Originally we were unsure if we wanted to spend 2 full days in Hakone on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto. Then in my readings about Tokyo, I came across a reference to the twice yearly “dragon dance” at one of the most well-known temples there, and it happened to be on March 18th! Given the timing, I scheduled us two full days in Tokyo, followed by an overnight in Hakone, followed by an early return to Tokyo for one last afternoon so we could see the festival. It was also a great opportunity to explore another area of Tokyo, since it’s a big place and neighborhoods feel quite different.
We took the highway bus back to Tokyo from Hakone, departing from a fortuitous stop almost directly across the street from our hotel. We grabbed lunch near Shinjuku train station and decided to go straight to the neighborhood (Asakusa) where the festival was taking place so we wouldn’t miss the last dance of the day. Since we took advantage of our fancy Tokyo hotel to leave our bags there and travel light to Hakone, we didn’t have to worry about schlepping luggage around the festival (and it made all the transports referred to in my earlier post much easier to navigate!) The temple was mobbed with people, of course, visiting the famous Kaminarimon, inching along the pedestrian shopping street leading to the main temple building, and watching the dragon dance as it went by.
Here’s some footage of the Dragon Dance!
After that we explored the surrounding neighborhood a bit. Two of my favorite elements were the intricate murals painted on the metal shutters (only visible when stores are closed) and the random “men” hanging out on the buildings.
After we had our fill of festival crowds, we headed back to Ginza to revisit the stationery store from a couple of days before. We decided the opportunity was too good to let pass, and stocked up further on some “necessities”. Then we had dinner at a Kirin Brewery restaurant, headed back to our fancy Tokyo hotel, picked up our bags, headed back to Shinjuku station, and took the train to a metro stop close-ish to the hostel we planned to stay at that night. The place was also in Asakusa (like the festival), so we made a giant circle throughout the day! We grabbed a cab, whose driver wins for most honest cabbie ever, because when we couldn’t find the hostel (any of us) and drove in circles for a few minutes before successfully locating it on Alex’s Google Maps, he wouldn’t let me pay the full fare – only the amount we had reached at the time we started our hunt. The hostel was down a small alley and we were a bit wary, but the place was great, sparkling clean, our own little double room to ourselves, and the bathroom/shower – while shared – were always open, since only 2 rooms shared them.
The next morning we headed out early to walk through Ueno Park, and realized the neighborhood was perfectly nice – we just had the usual unease of arriving to a new place in the dark and having to travel down a dim alley with all our worldly possessions (at the moment, anyway). Everyone says Tokyo is so expensive, and it definitely CAN be, but with the info and reviews available on hotels.com, I found some great places to stay that were under $100. We didn’t even manage that two weeks ago in the suburbs of Tampa! All I’m saying is, don’t cross it off your list if you’re on a budget. You can make it work and have a lovely trip.