Ohayou Gozaimasu from Tokyo!
First Post from Japan!
Well, it has been three full days of exploring Tokyo and although we were completely overwhelmed when we first arrived, we are now just starting to feel comfortable in this city of roughly 18 million people, the largest metropolitan area in the world. If you were to say Tokyo is a little different from Comox, B.C., you would be correct.
We arrived April 16th (although still the 15th back home….time travel without the DeLorean :)) and after 20 minutes of nervously waiting for Alyse’s bag, we made our way to Narita airport’s Shinkansen (Bullet train) line to take us to our hostel. The combination of not sleeping well the night before departing for Tokyo (way too excited), along with being up for almost 24 hours travelling, the stress of walking up for the first time to the subway kiosk to purchase tickets from the airport which was totally in Japanese, was a little too much for me. It must have been painted all over my face because a young business man walked up to me and offered to help purchase our tickets. An angel from above…actually an angel from below as I’ve found I am one of the tallest people everywhere I go!
During the train ride to our station, with Alyse resting on my shoulder giving up her valiant fight with jet lag, I was able to see some of the countryside just before dusk which, not realizing at the time, was a treat because we would be entering the largest concrete jungle I have ever seen. Arriving at Shinagawa Station served as an immediate pick-me-up as we stepped off the platform and quickly realized we had entered a world unlike one we had ever seen. Now, I have been to Grand Central and Penn Stations in New York, which are two of the largest in the world but the stations in Tokyo, are out of this world. “Organized Chaos” is the only way I could aptly describe it. Eventually we found our exit, where we ventured into the night, armed with only our backpacks and a page of broken english directions to our hostel. Without any smartphones, I had to rely on my old school Boy Scouts navigation (compass watch) and it seemed to pay off as we found our hostel, a quaint little place (Guest House Shinagawa-shuku), on a neat little street lined with “Ma and Pa” type businesses, along with pubs and noodle houses for the salary men on their way home from work. Although this area is not in the “heart” of Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Chiyoda), it is very close to Kita-Shinagawa Station (small train station) and 10 minutes to the larger Shinagawa Station so it is easy to get around the city from there. Actually, we really enjoy the fact that it isn’t very noisy at night, we are the only tourists everywhere we go, and we get to see people living their lives, moms biking their children to school, families shopping for groceries, and salary men at the pubs after work letting loose.
Now we knew space was at a premium in Tokyo, but I really do not believe Alyse or I really understood how small our room and bathrooms would be. Our room is Tatami Style, just barely fitting three adults lying on “Futon Style” mattresses and although when we first arrived and saw how small the room was, it has grown on us. If we didn’t have a roomate with us this week (Medical Student working for the US Navy), the space would be more than enough. Unfortunately he is here, and I have to step over his mattress to get to the door and out to the bathroom! Thankfully he works early morning shifts so our schedules are very much in sync. The washrooms are small, but are equipped with one of my favourite things in Japan, modern style toilets which are heated, play music and have full service bidets (think touchless carwash).
In the morning we headed out for breakfast, and although the guy at the front desk of the hostel recommended us Starbucks at Shinagawa train station (yes because we came all this way for Starbucks), we decided on a little noodle shop across from the hostel. The owner/cook is super friendly, doesn’t speak a lick of English but makes some of the best noodles I have ever had and always greets us with “Ohayou Gozaimasu!” We have gone there every morning so far because the food is great, the owner is friendly and the cost is cheap (about $8 CAD for the two of us) and we have gotten pretty quite at slurping our noodles alongside businessmen on their way to work.
Over the next couple of days we explored Tokyo by foot, walking roughly 14 hours over two days, and although our feet were sore, it proved to be a great way to see many different neighbourhoods, and experience the sights and sounds that not all tourists to Tokyo would be exposed to. With the time zone change, we are up early every morning, usually about 5 am, which has been nice as it has allowed us to observe people in many different areas of Tokyo on their way to and from work and kids on their way to and from school. After walking literally hundreds of blocks around the city of Tokyo over the past few days, the sight of office and residential towers that seem to go on forever is far too common. For a minute you’d see the Tokyo Tower and use it as a landmark, and the next minute you couldn’t find it, hidden behind some of the highest skyscrapers in the world. Every usable square foot of retail, residential and office space has been used. You will see restaurants and shops the size of closets under subway lines, and alleys that you can hardly fit a bicycle down, support dozens of restaurants and shops. This is true all over Tokyo, no matter the neighbourhood. We were able to find a little reprieve from all of this when we spotted General Nogi’s former residence, which neighboured a large garden and shrines. All right in the middle of an office area where if you weren’t careful, you could walk right by and never see. The picture below shows the walkway up to a shrine for the former general.
A big highlight for us on the first day, was being a part of the chaos of Shibuya Crossing just outside the Shibuya train station (Hachiko exit). You have 5 crossings going on at the exact same time and watching it high above at the Starbucks is something everyone should do at least once. Those who have seen “Lost in Translation” will recognize it.
On the second day, we spent some time visiting the Imperial Gardens, right next to the Imperial Palace which was very beautiful and a nice quick getaway from the haunting skyscrapers of the financial district. Just a FYI to others planning a trip to Tokyo, if you want to tour the Imperial Palace, you must make reservations about a month in advance (we didn’t). Up next we walked to the Ryoguku area of Tokyo, which is where the SUMOs train and live. There is actually a map you can get at the SUMO Museum which will show you all the restaurants in the area where SUMOs eat their high calorie diets and if you are hungry, you can eat like a SUMO! To finish up the day we were able to secure tickets to the second SUMO tournament of the year on May 15th, something that has always been on my bucket list….I’m VERY excited about going to see this!
That’s a quick peak into what we’ve been up to over the first few days in Tokyo, a city that is beginning to grow on us, especially now that we are feeling comfortable navigating the subway, ordering food and finding our way around the city. I have to say, as cliche as this sounds, this city has so much to offer that you can spend a full month here and not see it all and although it is true you tire of the endless concrete jungle, there are enough parks, shrines, temples and quirky things to do here that you can always “escape”. Although we head to Kyoto on the 23rd, we are planning on retuning on May 9th and staying until the 16th where we have a lot of cool things lined up that we are eager to share with you all!