Designed by Kenzo Tange to resemble a computer chip, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Office Building is a set of three towering skyscrapers, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
Two of the towers have a panoramic Observatory on the 45th floor, or 202 metres up, and there’s a few things about them that are rather special.
As well as one of the most amazing illuminated Cityscape outlooks you’ll find, the T.M.G. Building Observatory is open to the public, every night till 9pm, and what’s more – entrance to the observatory is FREE to the public.
Now that’s something that doesn’t come along too often, does it?
But back to the building. Impressive by day, the view was spectacular by night.
This is one of the views that awaits you.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building complex occupies an entire block close to Shinjuku station. Entrance is via street level or a subterranean shopping arcade and underground walkway. There are actually two observatories, one in the North tower and one is the South tower, each with alternate openings times, so that if you visit two nights in a row, you might see two different views.
This is important to note, as it can be somewhat disorienting, if you exit via a different lift than you entered previously. Or perhaps it is only a sign of my approaching the elder years?
Uniformed Security Personnel are on hand to check bags prior to entering the lifts in the main foyer. In typical Japanese fashion, these Assistants are immaculately dressed, polite and helpful. Note that there will be a queue to enter the lifts, so factor this into your time allowance when visiting.
I would allow 45 minutes to an hour for this experience. Longer if you want to browse the gift shop or eat at the rooftop restaurant – which comes complete with faux Roman columns! The few trip advisor reviews for the restaurant I read, were mixed but they would surely have a first class view.
When you return to ground level, don’t forget to keep an eye out for an interesting clock in the foyer.
Even in the daytime, the building is quite impressive. In the foreground is a walkway across the busy street.
If you are observant of details and the resolution is not too small, you might note there is what appears to be a homeless person in the foreground. This was the only one I ever saw in the time visiting Japan. He appeared to be reading his Buddhist scriptures in the morning mist. I know that he was Buddhist, not that it is of any consequence to me what religious persuasion he was.
I realized this at a much later date, when I was informed by one of our guides that Shintoism does not have any written scriptures. In fact, anyone can invent a deity in Shinto if it is meaningful for them. They have thousands of deities.
Bolstered by the large and eventful breakfast, which I wrote about here, and visiting Tokyo in Crimson Leaves Season, we were keen to explore a traditional garden, on our first day in Japan. At the top of our list was the Gyoen National Garden, a green oasis that is completely amidst the busiest commercial district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Background of Gyoen
Originally a residence for one of Japan’s feudal Lord during the Edo period, the Gyoen National Garden fell under the control of the Imperial family in the twentieth century. Although much of the garden was then destroyed during World War II; you would never know it, as Gyoen is nothing short of a tranquil, well tended masterpiece of Japanese horticulture.
With the NTT Docomo building towering stoically above Gyoen’s tree line like an old world Imperial Guard, it is easy to remember the Shinjuku-Shibuya metropolis is never far away. However, the hard concrete lines of modernity are significantly softened by the more natural lines of the leafy foliage and traditional Japanese garden fixtures.
The Gyoen Guide Map offers us the chance to fully comprehend the scale of the park and orientates ourselves to ensure we see all the individual gardens and differing botanical features contained therein. Entrance, (with guide map in English), costs 200 Japanese Yen.
We don’t want to miss anything!
The small fee we pay to enter the garden is truly value for money, as the day we visit there is also a special floral display of cultivated chrysanthemums, which attracts the attention of many Japanese citizens.
Light rain only enhances the organic beauty around us, as the raindrops linger on the leaves. This delights my daughter as it makes for excellent photographic opportunities.
And we have the ubiquitous, clear-plastic umbrella to shield us. Very Japanese.
“Maple trees can be seen in large numbers around the Japanese garden and Momijiyama (maple mountain) on the [Gyoen] park’s eastern side. The colors typically appear from mid November to mid December. “
Tokyo Tourist Guide
Our arrival is a week or so early to see the majority of crimson leaves in Tokyo, for the temperatures are unusually warm. Despite this, I find the trees are magical and remind me of a medieval Northern forest, or a scene from a Lord of the Rings novel.
The carp pond
No Japanese garden could be complete without a Carp pond – and Gyoen has one.
Again the city reminds you it’s not far too away.
Autumn avenue awesomeness
However, for this sub-tropical Australian resident, the ultimate heavenly experience is yet to come when I discover the avenue of Sycamore trees, a feast for local photographers. It is such a delight for me. I truly am in awe of these trees and their burst of colour.
This is Autumnal earth, resplendent in shades of sienna, brown, rust, bright yellow and green, all coalescing in an intense and harmonious collection of wholesome organic beauty.
The child in me wanted to run and kick up the fallen leaves, throw them in the air, rake them into a pile and jump on top of them. An Autumnal experience that exists only in my dreams.
Never before had I seen an avenue of trees that captivated me in such a way and I didn’t want to leave. [You have to remember we don’t have such deciduous trees in my home zone, so I’m super excited.]
Reluctantly, after several hours exploring and a gazillion photographs taken, we walk towards the park’s Sendagaya gate and find yet another magical path through the trees.
Gyoen National Garden – A perfect spot to sit and ‘Ponder About Something.’
Think of Japan, and what comes to mind? The perfect symmetry of Mt Fuji, the controlled calm of a Tea Ceremony, Kimonos, or Sushi? Japan is all that and more. This East meets West paradigm can be a place of extreme contrasts, as we found out not long after settling in to our hotel in Shinjuku, west of Tokyo.
With 20 tracks and 12 train links, Shinjuku Railway station is the busiest railway station in the world. Each day, up to 3.5 million commuters pass through its gates.
Given the vast metropolis that surrounds them, Japanese are fortunate to
have a green oasis Shinjuku Chuo Park, a few steps away.
This tribute to Zen incorporates gardens, a children’s, playground, waterfall and contrastingly – smoking cabins!
As I walked through this delightful park, I thought the smoking cabins seemed counter-intuitive to the objective of tranquility and Zen. Yet that did appear to be the objective of not only, the Tai Chi group, but also the gentleman playing the bamboo flute. (Even with the slight off key notes). This is Japan!
Again, we found it hard to believe another world was around the corner. What a contrast.
And if that wasn’t enough of a contrast, for us, we were about to discover the Pachinko phenomenon.
Pachinko MADNESS – What is it?
To the novice, Pachinko parlours are without doubt, a full on assault to the senses, bordering on sensory overload. But if Ikebana and Shinto Shrines are where Zen reaches its ‘zenith,’ Pachinko parlours must represent the flip side as leisure pursuits.
Pachinko parlours are full of loud, colourful and very noisy fantasy games. By day or night, grown men, mostly wearing suits, obsessively shove thousands of tiny beads into the hungry mouths of their electronic fantasy machines. Here is a taster: –
Not familiar with Pachinko? That might be because, to my knowledge, the game is purely a Japanese phenomenon.
As Gambling for cash is restricted to horse racing in Japan, the Japanese play for tiny beads, which can be exchanged for cards or tokens, redeemable at a separate location. At least, I think that is how they play it. To me these grown men were terribly reminiscent of teenage boys addicted to W.O.W or Fortnite! Crrrazzyy…
Thinking it is a harmless pastime of little consequence? Think again. “In 2015, Japan’s Pachinko market generates more gambling revenue than that of Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined.”
The Pachinko Parlour at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel operates seven days a week from 10 – 2300, and boasts 500 seats and a SMOKING section!
Note: Smoking in public places in Australia has been banned for many years and to do so immediately relegates one to some back alley or rooftop alcove, usually beside large air-conditioning units, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Pachinko parlour lists the smoking room as one of their assets!
How do you spend two weeks travelling Japan, with a teenager in tow, during the season of the ‘Crimson Leaves?’ By seeing incredible nature and having numerous experiences, good, bad, funny and serious, but all of them, unique. In fact, sometimes I felt like this old eighties song:
I was a little unsettled by a shaky start when we arrived at the check-in counter at the airport for our departure. Miss Teenager Now Adult suddenly realized she had left her passport at home.
“Why didn’t I check this myself?” I chided myself inwardly, as we made a frantic phone call to a family member, who lived nearby.
They came to the rescue with a hasty trip to the airport ‘drop off’ zone! Lucky they live so close, I thought! Apparently even flight attendants occasionally forget their passports, (and it’s usually at Christmas time), at least according to the Airport Ground Steward we chatted to. He did not seem especially sympathetic to forgetful Staff, but was a tad more reassuring for Miss Teenager Now Adult. She responded to this kindly reassurance by slipping back into the standard mode of ‘parents are so embarrassing / awkward teenager,’ reproaching me sharply with a instruction to, “Stop Talking Mum,” albeit in hushed tones, so the Steward would not hear. However, her surly adolescent mood was placated when confronted with a chirpy and upbeat check-in clerk, who offered us a Business class check in, as a thank you for trialing their new facial recognition software. “I hope this new software isn’t costing jobs,” I gently admonished as we zipped through passport control.
This wasn’t my first trip to Japan; although it had been some time since I had been in Tokyo itself, so I was anxious to see how much had changed since my visit 14 years before.
On touching down in Narita, we were escorted to a luxury limousine electric van, the comfy, serene interior of which made for a silent sixty minute glide/drive to Shinjuku, our destination for the next three nights.
As bedazzling as the metropolis outside the window was, I felt certain the quiet interior of the limousine belied the sounds outside. Endless streets of high rise skyscrapers, a sea of commuters on the streets and buildings lit up like Christmas trees wizzed by our window, in a never ending parade.
Inside the glass encased megaliths, I could see Japanese citizens still working hard at their desks, even though it was 8.30 in the evening. A diligent population!
Miss Teenager Now Adult was not at all keen to eat anything for dinner. For some reason, she seemed to have lost her appetite on the plane. Rationalizing that she needed to eat something to sustain her energy levels for the following day of planned walking, we ventured down to the main streets of Shinjuku, and found convenience stores variously called: ‘Family Mart’ or ‘Ministop’ or a little ironically, ‘Lawson.’ I let out a sigh of relief when we bypassed the temptations on offer in the street vending machines. It seems that Japan has brought that range to an absolute art form, as you can see in the photo.
Little Miss chose to eat noodles and potato chips, [surprise, surprise], which certainly required her to use a few detective skills to discover which flavour might be similar to her Aussie preferences. Of course, she remained unconvinced Green tea flavored Noodles or Matcha Potato chips would be welcomed by her thoroughly Australian digestive system.
To our surprise and delight, she was so impressed with one flavour, (something akin to sour cream and chive flavored potato chips), she promptly posted a ‘Two minute noodle and chip review,’ on Snap chat, her favorite social media platform. They must have been impressive, I guess.
As for me, I grabbed a humble ‘sanger,’ featuring a large amount of lettuce. Being a former vegetarian, I loved the tribute to green matter on the Family Mart sandwich. Basically it was a lettuce sandwich with a tiny amount of ham and cheese, rather than the reverse! Yay for lettuce! I was later to discover lettuce and greens were a recurring culinary theme on this vacation. No wonder a Japanese diet is considered healthy.
Hotel Shinjuku Washington
Our Hotel room was most likely large by Japanese standards, but adequate for two of us. We were perched on the 23rd floor, so the view was nothing short of spectacular.
As with most hotels and indeed traditional Ryokans, Japanese accommodation comes with almost everything one needs, so you can ‘go light’ with your luggage. As well as complimentary disposable guest hairbrush, hair ties and toothbrush, Q-tips, Nail files and other hygiene tools for personal use, we were supplied with complimentary slippers and Pajamas.
But be warned the pajamas/yukata, supplied, are unlikely to feature in a fashion magazine any time soon, so they ARE for personal eyes only…. hence the reason I didn’t take a photograph of me wearing them! [Think time warp to retro hairdressers of 1950’s and you would not be too far off].
Having said that, the pajamas and the Washington hotel itself, was extremely comfortable and provided us with a good dose of our required beauty sleep, only surpassed by breakfast the following day. But more of that, another time.
Washington Hotel Shinjuku
Close to Shinjuku station, Meji shrine and Gyoen National Garden and Metropolitan Government Building