The Hato Bus Dynamic Tokyo Tour
I had heard about these Hato Busses from Ema’s friend who recommended it and as well as my uncle in Shanghai. Originally I hadn’t planned on taking a Hato Bus but with how packed our schedule had been I thought it’d be a nice break. We picked the Dynamic Tokyo tour for a cost of 12,000 JPY.
After a quick morning breakfast at the lounge we got picked up by a Hato Bus where they dropped us off at World Trade Center building. We had to wait awhile at the bus terminal downstairs to be picked up by our real bus for the Dynamic Tokyo tour. Our tour guide for the day was Junko and thankfully she had pretty good English. The rest of the group was a mixed bag of tourists from all over.
Our first stop was Tokyo Tower. At the top we had panoramic views of the city. The visibility was decent but cloudy as all of our other days have been. On a clear winter day apparently you can see Mt. Fuji all the way from Tokyo. We first walked around with Junko who pointed out a few major landmarks. The observation deck is broken up into two levels. You start off at the top and take the stairs down a level to the a lower deck that offers you the same view but also includes a small glass floor similar to CN Tower.
Next stop was Happo-en Garden where we experienced a very traditional matcha green tea drinking ceremony. This was quite the unique experience as we wouldn’t have been able to do something like this on our own. Two ladies dressed in traditional kimonos performed a very strict ritual. We had to respond to their questions in a certain way. When they asked us how the tea was we had to say “Keko desu” meaning I’m very pleased. Prior to drinking the tea we also had to eat this sugar rock that looked hard on the outside but was actually quite soft and light inside to give the tea a sweeter flavor when you drink it. The garden itself was quite beautiful with a small lake and a row of ridiculously old bonsai trees.
Moksushun-do for Lunch
After that it was right into lunch at a restaurant called Mokushun-do in the Chinzan-so Garden. The lunch itself was Japanese BBQ style on this stone grill. The meal was fantastic as there was a lady cooking the meat and vegetables throughout and the meat itself was so juicy and full of flavor. It was easily one of our best meals in Japan. Safeway Tour meals got nothing on this! After lunch we roamed around the garden to check out their mini pagoda and then off we went to our next destination.
Back to Imperial Palace Again
The website said we’d be going to see the Imperial Palace Nijubashi Bridge which we didn’t get to go to on our first day but instead they ended up dropping us back at the exact same place we were a few days ago – the entrance to the East Gardens. This part was a bit disappointing but luckily we just walked around the outer wall and took some photos at the front of the gate.
Sumida River Sightseeing Cruise
We hopped back on the bus and it drove us down to the Hinode Pier to catch the Sumida River Sightseeing Cruise. The cruise took us from the Tokyo bay area up under the many bridge to Asakusa.
Off the boat we had free time to roam Nakamise Street which was lined with souvenir and snack shops. The brown sugar shave ice with mochi here was mindblowing. Junko provided us a meeting time at the end of Nakamise Street where she would give us a guided tour of Senso-ji Temple.
With that the tour was over and we got dropped off a block away from our hotel. On the way back we found this tiny ramen shop. It wasn’t very good but we needed some food to hold us over until after the fireworks.
Fireworks are a big deal for the Japanese in the summertime and in Tokyo especially they run these shows around once a month. It just so happened that one of our Tokyo days landed on one of these events and that it would be in the Tokyo Bay area which was perfect because the Conrad had a glorious view of the bay.
Back at our hotel, we noticed right away that the hotel was way busier than any of the previous days. Instead of foreign tourists the place was teeming with wealthy Japanese families. The original plan was to see if we could just find a seat in the bar/lounge area on the main floor but when we got there we found out that reservations had to be made and that it was fully booked. I asked if there was anywhere else available but there was basically nothing! This totally pissed me off because when I asked the lounge lady about the fireworks on our first day she suggested that we just grab a seat in the bar/lounge area without any mention of reservations so all along I thought it’d be a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong. The hotel was also designed in a way that the lounge was facing the city as to maximize the rooms facing the bay. I went as far as to asking about what side the gym faced but that also faced the city as well. I also thought about going down to the street level to watch it but many people warned me against this because of the crowds that would have built up in any decent area. On our walk back to the hotel there were tons of people trying to get onto the subway to see the fireworks from the Odaiba area. I just knew that wasn’t going to work. We’d waste too much time looking for a spot than actually enjoying the fireworks. Dejected and without too many options we spent the time leading up to the fireworks at the lounge eating our sorrows away. The only good idea I came up with was to watch the fireworks from the main lobby and just behind the entrance to the bar area since they have such huge windows. Once the fireworks started we did just that and found a pretty decent spot leaning against a wall that was part of the entrance to the bar/lounge.
The fireworks themselves I have to say were the best I have ever seen in my life. They had every assortment of fireworks known to man up there. Big ones to small ones to balls to snowfall to ones looking like Saturn they did not hold back. Some fireworks would launch from one ship and some from another. It was truly a symphony of bright lights. The amazing part about it was that they were able to sustain that kind of firepower for OVER an hour. That’s right….over a freakin’ hour. So many times I thought it was going to end but it just kept going and going. What an experience. I was steamed and upset about not being to set up my tripod but at the end it didn’t really matter. It was a show to remember.
Once the fireworks were over we made it back down to the Shimbashi area to eat dinner at this Japanese BBQ place (I know I should’ve planned it better since we had BBQ for lunch) called Shoutaien – another great recommendation from Ema’s friend Akiko. I’m sure it was terrible for my cholesterol but some of that fatty pork and beef was stupendous.
- The only reason why I have fun facts today is because I made sure I wrote down all the interesting info Junko was giving out on the bus
- Tokyo Tower stands 333m tall and is painted orange not because it looks good but because it’s standard aviation code to paint tall objects in this color for planes and helicopters
- Japan boasts a modest population of 127 million but what’s crazy is that there are 80 million cars which makes it the highest percentage in the world apparently
- There are 3.5 million people that go through the Shinjuku station everyday. More than anywhere else in the world
- Religion wise only 1.5% are Christian, 90% Shinto and 80% Buddhist. So how can Shinto and Buddhist be almost the same? Well turns out many people believe in both. Shinto is the religion that has more of an emphasis on religious rituals and rites while Buddhism does not. Shinto also focuses more on nature. Shinto = Shrine, Buddhist = Temple
- Average salary is 4000 a month
- In Tokyo the average commute time is 1 hour and 20 minutes
- The only way they could build a highway through Tokyo was overtop a river. This feat was accomplished right before Tokyo hosted the summer Olympics. The Shinkansen also only opened a few days prior to the start of the Olympics
- If you look at the office buildings, windows will periodically have a red triangle in them. This is for earthquake purposes so firemen know which windows can be opened from the outside
- Sumo only happens 6 times a year and of those only 3 are in Tokyo
- Ginku trees line the streets of Tokyo because their wood is very hard to burn
- Junko told us about this bug called Cicada. These bugs are underground for 7 years before the come up to the surface where they live for only a week and die off. Fascinating
- The camera company Canon is derived from the Goddess Kannon (or in Chinese, Guanyin)
- I don’t have any factual information about this but kimonos are still a popular fashion item. Over the course of my time in Japan it seems to be something you wear when you’re going out on the weekend or if you’re on a date. It’s kind of like if you wanted to wear something more formal. Interesting custom that just goes to show you how important old traditions are in Japan
- Head bowing competition – This has got to be one of the funnier things I saw in Japan. While we were waiting for a bus at Chinzan-so I watched a group of Japanese people saying farewell to one another and as part of that I swear they were performing the how-low-can-you-go head bowing competition. It was almost like they were constantly trying to one-up each other. Everyone’s bowing at each other and because nobody really stops they just kind of do a mini bow from their already bowed position to bow even lower and lower and lower until someone caves in and they pronounce the winner
- How to pray in a Shinto shrine: Throw money into the box, bow twice, clap twice loudly to get the God’s attention while making a wish keeping your hands together and bow once more before leaving
The one phrase that seemed to be most useful for me in Japan was:
- Arigato go zai-i-mas (totally butchered that but it’s a way of saying thank you with respect)
- Good morning is “Oh-hi-oh”
- Hato Bus – Locals use it to take visitors around the city and tourists use it too. This is the company you want to go with if you want high quality tours that don’t cost a great deal but take you to main attractions and places you never would have gone to if you were on your own. You also save the hassle of figuring out the public transportation and so you can have a more carefree day on the bus and following a guide. What makes it a great deal is that it also comes with a fantastic lunch
- I’m usually not a big fan of tour buses but if you want a quick way to see a lot of things in one day that would take way longer by foot OR want to be able to do a few interesting things on top of your trip to Tokyo like the tea tasting I’d highly recommend Hato Bus
- If you’re planning on taking a Hato Bus make sure you plan around those itinerary items so you don’t re-do anything
- Breakfast at the lounge
- Pickup from the hotel to the World Trade Center Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal
- Start tour with Tokyo Tower
- Happo-en for traditional tea ceremony
- Chinzan-so garden for Japanese BBQ lunch at Mokushun-do
- Imperial Palace East Gardens front gate peek
- Sumida River Sightseeing Cruise from Hinode Pier to Asakusa
- Nakamise Street shopping
- Senso-ji Temple
- Ramen in little shop near Conrad Tokyo
- Sulking in the lounge waiting for the fireworks
- Fireworks from the comfort of the wall just outside the Conrad Tokyo bar on the main lobby
- Dinner at Shoutaien for more Japanese BBQ
If you’re looking to do any travelling around Japan, I highly recommend picking up a JRailPass. Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase it before your trip and ship it to your home.
Check out the Next Day
To read about my adventures with Chantelle where we explore a whole bunch of new neighborhoods in Tokyo, check out Day 83 – Tokyo – A Day of Neighborhoods.
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.