Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tokyo: Marunouchi and Hibiya

On Day 2 of our Tokyo sightseeing trip, we took a train to Tokyo station early in the day.
Tokyo Station is the main intercity railway terminus in Tokyo and the busiest station in Japan.
The station is the hub for all the shinkansen high speed lines and is connected by many JR and Tokyo Metro lines.

The station building is a landmark in itself and was modeled after Amsterdam station. The red brick renaissance style architecture of the building was built in 1914. The building lost its dome in the air raids during the World War and was reconstructed in 1947 and the dome was replaced by a polyhedron.  
Recently, there was a news report that the foundation of the building is held by thousands of pinewood pillars. The station building is currently undergoing a major reconstruction which will continue till 2013 .

Our first stop was Marunouchi, an area marked by tall skyscrapers. This is the commercial district of Tokyo, home to the headquarters of some of the most powerful financial institutions and banks in Japan, primarily Mitsubishi Corporation.
Marunouchi used to be a residential area for the nobles during the Edo Period and used to be located inside the outer moats of the Edo castle. It came to be controlled by the army after the Meiji Restoration and was eventually sold by the army to one of Mitsubishi’s founders. The Japanese actually refer to Marunouchi as Mitsubishi township because most of the land remains under Mitsubishi’s control.

Right opposite the Marunouchi Central exit on the west side of the Tokyo station, stand the Marunouchi and Shin Marunouchi buildings. These buildings also go by the names Maru-biru and Shin Maru-biru and . Maru-biru was constructed in 1923, and reconstructed in 2002 while Shin Maru-biru was constructed in 2007. Jointly, both buildings are said to occupy the most expensive real estate piece in entire Japan and are occupied by hundreds of shops and restaurants 
The buildings are flanked by many of Mitsubishi buildings and other skyscrapers.

The road behind the Maru-biru and Shin Maru-biru buildings is known as the Nakadori Avenue. This tree lined street has shops and cafes and boutiques along both sides. The trees are lit up during the Christmas and New Year holiday season. 
Tokyo international forum is a futuristic building which was completed in 1996 and is the venue for exhibitions and concerts. 
This curved glass atrium’s ceiling rises upto 200 ft and resembles a ship’s hull. 
The structure is actually made up of two buildings which are separated by an open courtyard and are connected by overhead glass walkways.
Visitors can walk inside the building to have a look at no cost. 

The best way to tour the Marunouchi area is the free shuttle bus which has a circular route. Shuttle Buses run at an interval of 15 minutes and drive past most of the landmark buildings and is the most convenient way of reaching just about anywhere within the area. Shuttle Buses operate between 8:00-20:00 hrs during the week and between 10:00-20:00 hrs on weekends and holidays. We took the bus from outside the Mitsubishi building and got off near the Tokyo Kaikan stop. From here, the Imperial palace garden is just across the road.

The Imperial Palace (Kokyo) is the residence of the Emperor and the Imperial family. While the Imperial Palace is off-limits to the general public, visitors can stroll in the palace garden and also walk over to the “Kokyo Gaien”, to have a look at Megane-bashi (Eyeglass Bridge) and Niju-bashi (Double bridge) and catch a glimpse of the palace building.  
After the shogunate was overthrown and the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868, the erstwhile Edo castle became the Imperial palace. The Edo castle was damaged in a series of fires over the years and was reconstructed every time. The current Imperial palace was constructed at the site of the Edo castle and the current structure is a reconstruction after the older building was damaged in the air raids during the World War II.

Visitors can enter the inner palace gardens on only two days in a year- the Emperor’s Birthday and during New Year (2nd January to be precise). On these two days, the Imperial family makes an appearance on the balcony of palace and wave out to the cheering crowd below, followed by a speech by the Emperor.

The Imperial palace East Gardens are open to public but closed on certain days of the week and on special occasions.
The area around the palace is a popular place among joggers and walkers.

Walking further from the Imperial palace, we walked towards the Diet Building. Japan’s Parliament is called the Diet and the building houses the legislature of the Japanese government. The Diet was originally established as the Imperial Diet in the Meiji era while the Diet Building was constructed in 1936.
On our way back towards Marunouchi, we passed by some interesting buildings, one of them being this red brick building which houses some Central Government offices.

The Hibiya park, one of the biggest open spaces in Tokyo is located close by. The park was quite deserted except for a few people hoping to spend some leisurely time with their family and interestingly, some homeless people.
A replica of the Liberty Bell, which was a gift from USA to the people of Japan in the post war occupation period, stands over a small hillock in the park.
A fountain stands close to the other end of Hibiya Park, overlooking the skyscrapers of Marunouchi and the Peninsula hotel.

Marunouchi, Hibiya and Ginza are located within easy reach from each other and just a short walk away from each other.

The Skybus Tokyo is Japan’s first open double decker bus which operates from outside the Mitsubishi building in Marunouchi. There are 4 courses, each offering a 50 minute tour and  covers some of Tokyo’s popular sights. Multilingual audio guides are also available. A booking counter operates on the first floor of the Mitsubishi building. Check out the website for more details : http://skybus.jp/explains/index/00033

We covered Marunouchi and Hibiya in the first half of the day and Ginza in the second half. More about Ginza in the next post. 

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