Monday, 3 March 2014

Adventures in Tokyo, Day One

Well, I've just got back from a University trip to Tokyo! I'm a bit jet-lagged, but would like to start posting a journal of my time there while it's still fresh in my mind.

I don't need to say much about the journey; it was long and tiring and any sleep that was had left us more tired than before. I will say this though; watching the sunrise over Mt Fuji was special enough that the tiredness was worth it. A lonely peak in the distance stained pink and orange in the dawn sunlight.

Mt. Fuji at sunrise, taken from the plane.

Narita airport was an hour and a half away from our hotel by coach so the relief of stretching our legs after the flight was short lived! We followed the coastline south and enjoyed the sights of the sea, the busy docks, the crazy multi-levelled roads, the little box-like cars and Disneyworld on our way into central Tokyo.

It turns out that you don’t really ‘approach’ Tokyo; it is so enormously vast that it swallows you before you even realise it. Driving through the city you get a sense of what makes Tokyo unique; you can be in an ultra-modern district, filled with skyscrapers, when suddenly there is a little traditional Buddhist temple. The old and the new are all jumbled together in a fantastically eclectic mix.

Driving through Tokyo you also get the sense that there is space to breathe; an impression that was reinforced throughout the trip. Wide streets and pavements, huge parks and the distance between skyscrapers mean that you don’t feel cramped in any way. That, combined with the eco-friendly, quiet cars and the aesthetic of the buildings, makes Tokyo an almost relaxing city to be in; the hustle and bustle is not loud or stressful as in other cities, but quiet, purposeful and very Japanese.

Upon arriving at the hotel we couldn’t wash or rest as we wanted to as we arrived too early to check in. Instead we explored the area a little. Our hotel, the Sunshine City Prince Hotel, is in a district called Ikebukuro. Fairly central, the hotel is very close to a major train station and is attached to a shopping mall, an aquarium, a planetarium and a spa. As the tallest skyscraper in the area it also has an observation deck on its top floor. This was where we went first and we treated ourselves to ice cream as we enjoyed the view. As a country bumpkin myself, seeing the vastness of the city was awe-inspiring!

After a ramen lunch, we explored the mall. There were two shops of note; a wonderful stationary shop and a Ghibli shop! (Well, what else do animation students get excited about, eh?!) As it was day one however, we refrained from going mad. Later in the week we would be going to the Ghibli Museum and as the mall was attached to the hotel, we could shop for stationary at any time *happy sigh*.

Me geeking-out at the Ghibli shop!

At this point we were finally allowed to check into our rooms. I’ve never been so glad to have a shower than after that 24hr journey!

After an hour and a half’s rest, we headed out into Ikebukuro proper. The main high street on the way to the station featured karaoke bars, a SEGA arcade, anime shops and so on. Later in the week there would be a Sonic the Hedgehog outside the SEGA arcade and girls dressed as anime characters trying to encourage us to take a look in the stores! Passing these however, we went to the station and bought a PASMO card each, the Tokyo equivalent to London’s Oyster card.

For our first afternoon/evening in Tokyo the tutors lead us to Shibuya, the major shopping district in Tokyo. The district is home to the Tokyo equivalent of Times Square, the area that features in just about every film set in modern Tokyo that there is. The massive pedestrian crossroad in the square is absolutely crazy! Innumerable people march en-mass across the square in all different directions the moment the green man appears. Watch out or get crushed!

Tokyo's Times Square, complete with mass of pedestrians.

The sun was setting as we arrived in Shibuya and by the time we’d had a little wander, it was dark. Once again Tokyo showed its eclectic nature, as you’d be walking down a wide, westernised high street and turn a corner onto a winding alleyway bursting with Japanese shops and restaurants. We were exhausted at this point but we were determined to ‘see’ the area before calling it a night however it wasn’t very long before we just had to return to the hotel.

The trains in Tokyo are wonderful, easy to navigate, clean and efficient so getting back to Ikebukuro was a doddle. Finding the hotel from the station was another matter however. I don’t know how many exits there are at Ikebukuro station, but there are too many! By the time we found the correct exit and returned to the hotel we were practically crawling. Grabbing sushi from the hotel’s ‘Family Mart’ convenience store, we went to our rooms and to bed, utterly spent and ready for sleep.