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Crashing Japan
Tour Experience - Tokyo Tower, Asakusa, Meiji Shrine, and Ninjas

by Bamboo Dong,

The first full day of the Destination Japan tour was filled with some of the must-sees that any visitor to Japan should see. Aided by our guide Michiko, the day started off with a trip to Tokyo Tower, a steel behemoth that rises 333m into the sky. Although the price of the tour only included admission into the first observation deck, it's well worth the extra 600JPY to go to the second observation deck. This was especially true when we went, as the view from the first deck was greatly obscured by the netting around it, put in place because of regularly scheduled paint maintenance.

If you're staring out at the city isn't to your liking, though, you can always check out Foot Town, a four-story complex at the base of the tower that contains shops, museums, an aquarium, and a few restaurants. It's also a great place to buy some quirky merchandise, like plush toys of the Noppon brothers, the tower's twin mascots.

After the tower, we headed for Senso-ji Temple in the Asakusa district, a Buddhist temple that draws in thousands of visitors every day, both Japanese and foreign. Normally the atmosphere is a bit more subdued, but when we went, it happened to coincide with an appearance by David Coulthard, an F1 driver who was there to get his car blessed. Needless to say, all the camera crews and dance-music-playing speakers were a bit out of place, but it was an exciting event to witness.

The temple is also a great place for tourists to go browse the stalls that extend from the grounds. You can buy a variety of things there, ranging from souvenirs, to wigs, to kimono, to replica swords, to some of the best fried sticky rice treats in the world.

Afterwards, we headed to Kabukicho, where HIS International Tours set up a “Ninja Experience” for the tour participants. (The agency has several “Experience Japan” options available for travelers, amongst which include making a kimono, spending a day with sumo wrestlers, learning traditional Japanese dance, and others.) There, a real ninja taught the crowd about what it meant to be a ninja (tidbit: the kanji for “nin” has the character for sword above the character for heart), and some of the history behind ninjitsu. Then, after the group changed into ninja clothing, he demonstrated some techniques from the ninjitsu style he was trained in. For a couple hours, we were able to wrench each other's arms and pummel the martial arts experts, with some even getting to use practice swords. The highlight of my day was made when they allowed me to try on the iron samurai armor they had sitting in the corner, and although I don't think the fake moustache suited me, I did feel pretty indestructible.

The last stop of the day was Meiji Shrine, a serene place that was built for the current emperor's great-grandfather. It was getting dark so we only had half an hour to spend there, but it's a place well-worth making the journey for.

For more pictures and commentary on the tour, check out Destination Japan's flashback page.

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