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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Welcome to Tokyo

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Japanese efficiency—wonderfully welcome after a long international flight (actually several flights.) Traveling through multiple time zones always leaves me with a fuzzy brain and a bit of anxiety that something stressful is imminent, as luggage missing or a transfer not showing. (Both have happened to me.) This time there was no need to worry—the welcome sign was there, held by a smiling face, waiting to escort us to the van for the long ride into Tokyo.

Our destination was a hotel tucked among the restaurants and shops lining the Akasaka district. The room was Japanese tiny, not designed for two foreigners with a big suitcase, but it was efficiently arranged, including one of those wonderful Japanese toilets that do everything possible to sanitize bodily functions. With smiling and friendly staff, air-conditioning that held up to the brutal Asian heat, and a comfortable bed, we slept off the jetlag.

The point of staying in the Akasaka district is proximity to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, our destination the next day. “Proximity” is a relative term. Google maps and Google translate turned out to be less than accurate and efficient. After stumbling along confusing streets with signs we couldn’t read, we ended up finding a taxi and communicating our destination with lots of map-pointing and gestures.

The ancient heart of Tokyo, the Imperial Palace and grounds, is massive and elegant. The myriad landscaped paths pass ancient guardhouses, watchtowers, and shrines. There are guided tours that permit entrance to parts of the Palace, but just wandering the all the sections of the East Gardens is enough to occupy several hours. The grounds are a trip through Japanese history, from the remaining 16th century watchtowers to refurbished 20th century gates. It’s beautiful, peaceful, fascinating, and hot. A little shop provided my first reminder of how delicious green tea ice cream is on a very hot and humid day. It also gave me a new goal for our trip—to try out as many versions as possible of the Japanese green tea ice cream I came to love years ago.


· For tours of the Imperial Palace book online as far in advance as possible. Tours sell out and are not available on the spot.

· If your visit to Tokyo is on a Sunday, check out the Sunday flea market.

· Allow plenty of time for the Imperial Palace East Garden and Outer Garden.

After a long and exhausting exploration of the Imperial Palace grounds, relax in the nearby Imperial Hotel with a drink or snack, and take a taxi from the hotel to your next destination.

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