Backpacking Tips, Destinations, Japan, Japan, Travel tips

Must do activities in and around Tokyo: visiting a famous shopping district and taking a fascinating ferry ride

For my spring tour of Japan, I chose Osaka and Tokyo as my home bases for visiting noteworthy places in Honshu Island during the cherry blossom season. Since it was a short trip (less than two weeks), I mostly adhered to a carefully curated itinerary that offered me a glimpse of Japan’s traditional culture while giving me a taste of its vibrant modern city life.

After covering Osaka and surrounding areas for five days, I moved on to Tokyo along with my travel companions, and explored the city as well as took a couple of side trips. Day 10 was our final day in Tokyo and we wanted to make the most of it by exploring a different side of the city – Odaiba beach and its posh neighbourhood.

Before heading for Odaiba, we visited Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks for cherry blossoms, located just a short walk from JR Shinjuku Station.

The beautifully landscaped gardens and meandering walking paths, trees covered in a blast of pink cherry flowers, and tourists ambling about – Shinjuku Gyoen was a peaceful green paradise in the heart of a busy urban center.

View of Docomo Tower (NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building ) from Shinjuku Gyoen

After a leisurely walk around the park, we took a rapid train from Shinjuku to Tokyo Teleport Station. From there, we walked to DECKS Tokyo Beach Mall, a ship-themed shopping center. Besides branded stores and specialty restaurants, there was also a Madame Tussauds wax museum and Legoland Discovery Center. The open terrace, shaped like a ship’s deck, was a good place to enjoy a panoramic view of Tokyo Bay.

Exiting from the mall, we crossed the road and made our way to Odaiba beach. Although too early in the season to get in the water, children and teenagers were making the most of their vacation by frolicking on the beach with friends and family. The place also offered an unfettered view of the Rainbow Bridge. In the evening, the bridge is illuminated with alternating red, white and green coloured lamps, hence the name ‘Rainbow Bridge’. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy the illumination since we had to head to our next destination, Sendai, in the evening.

From Odaiba-kaihinkoen Station (around 500 meters from the beach), we took the Yurikamome elevated train to cross the Rainbow bridge to Palette Town, a large shopping and entertainment complex. The view of the bay from the train window was simply fantastic! We could also spot the iconic Fuji TV building, international cruise terminal, the Museum of Maritime Science, and Daikanransha (Ferris wheel).

The short, but wonderful, train ride came to an end at Aomi station. We headed for Venus Fort Mall, just a 3-minute walk from the station. Resembling an 18th century European town, the mall had quite an effect on a first time visitor. Its ceiling lights transformed the enclosed space into an expansive sky, changing colours to represent different times of the day. It was quite a unique mall experience for us.

After exploring all the floors, we enjoyed an amazing Indian meal at the food court and returned to our hostel to collect our luggage. Suitcase in hand, we walked back to Tokyo station to catch a Shinkansen to Sendai. Around 93 minutes later, we were in Sendai. The hotel, just 300 meters from the station, had a natural hot spring (onsen) bathing room. My very first onsen experience was simply amazing! The warm, mineral-rich water felt so very soothing after the 10-day marathon tour of Honshu. Afraid of falling asleep in the onsen, I dragged myself out after 15 minutes and headed for the locker room. Soon after, we grabbed a quick bite and decided to call it a night.

Day 11 arrived, bright and sunny. We checked out of the hotel and headed for Matsushima, leaving our luggage at the hotel. Taking a train on JR Senseki line from Sendai station, we reached Hon-Shiogama station. Around 700 meters from the station was Marine Gate Shiogama, or Shiogama ferry terminal.

We bought tickets and boarded a sightseeing boat to explore Matsushima bay (1500 yen/person one way). Despite the chilly wind, the bay’s pine-clad islets kept us captivated. The small islands appeared to be shaped like birds and marine animals.

Closer to Matsushima, we spotted the long red foot-bridge leading to Fukuurajima Island as well as Godaido temple hall overlooking the bay.

The pleasure cruise ended in Matsushima port after 50 minutes.

We made our way towards the picturesque Godaido temple next to the pier. There was a castle across the road that, we later learned, was actually part of a hotel. Although Godaido temple was closed, the spectacular view of the bay from the islet, on which the temple was built, made it well worth the trip.

Our next stop was Fukuurajima Island, a 15-minute walk from Godaido temple. Walking on the 300-meter foot-bridge was an experience in itself!

We followed the hiking trail around the small pine covered island, enjoying the amazing scenery. The hike made us hungry, so we stopped by the small teahouse for some ice cream.

We had meant to visit Zuiganji, a famous Zen temple known for its beautifully gilded and painted sliding doors, but Fukuura island hike took longer than expected, so we decided to skip the temple. We had a long journey to Hokkaido scheduled later that day. After crossing Fukuura Island bridge, we walked for around 15 minutes to reach Matsushima Kaigan station. There, we boarded the train on JR Senseki line for Sendai, and 40 minutes later, we were back in Sendai. After picking up our luggage from the hotel, we were off to Hokkaido on the high-speed bullet train.

Catch up on our unforgettable experience in Hokkaido along with some travel tips here.

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