Although I’ve lived in Japan for more than five years, until recently I had never traveled in Tokyo, which is usually the first stop for most expats and the home of many. So, I’ll have a series of posts on my Tokyo trip from the perspective of a guy with Japan experience, but a fresh eye on the big city.
I grew up in Phoenix, a large city but one that is spread out. Our streets get more crowded than the Tokyo Subway cars, but then you still have a whole car around you. After living on small islands for so long I was apprehensive, wondering if I would be able to make my way around, and dreading the sardine-can experience. I didn’t research Tokyo or make a whole lot of plans aside from booking a hotel. I decided to pretty much wing everything and see how it went.
I flew in Friday afternoon for the SCBWI Showcase. Since I flew JetStar from Okinawa I had to fly into Narita which was quite far away. I jumped on a bus to Tokyo Station which ended up costing me 3000 yen. I should have gone down and taken the Narita Express Shinkansen which would have been cheaper and faster. I learned my lesson on the way back. The bus ride wasn’t all that bad, but it did kill most of my day. By the time I got checked into my hotel in the Akasaka area I had just enough time to sit down for a few minutes before heading out again. Still, I did have all of Saturday to explore, and I started off by taking the Tokyo Metro up to Ueno Station.
Ueno in the Morning
So Ueno is one of the larger stations, but I made my way out relatively easily. I made it there just after 8. If I had checked things out, I would have learned that nothing opens until after 9. But not to worry, I started wandering, looking for the Ueno Zoo (It appears in an upcoming Samurai Awakening book so I wanted to do some research). I knew the park straddled a road, but from the tiny maps I couldn’t see the main entrance so I just started walking. Luckily I was able to stroll around THE ENTIRE PARK before I came back into the main Ueno area which is surrounded by museums and the Ueno Zoo’s entrance.
In addition to the Zoo, Ueno is an area with plenty for the tourist to do. There are several museums and schools, or if you’re like me, you can just photo walk along the outside of a huge park and checkout the random shrines (such as the Ueno Toshogu shrine) and enjoy the cooler temperatures and occasional greenery.
My timing was pretty awesome actually. My morning stroll got me to the entrance a mere 5 minutes before the park opened, so I was able to stand in line with all the families and kids and get right in to see the pandas, tigers, and other animals through out the park. There was also a pretty interesting pagoda in the park. I probably could have spent most of the day in the zoo, which only cost 600 yen for adults, but I left after completing my research in the hopes of seeing more of Tokyo.
From the zoo I traveled past the Starbucks to the Tokyo National Museum, which wasn’t on my list, but should have been. More next week.