On the second day we decided to go to Skytree, which I have written about before (my visit with Nick and Dee). However there were a couple of differences – first, we didn’t go to the aquarium, and secondly today was a nice, clear day and we had a great view from the Observation Deck. Even though it was the last day of December, it was a sunny day, a little windy but not too cold.
Obviously it was also much busier than my previous visit – with the clear skies and the holiday season, and we had to wait a little while to go up, even with fast-track international visitor tickets.
We could even see – just about – Mount Fuji, though it was difficult for our cameras to distinguish from the sky. I could make out where my apartment was though I could barely make out the district never mind the street or individual buildings!
After we came down we went for ice-cream at the Cold Stone Creamery. This is a franchise I have visited before in Arizona, USA, but the Japanese version is a little different. They sing while they make your ice cream! And they are very good too – harmonies and plenty of different tunes!
By the time we finished at Skytree our options were narrowing. Many of the places we wanted to visit were closing early because of New Year. We hadn’t even decided where to go for the midnight celebration – we asked at a tourist office who confirmed there were no fireworks arranged in the whole of Tokyo. Our best bet seemed to be the Shibuya “Scramble Crossing” where thousands of people would gather in the street and watch the countdown on a big screen.
We still had a few hours to kill before then, however, and given our location in the north of the city, I decided we should go to Ueno, the biggest northern area of Tokyo, and home of temples, museums, parks, even a zoo that had giant pandas. And another place I had never been before.
We found the park easily – its entrance relative to the station was up a huge flight of stairs, but we found a shopping centre with escalators where the top floor opened up onto the park’s ground level. It was getting very windy when we arrived and it seemed most people were hurrying home.
We investigated the Buddhist temple near the entrance, then wandered deeper into the park towards the zoo and museums. It was largely deserted now, and as we feared, everything had closed early.
We spotted a four-level pagoda and headed towards that, which led us into the Peony Garden which, while in the process of closing, hadn’t actually closed yet. There wasn’t much sign of any peonies, but there were lots of stone lanterns and dragon-lion statues. And at the end, of course, a temple!
The insistent (and for once, date-appropriate) refrain of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ encouraged us to hurry out of the garden, and indeed the park, and take a leisurely route back to the station. We passed another temple in the middle of a lake, which seemed to have numerous street food stalls set up on the causeway, perhaps ready for its New Year commemoration visitors.
The skies were getting dark and we still hadn’t firmed up our plans for midnight, now just 6 or so hours away. We decided to return to the hotel and make a final decision while we were getting ready.