Thank You, Tokyo

On our only full day in Tokyo we spent a lot of time being lost. The train system in the city is a combination of an underground subway as well as several above ground train lines, all owned by different companies charging different fares and using different tickets etc. etc. Calum was especially exasperated by this system.

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Tokyo Railway Map — Photo credit goes to Calum

Our first stop was the Seiko museum of clocks, as Calum is a huge fan of Seiko watches. The museum is free and you can conduct a self-guided tour via an Ipad loaded with videos and extra information on each of the displays (in English, as well as several other lanugages).

Between the Seiko museum and a visit to Meiji shrine was a couple of wandering aimlessly in search of lunch. We ended up settling for a Western-style café, not our first choice, but yummy and filling! By the time we reached Meiji we had only a few minutes to run (almost literally) through the center of the temple and take a few pictures. Again, not our usual sight-seeing style, but it is what it is.

Tuesday evening (May 16th) was the highlight of our short time in Tokyo. Through AirBnb’s new service called “Experiences,” we booked a bike tour of Tokyo that lasted from 3pm to about 7pm. The host, Bradley, is an American expat who has been living in Japan for 25 years and owns a biking studio in Tokyo.

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Bike touring! One of the other employees at the bike studio took this for us.

This biking tour was not your typical touristy, sightseeing expedition. Bradley took our group through Tokyo’s backstreets and quiet residential neighborhoods—places that tourists would rarely think to visit. He also showed us a local temple and a shrine in his neighborhood…though famous shrines like Meiji are beautiful and magnificent, these smaller, lesser-known religious sites show how spirituality is really embedded in the lives of some Japanese people.

To be honest, I almost felt bad coming to these sites as a tourist, because I know that these places have deep meaning for many local people who come there to pray and reflect. However, I was impressed with the way everyone in our tour group, people from all around the world, walked these sites with a quiet, respectful attitude.

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Calum walking into the shrine that we visited on the bike tour. Photo credit goes to one of our guides!
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Prayers written on small fans at the shrine. Photo credit goes to Calum.

The tour ended with dinner at a pork dumpling restaurant, which most of the other tour participants stayed for. We had some great conversation with the other people in our group—hailing from the US, Australia, Taiwan and Korea.

One of the biggest themes of our trip was awesome people!

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Our awesome host, his fellow bike tour employees and our tour group. Great people.

Our only regret in Tokyo is not booking more time there. We were so charmed by this city.

Until next time…

P.S. Here’s a link to our bike tour experience! Thanks Bradley!

 

First Impressions: Tokyo, Japan

Two days after Calum’s graduation from UNT we boarded a plane bound for Vancouver, where we would transfer planes to Tokyo. It was a long journey—the flights themselves lasted about 15 hours in total, and even after we touched down in Japan it was a long journey from the airport, through customs and to our AirBnb apartment. We landed at Narita Airport, which is actually pretty far away from the Tokyo city center…

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Source: http://www.world-guides.com

Our first impression of Japan was on the train from Narita to Tokyo. It might sound cheesy, but on this leg of our trip we both realized the significance of the scenery in Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki’s animated films. Seeing the Japanese countryside from the train was like seeing the village in “My Neighbor Totoro” brought to life…not in the sense that we felt like magical creatures would appear, but in the sense that we realized how these animations captured some of the ordinary aspects of the countryside that are magical in themselves. The thick green vegetation, the small village houses, the rice fields…of course there is much more to Japan than that, but it was a great first impression.

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A Japanese movie poster for My Neighbor Totoro. Source: wikipedia

By the time we reached our train stop for the AirBnb I was literally falling asleep with my head on my suitcase. Many parts of traveling have gotten easier for me with experience, but pure exhaustion is hard for me to fight.

The first thing that we noticed about our “home” neighborhood in Tokyo is that it was so quiet. We hopped off the train around 7:40 pm, and though there were many people out walking or riding bikes by themselves, there were no large groups of people gathered, and it was overall very quiet on the streets. Just like Seoul, Tokyo also manages to keep some parts of the city concealed in a bubble of quiet, even while other parts of the city are a 24-hour raging party.

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A lesser-known shrine in Tokyo. Picture by Calum.

After getting our bags into the apartment we walked across the street to the supermarket and the convenience store and grabbed an assortment of random packaged foods for dinner. While Calum worked on setting up the apartment Wifi and heated up some foods in the microwave, I scarfed down a pastry, took a shower and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the floor.

I mean, the bed was literally on the floor. That’s traditional Japanese style (and pretty comfy!).

More later!