Having set off in the morning we’d arrived in Tokyo around lunchtime, food for now though was pushed back as we were still had luggage with us and wanted to see if we could drop it off at Tokyo Book & Bed in Ikebukuro, where we’d be staying for a night(Such an amazing place that I’m going to write about that separately after this).
First port of call though was to investigate metro passes, as while they aren’t generally worth it while in Kyoto or Osaka, Tokyo is a different story, it’s so large with so many areas that passes would end up saving money. Asking in the station we were directed to a information centre in the basement of the department store across the street, where for just 1500 yen (just over £10) you could get a 72 hour unlimited metro pass! A bargain! (24 & 48 hour ones were also available). *see note at bottom on passes. **small rant about London Underground at very bottom.
With unlimited metro travel obtained it was off to find a metro station and head off to Ikebukuro, however being that we were practically next to the grounds of the Imperial Palace it made sense to head up and have a quick look around.
Rather bizarrely the large streets around the palace were fairly empty, of people and traffic on the roads. The Imperial Palace grounds / park was largely huge open spaces, with some areas of greenery and lots of trees, and some nice waterways, fairly nice but not mind blowing. There weren’t many people around inside the grounds, however I chalked that up to it being a slightly rainy Sunday.
Though this did make for a strange first impression of Tokyo, as I’d expected everywhere to be really busy all of the time, instead I was in central Tokyo with hardly anyone around, and hearing almost silence. A feeling that got stranger when we left the park and headed into the nearby Metro station, the platform was deserted! It really wasn’t feeling very Tokyo so far!
Being slightly confused we headed along to Ikebukuro, and arriving there things immediately got more lively, lots more people around, and the station area had a lot more in the way of city life with various shops and arcades around. Tokyo Book & Bed was only a minutes walk from the station, check in wasn’t till later in the day, but they were happy to take store our luggage till then.
Finally relieved of carting luggage around there was time for a massive portion of food from a restaurant tucked away in one of the building basements, before heading out to try an find something that would really make things feel more like the busy Tokyo in our minds. As Shinjuku was nearby, that seemed like a good place to start!
Upon arriving in Shinjuku we picked a random station exit from one of the many available (stations are so large in Japan many have as many as 20-30 exits!), the area was a series of small shopping streets, with a few arcades and neon signs already starting to light up. There were a lot of people around, but still not quite as you’d imagine Tokyo to be.
By the this time the sun had pretty much gone from the sky and evening was setting in, this was handy as we established the rule of ‘look for glowing lights and that’s were the action must be’, this led us back toward the station area and through some narrow streets which were packed full of small food places and bars, each one was full of people, many with queues waiting to get in! Things were now feeling like Tokyo!
Weaving through the narrow food streets was great, the look and feel of the place was an experience of it’s own, this also led us through the station and out into a wall of neon lit buildings which marked the main area of Shinjuku!
This area was now full of life, people everywhere, massive crowds, and Tokyo’s famous neon signs and large screens covering the front of every building! There was a tonne of stuff to take in that it took a few minutes just to process everything that was around!
Every street had signs sticking out of buildings and flashing lights everywhere, even on the main roads lorries with massive TV screens on the side were circling round advertising the various bars and clubs around, while blasting out music, really adding to the vibrant feel of the area.
After a few hours wandering around at night it was time to head back and see what Tokyo Book & Bed was like. The area around Ikebukuro had by this time now livened up as well, feeling the need for food a bit of exploration was done, the area had no shortage to choose from, in the end a Japanese – Italian restaurant was the winner for dinner before finally heading into Tokyo Book & Bed.
*Note 1: Worth noting that you need your passport when buying one as it’s only available to foreigners visiting Japan. Also each passport can only be used to buy these passes once while in Japan, but you can buy one for each person there with just a single passport. So for example if there are two of you in Tokyo for 6 days, you could have one person use his passport and buy the first two 72 hour passes, then when they run out the other person could buy 2 using the other passport. (Essentially what my friend and I did). If you were travelling alone then you’d only be able to get this type of metro pass once, though I’m sure other types of pass are around. The individual metro fare prices are actually quite cheap, but given how much I travelled around in the 3 days this pass probably ended up saving more than double it’s value!
**Note 2: Now as it happens metro prices around Tokyo are actually really cheap! You can get around most of the central city areas for about 200-250 yen per trip, cheaper than Zone 1-2 trips on the London Underground, with cleaner, more efficient, on time, non delayed, not on strike, trains. In addition even though it’s one of the busiest, if not the busiest cities in the world, the stations are still clean and spotless, unlike the rather grimy, falling apart stations on the Tube.
The other great thing here, is for long routes there are rapid services that only stop at main stops, like you’d get on a normal JR line. So for example if I wanted to got to a station 15 stops away, there would be the usual local service stopping at all stops, and a rapid that only might stop at 5 of them, getting there much quicker. Something the Tube is badly lacking! Granted some lines on the tube would need expanding to do that, but being that no improvements have ever really been done to it, why isn’t that a thing?