The Tokyo Tower looks, from right beneath it, like an orange and even more ugly version of a famous tower in Paris. We're obviously not there to see it, but from it. An elevator with an external view lifts us 150 meters in a fashion so smooth and slick most American elevators could only dream of. The view is, well, foggy, but the aerial view was still worth the excursion. The city isn't exactly picturesque, but I'm impressed by how much green we see from up there, given that about 33 million share this relatively small space.
Next: the Imperial Palace. This is where those pictures come into play: the Emperor and Empress met over 50 years ago playing tennis. It is almost a fairy-tale, for she is the first commoner to marry into the royal family. One of the daughters, on the other hand, is now an ex-princess, because she chose to marry a commoner herself. (Miko consoles us by telling that as a goodbye from the royal family said ex-princess received a sizable gift drawn from taxpayer funds.) The heir situation seems tricky, due to mental illness and a first-born daughter, but I can't quite follow. The palace itself is impressive, at least from the outside, which is all we get to see, of course. As we pull up, we see hundreds of Japanese pine trees - the fully grown version of what Westerners call 'bonsai' – a sign of longevity in honor of the emperor. (First reactions of what ideally to do in these vast fields of beautiful trees include Yoga and Ultimate Imperial Frisbee.) We are free to wander about only after a group photo is taken in front of the famous bridge that leads to the entrance of the palace.
Last stop: Asakusa Temple, the most popular tourist destination in Tokyo. We are taught how to cleanse ourselves before entering the temple (wash left hand with ladle first, then right, then rinse your mouth and spit), and how to throw in money and find our fortune for the day. Mine is No. 79 "Regular Fortune", including "Talk with tongue entangled by your getting drunk, but gives no unpleasant impression to others." The main attraction actually seems to be the long line of vendors, with tacky souvenirs (including an Obama mask) and delicious snacks.
On the way home, a little personal taste of Tokyo. Miko has us guess how much she and her husband paid ten years ago for their "rabbit hole", a tiny 2-bedroom apartment on the 12th floor of a building on the outskirts of Tokyo. About half a million US dollars, she says, plus the $320/month they currently pay to rent their parking spot. Back at the free hotel, time for a nap.