Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 2: Tokyo

Map of trip to Japan

28.10: KL -> Tokyo
29.10: Tokyo
30.10: Tokyo
31.10: Tokyo
1.11: Tokyo
2.11: Tokyo -> Nikko -> Tokyo
3.11: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo
4.11: Tokyo -> Kyoto
5.11: Kyoto
6.11: Kyoto -> Nara -> Kyoto
7.11: Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima
8.11: Hiroshima -> Osaka
9.11: Osaka
10.11: Osaka -> KL

28.10: KL -> Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho, Tokyo. 8065 yen for a tiny single room with everything including A/C (which does not work), a fridge, a hairdryer, a fast DSL line, flat screen TV, telephone. Due to the small size of the room there is no cupboard for the clothes.
Weather: early morning sunny, blue sky with very few clouds in KL, tropically hot.

The alarm clock wakes me up at 7:30am. Again I didn't get too much sleep, as I fell asleep initially, then woke up and only fell asleep again around 5am. After breakfast I check out and at 8:40am I'm in a taxi to KL Sentral. There I check in the luggage to Narita, then at 8:53am I'm in the Skytrain. Surprise, surprise in KL Sentral there is a free WLAN network which I use to download my emails.

At 9:30am I'm in KLIA. There is again a free WLAN network, so I continue processing my messages and surfing the web. At 10:05am I go through immigration, security and walk to the gate. At 10:30am I'm at the gate and immediately after they start boarding the plane.

The plane is an old Boeing 777-200, but with individual LCD screens for each seat. The flight is kind of boring, perhaps also because I'm quite tired and jet-lagged.

After 6 hours, with a top speed of 1080 km/h (almost 200km/h tail wind) we land in Narita at 6:50pm local time. One hour later I've managed to go through immigration, withdraw cash from an ATM (there are many in the airport) and retrieve the luggage. I ask at the information counter how to get to the hotel. They suggest to take a bus to Tokyo central station, as the train line is disrupted. I go one level lower where it should be possible to buy a Japan Rail pass, only to find out that they are only selling Japan East Rail passes. So I buy a Narita Express ticket (2940 yen).

The 7:46pm train is delayed by 25 minutes and will only leave at 8:10pm. The duration of the trip should be one hour. I'm at the hotel at 9:30pm, taking a taxi (980 yen) to get from the train station to the hotel.

29.10: Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho. Last night I woke up around 4am because the room was too hot (temperature was over 26°C). The A/C isn't working, and somehow the room heats up a lot.
Weather: sunny with thin layer of clouds in the sky. The clouds cover the sky entirely in the early afternoon, then after 3:30pm the sky opens up and becomes blue. Temperature around 20-22°C the whole day, I walk around in a T-shirt. No rain.

The alarm clock wakes me up at 9:30am and I am ready to leave the hotel at 11am. I walk to the nearest subway station, Ningyocho, where I buy a day pass for the Tokyo metro for 1000 yen. The information counter guy speaks only basic English, so a girl offers to help. This is what I will notice the whole day: most people in Japan can't speak English or only speak very little English.

The subway is fast and efficient. You can see that the trains are not new and in fact a bit oldish, but they run fast and on time.

My first visit today is at the Senso-ji temple. I take the subway to the Senso-ji station, then walk around a bit, finally reaching the temple at 11:45am. The temple is nice, but looks a bit artificial with all those clean polished concrete pillars. It's a bit below my expectations, since this is the best temple Tokyo has to offer. I've seen more impressive temples elsewhere in Asia.

I'm at the temple until 12:20pm, then start walking back to the Asakusa subway station. From there I take the subway to Ueno station, planning to have a look at Ueno park and the Tokyo National museum inside the park compound.

Shortly before 1pm I'm at the Ueno station. As with each subway station there are lots of exits and it's very easy to take the wrong one, popping up somewhere. For instance this time I exit the Ueno station from the rear side and it takes a couple of minutes to figure out where I am. The subway is not too full, probably because at this time most people are in the office.

Ueno park is kind of nice, nothing so special but worth a stroll. It's also a welcome break from the cement jungle of Tokyo. Inside the park there is a Japanese street artist dressed as a Scotsman with a kilt, the hair died red, playing the pipes. Excellent performance, he mixes the music with modern rhythms.

Turns out the today the Tokyo National museum is closed, so I will have to get back tomorrow. Around 1:40pm I start walking back to the south, crossing again the park and walking to an area south of the Ueno station. In this area there is a market with lots of small stalls, restaurants etc. Food in these restaurants is cheap: a bowl with noodle soup starts at 280 yen (1.70 Euro) and a meal is available for 500-600 yen.

The women and girls in Tokyo predominantly like to dress feminine & sexy. Most women wear skirts, many of them miniskirts or tight shorts with pantyhose. Some wear dresses which enhance the body shape. I wonder how the men in Tokyo can remain cool with so much femininity in the streets (perhaps they don't care and are used to it). Also, lots of women die their hair brown or blond. Some perhaps have undergone facial surgery, because their eyes do not look Asian at all.

I'm in this area until 2:20pm, then take the subway to Shinjuku. I still have had no lunch, only eating small things bought on the fly. I'm in Shinjuku station at 3pm. Cool place, lots of skyscrapers, people, shops, neon lights, interesting architecture.

For about an hour I explore the area, then at 4pm I go to the top of the Tokyo City Hall building (the access to the top is free). From there there are cool views of Tokyo. I have a drink in the restaurant - 500 yen for a coke, which is a standard price for a drink in a restaurant. So far it appears that Japan is not more expensive than any other developed country. The price level in Tokyo seems to be more or less at the same level as the one in Munich.

I'm in the viewing platform until after sunset. Great view of the sun setting and the skyline of Tokyo. At 5:20pm I queue up at the elevator for the descent. Down in Shinjuku I continue walking around, this time heading towards east Shinjuku.

I stop briefly at a KFC restaurant for a fast meal, then continue exploring the area. Now it's already rush hour, with the streets full of people who have left the office. Lots of people rushing on the streets, everything happens fast. Huge crowds which move around quickly. It is even difficult to cross a pavement.

Somewhere in east Shinjuku I have a noodle soup, then I walk towards east Shinjuku which so far I have missed. At 7:15pm I enter the area. Wow, what a multitude of neon lights, activity, people, restaurants, shops, pachinko game halls (pachinko is a game with machines, where you can win prizes). Really an impressive sight - in Munich we have nothing comparable, and even Nanjing road in Shanghai can't compare with this area. All kinds of people, youngsters with all kinds of looks, girls who look like prostitutes.

At 8pm I take the subway for a quick trip to Shibuya, just to have a brief look. Will probably come back another day. It takes a bit over half an hour, with two changes of subway lines, to get there. Again a very impressive area, full of life, people, skyscrapers, neon lights, huge screens on buildings etc. Easy to spend an entire afternoon here.

At 9pm I head back to the Shibuya subway station and am back in the hotel around 10pm. I sleep after 2am.

30.10: Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho.
Weather: in the morning mostly blue sky with a few clouds, in the afternoon the sky progressively closes and becomes overcast. Warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt (around 21°C), fresh and windy in the late afternoon in Odaiba (have to wear the long sleeves shirt). No rain.

I'm woken up at 8:30am by some girls outside in the corridor. Never mind, I get up and shortly after 10am I'm out of the hotel. I take the subway to Harajuku from where I will visit the Meiji-Jingu shrine. It doesn't look like a big distance on the map, but in the end it takes almost one hour to get there.

For about 15 minutes, until 11:10am I walk a bit around the Harajuku area with small shops and restaurants (it's relatively unimpressive during the day), then I enter the Yoyogi park and walk to the Meiji Shrine. It's actually far less impressive than I had imagined.

Shortly after 12pm I leave the shrine and walk back to the Harajuku station where I fetch the subway to Shibuya, arriving there at 12:25pm. The subway trains are actually fast, but you lose a lot of time walking to the stations and inside the stations getting to the platforms.

Shibuya is a trendy area full of shops, even upmarket ones, department stores, restaurants etc. I'm there until after 2pm and have a brief lunch in a KFC restaurant at 1pm. At 2:10pm I take the subway to Tokyo central station, arriving there at 2:45pm. I then go to the top of the Maronouchi building, which is attached to the Central Station. From the top there is a panoramic view of Tokyo.

By now (3pm) the sky is completely overcast, so I wonder if it makes sense to take the monorail to Odaiba. On the other hand, should I go to the Tokyo National Museum I'd be there not before 4pm, too late since the close at 5pm. So after all I take the subway to Shibashi and from there the Monorail train (310 yen) to Odaiba. From the monorail there are some nice views, but not so many actually.

I'm in Odaiba at 4pm. This is an island in the Tokyo bay, with modern buildings, malls and restaurants. It's more open and has some nice views of the Tokyo skyline.

At 4:30pm I head to the Fuji Television building and get to the observation tower (500 yen ticket). Nice view of the Rainbow bridge and the Tokyo skyline at sunset.

It's almost 6pm when I'm finally down and walk to the subway station, arriving in Ningyocho at 6:45pm. I have a dinner in a Chinese restaurant, where the waitresses can't speak Chinese, then get back to the hotel.

In the evening I check a bit what my options are for the next days. I surf a lot the Internet to get an idea of the logistics and what the places I will likely visit look like. I'll probably go to a travel agency tomorrow and see if they have packages. Will also check at the Tokyo Central train station what train connections there are.

31.10: Tokyo
Hotel Sumisho.
Weather: in the morning blue sky with a few clouds, in the early afternoon the sky becomes overcast. Later the sky opens up again a bit, then closes again. As yesterday, there is not too much sunshine starting from 2pm. A bit more fresh than yesterday, but still warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt. No rain.

Last night due to the jet lag and the heavy dinner I couldn't sleep until 4am. This morning I wake up at 10am and leave the hotel a bit after 11am. I'm planning to have a look at the Tokyo International Forum building near the central station. Looking on the map it seems that I am just 1km away from the Central Station, so I decide to walk instead of taking the subway, which would involve changing lines in Ginza. It should take 10 minutes to reach the railway station.

In reality it's almost 12pm when I arrive at the central station, because I make so many photo stops along the way and small detours to see interesting buildings more closely.

At 12:10pm I'm finally inside the Tokyo International Forum, which is indeed a highly interesting building. It's amazing that in Tokyo there is so much interesting architecture to see. The Tokyo International Forum contains several high class restaurants (probably expensive) and many shops.

I spend 20 minutes inside this building then, at 12:30pm start walking towards the subway. Along the way I briefly stop in an electronics and photo store, where you can directly try out several different cameras with lenses mounted on.

In Germany expensive DSLRs are locked inside glass cabinets in the photo shops (you have to get a clerk to take out the camera for you), here instead DSLRs of all brands are available for testing with the lenses mounted on. It seems that store theft is less of an issue here. Comfortable feeling that store owners here trust their customers so much.

At 1:05pm I arrive in Roppongi. Planning to get to the top of the Roppongi hills observation tower. I'm completely surprised, because Roppongi is a great place. Elegant architecture, luxurious setting, expensive and high class shops, cool restaurants - in short a beautiful neighbourhood. Roppongi is like a city in the city, a little oasis of paradise. If you have a date with a woman, this is a good place to bring her for lunch/dinner/a drink and impress her a bit.

Lots of business people walking around, probably having their lunch break. Quite a few Western people (male and female) in business suit. These are probably expatriates - there must be offices of some international corporation inside the buildings.

Until 2pm I'm walking around the area, also thinking about what to do next. The sky is closing right now and I wonder if it makes sense to spend the 1500 yen for the ticket to the top if the sky is overcast. Should I perhaps go to the Tokyo National Museum first and come back at sunset? In the end I decide to get to the observatory now. On top there are some very cool views, in all directions. A few cafes/restaurants, some souvenir stalls/shops and a museum with a contemporary Japanese art exhibition.

I spend an hour in the observatory, then wonder what to do next. I could go to Odaiba island for a sunset shot of the Rainbow bridge and the Tokyo skyline, but for that I'd need a nice blue sky with perhaps a few clouds. Or I could go to the Tokyo National Museum, but I'd be there probably not before 4pm which leaves too little time for the visit. I decide to wait in the observatory until after sunset, because I suspect that the views will be great. And indeed the views at and after sunset are great, when the entire city lights up and shines.

At 5:30pm I start the way back to the hotel. I stop at the Central Station where I'm hoping to find some information about the trips of the next few days. No luck, I can't find an information counter, can't find a travel agency and can't find people who are fluent in English.

I go to the JR East booking office and speak for some time with a lady, who barely speaks English. There is a train to Nikko leaving from Asakusa at 10am (cost is 5000 yen for a return ticket, because this is a fast train) and I would be back at 8pm. I decide to skip the trip to Nikko tomorrow because it would be too much rushing. Instead I'll take a break and spend one more day in Tokyo.

I'm back in the hotel at 7:30pm after a brief dinner in a noodle soup restaurant. I enquire with the reception about tours to Hakone and Kyoto.

They make a couple of calls and finally put me in touch with a woman from a travel agency who speaks some English. They do have a tour to Hakone and Kyoto, 4 days/3 nights, but it's very expensive: 118000 yen, which equals 715 Euro at the current exchange rate. In the room I surf a bit the web and look for other offers, but the cheapest I find is for 85000 yen, which still is 515 Euro - quite pricey for three days. Looks like I'll have to organise everything by myself.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon