Monday, November 27, 2017

The Art of Getting Lost in Tokyo: A Japan First-Timer’s Reportage


In five days, we approximately spent one full day inside the complex 90-year old Tokyo subway train system and there’s definitely a different world down there. Rush hour or not, the locals would remain composed as they queue up, no one’s rushing and nobody’s annoyed. If there’s one thing that lingers on about my recent trip to Japan, it is the virtue of being calm amidst all the hustles of the world. I never dreamt of coming to Tokyo, really, but this highly urbanized city isn’t as cold and lifeless as I would expect it to be. In fact, I felt the total opposite.

I never had any leaning towards big cities and fast-paced life; I find it cold and lifeless like what I remembered feeling when I first stepped in Singapore some years ago. My constant travel buddies who’ve been to Tokyo a few times already wanted me to reconsider what I thought I knew. So when a promo fare for a roundtrip Manila to Tokyo flight from Cebu Pacific Air came, they immediately booked an early autumn trip for the gang without me knowing it. At that time, I would rather have a summer trip to Mallorca in Spain than cozying up for a chilly trip. But that definitely changed once we commenced the trip.

Tokyo Skytree
Tokyo's Skytree (tallest structure in Japan) as seen from Asakusa
Just weeks ago, me and my favorite travel buddies embarked on an adventure to the Land of the Rising Sun—it was my first time in Japan. Getting a tourist visa is easy peasy as long as you have all the required documents. Check out my Guide on Japan Tourist Visa Application for Philippine Passport Holders here.

Tokyo Metro Subway
Stillness at Tokyo Metro
The nippy early morning breeze greeted us as we arrived at Narita International Airport. My winter trip in Seoul prepped me up pretty well for this trip with regard to weather expectations. In terms of our itinerary, we purchased some lifesaving stuff from the ever-reliable Klook App (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Tokyo). You may want to check my Tokyo Travel Guide for First-Timers for further information.

Japan Vendo Machine
Vendo-operated Restaurant
My first glimpse of downtown Tokyo was when our airport express train emerged from the tunnel. The sea of tiled roofs and the village clusters that were blanketed with thick clouds felt like a scene from a movie. Flashbacks from one of my all-time favorite movies came as the journey continued. Lost in Translation was a movie which was filmed in Tokyo. I'm no movie buff but what remains until now was the subtlety of the characters and the movie itself which is in stark contrast of the city’s vibrancy.

Lockers In Japan
There are lockers everywhere especially in Tokyo Metro
I went into a public toilet once we got off from the train. I was stunned on how fully automatic it was—Japanese toilets are pretty amazing (especially the fake flush thingy). Automation is one of the pet peeves of Japan. Even before you could think of ways to make your life easier, they have an automated solution for that already.

Tokyo Train Station
Calm. Composed. Chaos.
We didn't have concrete plans on exploring Tokyo but we pinned some interesting areas to discover, this is our usual kind of trip. I was assigned to look out for our accommodation and believe me, it wasn't an easy task because Tokyo is such a huge city and trying to identify the perfect spot to go home to every night is challenging.

Asakusa Tokyo Japan
Early morning in Asakusa
I narrowed down my choices to the quaint neighborhood of Asakusa because of its old school Tokyo vibe and its close proximity to the airport subway line (which made our airport transfers much convenient). The old neighborhood feel was comparable to the ancient city vibe of Kharkiv in Ukraine. Both of which are timeless.

Tokyo Metro is the subway train system in downtown Tokyo that has 13 main color-coded lines and almost 285 stations. Of all the urban jungles I’ve visited, the train system in Japan is the most complex yet very efficient. We purchased a 72-hour Unlimited Tokyo Subway Pass for a discounted rate which saved us tons of money and time as we tend to get lost a number of times (poor research problems).

NAIA Terminal 1 Manila
Autumn light packing
So here's a first-timer’s reportage on the Land of the Rising Sun with emphasis on the specific areas we've covered. I will dedicate a separate article on our great food adventure.

Asakusa

It was drizzling when we emerged from the Asakusa station (orange line). With our backpacks in tow, we braved the incessant light rain as we struggled to search for our hotel. It was my first taste of Tokyo—wet, well-organized, and expensive. As we tried to keep our cool, we still had the time to look for a cheap breakfast place. Cheap in Japan standards, I must say, is different from all our other Asian trips. We ended up having our first meal on a famous fastfood chain where I had a simple cheeseburger (which can actually buy three burgers back home). 

Orange Street Asakusa Tokyo Japan
Orange Street at Asakusa
We found refuge from the freezing and soaking weather on our home for the next few days. Wired Hotel Asakusa is one of the newest hotels in the neighborhood which is actually a nice place to hangout around the neighborhood (check out my Wired Hotel Asakusa review here).

Sensoji Temple Tokyo
Senso-ji Temple at midnight
For the next few days, we would be waking up to more rain. We'd trace our steps going to the famous Senso-ji Temple to the nearest train station and would go back home late at night into a deserted town. The famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo is actually the oldest in the city and one of the key spots to visit.

Asakusa Tokyo Shopping
Asakusa shops at night.
Asakusa is lovely as it is. With or without the noise from the shop sellers and tourists, this area is nice for those who are itching to feel the old school Tokyo vibe that you mostly see on movies. This is actually one of my favorite areas in the city, or maybe I’m being biased because we chose to stay here for five days.


Shibuya

The scenes from the Japanese movie Hachiko touched me in a very special way. I don't have any inclinations with dogs, or pets for that matter, but the first thing that came into my mind when we emerged from the Shibuya station (purple, orange and brown lines) was how Hachi fervently waited for his master at the train station during the 1920s. His love and loyalty nine years after his master’s death was remarkable.

Hachiko Shibuya Tokyo
Hachiko statue
We came out from Hachiko exit and searched for the dog's statue and found him drenched in rainwater, just like us. I took a few snaps and although I wanted to stay there for a while, the famed Shibuya crossing stunned me.

Shibuya Crossing Tokyo
The famous Shibuya Crossing-the busiest crosswalk in the world.
The traffic lights went all red that signaled the very chaotic yet orderly manner way of crisscrossing the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. Fancy transparent umbrellas covered the whole area and while we wanted to join the mob, we opted to join the next batch, probably to get a grip first of what's happening.

And, it's just a plain crossing. I've seen this scene when we were in the party area of Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong but it was more frenzied in Tokyo. A good mix of tourists and locals were included on the bunch. It was a sure fun way to really get a sense of what it feels like to be in this vibrant city.

Shibuya Tokyo Shopping
Shibuya shopping
Shops and restaurants filled Shibuya just like the Myeong-dong area in Seoul. We were famished at that time so we tried a vendo-operated restaurant somewhere and indulged on our overly expensive meal (in Philippine standards, of course).

We weren't satiated much so we grabbed another chow on a ramen restaurant which I didn't enjoy that much (it's just me though and my disinclination with noodle soups).


Shinjuku

We woke up on a rainy Friday on our second day in Tokyo. The group decided to do a side trip on a nearby prefecture (district) to get a nice spot for Mt. Fuji sighting, to no avail.

Our jump-off and drop-off point was Shinjuku station (red line). We got back to downtown Tokyo after our Hakone adventure on the evening, still with incessant rain. With nothing to do, we checked out BIC Camera store with its jaw-dropping Japan-made camera stuff which made us hoard everything we needed (and wanted). My buddies got cameras, drones and I went home with a new lens for my camera (which was thousands cheaper compared to the ones they have in Manila).

Shinjuku Tokyo
Shinjuku at night
The guys went on with shopping for winter clothes on some of the shops around. We then ended up having dinner on a busy restaurant alley underneath the train together with local salarymen.

On our third night, we still went to Shinjuku and checked out the famous Omoide Yokocho or Memory Lane. The infamous area for yakitori (skewered barbecued meat) was actually an illegal drinking quarter during the 1940s. Locally known as Piss Alley because of the absence of restroom facilities before, it’s now famous for its cramped food stalls and cheap beer, again, cheap in Japan standards (I have to emphasize this every chance I have. Haha).

Shijuku Piss Alley
Shinjuku's infamous "Piss Alley"
We were all too big for this alley though (with our shopping bags and stuff) so we decided to find a regular restaurant around and ended the night with a beer sesh. It was past midnight when we decided to call it a night. Big mistake. The Tokyo Metro was done for the day so what we did was to hail a cab which set us back for almost 6,000 Yen (US$54) for a short 20-minute ride. A lesson learned is to grab a beer in the afternoon to catch the last train or better yet, just find a beer shack near where you're staying.

Shinjuku Cheap Beer
Cramped. Cheap beer. Salarymen. Fun night.

Akihabara

It was still raining on our fourth day and a super typhoon is coming its way to Tokyo, bad timing, I know. But instead of sulking, we grabbed this chance to indulge in techie haven on, again, BIC Camera Shop. But this time, we got off at Akihabara station (gray line) and explored this lively area.


The vibe was hip, food is cheaper, people are more relaxed and shops are everywhere. Akihabara is made more famous by the electronic shops and funky themed cafés around (like the maid café or the anime café).

Camera lens and other gear were our target for that day. We got a great deal on shopping because of the on-the-spot tax-free counter (8% less the original price) plus additional 5% off when we used our credit cards. Totally amazing!

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Odaiba

There's this huge robot that everyone is raving about. My robot childhood started and ended with Voltes V which I couldn't remember much—I'm no cartoon person, that's why. We set foot on Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay which was originally made for defensive purposes but has now turned into a shopping and entertainment district. We went away from our usual subway train and boarded the new transit waterfront line and got off at Daiba station.

Odaiba Statue of Liberty
Odaiba Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge
We went, again, to this shopping mall which allowed us to get a nice view of rainy Tokyo with a replica of the Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge as backdrop. We then marched towards the famous robot.

Gundam, it's Gundam and not Daimos, Carla. My friends were laughing at me as I try to guess who the robot was and failing each time.

The show was about to start when we got there. My friends were amused to see the newer version of Gundam. Flashbacks of scenes from the show started to flash at the building. I was too engrossed in watching at the projected scenes while the huge robot was showing off with its small robotic moves. I almost clapped and cheered at the end when I noticed that people started to disperse. Why weren’t they moved, I kept on thinking.

Odaiba Gundam
Larger then life Gundam

Ueno

We were all packed and ready to leave Tokyo at around six. It was the morning after a super typhoon hit the city. But then, I felt an urge to check if our flight will be delayed and my hunch was right.

Ueno Park Shrine
One of the shrines at Ueno Park
It was our fifth and last day but our flight was rescheduled so we had twelve more hours to wander around. Apparently, it was a blessing in disguise for the sun showed up that day. 

Our bags were packed, plus we had some spare money to last that day. We went to wherever our hearts leaned to and it spoke of Ueno.

Ueno Park Toshogu Shrine
Ueno Toshogu Shrine
Emerging from Ueno station (orange and green lines), we were led by our feet to Ueno Park. The sky was clear and the sun showed up for the first time in five days.

We roamed around and got lost at the park which was originally part of the Kaneiji Buddhist Temple in 17th century. We chanced upon a couple of temples which were both closed during that time because of the inclement weather the day before.

Ueno Park Toshogu Shrine
Calm after the storm
After our happenstance temple run, we walked further and followed the herd of people and found a street market. Ameyayokocho (Ameya Yokocho means candy store alley) is an open-aired market in Ueno which feaures almost every Japanese knick-knacks, perfect for bringing back home.

Prices here are surprisingly low compared to supermarkets and other shops. You can find just about anything here such as Anello bags, Kit Kat chocolates and other Japanese thingamajigs. We didn’t have spare money to spend so we just roved the market alleys.

Ueno Ameyayokocho Market
Ameyayokocho Market

Tokyo Tower

When my buddy asked me for a specific spot I'd like to check out, Tokyo Tower came into my mind. It was just a tower according to him, and there’s nothing special about it, he added. But I wanted to go anyway, so we did.


The sky was clear and blue the moment we emerged from Kamiyacho station (gray line). The glaring red tower stood out from the rest of the structures. I took a quick snap and told my buddy that one photo is fine with me. He then suggested that we should go to the base of it for a closer look at the second tallest structure in Japan after the Tokyo Skytree.

It was just a tower, yes, but what sets it apart from the rest was its red color that popped out from the blue sky and lush greeneries. I kinda liked it though. I could imagine it turning into a romantic chill spot at night with spotlights and all. We have to go back to Tokyo for that.

Tokyo Tower Japan
Tokyo Tower

Meiji Shrine

We still have enough time to visit another spot and found ourselves rushing through the most famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo. We got off at Meiji-jingumae/Harajuku station (blue-green and brown lines) and raced our way through this 70-hectare forest in the middle of Tokyo.

Meiji Shrine Tokyo
Torii at Meiji Shrine's entrance
The chilly early autumn wind welcomed us as we walked through the rocky path towards Meiji Shrine. Century-old trees along the trail served as sunshade as we passed along a huge torii gate (a traditional Japanese gate of a Shinto shrine). There were no fees that were collected for entry here.

Meiji Shrine Tokyo
Sake barrels collection at Meiji Shrine
We didn't know where to go specifically and would have to rely on our online maps so we could locate the main shrine. We only had one hour to explore the shrine that is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (the first emperor of modern Japan) and his consort, Empress Shoken.

We reached the main complex of shrine buildings after a hasty 10-minute walk. There were improvements going on at that time for the shrine’s 100th year in 2020 so we only got the chance to see the main shrine from a distance.

Meiji Shrine Tokyo
Entrance to the main shrine
We wandered around the shrine grounds and observed some locals who were dressed in traditional kimono (probably a family celebration was observed) and tourists who were writing their hopes and wishes on wooden plates or ema. We wanted to stay for a while but we need to collect our bags from the hotel. Hopefully next time, we get to visit Meiji Shrine on a relaxed manner.

Meiji Shrine Tokyo
Kimono kind of day

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Five days isn’t enough to explore Tokyo. The eccentric mix of ultramodern and traditional can be felt and seen in the structures, locals and the culture itself. The fast-paced life was surprisingly hushed by the subtlety of the Japanese people. It felt weird and calming altogether. I still couldn’t find the exact words that could define my feeling towards Tokyo. It will all be just confusing and conflicting words.

Tokyo Japan Blog

And I love it, I love getting lost in Tokyo. And I suppose I will intend to get lost again here, someday, somehow. I’m sure of it.







1 comment:

  1. would love to get lost in Tokyo too :) Sarap mag photowalk dyan :)

    ReplyDelete