Tokyo SkyTree!

© J // Washing Rice Blog

Tokyo SkyTree, located in Sumida ward.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to Tokyo SkyTree, which just celebrated its first anniversary.

We’d planned on visiting it soon after its completion, but there was a such a long wait list for ticket reservations that by the time it was available to the general public we were too busy, and so our plans got put on the back burner.

The nice thing about SkyTree is unlike Tokyo Tower there’s a whole shopping and restaurant area, called Solamachi/SkyTree Town, built around the landmark.  Not wanting to waste any time, we left our place around 8:00 a.m., hopped a bullet train over, did a few train changes, and arrived around 11:00 a.m.

SkyTree has its own train line, owned by Tōbu Railway Co., which runs from Asakusa all the way up to the Tōbu Zoo and Amusement Park in Saitama prefecture.  SkyTree is located between Tokyo SkyTree Station and Oshiage Station, and both town and tower are only a few minutes walk from either one.

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A great view of the Sumida River from the train window welcomes you on your way to SkyTree.
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First things first, I snapped a pic of the tower. 😀

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View of Tokyo SkyTree from below.
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Then the two of us went to take a look at the day-of viewing exchange vouchers and their times.  There were lots of people out that day, but it wasn’t overly crowded, and vouchers were being handed out for 1:00-1:30 viewing slots.  We were interested in seeing the tower during sunset, and decided to wait awhile over lunch and check back again for later time.  At the end of the Solamachi shopping mall, you can access restaurants on the 6th and 7th floors, or those with extra cash to burn, can go up to the 30 and 31st floors of the tower itself and dine with the spectacular backdrop of the city below.  We just wanted something quick and easy, so we headed to the Hawaiian sandwich chain, Kua’Aina, on the 2nd floor.

© Fashimi

Kua’Aina’s popular avocado burger.
© Fashimi

My husband went with one of their most popular choices, an avocado burger.  I’ll admit the burger looked pretty good, but I was so amazed to see a turkey sandwich on the menu I ordered it instead.  (Turkey is pretty much non-existant in Japan!)  My husband really enjoyed his burger, but my sandwich was just OK.  I guess an OK turkey sandwich is still better than no turkey sandwich, but at over 1,000 yen ($10 USD) for a sandwich set, it’s not the best deal.  The inside decor created a nice atmosphere to dine in, but the seating was pretty cramped so it was hard to relax.  The restaurant does, however, offer a great view of the sidewalk fountain outside.  If you’re into people watching it’s a great spot, provided the staff doesn’t ask you to kindly leave once you’ve finished eating to make room for other customers waiting for a table.

After my sandwich I contemplated ordering their Hawaiian pancakes, but didn’t think I could finish the plate and we’d already spent too much on lunch as is.  It was a decent lunch overall, but we’ll probably skip this place in the future.  (Tokyo has much better offerings as far as burgers and sandwiches go.)

With some food in our bellies, we set off to have a better look around the shopping mall on the 3rd floor.  It was by far the most crowded and frustrating area to navigate through, and I’d say most of the stores are the usual haunts you’ll find in any other large shopping mall in the city.  We took the time to buy some souvenirs for friends back home but not much else.  Then we figured it a was about time to head back over to the ticket area again and see what the current voucher time slots were.  Our timing couldn’t have been better!  We scored a voucher for a 5:00-5:30 p.m. entry.  (As Japan’s long summer days come to an end, the sun starts to set around 5:30.)

© Tokyo Ern

Sazae-san Tearoom, which sells drinks, soft-serve ice cream, and different flavors of manju baked into the shape of different characters’ faces.
© Tokyo Ern

We still had some time to pass until then, so we took another look around  and had some ice cream at the Sazae-san Tearoom before heading up to the Sumida Aquarium located on the 4th floor.  Sazae-san is a hit manga (comic) series that was turned into equally popular anime (cartoon) broadcast every Sunday evening.  My husband and I always watch it whenever we’re home.

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A panoramic view of Sumida Aquarium from the exhibit entrance.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Besides SkyTree itself, Sumida Aquarium was the best thing we did all day!  What it lacks in number of exhibits, it makes up in great interior style and a large collection of sea life for the exhibits they do have to justify the pricier-than-usual entrance fee (2,000 yen per adult, or $20 USD).  Almost all of the tanks are large, with a one gigantic one reaching all the way up to the second floor.

One of the first things you’ll come to are the huge UV tanks filled with all kinds of jellyfish.  The lights change every few seconds so you can see a myriad of colors reflected inside of the tanks.  I don’t know about you, but I always feel really relaxed when I watch jellyfish floating in the water.

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Jellyfish at Sumida Aquarium
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Eventually you’ll see some bigger displays, dedicated to giant fish.

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A close-up of a fish in some of the larger viewing tanks.
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Or strange-looking types of eels like these:

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Orange-Barred & Spotted Garden Eels
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Not the best picture, I know!  Here’s a better one:

© Allons-y

A close-up of the eels.
© Allons-y

These garden spotted and striped eels have even inspired a popular, new application where a couple of cartoon versions sing.

Anyways, these bigger tank exhibits lead you right to the aquarium’s main attraction, the penguins. There’s just so many!  We were lucky enough to catch feeding time from the viewing platform above.

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Penguin feeding time!
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The handlers make sure that every penguin has gotten a fish, calling them by name and waiting until they’ve come within reach to get a bite.  A few of the penguins are a little slow on the uptake, so the handlers invite the audience to help call as well.

After all the penguins chowed down and the show ended, we went back downstairs.  During certain hours, the aquarium has a space open for visitors to make their own souvenir postcards.  A staff member will give you a penguin postcard and invite you to sit down at a large table with crayons, markers, and deco tape to help you design your postcard however you please.

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Though mostly aimed at children, the tables weren’t very busy when my husband and I went over, and we had fun comparing what we came up with.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Since it was almost time for our viewing group to be let in, we left without visiting the gift shop, but not before I tried my hand at some of the gacha gacha machines offering small, plastic sea life models to put together for 200 yen ($2 USD) a piece.  If you don’t have much cash to spare for a souvenir, these are a great idea to give out.  I brought back two for one of the students I teach and he loved them!  Sumida Aquarium easily earned a spot on my favorite aquariums list, and that’s saying a lot because my husband and I have visited many over the years. 🙂

Back at the ticket area, we showed our vouchers and were waved in to purchase a ticket to go up.  It was a little more than I was expecting, at 2,000 yen ($20 USD) per ticket, but I imagine once it’s no longer the newest big attraction you’ll be able to get special discount coupons easily and save a few yen.

Once inside, visitors stand in a line to be grouped and take the elevator up to the observatory deck.  SkyTree has four, high-speed elevators that can transport up to 40 passengers at a time to the Tembo overvation deck in 50 seconds.

Once on the observation deck, you can search for that perfect spot by the window (or whatever’s open 😉 and get a look at the stunning view below.

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A sunset view of the city from Tembo Deck.
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If you’re thirsty, there’s a standing cafe to that serves coffee for 500 yen ($5 USD) and up.  I decided to have an iced coffee while we waited for the sun to completely set and show the bright lights of the city against the night sky.

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How Tokyo’s nightscape looks from Tembo Deck.
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For those not weary of heights, you can pay an additional fare to take another elevator and walk the up the spiral staircase leading up to the Tembo Galleria and the highest accessible part of the tower, Sorakara Point.  We didn’t go up this time, but maybe someday in the future we will.

After spending almost the whole day at SkyTree/Solamachi, we were pretty tired.  I picked up a few more souvenirs and we made our way back to the station in search of a good place for dinner.  While you’re walking back you can enjoy SkyTree’s cool blue and white lighting at night.  I took one more picture of it as our final parting memory of the day.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

SkyTree lit up at night.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

If you’re looking for a good date spot, this is it!  If you haven’t been but are planning on going, you can find everything you need to know on the Tokyo SkyTree homepage.

– J

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