When people talk about Tokyo, the first thing that comes into my mind is metropolis. It is the world’s most populous metropolitan area, so you can understand my surprise when I saw farms and rice paddies during the airplane’s descent. I was expecting buildings, skyscrapers and brightly-lit towers. Obviously, I didn’t do my research well. The Narita International airport is not inside Tokyo. It is located in Chiba prefecture.
The Tokyo Station
If there’s something I’m really good at, it would be finding the cheapest way to go from one place to another. From Narita to Tokyo station, the Tokyo shuttle is the least expensive transport you can take–for only ¥1000. The problem was, from the bus terminal, I didn’t know how to go to the Tokyo station, so I just followed the people–as James Surowiecki writes it: the wisdom of crowds.
The Tokyo station was fronted by modern buildings so it was slightly difficult to find out that there’s a central station underneath. You know that feeling when you’re so excited because you’ve finally reached the starting point of your journey? Each step of the way, you’ll glance at the buildings and the shops. You’ll breathe slowly because you want to enjoy the cold Tokyo breeze, be fixated at the people wearing suits and walking briskly. So there I was standing at the center of the station, carrying this red heavy backpack, pretending to be a pole, and just witnessing the endless influx of herds. This is the Tokyo I’ve imagined.
The moment I stepped out of the airport, the real backpacking experience started. After riding the cheapest transport to the Tokyo station, I headed to a guesthouse in Asakusa. Aside from couchsurfing, hostels are the next best thing for someone who is travelling on a tight budget. During my backpacking trips in Asia, I’ve never stayed in a hotel. Well, except when we got stranded in Labuan where there’s no guesthouses at all.
If you want to experience staying in a hostel, I would suggest that you move Japan and Korea at the bottom of your list. The guesthouses there will pamper you with comfort and cleanliness that you’d feel that others are just untidy. I’ll write in a separate article my favorite and recommended guesthouses in these two countries, so keep posted!
The toilet seats are electric. No, it’s not an electric chair that electrocutes you when you forget to flush. The seats are warm. There’s an automated bidet that hits you at the right spot after you “defecate”. I’m not too sure if there’s a built-in sensor there, but the water splash was really accurate! It’s like it was modeled for you and your butt. One thing you have to know though is that it doesn’t detect whether your ass is already clean. You’ll have to press the square button to make it stop. Be careful not to touch the temperature button! Sometimes, these toilet controllers are written in Hiragana that you’ll have to rely on the drawings on the face of the buttons. Or better yet, save the picture below. 🙂
The cleanliness in Japan is not confined to the walls of the guesthouses. I think neatness is innate to Japanese people (except maybe for some JP backpacker friends I met :p). It started when I boarded the train. No, even before that, the moment I entered the train station and there were food stalls everywhere and yet trashes were nowhere. Not only can you buy food inside the station, you can also eat and gulp whatever snacks that you have! The amazing thing is that you won’t find a lot of trash bins around. My friend told me that the government removed the bins after there were terrorist threats years ago.
Their discipline with cleanliness is so contagious that I kept all my trash inside my bag—yeah even that smallest piece of paper. In Singapore, I won’t throw my rubbish anywhere because you’ll see the “fines” sign everywhere. In Seoul, garbage bins are easy to find so it doesn’t make sense to scatter your trash elsewhere. Three different ways of keeping a city clean and tidy: inherent, enforced and practical.
Next stop, the rail networks. The most complex train map I’ve experienced is New York’s but after seeing Tokyo’s, I felt I was in a whole new world (let’s not talk about Aladdin’s). They have the trains, the subways and the metro. It’s really helpful to have the train apps that works offline in your smartphone. You must download Tokyo subway and trains.jp. These are all available in iTunes. My favorite is trains.jp because it gives you alternative routes together with the traveling time and cost.
I managed to find my way through the maze and reached the Asakusa guesthouse in time. The first tourist spot I went to was the Senso-ji (Asakusa Kannon Temple) because it’s only a few blocks from the guesthouse. The place was very touristy. Luckily, I went back to this place at night. It was so much nicer, more quiet and was the best time to take photos.
It wasn’t really the temple that caught my attention. It was the rickshaw drivers, their clothes and their shoes! When I saw them physically carrying the cart, I was suprised. The least scenario I imagined was that the carts are attached to a motorized wheel and the drivers are just controlling it. This is Tokyo, a metropolis, and they didn’t fit my stereotyped city. No wonder the drivers are all fit and muscular—they had to pull the weight of the passengers.
It was near the Asakusa temple where I had my first taste of Ramen. The staff in the guesthouse guided me to the popular noodle house, Yoroiya. The other options is Ippudo but since this is already available in Singapore, I opted for Yoroiya.
I went to Ueno Park—which I bet looks dazzling and enchanting during the Sakura period. It’s really a big park with a lot of cherry blossom trees. After that, I went to Akihabara—Sim Lim is nothing compared to this. I saw a lot of people in anime costumes. While I was taking some photos, I noticed that some school girls were evading my lens. I thought I offended them until Tita Baby said that they are actually girls offering escort services to older men.
The last stop was the Tokyo Skytree. It is relatively new compared to Tokyo Tower and became the tallest tower structure in Japan after its completion.
My second day went really smooth. I was very fortunate that Tita Baby was available to bring me around and splurged me with food like there’s no more tomorrow. A bbq buffet for $19 (and a $5 top-up will give you free flow of beer) is a good deal!
If you missed my day 1 post, click this link: Japan-Korea Day 1: My First JetQuay Experience