July 7, 2016
Monica and I landed in Japan after a jammed packed wedding weekend, and an 11-hour flight from LAX. We were jet-lagged and tired, but we made it through customs and took the hour-long train ride into Tokyo from the Narita Airport.
Our first reaction to Japan was that it is a little confusing. Not knowing any Japanese we had to ask a few people at the airport how to get the right train into Tokyo. Luckily the people we talked to at the airport were friendly and could help.
Once we finally made our way into JR’s Tokyo Station, we transferred to another train. We accidentally got on the “reserved” (green) seating car and we were politely asked by an attendant to get off the train and proceed to the “non-reserved” wagon. This car was packed with “salary men” (office workers dressed in the ubiquitous white shirt and black suit pants uniform of the Japanese business world). We had caught the tail end of rush hour.
One stop later (Shimbashi), we disembarked the train. Our senses were overpowered by stimuli. In the station people were rushing home from work. People were darting in every which way. In the middle of the hustle, 3 men were bowing vigorously as they departed ways. Outside the station neon lights beamed from every direction and a high pitched female voice made announcements from a nearby shopping center.
A few blocks later we had escaped the craziness and made it to our hotel, the APA Hotel Shimbashi Toranomon. Our room was comfortable but cramped (a small double bed, fridge, tv, bathroom). It had great views of the neighborhood. We blasted the AC (Japan is hot and humid!), showered up and ventured to a noodle shop downstairs.
Hot and Humid
The next day we woke up at 3 or 4 am. Jet lag, and the fact that our bed was shorter than the American equivalent, made for an early wake up. (By the way, Japan definitely feels like a cramped country. I read somewhere that car ownership is contingent upon being able to prove you have a space to park it. The most interesting household appliance I saw was a car elevator, so the owner could park 2 cars in an otherwise 1 car garage. Anyways…) Eventually, we got ourselves up and ready and began walking. By the time we left the hotel it was already hot. I was sweating through my shirt by 8 am.
We found some reprieve in an air conditioned cafe underneath the JR Tokyo Station where we ate breakfast. Ordering our food was different. We had to order from an automated machine that eventually the cafe attendant had to come over and help us operate. For $5 a pop we both got a huge tempura and grilled fish breakfast. We cooled off and ate our breakfast of champions.
With iced coffees in hand, we took on the hot and humid day. (You can buy iced coffee, sodas, beer, you name it, the vending machine on every street corner has it.) We walked all over the Emperor’s Palaces gardens.
After the gardens we headed up to the neighborhoods of Ueno, Nezu and Yanaka. These areas provide the feel of what Tokyo was like before the huge skyscrapers took over. The neighborhood had 2 and 3 storied buildings, mostly residential. There were many small streets that only one car could barely squeeze through. It was fun to get lost in the twisting streets. Around many corners were small temples and many shops and restaurants. We walked through a large cemetery and then the Yanaka Ginza (a market area). After walking 14 or so miles (according to our iPhones), we ate some sushi and headed back to the hotel. We ended up taking a nap that turned into a 12-hour long sleep…
Getting to/from Narita Airport: Cost us about $25-30 on the JR train. (There might be cheaper options but we were just trying to get into the city without too much hassle.) The trip takes about an hour.
Tokyo Metro/Toei Subway: Most rides were under ¥300. You can buy end-of-day and 24-hour passes for ¥600-1600 (1 line vs 2 lines). Tokyo operates on 2 separate metro systems so transferring and ticketing can get complicated. Farther afield in the city, other companies operate their own systems.
Where we stayed: APA Hotel Shinbashi Toranomon (2 Chome-6-9 Nishishinbashi, 港区 Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 105-0003, Japan): Cost – $150-200/night. Small, yet comfortable and clean rooms. They have friendly staff but limited English skills. It’s in a central location (near Ginza) with decently priced food options nearby. Close to the Shimbashi Station (1-1.5 hours from Narita Airport). It’s a short walk to the Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo Tower and the Emperors Palace.