Mall-trawling and people watching, Tokyo style!
We took ourselves to Shinjuku today to see young, hip Tokyo at its best. The suburb ward of Shinjuku is the modern heart of Tokyo – another “city centre” in this massive metropolis. It’s about 8km west of where we’re staying and is connected to Tokyo Central station (our closest station) by a couple of bus routes, numerous subway lines, eight metro train lines and a couple of Japanese Rail (JR) train lines as well, just for good measure. This makes it “easy to get to”, according to our very helpful hotel reception staff. This is a copy of the map they gave us to help us reach Shinjuku:
We DID manage to work out that what we wanted was the JR Chuo Express Line to take us from Tokyo Central to Shinjuku in 12 minutes. These trains leave every 2.5 minutes during peak hours and “only” every 4 minutes during off-peak (i.e. 10:00am to 4:00pm), so it was no trouble getting on a train, once we’d found our platform. The system is really fool proof (but not idiot proof): the train/metro/subway lines are colour coded the same way on every map of Tokyo and when you go to any station, all the signs relating to that line, the platforms where those trains stop and the actual trains themselves, all have the same colour coding system. So once we knew it was the orange line we needed, the rest was easy! Just keep looking for orange signs!
That was all very well and good, but when we got OFF the train, THAT’S when things got interesting! Shinjuku Station is a major transit hub for the Tokyo subway, metro and train lines, as well as for many inter-city trains as well. It is used by an average of 3.7 million people PER DAY, making it, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub (and is registered as such with Guinness World Records). The station has 36 platforms and over 200 exits; it is HUGE and more than a little overwhelming. Luckily we were travelling outside of peak hours, so once we’d arrived at Shinjuku Station and alighted from the train we had some breathing space and plenty of time to work out where we were and how to get out!
Our first stop in Shinjuku proper was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings. This 400,000 square metre complex is where Tokyo city is administered from, and consists of two 48-storey buildings, each with a viewing platform on the 45th floor that you can visit for free to get an awesome view of Tokyo. On a good day, you can see all the way to Mount Fuji (130kms away). Unfortunately it was really hazy today so we couldn’t make out Fuji-yama at all. The view from way up there were pretty cool though. Tokyo city stretched out as far as we could see – all 13,500 square kilometres of it! With a populations of over 35 million people, this is officially the most populated metropolis in the world….this city is IMMENSE! There is now way photos can even big to describe the scale of this city, but we’ll try and show you a little of what we saw.
We then spent a bit of time wandering around the western side of Shinjuku station, exploring the multi-storey department stores and marvelling at the kilometres of underground shopping malls and transit corridors, before crossing back through Shinjuku Station and under the tracks to the east side. The eastern side of Shinjuku is what most people would think of when they think of Tokyo: giant TV screens on every corner, more departments stores than you could hope to cover in a week of shopping, cinemas, karaoke arcades, restaurants, bars, clubs, and a plethora of brightly coloured signs desperately vying for your attention. This is also where Tokyo’s “red light district” can be found, as well the infamous Japanese “love hotels” (i.e. hotel that rents rooms by the hour for…ahem… “resting”).
Needless to say, we were mightily entertained, just walking through the streets of Shinjuku for a couple of hours. We had lunch upstairs in one of the department store food courts, where we had a great bird’s eye view over Shinjuku crossing (this is that famous street crossing you see on TV, where all the traffic lights go red at once, and thousands of people cross the 4-way intersection at once, going in every direction).
After a bit more people watching we re-entered the maze of Shinjuku Station and managed to get ourselves back to our hotel without incident. Man, what a day! Talk about sensory overload… I am really looking forward to going somewhere small and quiet for dinner now! More from Tokyo tomorrow…