It was time for us to travel to Tokyo and I was very eager to visit one of the biggest cities in the world… actually the biggest one if you count the urban areas (a population of 34.350.000 people, year 2005).
We went with Shinkansen’s bullet-trains (high-speed trains that goes about 100km/h faster than our Swedish X-2000 trains), and it took less than 3 hours to get to Tokyo.
To our relief, it was not as hot in Tokyo as in Osaka and Kyoto (but still hot for a swede though…). We took it very easy the first day; located our hotel, checked in and grabbed something to eat.
My impression of Tokyo
Tokyo feels big, very big – and of course there’s a lot of really big houses everywhere. Skyscrapers, flashing advertisement, pink colors, masses of people and almost no sight of nature. As in Osaka, it feels like everything is built vertically. It’s cramped and space is luxury.
The city feels a little bit grey. Both in Osaka and Tokyo, I believed the main splashes of colors came from advertisement while the buildings were mostly pale, grey, white and so on.
It’s quite a difference from Swedish houses that’s often painted in bright colors and got brick roof. The houses also seem to be built in totally different ways from each other, no building was like another.
It’s like there’s no architecture or city plans in the same way as in Sweden where you can see how different areas follow the same homogeneous design. I found it quite fascinating though. I’ve been joking about it, said that from above, Japan looks like a crate of stone, like the Death star – and it’s a little bit true. But it’s beautiful in a certain way. Just like Sweden with its wide forests, green fields and lack of houses is beautiful in another way. I came to love Tokyo, very much.
And by the way: Tokyo is cramped – in contrast to Sweden – but on the other hand, Sweden is sparsely populated. Tokyo is crazy, but not as crazy as a lot of us might imagine. You feel safe in Tokyo, just like you feel safe anywhere else in Japan.
I’m not proud of it, but I was a smoker when I visited Japan and I must say there are some really strange rules about smoking. First of all, I got the impression that smoking mostly is allowed inside, but not outside. (Huh?)
In Sweden, inside smoking in restaurants etc. became illegal year 2005. I believe we’ve become pretty used to it – and I like it even though I was a smoker back then. I don’t like to sit in smoke-filled rooms, it gives me head ache. In Japan, people still smoke inside; in bars, restaurants, hotels etc.
On the other hand they keep their streets very clean and there are big city areas where you’re not allowed to smoke. I didn’t understand that at first and were suddenly told by a man on the street that I could be forced to pay a fee for smoking. Ooops.
When I needed a smoke, I had to find a place at which I could go inside. How strange isn’t that? In Sweden I must do the opposite; I must go out.
But I understand it in one way; no cigarette-ends covering the streets and no smoke in the faces of those who passes by. Maybe it’s a good rule.
As I said, you could smoke almost everywhere inside and even I found it a little bit tough sometimes. The hotel foyers had a heacy smell of cigarettes and the air gave me head ache sometimes. You could even smoke while eating burgers at MacDonalds (but not between 11.00 AM – 13.30 PM ^^ Funny, isn’t it?).
There’s left-hand traffic in Japan, which made us Swedish right-oriented brains a little bit confused sometimes. ^^ It took a while though before I noted this. In the Namba Area in Osaka, it felt like the cars where driving in the center of the street, but on the other hand – the streets were so narrow, so it was hard to tell which side they drove on.
In Stockholm, you must stand on the right side in an escalator to let busy people pass by. In Japan it’s the opposite; you must stand on the left side.
I like the Japanese crossings. They are big and you get a lot of time to cross the street. No hurry. On the other hand, you must wait a little bit longer before you’re allowed to walk, but it’s totally worth it.
In Sweden you must run when the light turns green, more or less, or you won’t make it.
School uniforms and costumes
When I showed my Japan-photos for some friends, they noted that the Japaneses looks very much the same. At least they dresses the same.
Yes they do! Well, not all of them, but many do. Youths walk around in homogeneous school uniforms and the middle-aged men do all wear white shirts and black trousers.
When you strolled along the street, it sometimes looked like there was an army of workers, all dressed the same, passing you by.
Speaking of school uniforms. My opinions about those are a bit divided. I advocate freedom to express individuality, but on the other hand, school uniforms might be a solution for kids who get bullied in school because of their clothes.
I couldn’t help recognizing though, that some school uniforms included very short skirts for the girls. Wearing short skirts like that would in many other cases be considering quite sexy, so should it really be forced on anyone? What if you don’t feel like it? I asked if the girls could wear trousers instead if they wanted to and got told “no”. This totally freaked me out. That’s just not fair!
First of all, I recommend you to print a map of the subway system (in colors of course) so you can bring it with you. Click this thumbnail:
A) When you enter the subway, walk to the ticket machines. There’s always a bunch of maps over the subway lines, and sometimes even for trains. It’s beneficial to know what the subway system looks like, so you know which map to look at.
B) You will see a lot of lines, stations and numbers. The actual station you’re at is highlighted in some way and all the numbers shows ticket cost to all the other stations. Even if you need to swap train at certain stations, you only need to pay for one ticket. Look at the example above.
At this point, I was standing at the Meiji-jingumae station (number 1) and wanted to go to Mitsukoshimae station (number 3). I could take the green line to Otemachi (number 2) and then change to the purple line to Mitsukoshimae station. As you can see, a ticket to Mitsukoshimae costs 190¥ from Meiji-jingumae station.
(Observe: sometimes there’s two prices written for every station. The upper price is for adults, and the lower price is for children.)
C) So, when you know how much to pay, take a look at the ticket machine. Put 190¥ in it (if you would put a 1000¥ bill, you will get exchange.) Possible prices will be visualized on the screen and you press the one that says 190¥ (of course).
D) You will get a ticket. Remember to keep this one safe during the whole trip. You will find the validation machines close to the ticket machines.
E) Put the ticket into the notch. It will be “sucked” into the machine and spit out on the other side. Make sure to grab the ticket and put it somewhere safe.
F) Now, do you remember which line you were supposed to take?
In my case the green line: Chiyoda line. (The names of the lines are written on the map.) The different departure halls is very well displayed and all you need to do is to follow the signs that points to your line.
G) When you have fond your departure hall, make sure you chose the side at which the trains head for the right direction.
Some of the destinations (among these the end-station) is highlighted on a display and you can look on your subway-map which direction the train should go in your case.
H) It’s a good idea to have some idea of how many stations you must pass before you need to swap train or reaches your end-station. It’s not hard to know where you are though. A voice informs you of which station that’s next and if it’s hard to hear, you can always look out on the departure hall. Mostly the station name is written in roman letters somewhere and so is its station-code. For instance C03 is the code for Meiji-jingumae. You can see all station codes on the subway-map.
I) What might be a little bit confusing for a foreigner is that you need to put your ticket into validation machines even after your travel. You need to do that to be able to come out from the subway station and that’s why you must make sure not to lose it. This time, the validation machines will swallow it entirely. ^_-
So… easy, isn’t it? I must say that I felt very relaxed and safe when taking the subway in Japan. I’m usually quite disoriented, but this system is so well displayed and organized, so even I managed to use it.
Tip: It’s very simple to travel via the subway in Tokyo but on the other hand – it can be hard to find the right exit station. The same station can have several exits scattered over a big area and if you take the wrong exit you might have to walk a long bit. My tip for you is to always remember which entrance/exit you use. When there’s 30 different exits (or more), you can end up anywhere. ^_-
Japaneses are gamers
When you travel by subway or train and watch people around you, you note that almost everyone is holding themselves busy with either a game console, a cellphone or a manga magazine. What caught my interest the most was all men who played video games. They could be of all ages, wear baggy teen-clothes or proper suits.
For me, it was a rather rare sight to see adults play video game in public. I couldn’t help imagine what it would look like in Sweden. They would be laughed at, considered as weird or childish. That’s such a shame. As a game developer, I encourage gaming. It was a wonderful view, actually.
Blog posts from this journey:
Tokyo!!! Konnichiwa!!! ^^
So now we are in Tokyo! It was really hot in Kyoto but we managed to drag our asses to Kyoto subway… to the train… to the Tokyo subway… And then we got lost for some hours in Tokyo but managed to find our hotel after a while… I thought we would run into more problems than we did so I must say it was all very easy.
You might picture Tokyo as something totally different from the view that welcomes you at the train. It’s a lot of REALLY big houses, but it all looks quite grey and a little bit boring. But I’m sure that we will see all those glittering advertisement when we find a shopping street or similar.
We have just been at a restaurang and it was quite nice.
I Tokyo, I would like to visit Akihabara, Harajuku (and LEMONed Shop), Tokyo Tower and the Ghibli museum. Let’s see what happens next!
And just so you know: Japan rocks!