Tokyo: three days packed full

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I arrived in Tokyo exhausted after 21 hours travelling – 7(ish) hours from Adelaide to Singapore, 7 hours stopover, then 6(ish) hours from Singapore to Tokyo. The flight was uneventful apart from some slight turbulence. I can’t speak highly enough of Singapore Airlines – they make long haul flying bearable with their fabulous service, food and entertainment. Now if the seats just had more leg room…

My hotel – the Sunroute Plaza in Shinjuku-higashi – is quiet, clean and comfortable and in an excellent location, right next to the subway and a 10 minute walk from Shinjuku Station. There are 7/11s and FamilyMarts a 5 minute walk away, and there are all sorts of food outlets offering all sorts of food, all close by. Goldengai, with its tiny bars and lanes, is a 5 minute walk away.

I’ve been on three short tours, which I booked before I left Australia. While I got to see more of Tokyo and further afield than I probably would have, and I was (luckily!) forced to use the transport system to get back to my hotel, I just do not like tours anymore. I don’t like the herding cats mentality; the not enough time spent in some places, too much time spent in others; and the people. Generally, I don’t much like other tourists! But I do like tour guides – I think they do a fantastic job in often difficult circumstances.

So. After being in Tokyo for three days, here’s my take on a few things:

Tokyo itself

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This is a beautiful city, make no mistake. It is clean, pedestrian and cyclist friendly (sharing wide footpaths), and the traffic seems to flow well, although I am assured that traffic jams are frequent during rush hour. The architecture is fascinating: business and entertainment districts blend; high-tech mixes it up with green spaces and shrines, office workers meld with the downright kooky. I struggle to fault it, although I can never find a bin or outdoor seating when I need it. I have seen a number of homeless people, but no more than what I would find at home.

The transport system

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I must admit I was daunted and nervous about using both the trains and the subway, but the transport system really is very easy to use. The subway is colour-coded, has signage in English and Japanese (both at stations and on the trains) and is very easy to navigate. You only have to use it once to get the hang of it. But it’s a quick and efficient way to get around Tokyo. I even recharged my Manaca card without too much difficulty, made easier when I found the English translation button. The only issue I really have with the transport system is finding my way out of the station! I invariably end up at the opposite exit of where I intended. And I’m really looking forward to taking the Shinkansen to other cities.

Sightseeing highlights

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I went to Mt Fuji today and it was a stunning drive. Cherry trees in full blossom sweep across the mountains in pink and white. Little streams gurgle over rocks and wind their way through valleys and under bridges. Patches of dirty snow were dotted here and there, remnants of a very cold winter. Mt Fuji itself was majestic and mysterious, and shrouded in a misty haze. The cloud momentarily cleared to disclose the summit, but I am advised that the mountain is temperamental and doesn’t often disclose.

Yesterday, I took the subway to Ueno Park, where I spent the better part of the afternoon people watching and taking photos. And people watch I did: I saw a group of ladies in their kimonos, a few homeless people, school children, street performers, businessmen and tourists. The park itself is large and houses several museums and a shrine. It’s a lovely part of Tokyo and a respite from the crazy lights and relentless, blaring noise of Shibuya, where I was earlier that day.

Asakusa was also an interesting place, incorporating a gorgeous shrine, five level pagoda and a lively market area. I tried some custard “donuts” which were delicious, and I bought a dodgy bracelet for ¥1000 that has fallen apart after one day. It was a vibrant spot, and I’d like to get back there and have a proper nosy around.

Tomorrow, I have a guide for the day, and I think I’d like to check out the fish market, the Meiji shrine, Harajuku, Rappongi and have a decent feed of noodles!

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