Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sightseeing in Tokyo

Sunday 25th March 2012

MP3 track of the day: AKB48 - Beginner - (Just to be clear; I choose this track because AKB48 are big in Japan ... NOT BECAUSE OF THE VIDEO)

Weather: Perfect; a great 'sightseeing' temperature with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Twice the clouds darkened, but nothing came of it.

At 9:30am I found myself, with the day off, in Tokyo (a quick catch up: I've moved to Japan to teach English for a year or two). Not wanting to waste the opportunity I picked up my bag, handed in my room key and headed to the train station. The hotel, which I find myself staying at, is out of the city centre; therefore I had a forty minute train journey, followed by a forty minute 'tube' ride, to get to my destination, Shinjuku.

As I surfaced to street level, I let my eyes adjust to the light, before realising that I'd left the tube station through the 'eastern exit'. I therefore had the governmental heartland in front of me, and one of Tokyo's most beautiful parks behind me; I decided to go forth, into the 'urban jungle', before back-tracking to the park.

Being a Sunday, the area was deserted as most buildings were government offices; it was therefore relaxing to wonder around this maze of skyscrapers (head fixed, pointing upwards towards the sky) and not having to worry about bumping into anyone. The area had a 'Hong Kong' feel about it; each skyscraper was different and yet, it all seemed to fit together well. My guidebook made a fuss over the 'Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building', saying that it was designed by Tange Kenzo and that, some argue, it was “...the last great edifice of postmodernism...”. Well I'm not sure about that, all I'll say is that with its many towers, walkways and squares it was certainly an interesting building, however it was too 'concrete and glass' for me; I much preferred the glass skyscraper, with a egg shaped 'thing' in the middle, which I'd seen earlier. After wondering around for a bit, I decided to head back to the station to cross over to the west side of Shinjuku; however first of all, I had to find something to eat.

This morning I'd found myself contemplating breakfast as I was heading to the train station; I wasn't sure if the Japanese eat whilst on trains, therefore I decided to 'play it safe' and wait until I reached my destination. One thing lead to another and I found myself, at 11:45am, starving. Having eaten rice most of last week (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) I decided to go 'western'; I dived into a local Subway and consumed a 'Chicken Tika' sandwich, closely followed by a drink of Pepsi. Back on the streets I headed west, past the station, and into Shinjuku 'Gyoen' (gardens to you and me).

Described within my guidebook as:

...The largest and arguably most beautiful gardens in Tokyo. Apart from spaciousness, the gardens' most notable feature is the variety of design. The southern half is traditionally Japanese, with winding paths, stone lanterns, artificial hills and islands in ponds linked by zigzag bridges. At the northern end are formal, French-style gardens, with neat rows of tall birch trees and hedge-lined flowerbeds. Clipped, broad lawns dominate the middle of the park, modeled on English landscape design...”

I paid the 200 yen (£1.50) entrance fee and walked into the park, heading in the direction of the Japanese gardens. With the cherry blossoms out in full bloom, I've now managed to see Japan's two most dynamic seasons. I have to say that I prefer autumn (November) as the range of colours are more broad, and dynamic. The Japanese gardens themselves were lovely; winding paths, small wooden arched bridges and loads of well kept miniature trees ... these gardens kept my camera busy for hours. Within the center there were at least three traditional Japanese tea houses, all forming beautiful 'focal points' for my photos. I walked this way and that, not really following any specific route (I had to back-track a couple of times) until I reached the French garden; this had a very 'imperial' feel to it, with its tree-lined walkways and central 'focal' area. I continued to walk south, until I reached the outer-gate; I checked the parks map, to see if there was any part of the grounds I hadn't covered. It was then that I noticed that I'd missed the English garden; I double-checked the directions and headed off.

It didn't take long to find the English garden; I went there to see if the Japanese had any 'crazy ideas', of what a traditional English garden should look like, but unfortunately there weren't any weird things; in fact, I'd go as far to say that it was all a bit bland. There were trees running along the perimeter, with a huge burnt-lawn in the middle. What it lacked in design, it made up for with its huge communal area. Both the Japanese and French gardens lacked an area where people could sit, play football and run around; the English garden allowed this and it was great to see something, labeled with my countries name, which gave happiness to so many people. I therefore headed back to the southern gate, with a smile on my face.

Once out of the park, I'd crossed boarders into the 'Harajuku' area of Tokyo. I decided to head west, to get to the northern end of Meiji-jungu. Before arriving I stopped at a local convenience store and had an amazing cream cake.

Meiji-jingu is Tokyo's premier Shinto shrine; encased within a large forest, the shrine is a memorial to Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912, and his empress Shoken, who died in 1914. After passing under a dark wooden tori I made my way, along a path through the trees, to the main temple which only revealed itself at the last moment. Inside many people were sightseeing, praying or relaxing; within the huge temple a big drum started to beat, and most people followed the noise. After a short while I decided to leave and let the worshipers have a little peace; I left through the southern entrance.

The whole point of my trip, to the western area of Tokyo, was to see hundreds of women in 'Cosu-play'. My guidebook said that, on a Sunday, the southern entrance would be littered with Japanese women dressing up as their favorite manga character; I've seen some of these characters and let me tell you, they ain't dressed for cold weather. I picked up the pace and searched around...

...three! That was it, three girls. I'm sure their outfits were very nice, however I couldn't really see because of the crowds. I decided to walk on, into the 'busy shopping streets' of Harajaku. Time was ticking on and my pace slowed due to the sheer volume of people; Takeshita-dori was particularly busy as its 'the place to go' for teen fashion. It was an experience walking through, seeing what was 'this years black', and some of the items looked very dodgy; I did wonder who on earth would buy them … and then I reminded myself that I was in Japan where the weirder you looked, the more fashionable you were. After about thirty minutes I was starting to loose my patience; over the last ten minutes I'd only achieved six or seven steps. I could see the end of the street and, once there I would bolt for freedom.

And off I went; as fast as a fast thing being really fast. It was good to have a bit of speed, though it was short lived as I had to wait, for the 'green man', before crossing to the other side of the road. I needed to head south, into the district of Shibuya, for my final sightseeing location. Once across the road the crowds became less and less dense. Every footstep away from Harajaku, the crowds got lighter … until I hit Shibuya.

Approaching the train station from the north, I stumbled upon an almighty crowd. Looking around I found myself, rather surprisingly, at my final tourist attraction for the day; a pedestrian crossing. Now, this isn't any normal crossing; used in many films this is thought to be the busiest pedestrian crossing within the world. This was a Sunday, and yet every available piece of footpath had a person standing and waiting. Once the traffic stopped, hundreds of people exploded onto the road from different directions … from above it must looked like a massive group of ants moving between each other. I did a quick walk around the station (to make sure I'd found the right crossing) before finding a local McDonalds; the idea was to have a hot chocolate, whilst I read my guidebook to see if I'd missed anything important. The reading went well, however it would appear that 'Ronald' had forgotten to stock this outlet with hot chocolate; desperate for a hot drink I ordered a tea and sat down.

After twenty minutes I closed my guidebook and finished my tea. It would appear that Shibuya is a 'night location'; being 3:30pm I didn't really fancy staying here until the sun went down. Plus, my feet were killing; almost five hours of continual walking and they were pleading for me to stop. Even though my brain wondered what else was closeby, by body took over and I headed towards the closest tube station.

Traveling around, using Tokyo's metro system is extremely easy; not only is each station named in English, but all stations are numbered and lines are 'colour coded'. Unfortunately, to get to my hotel I had to take a local train, which wasn't quite as easy. Purchasing the ticket was fine, but selecting the correct platform required a few 'excuse me, is this the platform for...' and 'thank you'; still, after one platform change I managed to get onto the right train, and another passenger confirmed that I was okay.

Unbeknown to me I'd caught an express train, and I was back in my hotel room in no time. I put on my computer, to upload my photos, and write this blog (haven't done this in ages). I also checked the F1 situation, only to find that 'Spanish good for nothing, half-wit' of a Ferrari driver had won the Malaysian GP. Still, Lewis has had two 3rd positions; consistency is the key in winning the championship … hopefully in China Lewis can turn 'pole to victory'. I grabbed a large pot noodle, and a cake, from the local convenience store and consumed them while thinking about tomorrow. Being a Monday I should be at work, though I don't know what I will be doing yet; I have a lot of information to read, plus some washing, plus I'm going to try and download the last two F1 races to watch. Therefore, I don't think I'll be heading into the 'big city' again (plus it costs a lot on the train). This means that I'm not sure when you'll next hear from me; until you do...

Toodle Pip!


  1. Awesome times my friend!! Back on the road! Where did you find your job as I would like to teach English in Korea or Japan too. Got an interview on Monday for an agency who finds work in S Korea but would really like to go to Japan!! Take care mate. Andy

  2. Andy,

    I went with a company called Interac. Google search them and you`ll find them.

    Good Luck!