Ueno Zoo

The zoo is over one hundred years old and now houses two giant pandas (the zoo’s most popular exhibit). In addition to outdoor animal exhibits, there is also an aquarium and aviary. While the pandas tend to attract most of the attention, the king pengiuns are also worth the price of admission.

Sensoji Temple

Tokyo’s oldest temple (approx. 628 A.D., rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed in WWII); legend states that the gold statue of the goddess Kannon was fished out of a nearby river and that the temple was built to house the statue which is reputed to still be housed in the temple; shops and colorful stalls line the street leading up to the temple and crowds throng the incense stands, asking for Kannon to grant favors

For a few yen you can do the Japanese fortune thing. Basically you pull what looks like a chopstick out of a big tin can, then you match a symbol on the chopstick to a symbol on a bank of wooden drawers. There are monks on hand to help you with the translation (actually, they hand you a translation book and you’re on your own to search for the proper translation).

My wife tried this first. We probably should have been content to save the fortune as a souvenir. When we finally found the translation, it was bad . . . very bad. Summary: Bad marriage, bad job, bad travel. That would just about cover everything, wouldn’t it?

Fortunately there is a procedure for negating bad fortunes (which is what she immediately did). You tie the fortune to a nearby tree. Or a metal structure that represents a tree (conveniently provided by those thoughtful monks).

After tying her fortune to a tree she tried again. Prognosis: Regular Fortune. Regular marriage, regular job, regular travel.

That was good enough for me. We quit while we were ahead and moved on.

Ekoin Temple

(aka the Shrine of the Rat Boy)

After visiting the Sumo stadium, follow the street lined with Sumo statues until it ends. Across the street you’ll see a wooden gate: this is the entrance too Ekoin Temple, one of the most eclectic temples in Tokyo. Legend has it this is where retiring sumo wrestlers bury their topknots.

Originally built in 1657 as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the great fire, the temple has long since transcended its original purpose.

For example, on the temple grounds, there is a memorial to lost pets. Owners buy large sticks in their pet’s memory and place them around the temple grounds. It would be incredibly sad if the grounds weren’t filled with so many stray cats who are very much alive and waiting to be fed. Generally, these felines are demanding, but friendly.

There’s a huge tower on the grounds that is said to serve as the final resting place for unidentified dead people, criminals, and those who have lost their lives in various disasters.

The “Shrine of the Rat Boy” is perhaps the biggest draw to Ekoin (at least for the cats). The Rat Boy was apparently a Robin Hood-like Japanese figure from the 19th century.

Kokugikan Stadium

Check with your hotel’s concierge or the Tokyo Journalabout the possibility of catching a sumo match while in town. You should attempt to book your tickets well in advance as they sell-out quickly.

If you are like us (unable to obtain tickets), you may have to content yourself with a walk around the stadium and the nearby sumo village. Sumo wrestlers as far as the eye can see. The crowd around the stadium treats the event like it’s the Academy Awards. Even though I didn’t have tickets, I actually found myself getting caught up in the excitement. The amazing thing is that while fans view the wrestlers as being nearly god-like, the wrestlers just seem to wander around aimlessly in the public. Sumos waiting in line for train tickets, Sumos riding a bikes home from the market. They’re really just everyday kind of guys. . . . who happen to weigh over 400 pounds and could crush you without blinking!

Shibuya

Shibuya is a trendy shopping district that caters to a young and upscale crowd. It’s quite a bit hipper than Ginza and the large number of restaurants, bars, and theaters in this area make it the perfect destination for a fun night on the town.

As you’re crossing the street from Shibuya station take care not to be run over while ogling the multiple huge television screens that seem to dominate the area. It’s been said that Shibuya is the home to more multi-story high TV screens than anywhere in the world.

Interesting trivia: The Tower Records in Shibuya used to be the largest record store in the world (a distinction now apparently held by the Virgin Megastore in Time Square New York). While it may no longer be the largest record store, it does feature a huge selection of music as well as a very large selection of English language books and magazines.

Ginza

Ginza (which literally means “silver mint”) is one of the largest and oldest shopping districts in Tokyo. Most of the upscale stores in this area have more in common with stores you would encounter in a modern western shopping district. There’s even an Apple store here – the first ever opened outside of the United States.

Home of the famous Ginza Lion beer hall, the district is said to feature over 400 art galleries and numerous department stores.

If you’re looking for a long day of shopping, Ginza is probably a good bet. Just remember to check your credit limit before you start your day.