Tokyo is extremely easy to get around (if you don’t mind walking and squishing yourself up against your fellow travelers occasionally), but you must follow three rules:
1. Don’t get lost.
2. Know where you are going. Yes, this is different from 1.
3. Don’t go to too many places in one day.
I definitely broke all three of these last Saturday.
6AM: Up to drive to the airport. I used to complain in Tucson about the airport being out in the sticks, half an hour away. Now that the nearest airport is an hour and a half away, I think I’ll stop whining.
8AM: Make a note to remember that the airport is actually two hours away, even in early Saturday morning traffic.
9AM: Flight from Hakodate to Haneda, the primarily domestic airport in Tokyo, as opposed to Narita, which is almost two hours away. Just barely catch sight of Mt. Fuji, try to take a picture anyway.
10:30AM: Land at Haneda, grab checked bag, take the monorail into the city. This was a start to a run of extremely fortunate good luck as pertains to public transport. They had a deal running – 500JPY for a trip on the monorail to Hamamatsucho plus a free transfer to the JR Yamanote line, which runs around the central part of the city in a loop, hitting almost all of the major stations, which in turn are connected to the shinkansen, private railways, and subways that cover the city. For the rest of the day, I had no trouble finding the right train, figuring out which platform to stand on, or finding which exit or path I needed to take.
11AM: Walking around, however, turned out to be more difficult. My original plan had been to take the train to Tokyo Station, stash most of my stuff and go shopping/sight-seeing until I could check into my hotel around 3PM. Two little problems – the coin lockers I was intending to use were scarcer than expected and completely full when finally discovered. I finally gave up, bought a Suica card and headed for the Sobu line, figuring that I could drop my stuff off at the hotel to be held by the front desk at least. Only to find an empty coin locker on the stairs by the Sobu line. Ditched my stuff and set off with my camera.
The Imperial Palace, just visible from Tokyo Station.
12PM: Realize that I should have packed sunscreen and a hat. Free of my stuff, fortified with a cheeseburger, and changed into a t-shirt, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic. Misplaced sentiments, as it turned out. I decided to hit Hayashi Kimono, which my guidebooks referred to as an excellent shopping experience within walking distance of Tokyo Station, only to discover why guidebooks also refer to their ‘all information contained within was correct at time of publication, we are not responsible if you walk off a cliff’ policy. Thoroughly walking around the area, asking a helpful policeman, and finally calling them myself, I determined that the shop has either closed or moved. Tsk.
Probably the busiest “We’re lost” police box in Japan.
1PM: Walk back towards Tokyo Station, intending to hit Maruzen, described as one of the biggest and best bookstores in Tokyo. This, finally, delivered. It’s four floors out of part of the Marunouchi Oazo building, directly north-northwest of Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi North Exit. The fourth floor has stationery, CDs/DVDs, and foreign language (mostly English, some French and German) books, including a children’s section and a large array of art and photography books. Kind of small, but I’m comparing it to Kinokuniya in my head. I’ll let you know how accurate that is in the Day Three post. Also, you can’t use your Maruzen point card on the foreign language books, you have to get a special English one, which is pointless for me since none of the Maruzens in Hokkaido sell English books.
The store also had one of those rare creatures – a sarcastic Japanese bookstore employee. In a land of customer service, it was almost hysterical to have one who produced such quotes as, “Yeah, what do you want?” and “It’s here somewhere in these two shelves. They’re in alphabetical order,” with a strong hint of dumbass on the ‘alphabetical order’.
In Marunouchi Oazo’s basement, there are several shops, including a Hands Be (the cosmetics and luggage side to Tokyu Hands, a department store known for stocking hobbyist supplies), a bakery which sells the most divine mini cherry pies (probably seasonal) and a place selling fro-yo. I took advantage of all three. It also connects underground to Tokyo Station.
3:30PM: Drag myself to my hotel in the Nihombashi area. Chosen for it’s proximity to three different subway stations, which between them connect to Tokyo Station, the Shinjuku line, and the Asakusa line. At this point, my legs and feet were figuratively screaming at me, though my left knee might literally have been groaning.
4:30PM: So, of course, after settling in I almost immediately headed back out again. Part of the reason was the weather – sunny over the weekend, getting cloudier starting Monday. I wanted to go up in Tokyo Skytree while I could actually see something, so I moved that item from Tuesday to Saturday on my itinerary.
Tokyo Skytree, visible from Asakusa.
5PM: Arrive at Skytree after tranferring through Asakusa, discover that 4000 people have had the same idea. To get in during busy times, you have to get a ‘seiriken’, which has the half hour period of time during which you are allowed to line up and buy tickets. Yikes. I got there around 5:20 and was issued a seiriken for 7PM. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t too atrocious, since they cleverly built the thing surrounded by a shopping center. There were regular shops in addition to souvenir shops (shops I’ve seen before, but with exclusive Skytree goods in addition to their regular offerings) and plenty of restaurants, including a Starbucks.
7PM: Line up to buy tickets. At this point, the sun had set and the tower had been lit up. Apparently they alternate between purple (Miyabi – representing traditional Japanese aesthetics) and blue (Iki – the manly spirit of urban commoners of Edo).
Tokyo Skytree Illumination
7:30PM Blasted from the 4F to 350m up in less than a minute. By this point the sun had set and all of Tokyo was lit up.
In general, the whole thing was a disappointment, mostly because of the wait and the crowd. Tokyo from 350m up is just high enough to recognize everything, but too high to really make out a lot of detail. I can look at good photographs with less shoving and enjoy it more. I might go again one day (especially since I didn’t get to the very top), but maybe in a few years when the fuss has died down a bit.
9:30PM Drag self back to hotel, stopping briefly at Denny’s to inhale a hamburger steak. (Japanese Denny’s, alas, does not do breakfast all day.)