Start at the brown torii gate at the bottom of the hill, with two bronze guardian lions on either side of the steep steps (one lion has his mouth open, the other's is shut). Before you start climbing up the 86 steps, note that samurai would ride their horses up and down this hill, a real feat.
At the top of the hill is a small pond with oodles of carp (koi) swimming around, and a little island with a shrine to Benten, Shinto goddess of good luck. The red torii gate leads to the main shrine, where offerings are made to the god of fire (Homusubi no Mikoto), also gods of water and mountains.
An outdoor cafe has cold drinks and snacks, if kids need something from their climb up the hill. To go back down, there's a less steep stairs to the left (north) side of the pond.
Tokyo Tower - If kids have been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tokyo look familiar, only it's painted orange and white, and is 13 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower. The Tokyo Tower is not just ornamental; TV channels and FM radio are broadcast from the tower. On a clear day, ride up to the observation deck for views of Tokyo and Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Little kids will enjoy the small amusement park with rides featuring favorite characters, and there's restaurants and cafes in the complex.
Tip: Tokyo Skytree is now the tallest tower in Tokyo.
Shiba Park -
Down the hill from Tokyo Tower (walking east) is one part of Shiba Park, with a lovely stream, shade, and benches. Bring your picnic lunch.
Across the road, next to the Tokyo Prince hotel, is fun place for kids, a small pond lined with rocks where kids can just play and shaded picnic tables
Zojo-ji temple - In the 17th century, the Zojo-ji was a biggie, with almost 50 different temples; it was also the family temple of the Tokugawa family and where the shoguns were buried.
From Hibiya street (Hibiya-dori), walk through the large two-story red San-mon Gate, built in the early 1600's and one of the oldest wooden structures in Tokyo.
On the left is a lovely stone statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. On the right is a bell tower, with huge bronze bell, 11 ft high and weighing 33,000 lbs. (14,850 kg.). The bell is still rung every day, six times in the morning, and evening.
, is the great main hall of the temple. At the altar, golden columns and chandeliers surround a glowing 16th century golden Amida Buddha
figure. To the left of the altar is a large drum and small gong
, colorfully decorated with dragons - the drum and gong are used during Buddhist ceremonies.
Next to the main hall is the Ankokuden
, which has a black image of the Amida Buddha, a favorite of Tokugawa Ieyasu to encourage protection of Edo (this Buddha isn't visible at the altar). Here kids can buy little key chains with red or black miniature school backpacks with a good luck charm inside and amulets for "scholastic success," "good luck with exams," "family protection," "safety driving," all very helpful for families.
Mausoleum of the Shoguns
- Behind the Ankokuden is a walled garden, with a gorgeous bronze gate, decorated with two dragons on either side, and the Tokugawa family crest (three hollyhock leaves). Inside the wall are tombs of six of the shoguns, and their wives and children. Entry into the garden isn't permitted.
Originally the shoguns were buried in a different location in the temple complex, with ornate tombs, where daimyos could come and pay their respects. The mausoleums have been much reduced, due to the 19th century Meiji dislike of symbols of the shoguns, and WWII Tokyo bombing raids.
- Along the right side of the temple complex are rows of little stone Jizo figures, dressed in knitted caps and bibs, holding pinwheels that flutter in the wind. Jizo is the protector of children, and the little figures commemorate children who've died young.
Shiba Detached Palace Gardens (Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens) - In the 17th century, nobles would have strolled around this lovely garden, enjoying the ducks floating on the pond, waterless waterfalls made out of rocks, bridges to two islands, stone lanterns, and beautifully landscaped trees and flowers, such as pine trees, azaleas, and lilies. Today the garden is public, and it a wonderful spot to explore with kids. Shaded picnic tables, bring your lunch.
Out front is a playground
with swings and slides. Hamatsucho or Daimon subway stop for the Gardens.
Tip: The Gardens are quite close to Hinode Pier, where you can catch the waterbus to Asakusa up the Sumida River, or cruise over to Odaiba.