Impressions of Tokyo

Tokyo is a pretty big city.  If you do a search of the top things to do, seems like there are mostly shopping opportunities.  Tokyo does have some pretty good cultural events, gardens, and other sights, but I didn’t plan well enough to be able to see much. I spent part of the morning on my tour day looking for a locker to store my luggage and then another significant chunk of time learning about the metro system to get around the city, which is easy once you understand what is going on.

Getting Around

Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station are the two major rail hubs in Tokyo where you can catch many of the regional and intercity trains to get to other parts of Japan.  The N’EX from Narita airport stops at both stations and then continues on to other suburban destinations.

The Metro system is also very extensive and makes it pretty easy to get around.  If you look at the metro map, each line is a different color and is assigned a unique letter/name.  So it’s easy to find the correct train.  In addition, each station is numbered sequentially.  So when you go down to the platform, the station number is next to the name, and there will be an arrow pointing in the direction of travel with the next station and number.  Very good system.

An important catch is that I bought an all day metro ticket, only to find out later that there are two subway systems shown on the map.  Also that there is another all day pass that would allow you to use both metro systems all day long.  That other pass cost a little more, but would have been well worth it had I known.  Looking at the legend on the metro map, the all day ticket I bought was for the Tokyo Metro Line, the routes listed on the right side.  The Toei Line is a different system and requires it’s own ticket, or the day pass that covers both.


What I saw

Tsukiji Central Fish Market: This was pretty neat, and all the pictures I took were at the fish market.  It’s not really a tourist attraction as much as it is an actual working fish market.  Early in the morning – or really most any time of day, there are trucks, small pickups and other vehicles racing around moving fish sold for export, restaurants, and other whole sellers.  There are also several places to eat next to the market – great place to grab a bite.

Akihabara Electric Town (Denki-Gai): this is the big electronics area of Japan where you can see the latest gadgets.  It actually didn’t interest me that much, but maybe I wasn’t in the right part.

Asakusa-Jinja (Asakusa Shrine): Was cool to see, but there are other cultural icons of Japan that are probably better.  This one is rather commercialized, having a number of trinket vendors behind it.

Higashi-Gyōen (Imperial Palace East Garden): very nice garden, though most of it is off limits to the public.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: great view from the 45th floor of this building.  Free to the public.

Haneda Airport

I arrived at Narita Airport on the 11th in the morning and was scheduled to depart out of Haneda Airport at 11:55pm on the 12th.  So I had an entire day to explore Tokyo before heading to the airport to fly off to Indonesia.

The first challenge that I needed to address was what to do with my stuff.  The hotel actually closes for the afternoon while they clean everything up and I didn’t actually see a point in leaving my stuff there anyways.  There is regular service to Haneda from Tokyo Station, both by rail and by bus, so the best plan was to find a locker at the station and leave my stuff there.

There are, in fact, several banks of lockers, but you need to get them early.  I left the hotel at about 9am, walked to the station with my stuff and was fortunate to have one of the last 3 lockers in that particular bank of lockers.  There are several banks of lockers, some use keys and require change to purchase time in the locker.  The bank I used is computerized.  So you put your stuff in the locker and then latch it.  Then you go over to the screen (there is an English option, fortunately), insert your money, and you get a receipt that has an unlock code on it.  I don’t remember how much it cost, but it wasn’t much, and it was good for the whole day.  I’ve read only that the lockers are all cleaned out after the last train of the day.

To get to Haneda from Tokyo Station, there are two options: rail and bus.  The rail service involved taking a local train 3 stops south and then transferring to a monorail that really wasn’t particularly interesting.  So, unless you’re a huge rail fan, I recommend the bus service – it would have been faster and cheaper.

I got to Haneda pretty early – my flight was at 11:55 in the evening and I had gotten there at 7pm, so I had quite a bit of time to kill.  To make it worse, I was feeling pretty grimy from walking all day.  Fortuantely, the airport has resting and showering facility.  For about $10 US, you get 30 minutes in a bathroom to take a nice hot shower.  In addition, the airport has a really cool outdoor observation area that overlooks the runways.  Just inside that area are a few restaurants, so you can get some food then go outside and watch planes.

First In Kyobashi

Capsules are stacked 2 high and there are several of these on the floor. There is also a bathroom (sinks, toilets) on the floor as well. Men and women are on separate floors.

I spent the night at the First In Kyobashi.  It’s just a few blocks from Tokyo Station in the business district, so it’s a pretty easy walk from the station to the hotel.  The front desk does not open until 5pm, so I had a little time to get some food and do some research on what I was going to do in Tokyo.

The official name of the hotel is “First In Kyobashi.”  Kyobashi is the name of the neighborhood.  I’m not sure if “In” is actually supposed to be “Inn.”  Is the hotel saying it’s the first hotel in Kyobashi?  Or perhaps it’s the First Inn, Kyobashi.  Not worth thinking about, but a bit entertaining.  Online, I’ve seen the hotel listings say both In and Inn.

This hotel is a capsule hotel.  Your bed is basically similar to a berth on a train.  The ‘rooms’ at this particular capsule hotel look like they are from the 70s or 80s.  They are plastic boxes with a curtain.  Inside is a small desk lamp, a pull out desk, a radio (basically a car stereo), and a pay TV, meaning, you have to put Yen in it to get it to work.  My capsule was on the second floor, which is men only – there is another floor for women.  There were several of these berths on the floor, stacked 2 high.  You also get a locker, shower sandals, and a ‘robe’ (actually more similar to scrubs).  There is a bathroom on this floor (sinks, toilets).

Modest is an understatement, but I didn’t have any plans to be hanging out in a hotel on this trip.

The bathrooms are shared – there is basically a dressing room on the basement floor.  The first part of the room has a wall lined with sinks, and a few vending machines for soaps, phone recharge, and other random stuff.  In the middle of the room are several tables and chairs to hang out in.  At the back of the room is a small room where there is a toilet and sink.  Next to that room is another room with 3 showers.  I believe this area is for men only and there is another floor for women, similar to the arrangement for the room where the berths are.

Overall, a very comfortable experience.  Good enough, since I had no intention of hanging out at the hotel.

Arriving in Tokyo

N’Ex (Narita Express) will take you from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station in an hour.

The flight from DFW to NRT was pretty uneventful.  I was on an American Airlines 777.  Pretty comfortable, though it seems like it was time for this plane to get it’s interior refreshed.  There was nothing wrong with it, but some beige plastics tend to turn yellow and pretty gross looking after a few years.  On top of that, some of the lenses over the lights were also yellowing, so really, everything had a tinge of yellow.

There were several babies on board the airplane and it seemed like they wanted to cry when I wanted to sleep, but were perfectly quiet and peaceful when I was awake.  I’m sure it’s some sort of conspiracy.

When I arrived at NRT, it was 10am the next day and caught the Narita Express (N’EX) to Tokyo Station, where my hotel for the evening would be.

Japan has several different rail operators and I think they are all private, though I’m not sure.  I’ll have to do some research on the Japanese rail industry.  For 2,940 Yen (not quite $40), the Narita Express (N’EX), which is run by the East Japan Railway, will take you to Tokyo Station in an hour.  My train went non-stop to Tokyo – some of the other N’EX trains over the course of the day have scheduled stops.  You also have the option of taking one of the trains run by Keisei Railway.  I could have taken a Keisei train to Shinbashi station for 1,280 Yen ($16) and then taken metro to Tokyo station, which would have been another $1.50, but decided to stay with N’EX and go to Tokyo Station, since that was closest to my hotel.

The rolling stock that that N’EX uses went into service in 2010 – It’s quite futuristic looking and really very pretty.  The ride itself was smooth and comfortable.  I was in economy class, which had very comfortable seats and large windows.  The views out the window were beautiful – great way to see the Japanese country side and the suburbs.  Along the way to Tokyo, there were several small towns and farms, including a few small rice paddies.  In the suburbs, it would seem that where we have SUV, they have large minivans.

Map of the route that the N’EX took from NRT to Tokyo Station:

[map style=”width: 400px; height:300px; margin:20px 20px 20px 20px; border: 1px solid black;” gpx=”” download=”no”]