The adrenaline rush of Tokyo city!
We left the peace and tranquility of the Japanese alps behind today and took a super-limited-express shinkansen (translation = very fast train that stops NOWHERE except your final destination) from Nagano City to Tokyo. It took less than 2 hours to cover the 230 km distance, but in that time we went from serene mountains and green forests to noen-bright, chaotic, loud Tokyo City. Yikes!
Talk about sensory overload – we arrived at Tokyo Central Station (which is a train station, subway station and bus station all in one) around 11:00am, well outside peak commuter hours, and still the place was insanely busy. Or at least, it felt busy after the calm of Nagano City. We felt like such country bumpkins, standing in the middle of the station, trying to work out which of the 12 exits we needed to bring us out on the right side of the station, closest to our hotel. I cannot imagine what it must be like in there at peak times, and I have NO desire to find out!
We were a little daunted by the prospect of finding our way out of the train station and navigating our way through the streets of Tokyo to our hotel, but turns out big cities are pretty similar and we made it without any dramas. We’re staying in Tokyo for almost a week, giving ourselves plenty of time to get to know the local subway system and to visit as many of its wards as possible – from the green leafy boulevards of Harajuku, to the electronics and manga shops of Akihabara, glitzy shopping malls of Ginza, and ultra-modern high-rises of Shinjuku. Right now I’m not sure I’m going to survive a full week of this sensory assault, but we’ll see…
Tokyo has been a major Japanese centre since the 16th century, but only became the country’s capital in 1868, after the Meiji Restoration (i.e. when Emperor Meiji instigated a policy of enforced modernisation for Japan, and the feudal system was abolished, compulsory education mandated, and railways and other infrastructures built). Destroyed a number of times by fires, earthquakes and bombing (WWII), Tokyo has been rebuilt repeatedly and stands today as one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities. It is often described as a “model metropolis” due to its super-efficient transit systems, extremely low crime rates and cleanliness.
Greater Tokyo is home to almost as many people as the whole of Aus, all crammed into a space about the size of Sydney. With one of the highest population densities in the world and real estate prices to match, it’s no surprise that our hotel room is TINY. We knew this would be the case, however, but made a conscious decision to be as close to the centre of things as possible – even if it means we’re sleeping in a room the size of a pantry!
A special note on Japanese hotel rooms
At this point in time I feel obliged to say a little something about our experiences in Japanese hotels so far. If you’ve been a regular reader of our blogs you’ll know we really enjoyed our ryokan experience in Kyoto; the room at Ryokan Kyoraku was easily the biggest we’ve had whilst in Japan, though furnished in the minimalist style one expects from something so traditionally Japanese. Apart from that though we’ve been staying in Western style rooms in “business hotels”; that is, hotels designed for business men in town for just a night or two. These hotels suit our needs because they are close to the train station, include free wifi internet most of the time, have free/cheap guest laundry services and are really reasonably priced (6500-9500 Yen – about $65-$95 AUD – per night). The only “catch” is that most of the time we are in what are euphemistically called “semi-doubles”. What’s a semi-double I hear you ask? Answer: a cubicle with an almost-double bed in it, a window and a bathroom in the cupboard. Regular double beds are 140cm wide, I have discovered, whereas semi-double beds are 120cm wide. You wouldn’t think 20cm would make much of a difference right? WRONG! If you are a tall person, or a large-framed person coming to Japan, my advice would be: spend the extra $20 per night and book a PROPER double room, not a semi-double. In fact, why not splurge and go for a PREMIUM double room, where the beds are QUEEN sized!! Luckily Shane and I are “regular sized” white people, and we like each other a lot, so being squished up together in a cubicle, and having a minuscule bathroom in the cupboard, is not causing any major distress. Although I do think back longingly to the King sized bed we had back home sometimes…., all that space, glorious space…..
Once we’d checked in (and being allowed into our room 3 hours early!!), we decided to ease ourselves into Tokyo sightseeing with some lunch and a trip to the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace of Japan sits at the heart of central Tokyo and occupies almost a square kilometre of land. Not that you can just go into the actual palace unannounced, what with it being the Emperor’s actual house and all. We just got to admire it from afar and enjoyed the hospitality of the Emperor’s gardens. The gardens were HUGE and, though perfectly manicured, not as pretty as some of the formal gardens we saw in Kyoto and certainly not as beautiful as the wilds of Japan we have been hiking through over the past 2 weeks. It’s very nice of Emperor Akihito and his family to let us wander through their gardens though.
We spent a few hours wandering through the gardens before the heat got too much and air conditioning and ice cream beckoned…. It was a stinker in Tokyo today – real feel temperature of 37 degrees and no breeze to speak of. It was enough to send this little sunburnt tourist back to her tiny hotel room/cupboard for a cool shower and some weird afternoon Japanese TV. Not a particularly eventful day, but we’re happy to have made it to Tokyo and are looking forward to exploring the city a bit more over the next few days.