front.
- One of the beautifully renovated rotundas at Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi side.
Nearby Tokyo Station is Tokyo Imperial Palace, where the Emperor of Japan and his family live. We stopped for a look at Seimonishi Bridge which forms one of the entrances into the Imperial Palace’s Inner Grounds. While the outer grounds and the East Gardens are open year round, the Inner Grounds are only open on two days a year, 2nd January (New Year’s Greeting) and 23rd December (Emperor’s Birthday), during which the Emperor makes a special appearance from his palace balcony to greet well wishers and say a special message.
- The beautiful new Japan National Stadium built for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This building has had a tumultuous history with the original design by famed architect Zaha Hadid scrapped due to public discontent over the building’s cost as well as protests by famous Japanese architects. After her design was scrapped, a new design competition for the stadium was held, with a design by Kengo Kuma beating out fellow “starchitect” Toyo Ito. Personally, I liked Ito’s design better based on the aerial renderings but from the ground, Kuma’s building design really looks superb.
- The brand new Mitsui Garden Hotel Jingugaien Tokyo Premier. As a huge fan of architecture, it was a wonderful surprise for me to see this directly opposite Japan National Stadium. I think the design of this hotel is fantastic – the way the wood is used here to create pattern and depth, and the repetition of the square/cube theme. World class architecture here by Nikken Sekkei, the second largest architectural firm in the world and responsible for many prominent buildings around the world. They also designed one of the new Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues, the Ariake Gymnastics Centre which looks like it is a close relative of this hotel with its incredible use of wood.
- The gentle curve on each side of the Mitsui hotel is reminiscent of the roof profiles seen in Japanese temples. I call this the “Zen curve” but it probably has a proper name – look for this next time you see a Japanese temple. Finally, the use of contrasting wood colours here to create texture and depth and the repetition is fantastic.
Odaiba is a large artificial island in Tokyo Bay which serves as a shopping, commercial and residential area. Odaiba has become a part of our main itinerary after initially being an optional tour. This is mainly due to the presence of the Mori Building Digital Art Museum. This groundbreaking museum was the first digital art museum in the world and features the work of the Japanese art collective, teamLab. The museum features 10,000sqm of space and artworks are spread over five zones.
Aside from the Digital Art Museum, Odaiba is well known for its architecture, with the Fuji TV Building a prominent landmark, along with a curious mini Statue of Liberty replica, and a life size Gundam robot statue.
- The Forest of Resonating Lamps has an immediate “wow” factor the moment you enter the room and it’s one of the popular exhibits for selfie shots. There are a few exhibits in the Digital Art Museum that make use of mirrored walls and floors to create an “infinity mirror room” effect – a technique which Japanese artist Yayoi Kusuma is famous for.
- This area of the Digital Art Museum is called the Future Park and features a lot of interactive exhibits. Perfect for kids and those who are young at heart!
Tokyo Skytree （東京スカイツリー）
We finished off Day 3 at Tokyo Skytree. This is the third tallest building in the world and has amazing views of Tokyo from its two observation decks. We visited the 350m observation deck and setup early to shoot the sunset. On this day we were blessed to have some very clear weather so Mount Fuji was easily visible in the distance.
I always tell my tour members that this view of Tokyo is worth seeing from daylight through to night time because of how different Tokyo looks as the light changes. By spending this amount of time at Skytree, it is possible to get several great shots of the city from multiple viewpoints.