Konnichiwa, Mount Fuji! I’m Thrilled to Finally See You!

Day 56, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024; Tokyo, Japan

What a thrill to see Mount Fuji appear off my balcony in the dawn light, with its snow-covered peak high above the city as we sailed into Tokyo harbor. The third time is the charm for me, as this iconic peak hid in the clouds on my last two visits to Japan.

Mount Fuji, with striking tunnel ventilation structures in the foreground

As a consequence of sailing north for several days, we have left the tropical temperatures for the early spring chill of Japan. Despite the bright sun, the temperatures only rose into the mid 50s and a brisk wind blew from the north. For the first time since I was in Antarctica in November, I dressed in jeans and layers, including my all-weather coat, wool headband and gloves.

Fortunately, today’s “Best of Tokyo” tour only included one repeat from my 2017 all-day tour. There is so much to see in these huge cities, but sometimes the tours all are limited to the same handful of sites.

Our first stop was the Imperial Palace Plaza. Note we did not enter the Imperial Palace, which is open only twice a year. From the foot of the Nijubashi Bridge we could see a corner of the palace on top of the hill. And our timing was lucky, our tour guide said, as we witnessed a changing of the guard.

It seems every way I turn in Tokyo, the streets are clean and the crowds are orderly. Even the concrete barriers are designed with beauty foremost in mind.

My repeat stop was Sensoji, or Asakusa Kannon Temple. In 2017 it rained all day, so my strongest recollections are of the colorful Japanese umbrellas and the large crowds. The crowds abide. Among them were dozens of mostly women, and mostly Korean tourists I understand, who delight in renting kimonos, obis and other accessories for the day. Among the many vendor booths and storefronts are establishments happy to rent the costumes.

A golden image of the Buddhist goddess Kannon is enshrined in the temple, and other Buddha statues grace the grounds. I had enough free time to draw a quick sketch, trying with limited success to simplify, as my inclination is to fall deep into the little details. I remind myself that if that’s what I want, a photograph will work best.

Our two busloads almost overwhelmed a hotel restaurant for a buffet lunch, but it was a welcome break, as was the local beer that accompanied our mostly Japanese selections. The salad with its watermelon radishes and delicious Asian sesame dressing was my highlight.

We rounded out our tour by visiting the Meiji Shrine, with its 40-foot-tall Torii gates (among the largest in Japan). Before entering, worshipers purify themselves by a ritual of handwashing.

The Emperor Meiji ushered in the end of the era of the shoguns and samarai in the late 1800s and opened Japan to the outside world. Near the shrine gates is a wall of sake barrels wrapped in straw, offered each year to the enshrined deities by sake brewers throughout Japan.

Across the walk is a wall of wine barrels, in tribute to the emperor, who also embraced western food and wine. Not to be left out, the wineries of Bourogne in France offer the barrels with the “earnest prayer that France and Japan will enjoy many more fruitful years of friendship.” What a marketing coup!

Back on the ship, we enjoyed an energetic “Japanese Fusion” performance by local musicians and dancers, including a young dancer who stole the show.