There is no doubt that the metropolis of Tokyo is huge compared to my home town of Melbourne, but what is amazing is the order in which people live. If you sit in a cafe near a railway station you are witness to a constant stream of people walking past. There doesn’t appear to be any “off-peak” time, the day is filled with office workers, middle to old aged people, school children and then back to office workers – all on their way somewhere.
The trains are always full. Packed to the brim early in the day, and full to overflowing the rest of the day. Tokyoites travel at last an hour in each direction each day, so the train is a place to catch up on rest and even sleep time. Mobile phones are used for texting, browsing and gaming but not phone calls, in fact signs throughout the trains ask you not to make/receive calls on your phone.
We have always been rather wary of railway stations, perhaps not the place to hang around, especially in many European cities. In Japan the railway station appears to be the hub of activity, catering with restaurants, coffee shops, department stores and up market hotels.
And the transport in Tokyo, like the rest of Japan that we visited, runs like clockwork. In fact the JR trains indicate the time to the next stations. The train network criss-crosses the city with a mixture of Japan Rail intercity and local overground and privately owned underground railways. At times you will see 15 to 20 rail tracks laid along the same route.
And for statistics, the metropolitan area of Tokyo is home to 35.7 million people, 13 million of whom live in the metropolis, at 6,000 people per km2. Our population in Melbourne is 4.25 million at 1,567 people per km2.
We had become used to rain in Japan as the typhoon season continued longer than expected. In Tokyo our souvenir umbrellas were well used for our booked Morning tour of Tokyo. We saw rain from the Tokyo Tower, the Meiji Temple and the Imperial Palace Gardens.
Part of the fun of exploring Japan was the lack of translated menus. Tired of constantly being wet, we found a restaurant in the Ginza for lunch. The staff’s English was limited to counting the beers we ordered, so it was a peek-and-point lunch – peek at what others are eating and point at it. Turned out to be a delicious lunch, but I still don’t know what we ate.
As the day dried out we explored the Ginza and all it’s up market shops before heading off to the Nakamise Shopping Street and the Sensoji Temple of Asakusa. By then it was dusk and the bright lights of the craft shops and shrine were wonderful. The shopping street was busy for its souvenirs, but the temple, Tokyo’s oldest, was also busy, with people queuing to pay their respects and consulting the oracle and divine answers to their questions.
No visit to Tokyo is complete without checking out the Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market – the largest wholesale market in the world. It is huge and busy and colourful. We saw crates and crates of fish, tonnes of frozen tuna and seafood of all shapes and sizes, much of which I didn’t recognise. Tourists are there to watch, but the business of buying and selling fish is far more important, so you need to constantly watch out for the carts that whiz back and forth through the narrow passageways between stalls.
After a lovely lunch with Mike and Natsumi we checked out Tokyo Station – a neoclassical building, rumoured to have been modelled on the station in Amsterdam.
There is so much to see and do in Tokyo – our five days, including a tour to Nikko and a train ride to Hase and Kamakura, was highly inadequate, however I think we were successful in “taming” the rail system and “learning” to move in an orderly fashion.